Review: A Life of Adventure and Delight by Akhil Sharma

In A Life of Adventure and Delight, Sharma delivers eight masterful stories that focus on Indian protagonists at home and abroad and that plunge the reader into the unpredictable workings of the human heart.

I started this short story collection a bit skeptical, since it took me nearly the whole day to finish reading just the first tale because I wasn’t vibing with the characters, premise, or writing. A retired divorcé taking advice from Cosmopolitan to get into his neighbor’s pants, while chronicling their confusing yet utterly ordinary relationship didn’t grip me at all.

“He wondered if he was sadder than he knew.”

I went on with lowered expectations, thinking this would be a similar let down as Junot Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her, but the minuted I opened up the second story titled “Surrounded by Sleep,” I was blown away from start to finish. What pulled me in particular was Ajay, the eleven-year-old protagonist at the heart of this tale. With his love for books, superhero comics, extreme superstitions and mind-expanding talks with God, it was as if the author knew exactly what to include to win me over. Also, the mother in the story was a sight to behold, especially when she used her devotion to “shame God into fixing” her oldest son.

“Are you going to tell me the story about Uncle Naveen again?” he asked.
“Why shouldn’t I? When I was sick, as a girl, your uncle walked seven times around the temple and asked God to let him fail his exams just as long as I got better.”
“If I failed the math test and told you that story, you’d slap me and ask what one has to do with the other.”
His mother turned to the altar.
“What sort of sons did you give me, God?” she asked. “One you drown, the other is this selfish fool.”
“I will fast today so that God puts some sense in me,” Ajay said, glancing away from the altar and up at his mother. He liked the drama of fasting.
“No, you are a growing boy.” His mother knelt down beside him and said to the altar, “He is stupid, but he has a good heart.”

Another point I unexpectedly came to cherish was Ajay’s character growth and how immense it seemed over the course of this swift tale, so much so that I nearly forgot that he was still eleven by the end of it all. Truly wise beyond his years.

“He was having difficulty talking. He didn’t know why. The only time he could talk easily was when he was with God. The explanation he gave himself for this was that, just as he couldn’t chew when there was too much in his mouth, he couldn’t talk when there were too many thoughts in his head.”

Needless to say, I was spellbound by how captivating “Surrounded by Sleep” was compared to the impression left by the first one. Consequently, my expectations were raised a tenfold for the remaining collection.

So I was then sad to see that the remaining pieces didn’t live up to what I’d so loved in the second story. Reading A Life of Adventure and Delight is probably the longest it has taken for me to complete a collection of short stories. I got stuck for days on end with a tale here and there, and in the end I just had to skip some pieces altogether to get the momentum back. I think my main problem was the fact that there wasn’t one theme or arc being explored, unlike in my favorite “Surrounded by Sleep”. Usually the tales started of in one way, only to end on a completely unrelated note, which of course led to numerous loose threads that left my mind spinning.

But I will say this: All the mothers in Akhil Sharma’s short story collection were a force to be reckoned with. The author can write dynamic mother figures like no one’s business, and I’m frankly jealous. So I was quite dismayed to see that A Life of Adventure and Delight didn’t live up to my overall expectations in the end. But I am eager to see what Sharma’s future works will entail.

3/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying A Life of Adventure and Delight, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia O’Hara, Lauren O’Hara

Hortense hated her shadow. Everywhere she went, it went. Everything she did, it did. And every time night fell it grew, tall and dark and crooked.

So Hortense decided: the shadow must go! Only later, alone in the wolfish woods, she learned that a girl without a shadow is far smaller… a fairy tale about light and shadows. 

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump this week, so this swift picture book couldn’t have come at a more perfect time to save me. I was even more surprised to discover that not only was it full of brilliant and darkly illustrated pages, I cherished immensely the message it put across to its readers, both young and old. Plus, the rhyming was another key point for my adoration.

And here’s what I mean when I talk about how the art will leave you reeling:

Hortense and the Shadow 1-- bookspoils

Hortense and the Shadow 2-- bookspoils

Hortense and the Shadow 3-- bookspoils

Hortense and the Shadow 4-- bookspoils

Hortense and the Shadow 5-- bookspoils

ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: October 5th, 2017

3/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Hortense and the Shadow, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

July 2017 Reading Wrap Up

My reading hasn’t quite picked up its momentum from last month, but I did have more literary gems thrown in here for which I’m grateful.
In total I read 15 books in July:

Honorable Mention:
I unexpectedly sat dawn to watch the Netflix film To the Bone in one sitting.

Trigger warning: eating disorder.

I’ve been putting off watching this particular film for a while now because of the potential triggers it may cause. In the end I decided to give it a chance based on this Buzzfeed article featuring the poem “Courage” by Anne Sexton. I was curious to then experience the written piece on screen to see if it would hold a different punch/ impact once spoken out loud instead of in your head. I was mainly thinking about how Hannah Baker’s poem in 13 Reasons Why felt like a visceral change from reading it alone.

Speaking of the later, the post linked below is a crucial one to consider:

So I was still hesitant for the first ten minutes of To the Bone, fearing the usage of grotesque and triggering images to tell Ellen’s tale. But I gradually leaned into the unraveling and development of the story when I realized that this film is focused mainly on the recovery of the character as she battles anorexia, rather than having an hour focused on the triggering bits and then ten minutes of recovery in a montage-esque bit, as many media pieces (books and movies) have done in the past. So the entire premise being set around joining Dr. William Beckham’s inpatient program on the road to recovery felt like the weight of the world was removed off my shoulders. Side note: I did end up having to avert my eyes off the screen a handful of times, but compared to what I was initially expecting, I felt out of the woods by the end of it.

I was then consequently won over by the utterly phenomenal characters introduced into Ellen’s life. From the honest and sage adviser Dr. William Beckham, played by Keanu Reeves, to the upbeat ballet dancer, Luke, always ready to act as a moral cheerleader (and a complete show stealer) for those in need, to the five additional women and girls being treated alongside Ellen. Each brings with them a shattering and unflinching clarity to the screen.

However, To the Bone had me so essentially enraptured in all the characters thanks to its ability to capture the moments that go by unnoticed but end up meaning so very much to the overarching theme. There’s meaningful intention behind every little gesture and glance exchanged between the different characters, and getting to experience and take notice of it from the sidelines felt pretty groundbreaking.

Another thing I would like to highlight was the downright amazing and vibrant performance made by Lily Collins, who plays the main character Ellen. After having read and reviewed her book of essays earlier this year, I was more than curious to see her take on such a personal role. It’s needless to say that she was more than resounding and full of magnitude.

The film is equal parts dynamic, honest, goofy, dark, and whimsy with a noteworthy ending. Plus, the soundtrack left me with a resounding yes and an unparalleled need to hear every song over and over.

That was my July wrap-up, thank you for reading!