The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Wind in the Willows is about a mole, a water rat, a badger and a toad who has a penchant for expensive cars. Sounds interesting? You bet! It can be termed as a children's book, but it is for everybody who is a child at heart. There is something very 'cute' about the book - the innocent characters, the simple story line, the language they speak and the simple, everyday things that the characters take great pleasure in.

When I saw that this book appears on BBC's The Big Read - 'Top 100' and 30 books to read before you turn 30, I set really high expectations on this book. I had the memories of The Secret Garden fresh in my mind and I was hoping this book too is as likeable as the first one. While The Wind in the Willows is a good book, I don't understand what the hype is all about. The book definitely does not deserve to be part of any 'must read' lists. The Secret Garden is a totally different book - it revolves around humans and the story is something that one could easily relate to. There is a very strong presence of nature in it which makes it even more charming. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy animated characters and animals dressed up and leading a more human life, but Willows just didn't work for me. If I can relate to Calvin and Hobbes where the stuffed tiger lives only in the child's imagination, I should be able to appreciate any animal character, right? But the rat or the mole or the toad just didn't stir any feelings in me. All that stuff about the toad ordering expensive cars and wasting away his life and money, the rat and the mole being such good buddies and helping the toad find his goal in life - I could not digest all this.

Just a few words about this book can't be called a review, but I am still blogging this because I need to air my views somewhere. Please do not be discouraged by my view of this book. I am known to dislike books which others just love. In fact, you should mark a book as a 'have-to-read-it-no-matter-what' if I give it a bad review. Told you, I am insane!

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

After thoroughly enjoying the first in the Millennium series The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I knew I will be reading the next book pretty soon and so I did! We meet the same characters Lisbeth Salander, the one with the tattoo and who apparently plays with the fire in this book and our hero Mikhael Blomkvist and a bunch of other supporting characters.

This time around, we have Salander in the hotspot - she is accused of triple murders and it is upto her friend Blomkvist to help her out in this difficult decision. The author takes immense pleasure in hanging the sword above Salander's head and letting the readers wonder 'Did she? Didn't she?' A journalist who is writing a book about sex trafficking, his girl friend who is writing a thesis on the same subject, a mysterious incident in Salander's life which she calls "All The Evil" - add all these and you have a page tuner in your hands - literally! Just like the first book, Larsson creates an air of mystery around Salander's so called evil incident and the reader is dying to know what the heck that is. Salander gets a few more layers to her - Larsson beautifully develops her character. Half the world thinks she is a psychopath and is dangerous to the society whereas the other half thinks she is the best thing ever that happened to mankind.

Larsson seems to be obsessed with the physical form of love. While the first book revolved completely around that and violence, Larsson could have easily avoided mentioning these in his second book, still he does. A more-than-necessary importance to lesbians and this really put me off. The author has an interesting plot on hands which will make the book sell like hot cakes, he need not resort to such cheap tactics just to increase the book's sales!

Larsson's writing is nothing great. As it happens with most murder mysteries, the importance is given to the plot, its twists and turns rather than the language and style and this book is no different. And I am totally fine with it. If I want to read good English and beautiful style, I will read some other book. When I read a mystery, I want to be given an interesting plot and so many twists and turns that I feel dizzy and Larsson's books fulfill these criteria. But there is a limit to how much shabby writing one can put up with. Larsson gets so descriptive in every scene (why do I care how many Billy Pan Pizza did Salander buy) that it gets really irritating (are you sure she folded her right leg over her left one and not the other way around? Who cares?). Still, I enjoyed this book just like how I enjoy a Govinda movie any day! You might not recall anything in this book after you close it, but you will enjoy it as long as you read it.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

After being impressed by my first Atwood novel, The Handmaid's Tale, I picked up The Blind Assassin with a lot of expectations. If I have to sum up my opinion about this book in one word, it would be 'indifference'.

The Blind Assassin is about two sisters, Iris and Laura. The book moves back and forth in time - Iris is narrating her present life as an old, depressed woman who is separated from her granddaughter and she often visits her past where she tells us about her with her parents and her sister. Within this main story, there is another story going on, which is a book written by Laura and within this book is another story written by the protagonist of Laura's book. Confusing? It was, for me. With three different threads going on, it was very confusing to me and difficult to keep track of what I was reading.

I can't tell you anything more about the story unless I flag it as a spoiler. The narrator, Iris, seemed so hollow to me. I felt a strong urge to give her a nice shake to bring her out of her reverie and scream in her ears 'Show some emotion'. Laura, on the other hand, is interesting. As a child, especially, where she takes things literally that one can't jest with her and say 'Go jump in a well'. The way she takes things which we term as completely normal and the way she questions ("Does God lie?") makes her character very interesting. The other characters just exist to fill in the blanks in the sister's lives. Oh, one character which caught my attention is Reenie, Iris's caretaker - she was the most interesting in the book.

When it is Atwood, I don't really need to say anything about her writing. Beautiful words, thought provoking analogies, lovely flow.
I was sand, I was snow — written on, rewritten, smoothed over.

Mother might be resting, or doing good deeds elsewhere, but Reenie was always there. She’d scoop us up and sit us on the white enamel kitchen table, alongside the pie dough she was rolling out or the chicken she was cutting up or the fish she was gutting, and give us a lump of brown sugar to get us to close our mouths. Tell me where it hurts, she’d say. Stop howling. Just calm down and show me where. But some people can’t tell where it hurts. They can’t calm down. They can’t ever stop howling.

A hot wind was blowing around my head, the strands of my hair lifting and swirling in it, like ink spilled in water.

Farewells can be shattering, but returns are surely worse. Solid flesh can never live up to the blind shadow cast by its absence.

You can read more quotes from this book on goodreads.

The book was enjoyable as long as I read it, but it has nothing memorable in it. I loved the language as long as it lasted. It's not a book that I would ask someone not to read, but I wouldn't highly recommend it either. I am indifferent towards this book, so it's left to you.

This book is on 1001 books to read before you die and Time's All Time 100 Novels. It won the Booker Prize in 2000.