Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

Title: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
Author: Bill Bryson
Genre: Adult Biography / Memoir
Pages: 268
Edition: Hardcover

Life and Times of Thunderbolt Kid is a hysterically funny memoir of Bill Bryson's reminiscences of his childhood days in Des Moines, Iowa during 1950s. Captivated by his wry humor, I found several of his anecdotes quite amusing and I was laughing my heads off reading them over and over again! Born in 1951 in Des Moines, Bill grew up in a loving but slightly eccentric family where his dad, a talented sportswriter and mom, a home furnishings editor, both worked for "Des Moines Register", a local newspaper. The Thunderbolt Kid mentioned in the book is a fictitious character born when he discovers a green, moth-holed woolen jersey with a golden thunderbolt on it while rummaging the basement in the house.
Some of his recollections such as the innovative use of "toity jars" kept under the sink, his dad's isometrics practice sessions on the plane, dinner episodes with Uncle Dee and why he finds eating cottage cheese quite repugnant, Peanut M & M missiles aimed at soup bowls, tree house adventures in the woods, roller-coaster rides in Riverview park, his futile attempts to visit the stripper's tent in state fair, life in the fantasy Bizzaro World, escapade from Dewey, encounters with Mrs.Vandermeister a forgetful old lady who lived in the neighborhood and his adventures as a thunderbolt kid were utterly hilarious.
The newspaper clippings that preludes each chapter were quite chuckle some too. "In Milwaukee, uninjured when his auto swerved off the highway, Eugene Cromwell stepped out to survey the damage and fell into a 50-feet limestone quarry. He suffered a broken arm. - Time magazine, April 23, 1956."
Also, interspersed throughout the book were his accounts of how 1950s happened to be the golden period for America with the advent of modern equipments like refrigerators, washing machines, telephone, vacuum cleaners, electric stoves and so on and how people were blissfully happy and boastful of their new possessions they had, they could never dream of. The author wistfully mentions that it was happy times for everyone when life was unsupervised, unregulated yet remarkably peaceful and how it would never be the same again. Being an immigrant, I couldn't completely resonate with his experiences, yet I found his writing style to be quite charming, witty and utterly captivating. Overall, a delightful read!!
My Rating: 4.8/5

Friday, January 26, 2007

Oprah's new Book Club Selection

Oprah has chosen "The Measure of a Man", a spiritual autobiography by Sidney Poitier for her Book Club today. A memoir by Sidney, this book talks about his childhood in Bahamas and how hailing from a poor family he made it big to the Hollywood. He became the first African-American actor to win an Academy Award® for Best Actor. I haven't read many autobiographies, but I think this might be worth looking at. I can't wait for a copy from my local library!

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Title: Night
Author: Elie Wiesel
Genre: Adult Biography
Pages: 120
Edition: Hardcover

Written by Elie Wiesel, "Night" is a heart-wrenching, astounding novel about his painful recollection of the most horrific memories of Jewish Holocaust during WWII. The terrifying atrocities that happened in the Nazi concentration camps were totally horrendous and an overwhelming sadness crept into my mind as I read this book. To be honest, I think no words could even come close to describing the true horrors millions of Jewish victims endured.
The book opens up in 1941, with Elie a 13-year-old boy living with his family in Sighet, a little town in Transylvania. The Jews of Sighet turned deaf ears to the oppressions of the Jewish community in Europe and lived under a state of delusion until 1944. When the German troops encroach the little town, one decree after another were enforced upon the Jews. Even when the Jews were refrained from owning gold and silver, prohibited from visiting synagogue and confined to living in the ghettos, they remained oblivious to what's happening around them. In spring 1944, when the German troops order evacuation, Elie & his family with other Jews were forced to leave Sighet. Hundreds of Jews loaded in each cattle cars, they begin the long hideous journey to the concentration camp in Auschwitz in utter despair. With the few crumbs of bread and little water as the only form of sustenance, not many Jews survive this arduous journey. On reaching the camp, men and women were separated and Elie was torn apart from his mother and little sisters. His survival in the camp and the cruelties he suffered and witnessed there forms the rest of the story.
It was excruciatingly painful to read about how Jews were shot like dogs, starved and beaten to death, burnt alive in furnaces and poisoned in gas chambers. The stench from the burning flesh that ever lingered in the camp gave me a gut-wrenching feel. Chills ran down my spine when I read about the babies being thrown into the flames while they were alive.

Here are a few haunting passages from the novel:

When Elie witnessed the hanging of a child in the gallows, he says...
"..the rope was still moving; the child, too light, was still breathing...And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death,writhing before our eyes. ..... Behind me, I heard the man asking:
"For God's sake, where is God?"
And from within me, I heard a voice answer:
"Where He is? This is where - hanging here from this gallows..." That night, the soup tasted of corpses."

"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.
Never shall I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.
Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.

Never as a reader shall I forget those poignant memories that will be engraved in my mind forever.
What a terrific read!! Highly Recommended!!
My Rating: 5/5

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Woman in Jerusalem

Title: A Woman in Jerusalem
Author: A.B.Yehoshua
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 237
Edition: Hardcover

Translated from Hebrew, this novel by Yehoshua is an exquisite piece of work that follows the relentless pursuit of a man on a mission to restore the humanity of an innocent terrorist bomb victim in Israel. Yulia Ragayev, an integral character of the book dies in a terrorist bombing in Jerusalem market. Having no one to mourn for her death, she lies unidentified and unclaimed in a morgue. Tipped off by a blood-stained paystub found in her possession at the time of death, a newspaper journalist uncovers her identity that she had been working as a cleaning woman for a large bakery company. The local weekly runs an odious article accusing the company of their callousness and inhumanity towards the employee. Filled with remorse and atonement, the company's owner entrusts the onus of tracing her family and burying the victim to the personnel division's manager. As the investigation continues, the manager slowly gets captivated by her charming beauty and the past. With a fervent hope and unwavering determination, he flies to the victim's home country with the corpse to give her a dignified funeral. What astonished me about the book was the arduous journey he embarks on to find her family back home to restore her body and how he would go to the world's end if need be, to accomplish the improbable mission. The perseverance and the endless ordeal he endures for a woman he never knew adds a profounding touch to this novel. I was held in awe by the surprising twist at the end of the plot. A heartwarming book!!
My Rating: 3.8/5

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Title: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Author: John Boyne
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 216
Edition: Hardcover

"The story of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is very difficult to describe. Usually we give some clues about the book on the jacket, but in this case we think that would spoil the reading of the book. We think it is important that you start to read without knowing what it is about" Intrigued by the above blurb on the book cover, I picked this book off the library shelf knowing I was in for an interesting read. If you prefer not to know what the book is all about, I recommend you skip this review altogether.
Set in the WWII and Holocaust times during the early 1940s in Nazi Germany, the story is narrated in an unusual perspective through the eyes of a naive 9-year-old German boy Bruno. Bruno comes home from school one day to find all his belongings stowed away in boxes and his family preparing to move. Followed by a dinner with the "Fury", Bruno's dad, a commandant in German army, had to leave Berlin to take up his new job. Reluctant to move from the five-story beautiful home in Berlin to this outlandish place called "Out-With" (Auschwitz) in Poland, Bruno keeps badgering his father into staying at Berlin. All his attempts proved futile and he is left with no choice but to leave. He was dismayed to find "Out-With" in a desolate landscape absolutely in the middle of nowhere. Glancing out the window, past the beautiful garden, Bruno saw a huge wire fence that ran along the length of the house and even further along, as far as his eyes could see. He gets an eerie feeling looking at the hoards of older, younger men and boys all clothed in striped pajamas, shirt and a cap on the other side of the fence. Feeling dismayed, trapped and lonely in the new house, one day Bruno sets out on an exploration trip and to his delightful surprise meets a young boy clothed in striped pajamas sitting on the other side of the fence. Bruno sneaks out leftover cakes and food from the house for his new friend and they meet at the fence every day. He finds his friend horribly skinny with purple bruises on his body and utterly despondent at all times, yet Bruno is oblivious to what's happening around him. When the time comes for Bruno to leave Out-With, he sets out on one final adventure with his friend and the events that follow will leave you with absolute horror and dismay. Despite the fact that I have read other books about Holocaust and the Great War, this was an unusual read as the story is told from the perspective of a young German boy as opposed to a Jewish victim. No matter how many books I read about Holocaust, its always appalling to think of the despicable horrors of those hideous dark times in the history of mankind. One of the Best Reads of 2007!
Also Recommended: The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank
My Rating: 4.5/5

2006 Costa Book Awards

Costa has announced the 2006 Costa Book Awards for various categories:
Here are the winners:

2006 Costa First Novel Award - The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
2006 Costa Novel Award - Restless by William Boyd
2006 Costa Poetry Award - Letter to Patience by John Haynes
2006 Costa Biography Award - Keeping Mum by Brian Thompson
2006 Costa Children's Book Award - Set in Stone by Linda Newbery
The Costa Book of the Year 2006 will be announced on 7th February 2007
Looking forward to these delightful treats!!!

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Title: Sold
Author: Patricia McCormick
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 263
Edition: Hardcover

In Sold, a National Book Award Finalist 2006, Patricia renders a heart wrenching tale about a 13 year old Nepali girl, Lakshmi sold into sexual slavery in India. Lakshmi lives with her poor family in a hut perched on a mountain in Nepal overlooking the Himalayan meadows. When a heavy monsoon washes away all the rice crops and their hopes, Lakshmi is forced by her stepfather to leave the family and take up work. Sold to a glamorous wealthy-looking woman Bimla for a meagre 800 Rupees, Lakshmi undertakes a long and tiring journey from Nepal to India, with a gleaming hope that she would come home one day to Ama with her hard earned wages. If only she knew what awaits her at the "Happiness House", the brothel place in India. Appalled by the truth that
she was sold to prostitution and unable to resist the tyrannical rule of Mumtaz,the pimp, Lakshmi sobs her heart out and feels like she is already buried alive. She was violated, beaten and starved and trapped there to pay off her debts. Will Lakshmi escape from this dreadful place? Written with a haunting poignancy, it evoked profound sadness in me as I read along. It was unfathomable to think of the hardship these women endure in order to survive and as Ama says in this novel perhaps "Simply to endure is to triumph"... A Must Read!!

My Rating: 5/5

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The Night Watch

Title: The Night Watch
Author: Sarah Waters
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 446
Edition: Hardcover

This book hopped to the top of my TBR pile after it was nominated for the Britain's prestigious "Booker Prize for Fiction 2006". A beautifully poignant novel, Night Watch is set in 1940s London during the times of World War II. In this book, Waters weaves an intriguing plot involving five characters Kay, Helen, Julia, Viv and Duncan and so evocatively captures how their lives meet one another in most interesting ways. Written in a reverse chronological order, the book opens up unveiling her characters in 1947 post-war, then takes you back in time to those war-days in 1944 and 1941 to reveal how they got there. My favorite characters in the novel are Viv, a glamorous admin clerk madly in love with a war soldier and Kay, an ambulance driver who was betrayed by her lover. It was heartbreaking to read the trauma Viv had to go through when she aborted her child in the womb. My least favorite character was Julia, an ambitious crime writer living with Helen. Her character seemed very shallow and I could never get myself to like her. This book kept my interest all the way through, as Waters slowly unravaled her plots and once you get to the end of the book, you feel like you want to start over all again. A compelling read!!
My Rating: 4/5