Sunday, 23 July 2017

A Forgotten Affair - Kanchana Banerjee

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
breezy romance thriller with a woman centric plot.

My India trip was filled with treats this time around. I had a set of books waiting for me at home - a prize I had won in a competition. Banerjee's book was part of the set and came as an interesting well structured read.

Gist:

Sagarika loses her memory in an accident - that is what the doctors tell her when she wakes up and finds her husband by her side. She tries to piece things together but finds it deeplyunsettling. There are some triggers that nag her consciousness: a scent, a word that fills her wit inexplicable emotions. Her husband waits on her hand and foot and yet she feels uncomfortable around him. Why? She struggles to find out her past, so far away from home, where her husband whisks her away to convalesce.

What works:
  • The characters. Sagarika and Rishab are well etched. Their behaviour are in sync with their back stories. 
  • Also the introductory chapters - they are swift, set the scene well and pull the reader straight in.
  • The story moves at a good pace. Sagarika's struggle to piece together her life, as she takes the reader along with her is a fascinating journey.
  • Although the cover jacket screams romance, there is suspense and intrigue that keeps the story moving.
  • The story is structured well and the narrative strong and smooth.
What doesn't:
  • Loved the pace of the story and also the way Banerjee chose to end the story. However, the the finale or the showdown seemed a bit abrupt. The build up was so good that the reader goes in expecting action and ends up feeling a bit shortchanged. 
  • It would have been great to more about the peripheral characters, Deepa and Amrita. They were interesting personas and a subplot would have done them more justice.
A fast track read, good for that rainy day weekend.






Wednesday, 19 July 2017

No Safe Zone - Adite Banerjie

photo courtesy: goodreads.com
A refreshing story in a marketplace dominated by mythological fiction.

Every time I visit India, a favourite hobby is to scan the local bookshop shelves to look for latest releases. Of late, all that seems available is mythological fiction. There is a rich source of characters in Indian mythology and it is fascinating how talented writers give them a contemporary voice and perspective. However, it does leave you wishing other genres exerted their influence too.

I won this book as part of a competition hosted by the author . It was a lovely surprise to receive this signed copy and an absolute delight to read the book.

It reiterated the fact that Indian writing does not need to be diasporic or booker prize type material. It can have a mass market appeal and offer its own level of enjoyment and adventure.

Gist:

Qiara Rana comes from London after her NGO is in trouble for receiving money through a fraudulent patron. She comes to New Delhi and finds herself framed as a murder suspect. Chance also brings her face to face with her ex boyfriend, the reason why she left Delhi all those years ago. Events bring them together as they get on a dangerous trail that carries a curious link to their past.

What works:
  • The narrative is compelling and sucks one in right from the beginning. It races through from the first line. 
  • The story takes the reader to Delhi, and to the interiors of Rajasthan. It is great to read a thriller based on an Indian city rather than European or American ones. The fast paced action never dulls and is a rollercoaster read.
  • The book goes on to show how great stories can be based in the Indian setting. As a lover of Indian fiction, this story offers the same quality of the enjoyment and adventure of any English thriller. 
What doesn't:
  • The books claims to be a romance thriller and it delivers. I only wished the characters' backstories were fleshed out better. There are some great subplots there and they could have been developed offering a more holistic view of the story. But I reckon they would have digressed from plot and the onus here seems to be a tight grip on the narrative.
There is action and romance and somehow at times feels a tad filmy. Perhaps because of the romance element. But for me it works well as a thriller too. It is a well written story and a welcome read in an era where mythological fiction rules the roost.

Overall, a good, fast track read.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Leicesterwrites - A collection of diverse ideas


It is a fantastic feeling when a secret burning desire manifests into reality.

It happened with me last week, when I attended the book launch of a short story anthology that carried my story in it.

I had submitted the story as part of the Leicesterwrites competition and was thrilled to have made the longlist. I had been writing stories only for a year and therefore imagine my delight to have learned that. 

Attending the launch was a beautiful experience. It was humbling to meet other like minded souls some of who, have been writing for years. They read their stories and it was amazing to watch how diverse and imaginative their ideas were.

The judges and the organiser of the competition Farhana Shaikh, talked about the judging process and how they filtered through the entries to select the longlist and the winners. It was amazing to hear what they looked for in a short story and tips to write a good one.

I remember how as an undergraduate, we learned about the short story form as part of our course. It was great to be able to recall them as a short story writer. As a 17 year old, I never thought that one day, I would be looking at a short story with my name under it.

Today, looking at it, it feels as though it was always meant to be. 

And the journey has just begun.

Whatever You Love - Louise Doughty

A brutally emotional story.

I love Apple Tree Yard - both the book and the TV series. Doughty's writing style draws you in, her characters have a way of making their way into your head and win your sympathy. Besides, her strong female characters are another reason why I like reading her.

I was keen to find out about Doughty's other books and when this one came by, the premise, like her previous one was really intriguing.

Gist:
Laura's daughter Betty has died in a freak accident while on the way to a class from school. It tracks a distraught mum's frame of mind and while shedding light on her imperfect life, it then takes on a thriller like roller coaster ride to show how she deals with her loss.

What works:
  • The writing is amazing. It is straight and hits bulls eye with the reader. The story starts with Laura's receiving news about her daughter and then traces her life back and forth to her choices and her present life. The writing is razor sharp filled with some great lines.
The lines that resonated with me were: 

We fill our lives to the top of the cup with routine so brimming routine that routine is the whole fabric of life, its meat and material.

Strange, the way little things get to you, the way they slide in like acupuncture needles and like acupuncture needles have disproportionate effects.
  • The characters - Laura, David, Toni are beautifully etched. They live and breathe human frailities and this adds various shades to their personalities and reactions to situations.
  • The narrative - It is quiet and understated. The pace is great and although there is a point when it falters a bit, but it still ends on a spooky note.
What doesn't:
  • The first half moves at a beautiful pace but the second half of the novel is a bit disappointing. It is slow and suddenly does feels a bit disjointed and a let down from the first half.

 But reading Doughty is a pleasure, her dark thriller like stories are beautifully structured and keeps you hooked. Thriller fans will love it.


Friday, 30 June 2017

Tidal Zone - Sarah Moss

photo courtesy: goodreads.com
A slice of life in contemporary society.

Sarah Moss was a new writer to me but a quick search told me of how celebrated a writer she is. I am glad to have had the chance to read this one and have bookmarked her other books too.

Moss is an academic and her book The Tidal Zone reflects that. The book cover is a very compelling and stands out. It was a pleasant surprise to find that its stark, forceful cover matched the writing inside.

Gist:
The story is about a family and how it copes
with the uncertainties of an illness. However it also operates on various other levels: reflections on parenting, academia, the state of our medical services.  There is also a parallel narrative about a cathedral that runs alongside the story.

What works:
  • The style is very different. It doesn't force your attention but it draws you in slowly and resolutely. It forces you to keep going to find out whats going to happen next, even when it bears no traces of a thriller.
  • The characters. Loved the stay at home dad - a very different sort of character. It was great to see a Dad with maternal instincts and Moss does a good job of bringing him to life.
  • I loved the way relationships are portrayed here. The friction between the husband and son and the husband-wife relationship. It also paints sympathetic shades of an overworked doctor's life. As the wife of a GP, I would say the personality sketch is very impressive and spot on. 
  • This is written by an academic who does not bow down to the market formula of a snazzy and attention grabbing narrative. I appreciate that. I haven't read too many books about academia and although this doesn't focus completely about academia, it surely offers a perspective and made for good reading.
  • It is nice to see how Moss has included her knitting hobby by attributing it to one of her characters. Love instances of how the writer's preferences seep into their characters.
What doesn't:
  • The  style though good is taxing at times. Since there is not much happening in terms of plot, it can a bit meandering, wondering where is this all leading to.
  • This is not a plot driven novel but more like a reflection on the times we live in. Those going in expecting some past paced action will be disappointed.
Having said that, the book has some great paragraphs. It is amazing how she captures the fear of parents and the emotional bonding they share with children.

The writing is superb and powerful. I recommend it for that reason alone. 

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Sophie Hannah - Kind of Cruel

An arresting premise, an OK revelation.
photo courtesy:goodreads.com

Hannah's stories always have an compelling premises: a bizarre event that forces the reader to pick it up and stick through right till the end. In this case, the bizaare event is about a family that disappears on christmas day and reappears on boxing day.

Hannah is a good storyteller. She does have a knack of telling a story. What I like is the way she uses the psychological aspect rather than violence to tell the story. A sucker for stories that deal with the workings of the mind, not surprisingly that I was instantly drawn to it.

Gist:


Amber Hewerdine is an insomniac who sees a hypno therapist to sort it out. However, during the session, she blurts out the words, Kind, cruel, Kind of Cruel and she thinks it is because she had read it in the book of a woman, a patient, waiting with her outside. Three hours later, she finds herself arrested for a murder of a Katherine Allen, a woman she had never heard of.


Something else has happened in her family. Years ago, her sister-in-law Jo disappeared with her husband and family on Christmas day and returned on Boxing day with no explanation whatsoever. Amber is the only one who is looking for answers and would not rest till she found out what it was.

 What works:
  • It is almost like watching a spool of thread unravel. A bizarre occurence that has no explanation and then the attempt to make sense of it through logical reasoning and psychological deductions.
  • The character of Amber is so good. A flawed yet a sensible character whose psychological profile is etched out so well. 
  • I had not read any other Spilling book before, therefore the story of Charlie and Simon did not mean much to me. It doesn't matter the personal lives of the detectives are in the background anyway.
What doesn't:
  • It is not easy reading. The beginning sucks you in, but then the psychological analysis can be a bit obtuse, with random explanations that seem to be going nowhere, demanding a lot of focus from the reader. 
  • There was a point where there was so much analysis about the family disappearance and then about Amber's friend's murder that it really got a bit much. 
I remember reading Hannah's Vistors and other stories and enjoying it. This one is an OK read. 

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Restless - William Boyd

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A spy story with a woman protagnist at the heart of the story.

Now I am thinking what I mean by that. Well, for me, spy stories usually mean Fleming's Bond stories or the Le Carre's Smiley stories. I am trying to recall a story that has a woman as the protagnist and I struggling to remember one.

I came across this book at the library and loved the cover. The premsied appealed to my feminist instincts but for some reason I did not pick it up. Later, when I went looking for the copy it was gone. It was a bit annoying. The woman in the red overcoat was really intriguing and I was desperate to read her story. 

Months later, I happened to see the copy again. Believe me, there is nothing more exciting than chancing upon a book that you have always wanted. It is a delicious victorious feeling to savoured for a long time. It filled me with a sense of achievement the whole day.

Now, all I had to do was to escape to some quiet and get started:

Gist:

Ruth Gilmartin is a 30 something single mother trying to finish her Phd, while looking after her 5-year old-boy and her mother in Oxfordshire. As an English teacher she ekes out a living teaching foreign students. However, things get interesting when she finds her mother acting strangely and claims to fear for her life. Things get more interested when her mum reveals she had another identity as Eva Delectorskaya, a spy recruited in the World War. For some reason her past was catching up with her but she needed her daughter's help this time, to sort it out once for all.

What works:
  • The plot flows so smoothly. Eva tells her story in her own words whereas Ruth's story is told in third person. 
  • The pace is flawless. There is nothing dramatic about it, yet it is compelling, hooking the reader to keep moving to find out what is going to happen next.
  • Loved the characters. Eva the Russian girl who just chanced into becoming a spy, Ruth placed in the modern way world, rubbishing the thought of a spy. 
  • The plot is so effortless and shows off the writer's panache in creating such a believable world.
What doesn't:
  • There was a portion in Ruth's life which left me a bit confused. Perhaps it was to set the comparison between hers and Eva's life. It stuck out a bit for me.
  •  The action in the story is very subtle and does not have the drama of a Bond film. No fancy chases. But I guess that is what made this such an enjoyable read.
Loved the book. A good, rollicking read.