Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly blog meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Unlike last time, I’m actually posting this on the correct day of the week, so hooray for small victories! (I started writing this a few hours ago, but then had to leave home, so now it’s technically beyond midnight. But it’s still Tuesday in many parts of the world! Just not in mine.)

top ten tuesday

I add a lot of books to my to-read shelf on Goodreads. Sometimes I don’t even recognise books I stumble across on the internet or in bookstores until I go to add them to my list and find that they’re already there. This week’s theme actually looks fun enough to do on a monthly basis. The top ten books I’ve added to be TBR list in March are:

CHILDREN’S BOOKS


bigfoot is missingBigfoot is Missing! by J. Patrick Lewis

What it’s about:

The book offers a smart, stealthy tour of the creatures of shadowy myth and fearsome legend—the enticing, the humorous, and the strange. Bigfoot, the Mongolian Death Worm, and the Loch Ness Monster number among the many creatures lurking within these pages. Readers may have to look twice—the poems in this book are disguised as street signs, newspaper headlines, graffiti, milk cartons, and more!

Why I added it to my list:

Children’s books and mythical creatures are two of my favourite things. So a picture book with poems about cryptids is definitely something I need to get my hands on.

the storyspinnerThe Storyspinner by Becky Wallace

What it’s about: 

In a world where dukes plot their way to the throne, a Performer’s life can get tricky. And in Johanna Von Arlo’s case, it can be fatal. Expelled from her troupe after her father’s death, Johanna is forced to work for the handsome Lord Rafael DeSilva. Too bad they don’t get along. But while Johanna’s father’s death was deemed an accident, the Keepers aren’t so sure. The Keepers, a race of people with magical abilities, are on a quest to find the princess—the same princess who is supposed to be dead and whose throne the dukes are fighting over. With dukes, Keepers, and a killer all after the princess, Johanna finds herself caught up in political machinations for the throne, threats on her life, and an unexpected romance that could change everything.

Why I added it to my list: 

After finishing the books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, I remembered how much I missed being lost in a compelling, unputdownable fantasy series. While I don’t expect this book – promisingly, the start of a series – to put me in the same addictive zone as George R. R. Martin did, the author here does promise age-old secrets, magical mayhem, fist fights, knife fights, gypsy caravans, political maneuvering and heroic quests.

splendors and gloomsSplendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

What it’s about: 

The master puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, invites him to entertain at her birthday party. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with caravan, puppets, and his two orphaned assistants. When Clara vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer and, by association, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall. As they seek to puzzle out Clara’s whereabouts, Lizzie and Parse uncover Grisini’s criminal past and wake up to his evil intentions. Fleeing London, they find themselves caught in a trap set by Grisini’s ancient rival, a witch with a deadly inheritance to shed before it’s too late.

Why I added it to my list: 

I can rarely resist mystery and magic, and this one has both in generous doses. According to the publisher, this Victorian gothic is a rich banquet of dark comedy, scorching magic, and the brilliant and bewitching storytelling. I’m a sucker for a crackerjack blurb.

ADULT FICTION


the camel bookmobileThe Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton

What it’s about:

Fiona Sweeney wants to do something that matters, and she chooses to make her mark in the arid bush of northeastern Kenya. By helping to start a traveling library, she hopes to bring the words of Homer, Hemingway, and Dr. Seuss to far-flung tiny communities where people live daily with drought, hunger, and disease.

Why I added it to my list:

I found it in a bookstore during my birthday trip to Bangalore. I had never heard of the book before, but the title and blurb appealed to me instantly. I’m hugely interested in unconventional community libraries all over the world, and this one sounded too good to pass up.

the libraryThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

What it’s about: 

Carolyn’s not so different from the other human beings around her. She’s sure of it. After all, she was a normal American herself, once. That was a long time ago, of course–before the time she calls “adoption day,” when she and a dozen other children found themselves being raised by a man they learned to call Father. Father could do strange things. He could call light from darkness. Sometimes he raised the dead. And when he was disobeyed, the consequences were terrible. Sometimes, they’ve wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God. Now, Father is missing. And if God truly is dead, the only thing that matters is who will inherit his library–and with it, power over all of creation.

Why I added it to my list: 

God (capital G) is, essentially, a master librarian! “Astonishingly original, terrifying, and darkly funny contemporary fantasy”! (Told you I’m a sucker for blurbs). A battle to become the next God! This book sounds SO promising.

our endless numbered daysOur Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

What it’s about: 

Peggy Hillcoat is eight years old when her survivalist father, James, takes her from their home in London to a remote hut in the woods and tells her that the rest of the world has been destroyed. Deep in the wilderness, Peggy and James make a life for themselves. They repair the hut, bathe in water from the river, hunt and gather food in the summers and almost starve in the harsh winters. They mark their days only by the sun and the seasons. When Peggy finds a pair of boots in the forest and begins a search for their owner, she unwittingly unravels the series of events that brought her to the woods.

Why I added it to the list: 

Because a father basically kidnaps his daughter, runs away to the woods, and tells her the rest of the world has been destroyed. Why wouldn’t anyone add this to their list?!

ADULT NON-FICTION


all who go do not returnAll Who Go Do Not Return by Shulem Deen

What it’s about:

Shulem Deen was raised to believe that questions are dangerous. As a member of the Skverers, one of the most insular Hasidic sects in the US, he knows little about the outside world—only that it is to be shunned. His marriage at eighteen is arranged and several children soon follow. Deen’s first transgression—turning on the radio—is small, but his curiosity leads him to the library, and later the Internet. Soon he begins a feverish inquiry into the tenets of his religious beliefs, until, several years later, his faith unravels entirely.

Why I added it to my list: 

I’ve read a few long-form articles about people who were brought up in deeply orthodox religions/communities and have now chosen to live away from that world. This book deals with an unfamiliar (to me) religious sect and the implications of losing not only one’s faith but also one’s way of life. I find such stories fascinating!

all over but the shoutinAll Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg

What it’s about:

This is the story of Rick Bragg, who grew up dirt-poor in northeastern Alabama, seemingly destined for either the cotton mills or the penitentiary, and instead became a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times. It is the story of Bragg’s father, a hard-drinking man with a murderous temper and the habit of running out on the people who needed him most. But at the center of this soaring memoir is Bragg’s mother, who went eighteen years without a new dress so that her sons could have school clothes and picked other people’s cotton so that her children wouldn’t have to live on welfare alone. Evoking these lives–and the country that shaped and nourished them–with artistry, honesty, and compassion, Rick Bragg brings home the love and suffering that lie at the heart of every family. The result is unforgettable.

Why I added it to my list: 

Even though I enjoy memoirs by people I know nothing about, this book is so far out of my usual reading comfort zone. If I would have spotted this book in a store or on someone’s shelf, I wouldn’t have given it a second glance. Okay, I probably would have read the blurb, but I would have definitely kept it back. But the author’s delightfully wry article about how the world is divided into two types of people – mustard people and mayo people (Team Mayo FTW) – completely sold me on the his writing. Now I’m itching to read something he’s published.

selfishSelfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers On Their Decisions Not To Have Kids by Meghan Daum (Editor)

What it’s about:

One of the main topics of cultural conversation during the last decade was the supposed “fertility crisis,” and whether modern women could figure out a way to way to have it all–a successful, demanding career and the required 2.3 children–before their biological clock stopped ticking. Now, however, conversation has turned to whether it’s necessary to have it all or, perhaps more controversial, whether children are really a requirement for a fulfilling life. The idea that some women and men prefer not to have children is often met with sharp criticism and incredulity by the public and mainstream media.

Why I added it to my list:

I am not thinking seriously about having kids. I am not thinking seriously  about not having kids. I am not thinking seriously about kids at all (except in a strictly how-to-get-more-of-them-to-pick-up-a-book-and-READ-dammit way). But I would love to read this anthology about what people have to say about it. Because as the always-powerful blurb tells me, the book “makes a thoughtful and passionate case for why parenthood is not the only path in life, taking our parent-centric, kid-fixated, baby-bump-patrolling culture to task in the process. What emerges is a more nuanced, diverse view of what it means to live a full, satisfying life.”

stuffocation

Stuffocation: How We’ve Had Enough of Stuff and Why You Need Experience More Than Ever by James Wallman

What it’s about:

The book explains and analyses why Stuffocation is the most pressing problem of our time – and then goes in search of its solution. On the way, it goes down the halls of the Elysée Palace with Nicolas Sarkozy, up in a helicopter above Barbra Streisand’s house on the California coast, and into the world of the original Mad Men. Through fascinating characters and brilliantly told stories, the author introduces the innovators whose lifestyles provide clues to how we will all be living tomorrow, and he makes some of the world’s most counterintuitive, radical, and worldchanging ideas feel inspiring – and possible for us all.

Why I added it to my list: 

Ever since I saw The Story of Stuff a few years ago, I started to realise that I really don’t need all the things I surround myself with. It’s been a slow process of choosing to buy less, and my willpower has crumbled on several occasions. But the knowledge of what consumerism does and how useless it is has made me more conscious about my buying habits. I would love to read more stories that celebrate the lack of unnecessary stuff in our lives. I also picked up The Secret Life of Stuff from the same store I bought The Camel Bookmobile from, and this book seems like an interesting addition to the list. You can watch The Story of Stuff below:

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The Invisible Friend by Louise Arnold – Book Review + Activity Ideas

The Invisible Friend

The Sixth Sense’s eerie proclamation of “I see dead people” made the ability to spot ghosts pop-culturally relevant. And who hasn’t had a bit of an identity crisis where you start wondering, “Do I exist? Am I a ghost? Am I Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense?!” Or was that just me?

In Louise Arnold’s world, however, ghosts are decidedly not dead people. The Ghost World sits right on top of the Real World, and ghosts inhabit the same space as humans. The only difference is that humans can’t see ghosts.

Some humans tried to find explanations for ghosts. They’d say they were memories caught in time, or the spirits of people that had died, or a premonition of things to come. Ghosts would chuckle at that. Ghosts are ghosts, as simple as gerbils are gerbils and seagulls are seagulls, and there’s nothing to be explained. I haunt, therefore I am.

The story is about two boys – one human (Tom Golden) and one ghostly (Grey Arthur). Tom has just moved to a new house and a new school and is utterly miserable. The perfectly pleasant 11-year-old is the constant target of bullies and nasty whispers and doesn’t have a single friend to call his own. For no discernible reason, he is known throughout the school as a freak and life is just generally horrid. His parents are lovely but clueless – as parents tend to be in such books – and have no idea what a miserable time he’s having.

Grey Arthur’s misery, on the other hand, has another cause. He’s a ghost without a purpose. He has been around for centuries but he still doesn’t know who he is.

There are more different types of ghost than there are different colours of crayon, and yet Grey Arthur didn’t belong to any group. He wasn’t scary enough to be a Screamer, wasn’t naughty enough to be a Poltergeist, wasn’t melancholy enough to be a Sadness Summoner. Each different thing Arthur had tried to be, he’d failed.

On the Tuesday when the story begins, Arthur stumbles upon Tom’s loneliness and feels like he should help. So he decides to make up a ghost type of his own – Arthur Grey is going to be Tom Golden’s Invisible Friend. Invisible Friendship involves moving under your best mate’s bed and following him to school, looking out for him, helping him avoid bullies and generally making sure he stays out of trouble. The problem, of course, is the Invisible part of the Friendship. Even though Tom fares slightly better at school, he still doesn’t know that Arthur actually exists.

Until the day he’s hit by a car and lands up in the hospital. Apparently, a near death experience does wonders for bringing ghosts into focus, even when the ghosts aren’t dead to begin with. Tom finds that he can suddenly see clearer, not only his new roommate Arthur, but also every other ghost everywhere he goes. Even though he’s freaked out in the beginning, school becomes a less lonely place with a ghost friend in tow.

The rest of the book follows Tom’s encounters with other ghosts, his continued problems with his schoolmates, worried parents who hear him talking to Arthur and a suspiciously chipper child psychologist.

The premise of the book sounded intriguining but I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. The book is filled with fascinating throwaway details, wholly original plot elements and manages to fit in quite a bit in 280 pages. The writing manages to be funny and gently clever without resorting to any sort of gimmickry. I genuinely enjoyed getting to know the wide array of characters, human and spectral. The two protagonists are immensely likable and the writing steers them clear of becoming boringly predictable.

A quick bit of Google sleuthing shows that the book is the first in a series, even though it holds up pretty well as a standalone read. I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for Ghost School and A Good Day For Haunting the next time I’m at a used book sale.

You can buy the book here which seems to be the only place online that stocks it.

1

  • The book features three sorts of ghosts (not including Arthur’s made up Invisible Friend). Make up your own kind of ghost that could be a part of this world. What are these ghosts called? What do they look like? What do they do? Draw a portrait.
  • Dress up as a ghost – either a traditional one, one from the book, one that you made up, or one straight out of Bollywood.
  • Gather a few friends, parents and/or siblings and play a game of Complete the Spooky Story. One person starts by coming up with the first sentence, followed by another person with the next sentence, followed by the third person with the third sentence and so on. Two rules: 1) The sentences have to form a logical story, so you have to pay attention to what the previous people said. 2) It has to be as gruesome as possible.

Jaipur Literature Festival Inspired Book List

I came back from my first trip to the Jaipur Literature Festival with a buzzing brain, happy memories, a notepad full of new books to add to my to-read list, and a stomach bug that I acquired by completely ignoring what my sense of smell was specifically evolved to avoid and eating railway station kachori that smelled a bit funky. To the shock of everyone around me, my self-imposed book ban was implemented successfully thanks in part to surprisingly strong willpower and mostly due to JLF’s decision to bring in Amazon as their bookstore partner.

I didn’t get to make it for any sessions on the first day because it clashed with a conference we had signed up for (the best part of which was the gorgeous palace location where peacocks and peahens just casually strolled through the grounds). But the sessions I did attend made up for it by being incredibly stimulating, expanding my knowledge about matters I was ignorant of and introducing me to some great new authors and books.

NON-FICTION


A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel

a history of readingThe author casually informed the audience that he and his partner bought a medieval presbytery in southern France, renovated it, moved in and currently share space with his library of over 30,000 books. He was fascinating on stage, dissed Amazon and Paulo Coelho (the latter on multiple occassions), and has a library of 30,000 books in southern France! Of course I want to read what he has to say. You can read more about his bookworm habits here. Now if anybody asks me where I put all the books I buy, instead of saying, “In the pots and pans in the kitchen,” I’m going to reply, “In my future library in southern France.”

empress dowagerI didn’t manage to attend this session but the title by itself sounded fascinating. At the age of sixteen, in a nationwide selection for royal consorts, Cixi was chosen as one of the emperor’s numerous concubines. When he died in 1861, their five-year-old son succeeded to the throne. Cixi at once launched a palace coup against the regents appointed by her husband and made herself the real ruler of China—behind the throne, literally, with a silk screen separating her from her officials who were all male.”
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
my salinger yearI have minimal interest in J. D. Salinger so even though I’d heard about this book, it hadn’t really interested me. But the author was delightful, and listening to her talk about her book made me want to give it a shot. When she was 23, the author worked in a literary agency where one of her jobs involved replying to fanmail addressed to J. D. Salinger. If the book is anything like the author, it’s sure to be interesting and have a brilliant sense of humour.
how to ruin a queenAnother session I didn’t attend but wanted to thanks to its original title: How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette, the Stolen Diamonds and the Scandal that Shook the French Throne. In 1785, a sensational trial began in Paris that would divide the country and captivate Europe. A leading Catholic cardinal and scion of one of the most distinguished families in France stood accused of forging the queen’s signature to obtain the most expensive piece of jewelry in Europe: a 2,800-carat diamond necklace. Where were the diamonds? Was the cardinal innocent? Was, for that matter, the queen? The revelations from the trial would bedevil the French monarchy as the country descended into a bloody revolution.
sophia An interesting title is half the battle won. I didn’t even have to attend the session to know I wanted to know more about this lesser known figures of 19th century India. In 1876 Sophia Duleep Singh was born into Indian royalty. Sophia transcended her heritage to devote herself to battling injustice and inequality, a far cry from the life to which she was born. Her causes were the struggle for Indian Independence, the fate of the lascars, the welfare of Indian soldiers in the First World War – and, above all, the fight for female suffrage. She was bold and fearless, attacking politicians, putting herself in the front line and swapping her silks for a nurse’s uniform to tend wounded soldiers evacuated from the battlefields.
hemlock cup This was an utterly fantastic discussion and I’m so glad it was my last full session at the festival. Next time I’m going to make sure I leave the day after JLF ends, but this time, unfortunately, I had an afternoon train to catch. Even though the author spoke of Socrates and his philosophy (something I am nearly clueless about), it wasn’t scholarly, but accessible and enjoyable. In fact, now I’m desperate to learn more about Socrates and his life and times. One of the things she spoke about (through the example of a genius ape) was how sharing knowledge is what makes humans more capable than animals because this is what allows different ideas to come together and consequently leads to progress. Something the festival did a great job of too.
granta indiaThis was the last session I stayed for, and could only sit for half of it, thanks to my 2pm train. But I usually love Granta, so I’m sure I’ll love an India-focused one edition even more. For a long time – too long – the mirror that India held to its face was made elsewhere. ‘What writer about the country would you recommend I read?’ first-time travellers to India would ask, and in the later twentieth century the answer was still Forster or Naipaul or even the long-dead Kipling. In fiction, that changed with Rushdie. Now it has changed in all kinds of non-fiction. Narrative history, reportage, memoir, biography, the travel account: all have their gifted exponents in a country perfecting its own frank gaze.
TRAVELOGUES

Books by Brigid Keenan who was hilarious, and frustratingly didn’t mention the title of the book she read her sidesplitting excerpt from. So I’m just going to have to track them all down!
a strangeSam Miller investigates how the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Chinese, Arabs, Africans, Europeans and Americans – everyone really, except for Indians themselves – came to imagine India. His account of the engagement between foreigners and India spans the centuries from Alexander the Great to Slumdog Millionaire. It features, among many others, Thomas the Apostle, the Chinese monk Xuanzang, Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, Vasco da Gama, Babur, Clive of India, several Victorian pornographers, Mark Twain, EM Forster, Allen Ginsberg, the Beatles and Steve Jobs. Interspersed between these tales is the story of Sam Miller’s own 25-year-long love affair with India. The result is a spellbinding, 2500-year-long journey through Indian history, culture and society, in the company of an author who informs, educates and entertains in equal measure, as he travels in the footsteps of foreign chroniclers, exposes some of their fabulous fantasies and overturns longheld stereotypes about race, identity and migration. A tour de force that is at once scholarly and thought-provoking, delightfully eccentric and laugh-out-loud funny, this book is destined to become a much-loved classic.
holy mountainIn 587 A.D., two monks set off on an extraordinary journey that would take them in an arc across the entire Byzantine world, from the shores of the Bosphorus to the sand dunes of Egypt. On the way John Moschos and his pupil Sophronius the Sophist stayed in caves, monasteries, and remote hermitages, collecting the wisdom of the stylites and the desert fathers before their fragile world finally shattered under the great eruption of Islam. More than a thousand years later, using Moschos’s writings as his guide, William Dalrymple sets off to retrace their footsteps and composes “an evensong for a dying civilization”
this divided island In the summer of 2009, the leader of the dreaded Tamil Tiger guerrillas was killed, bringing to a bloody end the stubborn and complicated civil war in Sri Lanka. What happens to the texture of life in a country that endures such bitter conflict? What happens to the country’s soul? Samanth Subramanian gives us an extraordinary account of the Sri Lankan war and the lives it changed. Taking us to the ghosts of summers past and to other battles from other times, he draws out the story of Sri Lanka today-an exhausted, disturbed society, still hot from the embers of the war. Through travels and conversations, he examines how people reconcile themselves to violence, how religion and state conspire, how the powerful become cruel and how victory can be put to the task of reshaping memory and burying histories.
tribes with glass While other authors on the Travel Writers panel spoke about their difficulties with a new country’s language, customs or people, Charles Glass had his experience of being kidnapped to talk about. So it’s a good thing he was saved until the end. Tribes With Flags is a chronicle of Glass’ journey from the southern Turkish coast to Lebanon, and includes the 62 days he was held captive by pro-Iranian terrorists in Beirut.
the first firangisIn the centuries before the British Raj, when the Mughals were the preeminent power in the subcontinent, a wide array of migrants known as firangis made India their home. In this book, Jonathan Gil Harris, a twenty-first-century firangi, tells their stories. These gripping accounts are of healers, soldiers, artists, ascetics, thieves, pirates and courtesans who were not powerful or privileged. Often they were escaping poverty or religious persecution; many were brought here as slaves; others simply followed their spirit of adventure. Some of these migrants were absorbed into the military. Others fell in with religious communities the Catholics of Rachol, the underground Jews of Goa, the fakirs of Ajmer, the Sufis of Delhi. Healers from Portugal and Italy adapted their medical practice in accordance with local traditions. Gifted artisans from Europe joined Akbar’s and Jahangir’s royal ateliers, and helped create enduring works of art. And though almost invisible within the archival record, some migrant women such as the Armenian Bibi Juliana and the Portuguese Juliana Dias da Costa found a home in royal Mughal harems.
a history of the worldThe book explores a dozen of history’s most influential maps, from stone tablet to vibrant computer screen. As Brotton shows, the long road to our present geographical reality was rife with controversy, manipulation, and special interests trumping science. Through the centuries maps have been wielded to promote any number of imperial, religious, and economic agendas, and have represented the idiosyncratic and uneasy fusion of science and subjectivity. Brotton also conjures the worlds that produced these notable works of cartography and tells the stories of those who created, used, and misused them for their own ends.

HISTORICAL FICTION


 

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

the luminariesThe author made the process of researching for historical fiction seem particularly inviting. It is 1866, and young Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky. Richly evoking a mid-nineteenth-century world of shipping, banking, and gold rush boom and bust, the book is a brilliantly constructed, fiendishly clever ghost story and a gripping page-turner.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

fingersmith

Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a “baby farmer,” who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home. One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of—passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum. With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways…But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals.

CHILDREN’S BOOKS: MIDDLE GRADE


 

Wild Magic by Cat Weatherill

wild magicMari and her brother Jakob have followed enchanted music and are now trapped in a world of wild magic. A world as cruel as it is beautiful. And all the time, they are being stalked by a fearsome beast, who needs one of the children to break a centuries-old curse.