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Rainy Day Reading: Books to Savour with Thunder and Lightning

6 great books - old and new - to curl up with on a grey rainy day

Put on the music, brew a big mug of coffee and settle down in the Lazyboy for a night of reading.

Sometimes when it pours endlessly outside the window, all you need is Nina Simone on your stereo, a cup of pitch black coffee and a book you can lose yourself into. Here are some of our recommendations –  old and new –  to snuggle up with on a grey rainy day.

The Silkworm by JK Rowling
“We need readers”, muttered Daniel Chard. “More readers. Fewer writers.”

It’s always a pleasure to begin a new private investigator series, with the promise of years of bloody murders and witticisms and gloriously tormented heroes.  We may have picked our first Cormoran Strike because of JK Rowling’s name, but we believe that the character speaks for himself by the end of his second fictional outing!

The Silkworm, set in London’s publishing world, is immensely entertaining,  and populated with a gallery of memorable characters and caricatures.  The central mystery behind the murder of Owen Quine is sufficiently complex to give you distracted from the rain pelting outside. The book is just screaming for an all nighter and has just the right combination of literary allusions and gore to make the perfect monsoon read!

We just wish that Rowling will give sidekick Robin more of a personality though. After all, this is the woman who created Luna Lovegood and Hermione Granger! Surely she can invest her female protagonist with a backstory and temperament to match!

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
There is a striking resemblance between the act of love and the ministrations of a torturer.

Forget pakodas, the true sister of a good rain shower is a well-written Gothic tome! It is the season to let loose your inner Bronte  and revel in some old favourites like the moody Jane Eyre or the atmospheric Wide Saragasso Sea that was inspired by it.

To that hallowed list, we’d like to add Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. A “grim” retelling of some of the oldest fairy tales (you will have to excuse the pun), Carter ups the blood and feminism in these stories. Her Red Riding Hood discovers that the werewolf and her grandmother were one and the same, and her Beauty chooses to turn into a Beast instead of kissing him into Princedom. The title story- a twisted, nasty  retelling of the already nasty tale of Bluebeard- is one of our all-time favourite re-reads. Gently subversive, and full of the kind of style  flourishes that make one long to be a writer – all ten of these tales are just the right companion to this miserable season.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t Google.)

What if you love romances and romantic comedies, just not the drivel that passes for the two these days? In that case you will love Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. In Cather Avery, Rowell has created a romantic protagonist you can root for, and not dismiss as silly. She is smart, bookish, interesting and just a little weird. What’s more, she’s a popular fan-fiction writer based on a Harry Potter-esque series,  with an internet following in thousands! Not that this dubious distinction makes it any easier for her to settle into the first year of College. And her love interest? How often- in the world of Ken-doll-perfect romantic superheroes- have you come across a boy like Levi- who is the world’s nicest person, has a receding hairline, and studies in the Agricultural Uni?

Our favourite part of the book is Cath’s relationship with her manic depressive genius father and an errant twin sister. A romantic story populated with side characters that are fully realised, and with lead protagonists that have more going in their lives than  just falling for each other, Fangirl is the ideal read for a weekend when you want to just feel happy!

Light Thickens by Ngaio Marsh
Is this a dagger which I see before me…

There’s something about the rains that makes one crave blood and revenge, which is why we’ve ended up with two good thrillers on our monsoon reading list. Thriller junkies who can’t get enough of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Margery Allingham will need no introduction to Dame Ngaio Marsh, the New Zealand based crime writer and playwright who gave us the too-good-to-be-true Inspector Roderick Alleyn.

We love all 32 novels in the Inspector Alleyn series, but our favorite for a rainy day is Light Thickens, the final book in the series and published posthumously after Marsh’s death. Peregrine Jay is set to defy the superstitions about Shakespeare’s Macbeth by directing “the Scottish play”. The casting is complete, the stage props and costumes are being fabricated and rehearsals are on in full swing. But someone has mischief on their mind, and what starts as a few seemingly random acts of  disruption culminates in the murder of the lead actor during a live performance.

The novel may not earn 5 stars for the quality of the mystery, but we love Marsh’s depiction of the minutiae surrounding the staging of a play – from the fascinating, and often times fragile, traits of the actors to the numerous aspects of production. Marsh skilfully combines her two great loves – theatre and crime fiction – to deliver a fitting tribute to Shakespeare’s masterpiece.

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
The one thing I’ve missed, I sometimes feel, is the sensation of being absolutely free, to do exactly what I like, to go where I like, to act as I like. I suspect that only an American ever feels that. You aren’t weighed down by your families, and you aren’t weighed down by history. 

The only thing better than a thriller on a monsoon day is a collection of short stories. One of the best we’ve read in a long, long time is this stirring collection by Pakistani writer Daniyal Mueenuddin. Mueenuddin’s style is reminiscent of Hemingway – simple and strong – but in form he has a voice that is distinctly his own. On the face of it, the anthology of interlinked stories explores the lives of a wealthy landowning family and the “subjects” who depend upon their largesse; but it’s also a tale of the conflict between tradition and modernity in a country that is obsessed with its history.

With a light touch and a gentle voice, Mueenuddin shines a light on the lives of the rulers and ruled. At one end is the lonely and dying landlord K. K. Harouni;  Harouni’s Yale educated nephew Sohail and his American loves; the Mills & Boons hero Murad Talwan and his wife Lily, a former social butterfly. At the other end are the staff in Harouni’s estates : the lonely valet Rafik, the head cook Hassan, the loyal driver Mustafa, the house maid Saleema and the electrician Nawabdin. Straddling the two separate worlds is Harouni’s manager Chaudrey Jaglani, the man who wields the real power in the estate but loses the battle of life. Like the raindrops gently rolling off your windowsill, Mueenuddin prose gives us a glimpse of life in Pakistan – of a society ruled by money, power and connections, but also one which cares for tradition and tehzeeb.

 The Collected Poems by Vikram Seth
Some days I am so lonely, so content.
The dust lifts up. The trees are weatherbent.

There’s never a better time to read poetry than on a quiet rainy evening, with Simon & Garfunkel playing in the background and a bowl of steaming Maggi on the stove. This is the time to reflect upon what went before and what is yet to pass. And no one captures these moments of aching longing and exuberant hope as lyrically as Seth does. Ranging from the profound to the inane, the poems will make you sob, chuckle and  guffaw by turn; and if you are particularly inspired, you may even end up penning a few lines of your own.

If this is your first time reading Seth’s poetry, open a page at random and settle down for an evening of unadulterated wit, nostalgia and humour. And don’t forget the glass of wine – or the big mug of coffee – to add to the pleasure.

Ready to welcome the rains? Fill this form to be among the first to be informed of MBRB’s Monsoon Story Box – three unique products to keep those traffic clogged rainy days at bay. Let’s get drenched this Monsoon!

Photo courtesy gadl via Compfight cc

This post was originally published in July 2014

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