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Becoming by Michelle Obama – A Review Rating : 4.5/5 Date of publication : 13th November, 2018

I “Became” aware of the strong fan base of Michelle Obama in my household once Becoming came home. Technically bought as an anniversary present for me, I just got a few glimpses of the book as my husband initially hogged most of the time with this book. Once he was done, my mother-in-law and I somehow managed to work out a complicated schedule between us so that we both could read it at the same time. What surprised me most was my mother’s reaction when I mentioned that I was plucking a few flowers from her garden to photograph the book to tag Michelle Obama. The one who is usually so grumpy about people plucking even a single flower from her garden, voluntarily offered me the best flower in bloom! Anything for Michelle!

Barack and Michelle Obama rewrote history when they became the first black President and First Lady of the United States. Michelle stole many hearts for showing the world what a truly modern woman is. She was more than just eye candy who stood beside her husband as a tribute to his masculinity; but an educated, confident, smart and honest working woman who was not afraid to speak her mind. If anyone could take the archaic role of the First Lady and make it look purposeful and powerful, it was Michelle. Her life in the White House is a lesson in dignity while facing extreme criticisms. Beyond the glitz and glamour of life as the First lady, she was able to raise two confident daughters under severe public scrutiny.

“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.”  

Becoming is a candid and honest portrayal of the life of Michelle Obama. The book, divided into three parts, showcases the three phases of Michelle’s life – the first details her childhood with her family in the South-side of Chicago, the second showcases her life with Barack Obama and the third chronicles her experiences as the First Lady. The book shows us that beneath all the decorations Michelle is still a South side girl born to hardworking parents who instilled in her the values with which she leads her life even as the most powerful woman in The United States. The endearing aspect of the memoir is that it portrays Michelle as a normal human being with everyday struggles and uncertainties. As a perpetual thinker of “Am I good enough?” or “Can I do this?” it was surprising and inspiring at the same time to read that my idol, Michelle Obama, also struggles with questions of self-doubt.

PC : Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The memoir also discusses about infertility and its emotional and physical strain on couples, which I personally felt was not highlighted sufficiently. Also, rather than sending out a message that women can have it all, she expressed her solidarity with thousands of working women as she painted a realistic portrayal of her personal life with its share of frustrations and loneliness with a travelling spouse and two small kids to care for.

Becoming is narrated in a very friendly voice peppered with various personal anecdotes that are both emotional and inspiring as well as some that are hilarious. The personal anecdotes elevated the book to a whole new level as it made the readers feel closer to Michelle Obama. Although the book is narrated at a slow pace, it keeps our interest alive as we see many of the events that happened from the perspective of the Obama family. Above all, the book is written with great dignity and Michelle remains completely apolitical in a book that has politics as one of the key element.

Overall, I would recommend every women to read this book just to understand that they are not alone in their struggles, be it personal or professional. Not just women, anyone who wants to know more about Michelle Obama should definitely read this memoir.

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou – A Review Rating : 5/5 Date of Publication : 1969

“The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors, and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance.”

Maya Angelou’s autobiography “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” is the first part of a seven book series. It depicts the struggles of growing up as a black woman in America. It is a coming of age story that is honest and insightful in its portrayal of oppression, racism and bigotry. The novel is highly inspirational as we see the courage and strength of Angelou even at the lowest point in her life. It is indeed a tribute to her fighting spirit and courage!

The book serves as an eye opener to the discrimination faced by the rural Southern Blacks in America in 1930s. It highlights the struggles of Blacks working hard against all odds to put a decent meal for their family. As Angelou’s grandmother’s store in rural Arkansas served as a gathering point for the laborers, she was able to witness firsthand the plight of the laborers who worked hard in the cotton farms of the South.

Oppression of blacks and hatred and suspicion towards whites are the recurring themes in the book. Like any coming-of-age novel, sexual themes are also explored heavily by Angelou. A heartrending chapter of the book deals with the molestation and rape of an eight-year-old Maya in the hands of her mother’s boyfriend. Apart from rape, lesbianism and teenage pregnancy are also prominent themes as the teenage Maya struggles to adapt to the changes happening around her and within her body. The sexual escapades of Maya’s father in Mexico and her mother with her many boyfriends and an active nightlife also figure prominently in the book.

The book is a bold portrayal of the spirit of her times written by a free spirited Maya in the 1960s. It would have definitely been ground breaking at that time owing to the bold writing and themes discussed. The sexual themes discussed in this book are handled with great delicateness and maturity. The book might have been and will be cathartic to thousands of people who could identify with what Maya has written about- be it oppression, racial discrimination or sexual exploitation. On account of these themes, it never loses its significance with time as they are universal and transcends time. The book can be taken out of its setting in rural America and can be read with a broader perspective.

Maya never shies away from an honest portrayal in the book and expresses her emotions without any abandon. Her anger, sorrow, rage, happiness and ignorance are depicted without inhibition. Although the book depicts serious societal issues and personal experiences, it always manages to motivate the readers at the end. The climax ends at a jubilant note with Maya looking forward to a new future with its own struggles and happiness. Overall, this coming of age story is a must read for anyone irrespective of their reading preferences as this book is indeed a gem! However, parental discretion is advised as the sexual themes explored may not be suitable for very young children

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Sauntering through the aisles of the garment section in a shopping mall, my eyes get drawn to a cute pink and grey tee. I immediately signal to my friend who is busy checking out skirts and in a second, she is by my side anticipating my need for validation for a new purchase. I get into the stall, wear the tee and to my surprise, I look nothing like the model on the poster – petite and feminine. The tee enhances all my features – none of them considered acceptable by a stretch – belly fat and love handles galore! The validation I need slips out of my friend’s mouth: “How come this dress looks so bad on you?”

PC : Mic.com

Welcome to the OST riddled world of an overweight shopper –a misfit lost somewhere between size zero and plus size. A species on the verge of extinction in the fashion world that they don’t even figure as an afterthought! For any woman not confining to the “ideal size”, shopping has become a traumatic experience. You go for vacation shopping, see a lovely pair of shorts, but they are so short and tight that it obstinately refuses to button up on your tummy and gives an “enviable” view of your thunder thighs. Does it mean that only “perfectly” proportioned women go on vacation? You search all over the real and virtual world for something loose and comfy and end up finding solace in guy shorts as they are the closest to what you want!

P.C – healthista.com

What about professional dresses? The pants that you loved are so tight around the crotch and buttocks that it shouts unprofessionalism! Don’t get me started on party wear – even with multiple spanx, fasting for days and holding your breath, the dress refuses to come down your bosom even after much coaxing and cussing. Finally, I have found my comfort in maternity dresses, purchasing and altering them as per my need. My guilty pleasure is raiding my husband’s wardrobe, so that he is perpetually confounded by the decrease in his neatly organized clothing pile.

This is purely my personal account. Feel free to share your shopping stories!

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Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie – A Review Rating : 4/5 Date of Publication : November, 1937

Agatha Christie’s foreign mysteries are a unique blend of murder mysteries incorporated into a mini-travelogue of the exotic middle east. Her extensive travels to various archaeological spots with her husband Max Mallowan gave her a first-hand experience of the rustic beauty of this region. From these were conceived some of her everlasting hits like Murder on the Orient Express, Murder in Mesopotamia etc. These foreign mysteries are a league apart from her regular country house mysteries due to the clever incorporation of the various locations into the mysteries. Death on the Nile is no different.

Agatha Christie and Max Mallowan (PC : pbs.twimg)

Hercule Poirot, on his Egyptian vacation, is approached by a rich socialite Linnet Ridgeway for his help in dissuading her best friend Jacqueline de Bellefort from stalking her. Ridgeway is recently married to Simon Doyle, to whom Jacqueline was previously engaged, which makes Jacqueline bitterly resent her. Havoc wreaks on a tranquil cruise over the Nile when Linnet is found in her cabin with a shot to her head. It falls on Poirot to solve the murder before the steamer docks in Cairo.

The book is structured into two halves. The first half is spent in elaborately sketching the characters and their relation with each other. This works like a guide for the readers and help us in keeping track of the relevant details of the multitude of characters in the book who in the second half find themselves confined in a steamer across the Nile. The first part is interesting as we get to see Christie build up intrigue just by few well-placed comments in the conversation between characters. The second part takes us to Egypt where Christie spends time describing the beauty of Nile and Abu Simbel along with the description of the people (I felt the description of the locals were highly biased and did not do justice to the people). The pace picks up once the crime gets committed under the watchful eyes of Poirot and the ensuing investigation makes it a page turner. 

Christie fabricates a highly complex plot in this novel that is filled with multiple subplots exploring various themes like romance, vengeance, friendship and loyalty.  Some of the subplots involving minor characters brings a whiff of lightness to a morbid tale of deceit. Apart from her usual red herrings, Christie plants various clues in these subplots to form an intricate pattern. These confound the readers and provide a worthy challenge for your “grey matter”. However, it is really not that hard for a seasoned Christie lover to see through the ruse and figure out the culprit. I immensely enjoyed the book with its diverse story lines, unique characters and beautiful settings. 

This book is a must read for any Christie fan as it is enjoyable, intriguing and immensely satisfying. Undoubtedly, this is one of the best works of Christie and adds a beautiful feather in her cap.

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, 2018 has been an eventful year for me both on the personal and professional fronts. I changed my job in the first half of the year to reduce my commute time only to realize how much I enjoyed the commute spending that time on reading, blogging and listening to podcasts. The second half saw me pop up out a tiny person whom I expected to be a mini-me, but in reality turned out to resemble my spouse. So overall, my year was filled with a lot of novel experiences and new emotions. However, the reduced commute did not mean that I read less. Most of my sleepless nights was spent in conquering new books. Below I rate the top 5 books that I have read in 2018.

1. Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson

This is the first biography that I have read which engrossed me completely. Walter Issacson’s crisp writing and honest portrayal of the eccentric genius Steve Jobs makes a very compelling read. No topic is off topic for Issacson and he gives us an insight into Job’s life ranging from his creative process, reality distortion field and even his personal relationship with his family and friends.

2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The second book in my list is again an engrossing autobiography by Maya Angelou that details the first sixteen years of her life. It depicts the struggles of growing up as a black woman in America during the 1930s. It is a coming of age story that is honest and insightful in its portrayal of oppression, racism and bigotry.

3. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I was introduced to Adichie’s beautiful writing in 2017 through Half Of A Yellow Sun and the romance continued this year through Americanah and The Thing Around Your Neck. Americanah deals with themes like immigration and identity in the backdrop of Nigerian youths Ifemelu and Obinze who immigrate to the West in search of better opportunities. Their struggles to “fit in” and the identity crisis forms a major part of this beautiful novel.

4. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

This was one book that had physically eluded me for the past two years as no copies were available in my favorite book haunts. However, when I received the book, the reading experience was so gratifying that it was totally worth the wait. An immense undertaking by Kingsolver that spans continents and explores multiple themes like freedom, religion, search of identity, women empowerment to mention a few. It briefly touches upon many issues plaguing Africa in general and Congo in particular.

5. Swing Time by Zadie Smith

The fifth book in my list again takes the readers to the African continent, specifically to Gambia. Swing time deals with themes of betterment, change, happiness and relativity. Many of the characters in the book has gone beyond their modest upbringing to better themselves. However, the narrator raises the question whether betterment means happiness through different characters in the book.

Wishing everyone a wonderful 2019 filled with lots of fun, adventure and books!!!
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Turtles All the Way Down by John Green – A Review Rating : 3.5/5 Date of Publication : October, 2017

This was my first John Green book as I was not tempted to read his popular novel “The Fault In Our Stars”. I felt it to be another Nicholas Sparks novel which I had outgrown at least a decade ago. In spite of this, I thought of giving “Turtles All The Way Down” a try since it always kept popping up in the popular books list. Due to my utter lack of expectations, the book turned out to be a mixed bag with a few memorable aspects and a lot of YA clichés.

Goodreads Summary: 

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of the fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis. Aza is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. 

Turtles All The Way Down has all the cliched ingredients needed for a popular YA novel – a brooding hero – check, a reclusive and shy heroine – check, either one or both struggling with personal issues – check, characters obsessed with popular sci-fi novels – check. The characters and the plot settings are not unique and hence do not stand out. The emotional appeal of the book is also not that great as many of the melodramatic moments in the book might fail to move a seasoned reader as they are predictable. I do not site these clichés as a fault as these settings and characters might have been necessary to ingratiate the author’s immense fan base. 

If you look beyond the clichés, the book acts as a medium for awareness about anxiety disorders. The protagonist Aza, suffers from severe OCD which manifests as a fear of microbes, specifically C.diff. Her ever-spiraling thoughts and helplessness to prevent it forms the major theme of the novel. The author provides a great insight into the mind of a person with anxiety disorders, especially that of a teenager who has her own struggles to fit in. Even though having a nerdy protagonist with behavior quirks seem to be the new trend in YA, no book has ever gone so deep to portray the powerlessness of the anxiety ridden individual over his or her thoughts. Kudos to the author for spreading awareness about an issue that is still considered taboo by a greater part of the society!

Another positive about the novel is its unexpected climax. As the plot progresses, taking us through a road much traversed, we expect a run-of-the-mill climax. However, the author has veered off from the traditional formula of eternal love to have a more practical ending that might appeal with matured readers as well as YA readers. 

A glaring flaw that troubles me throughout the book was that, for a novel about teens the book did not have any teen slang. When two teenagers send elaborate text messages or Facebook chats without any jargon, it raises a few red flags right there. One of the sarcastic texts sent to Aza from her friend:

“If I die weep at my grave every day until a seedling appears in the dirt, then cry on it to make it grow until it becomes a beautiful tree whose roots surround my body”.

I don’t think any teen has the patience to type this kind of messages for fun. Also, the conversation between the teens felt like an adult trying to mimic the teenage conversation. The words spoken by the protagonists were so “deep” that I can seldom imagine two teenage lovebirds ever conversing like that except in a book.

Overall, I would recommend this book as a one- time read not for the plot or the story but for the awareness about mental health and anxiety disorders.

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Dead Man’s Folly by Agatha Christie – A Review Rating : 2/5 Date of Publication : October, 1956

What a better way to restart my blog than with the review of a novel by the Queen of Crime! Dead Man’s Folly was completely an impulse purchase without any effort gone into looking at its reviews. I was short of time and a shelf full of Agatha Christie books were beckoning me; and hence I picked a title that sounded interesting. Alas, it was only the title that was interesting!

Ariadne Oliver, a renowned crime writer, is organizing a “Murder Hunt” in Nasse House, Nascombe, the home of Sir George Stubbs, as a part of the village fete. However, her instinct tells her that something sinister is going to happen in the house and she invites Poirot in the guise of judging the event. What she feared happens when the girl playing the murder victim turns out dead during the fete. With hundreds of people on the grounds of the house attending the fete, it falls on the hands of Poirot to catch the murderer and prevent him from striking again.

Similar to Agatha Christie’s successful novels, Dead Man’s Folly is also set in a country house (modeled on Christie’s own summer residence) and has an interesting menagerie of characters sprinkled together to keep the readers guessing.  Ariadne Oliver (a fictional Christie) gives a breath of fresh air and brings in situational humor to the story which otherwise would have been indistinguishable from Christie’s numerous novels. Different from other Poirot novels, the detective takes a step back during the initial investigation of the crime although it is his ingenuity which helps in solving it at the end.

The plot of the novel is cleverly imagined to match its progress with the Murder Hunt which helps in narrowing down the suspects from the numerous attendees of the fete. However, the character portrayal is lackluster due to absence of depth to make them memorable and the description is not detailed enough to make the readers get entirely involved in the novel. Although the plot unfolds carefully with Christie placing enough red herrings throughout the story, it would be challenging for even the seasoned Christie fans to predict the climax of the novel. The let-down for the entire novel comes from the aspect that the story ends in haste and lacks the big dramatic reveal by Poirot which is so characteristic of Christie novels.

Overall, the book pales in comparison with the other works of Christie. I would not even recommend it as a one-time read as it fails to provide the satisfaction of a well-rounded mystery. It leaves the readers with numerous unanswered questions regarding both the characters and the actual crime itself.

Book Escapade

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It’s a Boy!!!

Mrs. and Mr. Book Escapade proudly welcomes their tiny bundle of joy, Lil’ Book Escapade (Lil’ B), into a world full of love, adventures and books! The fumbling first-time parents have already set forth on a mission to overwhelm the newborn with a wide array of books.

The past eleven months have been an emotional ride with a multitude of highs and lows. I would like to humbly apologize to my followers for neglecting the blog amidst a lot of personal and professional commitments. However, I am really thankful for all the support I received from my friends and family in guiding and supporting me through some difficult decisions. Above all, I am grateful to have Mr. Book Escapade by my side, holding my hands through thick and thin and being my pillar of strength. I could not ask for a better companion as we start this scary yet joyful ride into parenthood!

To all the parents out there, I would love to know the steps you have taken to make your little one interested in reading books.

Love,

Book Escapade

PC : http://www.123rf.com

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