Book Review: I thought the adventure would never end

Sumedha Dogra – Book cover

Book: I thought the adventure would never end

Author: Sumedha Dogra

Genre: Fiction, Short stories

Review copy: Himalayan Book Club

Available at: Amazon.in

Recommended: Liked It

Author Sumedha Dogra brings to life tales of nostalgia in an anthology of short stories – I Thought The Adventure Would Never End. The first two stories have female characters – strong and independent. Sanju masi and Sujata, the protagonists in the two stories, are leading lives on their terms. The writer draws up charming imagery of elegant old houses, amidst nature, filled with memories, where her leading ladies indulge in their interests – nurturing plants or writing.

Are they blissful or “bored”; “jaded by pragmatism” or jubilant in a suitable existence that women in their thirties seek? Is it true that “Life stops getting better than it is” for these women? In two tender stories, Sumedha brings forth some existential questions that make us ponder.

When a television-casting agent meets the interesting Ms. Angie, does his life turn upside down? The writer weaves a captivating story in Current Affairs, wherein what seems unconventional may be the practical way to accept life’s truths. A mishap in Goa helps a young mathematics teacher discover shades of his personality. In this catching story, To Integers and beyond, the writer experiments with themes of nostalgia and narrates stories from a school in Goa.

The Last Day of the Burger starts on an enterprising and humorous note, but does it stay that way till the end? As is the penchant with most people, their lives eventually are more ironic and their destinies more tyrannical than they can bear. In childhood play, a young, athletic girl tries hard to find a place in the team of her three brothers and gives Sumedha an energetic tale to tell. The last story in the book, Goodbye, has a line that lyrically sums up the spirit of this collection – “The yellow-colored memories of languorous afternoons spent on the lap of a lover.”

The writer has crafted humane stories with love, and they reflect her power of observation and imagination. The characters are relatable and they charm us, even when we can see where the story is headed. A weak element in this book is the editing. Some stories could have fewer words and the narration could have been better. If we can look past this, then Sumedha’s work is creative and entertaining, and a worthy attempt at storytelling about ordinary people.

Book Review: Stars from the Borderless Sea

Shalini Mullick – Book cover

Book: Stars from the Borderless Sea

Author: Shalini Mullick

Genre: Fiction, Short stories, Romance

Review copy: Himalayan Book Club

Available at: Amazon.in

Recommended: Liked It

The stars manipulate destiny, passion is borderless, and longing is as deep as the sea, in Shalini Mullick’s book of three short stories. Shalini creates stories out of the mundane lives of men and women as they navigate the treacherous shenanigans of their hearts and nagging doubts in their minds. It’s the language of love that strings together the stories of youthful affection maturing into words that can only be contained in handwritten letters.

The stories are built on the vast premise of typical Indian households. The background of all of them is the dramatic transformation of an Independent India, with its still prevalent economic divide and enterprising people. Aroma of dal tadka and saccharine masala chai in a college canteen is juxtaposed against cold coffee and sandwiches in the first two stories. Red chilly pickle and mathris seem to represent the heat of resentment and saltiness in a newly married couple’s life in the third story. Such simple and vibrant details fill the spaces and instill the stories with life. Newspapers feature in each story, giving them a hint of nostalgia.

Shalini’s stories are well-written and have an emotional appeal. They endearingly elaborate on many aspects of life in India. The first story is well-researched in aspects of the Armed forces and the Rajwadas in post-independent India. There is a lyrical quality, a tenderness in the narration that stories of that era inherently possess. The kaleidoscope offers a peek into the many colors and flavors of our rich culture and society.

The second story has a more modern approach. It packs in a lot of elements, as it navigates the emotions of a successful couple and secrets that keep them distant through the years. The third is also centered on a modern working couple. I felt some of the narration was added to bulk up the word count. However, the writing is impeccable and it does not weigh you down.

The plotlines are predictable but generally most romantic stories have a common texture and theme, such is the nature of love. It’s the narration and the style that keeps one engaged. The author successfully keeps the reader involved. This is a good weekend read and will appeal to audiences who want to know more about Indian culture and those who want to read stories closer to home.

Book Review: Imperial Passions

An engrossing historical fiction, bringing to life the travails of the Byzantine Empire through the voice of a strong female protagonist.

Book cover

Book: Imperial Passions – The Great Palace

Author: Eileen Stephenson

Genre: Historical Fiction

Review Copy: Reedsy Discovery

Available at: Amazon.in

Recommended: Must Read

“Not everyone wants power, wants a throne.” In Constantinople, 1059, these words by Anna Dalassena’s husband John place an invisible burden on her. The Imperial Passions – The Great Palace is the story of the burden of those who do not wear the crown but have the best interest of the Empire in mind.

Eileen Stephenson has produced an endearing work through intricate research. Her passion for the subject is clear as she painstakingly develops each character. She infuses them with human follies and strengths. Eileen’s female protagonist tells the story of court intrigues, shifting loyalties, weak administration, invading Turks, and brawny men. The Imperial Palace is a hotbed of politics, plagued by incompetent leaders and a dwindling treasury. 

The wisdom and camaraderie of the women, particularly Anna Dalassena and later Empress Eudokia, keep a tottering empire from falling apart. Eileen has given an elegant and compassionate voice to the character of Anna. She is wise and talented, has a keen understanding of people and politics, is a gifted matchmaker, and counsel. She is a caring mother, a perfect homemaker, a clever planner, and above all, a sleek diplomat. Through personal losses, Anna stands as a firm ally of the Empire and its people, even at the risk of making enemies in the royal court.

This is a thrilling work as twists and turns appear every so often, with characters falling off the pedestal or gaining a wide berth while the Turks are pounding on the doors. Descriptions of court life and customs, monasteries and houses, social orders and marriages, make the book a fascinating treatise of the times.

The initial few pages listing the main characters, and the glossary can momentarily overwhelm. Browse through these pages and the map, then embark on an exhilarating journey through the Byzantine Empire in the 11th century. I enjoyed making notes and highlighting characters to remember key characters and events.

This historical fiction flows in a simple language with balanced descriptions. There are no long-drawn scenes of battles, even though the impact of these military expeditions helps to drive the politics of Constantinople. This book provides a wholesome reading experience and is a must-read for all fans of historical fiction. The cover artwork by Jennifer Quinlan adequately represents the feminine energy in the history of the Byzantine rulers. 

Book Review: The Seven-Day Resurrection

A delicate narrative of a mother-son, built on themes of nostalgia and hope, with a clever and mysterious back-from-the-dead central plot.

Book cover

Book: The Seven-Day Resurrection

Author: Chevron Ross

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary

Review Copy: Reedsy Discovery

Available at: Amazon.in

Recommended: Loved It

“Death was so arbitrary. … Sometimes death was sneaky.” What if resurrection occurs? Len grapples with this question in the fascinating novel, The Seven-Day Resurrection. Writer Chevron Ross builds on an interesting premise and entangles the reader in a series of questions from the start. What can explain the presence of Len’s mother in his house after her death? Is it imagination, an anomaly, a cosmic glitch, a psychiatric or physiological disorder, or senility?

Ross has entwined several themes in his book. Delicate nuances of the co-dependent relationship between a 70-year-old man and his 90-year-old mother are central. In crisscrossing timelines, the characters experience different time-lapses in the future and the past. Then, there are stories around the myriad characters – Olivia, the caretaker, Miranda, Len’s boss, Len’s siblings, Len’s teenage angst, aspirations as a writer, life as a loner, and insurance claims handler.

My favorite overarching theme is the nostalgia of the Depression-era and the World War. Ross brings out the imprints of the war on the life of simple people. He tells how the years of want and struggle made the people bitter, frugal, and eventually hoarders, of both things and memories. The conversations between Len and his mother make up a major part of the narrative. Another part is Len’s confusion about the happenings around him and recollections of his life.

An interesting writing technique is using snippets from Len’s writing drafts in the novel. When the first draft of The Farm Tree appears in the book, it is almost confusing. I paused to grasp how the dominant story and this narrative were connected. At a point, it seemed there were too many characters to track. However, I saw the connection. The strong, caring father figure of The Farm Tree and the incidents around bullying were easy to identify. They are reflections of Len’s yearnings since his teenage.

This book is well-researched and has impeccable writing. It is not a zippy read. It requires time and attention. This should in no way discourage a reader because the book does not weigh you down. It carefully builds on the characters, making them endearing and relatable. The writer sketches portraits of a world that is now a fast-disappearing memory, while also keeping it contemporary by referencing the pandemic. The mystery of the resurrection keeps you engaged till the end.

Book Review: Solomon’s Porch

An endearing tale spanning generations and locations, where characters are driven by destiny to embrace life lessons

Book cover

Book: Solomon’s Porch

Author: Janet Morris Grimes

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary

Review Copy: Reedsy Discovery

Available at: Amazon.in

Recommended: Loved It

The simplest stories are the most endearing. Janet Morris Grimes is evidently a keen observer of various facets of human life. She picks up delicate stories and weaves them into a tender novel. Grimes dedicates time to each of her characters, carefully building them up. The fumbling old man, the troubled family man, the separated priest, and the single mother are navigating the highs and lows in relatable ways. These are stories of people like us, everyday stories, yet narrated with deep care.

With undertones of books such as Tuesdays with Morrie, the storyline is touching but not overwhelming. It draws us in and has us rooting for the characters. We know how the storyline will proceed; we are aware of how the writer intends to tie it up, yet we remain invested. This is a story of reminiscence, of the past and the present, and about destinies. We want to follow the characters till the end. Are there lessons; is there redemption; is there release? For each, this is a journey of discovery.

The tone is positive, even though the story is poignant. The characters have moments of panic, despair, loss, confusion, remembrance, and weariness. However, they are all moving on, each day towards resolving what holds them back in the myriad plays of their different lives. The writing is taut and well-edited. Solomon’s Porch is an enjoyable book to read and share. The title sounds inspired by the biblical reference to Solomon’s Porch. The book carries a spiritual message and is written with love and compassion. It has the potential of being made into an equally endearing movie script.

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