Flowers for Algernon

Author : Daniel Keyes

Yes, there are spoilers. Please don’t read this if you haven’t already read the book and intend to.
Charlie was just a guy who wanted to fit in, you know? He just wanted to be smart “like everyone else” and understand what people said and..fit in. That’s why he tried so hard. He jumped through every hoop Dr.Nemur and Dr. Strauss showed him and he got his wish. He became smart. He became smarter. He became the smartest person humankind ever possibly knew.
Life would be so simple and happy if that was the end of the story. We love happy endings, don’t we. We want the underdog to succeed. We want a triumphant person at the end of a story. Maybe that’s what we get at the end; I’m not going to give anything away. But I will tell you about the process to that end. Charlie Gordon has an IQ of 68 when the story begins and life has been extremely hard for him – being abandoned by his parents, working at a bakery where he seems to have been given a chance from his perspective, but we can see they’re plain bullies there, having fun at Charlie’s expense and he bears it all with a grin and a laugh, because he wants to have friends. He thinks they Are his friends. And that heart of his is what makes you want to take the entire journey with him through his journal, go through everything he’s gone through, through his memories of his mother – Rose, his father -Matt and his sister, Norma….
The only glimmer of sunshine Charlie has or seems to have through this gloomy cloud of a fast-paced IQ-rising life of his is Alice Kinnian, one of his tutors at the facility where Charlie is to undergo treatments and eventually therapy sessions. In her, Charlie finds love and safety and I love that Daniel Keyes had her as a character.
Another character that is constantly alluded to and is really, the titular character is Algernon, a mouse that Charlie is pitted against at the beginning. It’s heartening to see how Charlie’s relationship with Algernon changes, even if one-sided – first as a goal, then as a rival, then as a subordinate and subsequently as a pet. The symbolism of Algernon’s microcosmic journey is telling and when flowers Are placed for Algernon, one can’t help but feel the ground drop from under them even if they have been expecting it.
At the core of it, Flowers for Algernon is, in my opinion, about relationships – the relationship with one’s self, with those you count friends, those you count lovers, those you count superiors and others. Underneath the veil of a man climbing a ladder of IQs was a man ..

  • a man who wanted to climb it purely to be like everyone else, to have that which was taken away from him his whole life,
  • a man who never had a childhood other children seem to have,
  • a man who never felt the love of his mother for who he truly was or the pride of his father for what he could be if he could be anything at all,
  • a man who eventually wanted to love and be loved by his friends, by a partner, by a sibling.

A man who wanted to matter.

If there was one thing i would have liked that seemed missing, it would have been a proper reconciliation with his father. But oh well…

This was a beautiful story.
Thank you Daniel Keyes.

“She said never mind but I shouldn’t feel bad if I find out everybody isn’t nice like I think. She said for a person who God gave so little to you did more than a lot of people with brains they never even used.”

Flowers for Algernon, Pg 26

Subjective Rating: : 4.9/5

The Silent Patient

Author : Alex Michaelides

This book got me out of my reading slump and into a frenzied reading pace, resulting in me finishing it in less than a week. And this should be review enough to serve as a recommendation for anyone else considering to pick this up as their next read, but there’s so much more I have to say about it.
When you think about a book, there are a lot of factors to consider – the plot, the characters, the locations, interpersonal relationships, facts, consistencies etc. The strongest factor in this debut book by Alex Michaelides is definitely Time (or timelines, if you prefer). The narrative alternates between the voices of Alicia Berenson (the titular character) and Theo Faber (the psychotherapist, who is determined to make her talk), but the shift is always seamless, and that I believe is an excellent trait in storytelling. Their timelines are the past and the present respectively. The former goes about narrating her, Alicia’s life with Gabriel (her husband) and their relationship, their stories that circle around Max (Gabriel’s brother), Paul (Alicia’s brother) and a couple of other recurring characters. While she is battling a lot of antagonistic external elements in her life, there are some inner demons as well that she constantly is forced to face. The latter revolves around Theo’s own journey into his profession and his life post joining The Grove, a life he’s decided to begin with the sole purpose of “rescuing” Alicia, all the while coming to terms with his own challenges at home. What follows is a tale of following-the-breadcrumbs, as Theo undertakes a investigative trip down Alicia’s memory lane and goes about meeting all her former associations to understand her life and to attempt to help her break her silence.
I will not tell you if he succeeds or fails. But I will tell you that this book is more than a set of psychotherapist-patient interviews, not that you ever thought it was. Jokes apart, it’s a thoroughly well written book that destigmatizes therapy a lot, and also makes you introspect, delve into your own psyche…question your voids and wonder if you are as whole as you thought you were or if you’re really at peace with yourself, make you feel lucky for having a wholesome childhood, because, as Alex believes, that’s where it all begins –

As babies, we are innocent sponges, blank slates, with only the most basic needs present: to eat, shit, love, and be loved. But something goes wrong, depending on the circumstances into which we are born, and the house in which we grow up. A tormented, abused child can never take revenge in reality, as she is powerless and defenseless, but she can—and must—harbor vengeful fantasies in her imagination. Rage, like fear, is reactive.“.

The Silent Patient, pg. 141

Oh, and it has one heck of a plot.
You’ll never see it coming. And when you do…🤯

Subjective Rating: 4.5/5

Six of Crows

Author : Leigh Bardugo
Succeeded by : Crooked Kingdom

I didn’t know what to expect when I started the book. I just associated it with the word “heist”. I didn’t read the blurb at the back for some reason before I started it, but I was given to understand that it was good , so I decided to give it a shot. I went in thinking about “Ocean’s 11”, “Now you see me” etc.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover the characters as they were being fleshed out, each more enigmatic than the last – the best of all being the main anti-hero Kaz Brekker. What a well-created character! But just as I falling in love with him, the other characters – Jasper, Inej , Nina and even Matthias and Wylan were given their backstories and it was impossible to restrict my affection to just the bastard of the Barrels. I liked that none of them were..perfect. They all had their flaws, their weaknesses and most of all, motives. Each of them had a reason for being a part of the plot. This is a good segue into the plot itself – It wasn’t a straight B & E and the number of obstacles in their path were to be many. The fact that Matthias and Wylan were familiar with the target destination was of assistance without making it too convenient. The minor twists towards the 60-70% mark were very welcome even though things were never boring, even till then. I loved the non-overt romantic relationship between Matthias and Nina, the description of discovery of feelings Kaz has for Inej and vice-versa and even the dynamics between Jesper and Wylan. It was a nice journey to see of a somewhat dysfunctional team coming to trust each other over the course of the mission.
The introduction of the Grishaverse terminologies took some getting used to but despite not having read the other books in the universe, I was still able to understand the different specialties of each of the Grisha – the Fabrikators, the Heartrenders etc. Good magic system. All of this takes place in a city called Ketterdam and Bardugo builds place descriptions just as vividly as she builds character sketches.
Overall, I completely enjoyed the book and, being part of a duology definitely has a story to complete. I look forward to reading “Crooked Kingdom”.
4/5.

Subjective Rating: 4/5

Shadows of Self

Author : Brandon Sanderson
Preceded by : Alloys of Law
Succeeded by : Bands of Mourning

The second book in the Wax and Wayne trilogy (Not sure if there’s a fourth book to come?) is titled “Shadows of Self” and is titled so, in my opinion, because there’s some heavy introspection that goes on in this book – both on Wax and Wayne’s part. We get some deeper insights into what makes these characters tick in this book. The plot revolves around a rogue murderer that’s going around creating all sorts of mayhem in the city, shaking its very political pillars in the process, starting with the killing of the governor’s brother and it’s upto Wax, Wayne and Marasi to get to the bottom of it. Brandon Sanderson’s magic system itself is somewhat diminished in its use here and the book seems to revolve more around the characters’ interpersonal relationships and how they grow in the process.

Marasi learns how to be more effective in her new role as a detective (having abandoned her original career as a solicitor), traversing the different challenges her office throws at her by way of petty jealousy from her colleagues, Wax and Steris learn to be a little more comfortable with each other, even as Wax is tormented by visions of his old paramour Lessie and even Wayne is shown to have a regretful side, a face we would not expect the playful, impish character to have. There is this amazing flashback-exchange between Wax and his uncle that reveals how Wax was a “lawman” even as a young boy. There is no dearth of excellent dialogues that are very relevant even in our non-allomantic dull real world which suck you into the book the way only Sanderson can. The villian, revealed to be a kandra, plays an important role as well (actually, a-duh-moment), exploiting the weaknesses of Wax and society as a whole.

This book is.. good – the story, the familiar characters, the fights – they’re all very good. I don’t bemoan the time I spent reading it, because I really had fun. But it falls short of a 5-star because the original Mistborn trilogy was still So much better. Let’s see if the next book in the series – Bands of Mourning can change this opinion of mine.

Subjective Rating: 4/5

The Republic of Thieves

Author : Scott Lynch
Preceded by : Red Seas Under Red Skies
Succeeded by : The Thorn of Emberlain (Not yet released)

Disclaimer – SPOILER ALERT

If “Red Seas under Red Skies” was a series of waves on a stormy day at sea, “The Republic of Thieves” was nothing short of earthquakes, one after another – some mild tremors, some that make you stand up with a start and a couple that jolt you out of your being and rip apart the very ground you’re standing on. 
The story starts off where its predecessor stops – with a very ill Locke and an extremely patient Jean (Locke doesn’t seem to want to end books in a healthy state). They try to get physiker after physiker to examine and possibly provide Locke an antidote for the poison the Archon left them with, but with consistent failure. When all hope seems lost, they’re approached by the one person they’d hoped they’d washed their hands off of – a Bondsmage. Patience, as she called herself, proposed a deal with the last remaining Gentlemen Bastards; an election fixture at Karthain in exchange for Locke’s revival to health. With no real options, they begrudgingly find themselves accepting the deal with no real idea of what they were getting themselves into.
In all honesty, I Knew they couldn’t Kill off the most interesting protagonist throughout the series with a mere poison, so the introduction of the antidote in this manner was interesting. What Was a let-down though was the manner in which a reunion with their long-lost lady Gentleman Bastard, Sabetha was conducted. She was their rival-to-be in the contest that was the winning of the Election. But this was a minor convenience in the grand scheme of things, so I bemoan it very little. I was left wanting in the previous book, to know more about Sabetha and that was definitely slaked here. Her character despite having received only 33% attention as far as the entire universe (so far) is concerned, has been very fleshed out in this book. 
Anyway, the rest of the story is a chain of tricks, alternatingly pulled in turn by Locke (aided ably by Jean) and Sabetha, to try and benefit the respective parties they’re trying to help win – Deep Roots and Black Iris respectively. The tricks are crafted skilfully by Scott Lynch, in various degrees of complexity – some are elaborate and some are childishly simple, but they never ceased to amaze me, the reader. 
Another thing I loved about the book and something Scott has maintained throughout the trilogy is the seamless shifts between stories of the past and the present. The former is a journey of the Bastards into a theatrical production of a play titled “The Republic of Thieves”, which is, if you’re paying attention, the title of the book. The play itself, with Aurin, Ferrin and Amadin felt like the foreshadowing of the whole plot, a story within the story, if you will. The latter brings into focus the rivalry between Locke and Sabetha, even as they grapple with their feelings for one other. 
And much like how we humans sometimes feel like we’re puppets strung along by invisible forces in this vast drama that is life, Locke, Jean, Sabetha, the parties and the people of Karthain are very much controlled by the all-seeing Bondsmagi of Karthain , primarily ruled by 4 main Archmagi – Archedama Patience, Archedon Providence, Archedama Foresight and Archedon Temperance – and these figureheads have an arc and schemes of their own which we’re slowly led through, the reasons divulged towards the end. 
There are a lot of minor characters introduced in this book, but they serve their purpose as pawns in schemes and they serve it well – nothing more, nothing less. The presence of the Sanza twins, even as characters in flashbacks, was regaling.
The Thorn of Camorr and his Bastard brothers have provided me with a lot of joy and I’ve savored every bit of the story thus far. I look forward to some questions in my mind being answered with the next and possibly final instalment in the series – “The Thorn of Emberlain”.

PS – Look out for the metaphors. Scott loves metaphors.

Subjective Rating: 4.5/5.0.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Author : Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows

To,
The Reader of this Review

Date  : 5th June 2019

Dear reader,
Please be warned that there are some spoilers ahead.
That out of the way, I wish to share with you how I felt upon completing this book, an epistolary, and I hope you will not mind the manner in which this review is presented. Reader, please believe me when I say this book found me rather than my seeking it. A dear friend first sent me a link to the trailer for the Netflix movie version late last year and at the time, I remember being charmed by the trailer, although , it quickly slipped my mind. Early this year, someone at my book club meeting mentioned in passing that they’d watched the movie and that it was actually derived from a book and I remember feeling surprised but again, I paid it no further heed and got on with my life. It was only two weeks ago when I was listening to a podcast that one of the speakers spoke about how she’d stopped referring to her Book Club as such and now referred to it as a “Literary Society” after being influenced and enamoured by the book. By now I was very intrigued and on my very next visit to Blossoms, a lovely bookstore here in Bangalore where I reside, I picked up “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” and began reading it the very same day.

And I was hooked. 

My dear reader, I tore through the book as though gripped by a monster who craves nothing else but devour page after page of content. At first, Juliet Ashton, who’s something of a protagonist, I will not lie, struck me as something of a bland character, someone who needed crutches upon which to stand; Sidney Stark and his sister Sophie Strachan being the crutches. Her story begins with her bemoaning the lack of a subject about which to write a book. And as fate would have it, a letter drops onto her lap, sent to her by one Mr. Dawsey Adams of Guernsey, an island in the English Channels. He seeks nothing but to thank the previous owner of a book he possesses – Essays of Elia – and to know more about the author of the book, Charles Lamb. It is in this letter that he also mentions the existence of the literary club that he’s a  founding member of, on Guernsey. An intrigued Juliet writes back to him and informs him of an avenue where he can obtain a copy of the biography of Charles Lamb and this is where the tale picks up steam.

In the meantime, Juliet is also the recipient of a large and incessant amount of flowers from what is revealed to be a wealthy American publisher and an eventual courter of Juliet, Markham V. Reynolds, Jr. What follows is story of collaboration of Juliet with a host of Guernsey inhabitants and members of the Literary Society which seems more tightly knit than that can be said for blood-related families today. And in them, Juliet found more than just a topic for a book. She found friends, some who eventually became family, I suppose. I loved most of the characters , Reader – the supportive Sophie, the feisty Isola, the quiet Dawsey, the capricious Sidney , the troubled Remy and most of all, the invisible yet amazing Elizabeth. Elizabeth was the founder of the Society, dear Reader and she, while never featured in the book as a character with a voice was one of the strongest characters written in a story. The reason I say this is because she’s shown to have had a personality of selflessness. When she quick-wittedly thought of announcing to a German soldier that her group that was outdoors after curfew was in fact a literary society, when she got romantically involved with Christian Hellman, in spite of his German alliance, recognising him for the good man he was, when she slapped Adelaide Addison for being horrid to the children at Guernsey , and when she, with no concern for her own life, stood up for a fellow woman being tortured at the concentration camp she was held captive at. I love the authors for being so brilliant in creating this strong character.I found myself thinking about the unfairness meted to her and I remember my jaw clenching when I realised that she never had the life she deserved. But then I remembered she was simply a character in a book. I smiled to myself at the realisation of the effect the authors had had on me.

Well done.

Over time, and with the passing of the story it seemed to me that I might have judged Juliet Ashton’s character prematurely and somewhat harshly, for she matured. She learnt to have a spine of her own and recognised Mark Reynolds for the bully he was and sent him packing on his way when he proposed marriage to her. She came to be a voice for the people of Guernsey and a provider of more than just communication from London and the world outside Guernsey. She adopted Kit, Elizabeth’s daughter and this is one of the things that ingratiated me most to her. And she, like Elizabeth didn’t hesitate once she was sure of the man she wished to marry and spend her life with, and seeked him out. 

Is there anything I didn’t like about the book? Well, Sidney’s character seemed a little off-putting at times and Mark was absolutely despicable. But I suppose they were integral to the whole thing, so I shall harp upon them no further. 

All in all, I say it again, Reader. I loved this book. It made me feel ..warm. I felt like I was travelling with Juliet every step of the way and I guess that’s how Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece, Annie Barrows intended it. And I urge you to read it as well. 🙂  


Yours,
Abhiram

Subjective Rating: 5.0/5.0.

Sky Album

Author : Anusha Sridharan

I loved it! 

People mention the pros first and then the cons normally. I’ve never been much of a conformist that way. So first, the negative –
Language could do with a little more polish, but given that this is author’s first work, this is largely dismissible, considering the larger number of plus points, which are –
A) Lovely pics that give the words surrounding them a pleasant context.
B) I found myself highlighting multiple paras and insightful observations the author made – for e.g how the sky has emotions as well that it demonstrates by way of the different climactic conditions, how people look at the moon in the sky and talk to it while longing for the special someone etc. 
Brilliant.
C) By the time I was done with it, I was filled with a genuine sense of lightness. This was a very calming book.
Kudos to the author on a first book well written. Looking forward to more works! 😊

Subjective Rating : 4.0 / 5.0