Adrift – A Junket Junkie in Europe

— by Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu

Before beginning the review, I have to say that this is my very first travel journal. I have read travel anecdotes and accounts on blogs all over the internet, but I had not read such an extensive journal till date.

My first reaction after reading this book was simple awe and a decided kinship! It is amazing that this author can pack up her bags and leave to the most favored destinations of the world trusting a shoestring budget and a bunch of relatives & friends. I am yet to go alone on a trip anywhere! And she managed most of Europe on her own. She is living my dream and I have to applaud her for this.

I started this book not knowing what to expect, but the author has managed to move me with detailed accounts of all her destinations. She has devoted a chapter each to significant places of visit. Mostly following a pattern, she begins by introducing her hosts in that place, all of them old friends or relatives. She then briefly describes her accommodation conditions and then launches into an extensive narration of the history, nuances, culture, people and cuisine of each of the places. And being a self-professed foodie, she describes the culinary delights of the place with mouth-watering descriptions! She effectively captures the core attraction of the place through her experience of it and feelings towards it.

As much as the book is about Europe, it is also about the author. Her personality and preferences shine through her words. Without being too narcissistic, she manages to balance the information and her own personal feelings towards these destinations. We gather from her journal that she is a seasoned traveller and not a mere tourist. It is not her job to go to catalogued places and take pictures , live in expensive resorts and wind up a trip. She is determined to soak in the experience of a particular place. By meeting its people, by eating the signature dishes, participating in the local events and in general by enjoying herself thoroughly!
The journey through Europe for Puneet starts by the discovery of a ticket that was gifted to her long time ago. Some rummaging around found her a couple of relatives in Germany and UK. So she gathers her essentials, scrapes some money together and sets off on the trip. With her determination to not delegate herself to being a tourist, our happy traveller sets a few ground rules for herself. She does break a few of them but under pressing circumstances. Her wit and humour are a part of her writing too. She also manages to sufficiently convey her sympathy when she visits places with unfortunate history like the house where Anne Frank’s family hid from the Gestapo. She parties hard and fully exploits the delights of places like Amsterdam. She finds the best of eateries in Paris, bicycles through the plains of Sweden and even manages to travel on a train in Paris without a ticket! Though not many misadventures, except a near escape from a customs officer and a bad movie experience, her other happenings are thrilling enough for somebody who truly would love to go to Europe!

I was a bit put off by some of the writing though. Though I do applaud her vocabulary, the book consisted of one too many unnecessary words. Also some of the complex sentences were not well formed and it is real hindrance to read a sentence multiple times, distracting the reader from the real intent of the book. Also, I was amused to find British influences in her writing. The trip really seems to have had an impact on her! Looking over other aspects of presentations, I have to say, the cover art of the book really did its job by capturing the mood.

All in all the book is an excellent ride through Europe. I thoroughly envy the author for her spirit and independence. Still I hope she goes to more places and documents more of her travels for me to read!

My Rating 4/5
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Love on the Rocks

- Ismita Tandon Dhankher

My first thoughts on hearing the title of this book was categorizing it to the arena of sappy romantic stories. But surprise of surprises! It is an enthralling thriller with strong undercurrents of love. The first two pages of the book are enough to  make you get up and take notice of the plot line.

In a cargo ship sailing from Japan to America,the Sea Hyena, among with the 24 crew members, the chief officer, Aaron is newly wed and decides to bring along his wife, Sancha on board for the voyage. The husband and wife are blissfully in love but there is turmoil on the vessel. A murderer is on the loose and this in turn causes turmoil among the happy couple too. Everybody is under suspicion for theft and murder. Once the detective authority comes on board, it becomes a vicious cat and mouse game. With the thrill of murders there are also revelations of various key characters and they are not pretty. Sancha even doubts her own husband and doesn’t hesitate to voice these doubts. A gloomy masked presence looms over all this drama.

The narration of the book is unique. Every character explains the proceedings from their own perspectives in their respective chapters. This style may start out to be mildly confusing, but you soon get into the rhythm as you grasp the nuances of each character. There are several mysteries entangled in this story but the author deftly extracts each one and even succeeds in connecting them to each other to form a beautiful large picture at the end.

The mounting suspense predictably climaxes to the finding of the murderer without any twist. But it is then that the author brings out her trump card and reveals the identity of Manna, the mysterious journal writer with the violent past.

One flaw that I observed was the characterization was incomplete. There were some gaping holes in the character descriptions. All the characters have some kind of a past which could have been better illustrated in the soliloquy chapters.

Even through all of this and some mild confusion in the middle of the plot , the book turns out to be a delightful read. It is non pretentious, mature and manages to be practical and true to the characters at all time. An engaging thriller with great description of life on a cargo vessel. Kudos to Ismita!

Rating – 4*

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The Vague Woman’s Handbook

… by Devapriya Roy

I first noticed this book in my neighbourhood book store. Fresh new copies were on the shelf. My first impression was it must be a new time pass book by another new author. I have had some bad reading experience with some new authors. The cover art looked light and on a whim I picked the book.

I got immersed in the story of the two protagonists. Sharmila Mukherjee and Indira Sen are two different strata of women. In fact Sharmila or Mil is still a girl. Newly wed Mil is proudly living with her husband, while the long-widowed Indira is an outwardly mature Government officer. They meet in the offices of Academy of literature. And become fast friends. The unlikely friendship blossoms to a great extent, bringing solutions to many problems and great companionship.There is also the very immature but cute love of Mil and her husband Abhi, Indira’s dominating mother, Abhi and Mil’s uncompromising parents, the nosy neighbors and insufferable house owners too!

The beauty of the book lies in the dynamics of the different relations described in the book, estranged mother-child, not-enough-space mother-child, the newly married lovers, the college friends. All of these relationships are described and built to the reader with utmost care. The author puts forth incidents that test these relations and shows us that the relationships deserve to exist and will stand every test. The love of a young couple, the frustration of living frugally in expensive Delhi, the pain after fights, all these leave the reader with a lot of warmth towards the characters. Both the women are slight scatter brains, Mil not possessing minimal direction sense and Indira being prone to apathic Credit card spending. This definitely helps the women to identify themselves very easily with the characters. Even with their flaws they lead very fulfilling lives. There is no drama in what the author writes. The problems faced by these women are hard ones. They don’t have miraculous solutions but over time with some determination and support, they all overcome their problems, managing to get a few laughs out of them and even managing to allow themselves happy endings.

As for the writing, I enjoyed it immensely. The writer is such an imaginative person and the best part is that she can so easily translate that to the written word. The imagery she builds up to describe all the situations and the surroundings is so beautiful that I fell in love with the writing. The fact that I finished the book in one night is itself a testimonial to that.

My only gripe is that though the cover art is interesting, it does not portray the women as described in the book. Hope that changes in the next reprint!

Excellent read. My rating 5*