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.

Braided Ball


I have been knitting on and off for the last 6 years. However, all I managed to do is blankets for my kids: first as babies and scarves when they grew older. Now I decided to get a bit ambitious and explore other easy projects.


I came across this braided ball pattern on ravelry and loved the challenge. Apparently, it takes hours to make it (it took me days). Anyway, what I liked about this was that, it did not require expertise as much as logical application of how to place the strips so they don't look like a mess.

It was really an interesting challenge. The strips were regular stockinette stitch. I was not very good at it and the strips were a great practice. I used up my leftover yarn and working with so many colours felt therapeutic.

Here is the picture to give you the inspiration: 


I got the pattern from ravelry but this video really helped me get it right.

Cheryl's Brunette's video on how to get it right..was really helpful. Thanks Cheryl!
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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZA_kgR9bGc













Saturday, 27 May 2017

The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A captivating story that packs a punch.

Post 9/11 made Asians most particularly Muslims a very unpopular face in the West. The Twin Tower attacks were shown time and again and reinforced a growing antipathy for the Muslim community as a perpetrator also rose. It doesn't help that with each terrorist attack, it is becoming more deepseated. This where the book comes into relevance. This was one of the first books that I read projecting the perpetrator as a victim.

I read this book sometime back but saw its film adaptation recently. I liked the book better. The book is clear and focussed whereas the movie in an attempt to make it more palatable for the viewing public. It digresses and misses the point.

Gist:

It is a monologue where Changez Khan does all the talking. The opening scene is that he is met by a journalist who wants to know if Khan is a fundamentalist and Khan then tells him his story.

What works:
  • I have always thought monologue to be a difficult medium to use but Hamid employs it to his advantage here.
  • It sheds light on Changez Khan and on the events as they unfold.
  • The narrative. It shows off a well spoken considerate man, a victim of circumstances but who takes responsibility for his actions.
  • The structure. The pacing is good and keeps the reader on her toes till the end.
  • The length. Just the right length to finish in one sittting, but cuts no corner in doing so.
What doesn't:
  • Nothing really. A well packaged read.
Man booker nominated books can be a bit heavy and boring. This one is not. It is fast paced, offers great insight and is relevant in this terrorist ridden times.

Apparently the book made another appearance as a film tie-in version. The screenplay was done by Hamid too. However, I wouldn't bother with it. The original version is the best.

A Spy By Nature - Charles Cumming

goodreads.com
The Making of a Spy

Although I am not much into spy stories, John Le Carre and now Charles Cumming are getting me into it. I loved watching TV and film adaptations of Night Manager and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Somehow watching them seemed more interesting than reading them. I remember reading a Colder War before and loved Cumming's writing style.

Gist:

Alec Milius is stuck in an unhappy job when out of the blue, a family friend suggests at a dinner party if he would be interested in joining the foreign office. Alec agrees to go for it. He is looking forward to a new direction, a new chapter in life. He is intrigued by the idea of becoming a spy. However, it doesn't go the way he planned.

What works:

  • The writing style is in keeping with the genre. Simple, straightforward dialogue that pushes the plot forward.
  • The protagnist. Alec is a convincing character. His confusions, his mindset are in sync with the way he acts.
What doesn't:
  • The pace is racy in the first half but towards the second half, it slackens a bit.
Overall, an ok read.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Gold - Chris Cleave

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A story about athletes and what it takes to be a winner.

I remember watching the London Olympics and thinking what must be going through these cyclists' minds - how do they prepare themselves to be such high class performers. Surely there must be interesting stories behind it. This book satisfied my curiosity.

I first heard of Cleave when I received his latest book for review. It was a wartime novel but his writing style was really striking. I was keen to find out what else he had written and I saw this book. The story had the same compelling narrative and banter that characterised his other novel.

But I liked this more, maybe because it was in the now and the events were something I had heard about and read in the media.

Gist:

Zoe Castle and Kate Argyll are two world class cyclists keen to make their mark on the cycling track. Best of friends, rivals, their relationship has its set of ups and downs until they reach the crucial point in their careers - London Olympics. Will they surmount their personal obstacles to achieve their dream? The story tells us all about it and much more.

What works:

  • Cleave gets into the psyche of a world class athlete so well. How they prepare themselves physically, psychologically - it truly gives the reader an insight. 
  • The narrative. Cleave has a very unusual way of narrating a story. It moves back and forth in time, how the athletes first came to the programme as amateurs and then 10 years later when they are at the peak of their careers, looking for that photo finish that the world will remember them for. 
  • The central characters of Zoe and Kate are beautifully presented. The conventional Kate and the radical Zoe are beautifully etched out. Also the subplot of Sophie is so heart rendering.
What doesn't:
  • I found Cleave's writing style striking yet not when I first started reading him. I recall being put off with his dry way of narrating events.  But the style grows on you. As the story picked up pace, racing to the pivotal scene, the style is actually why the story sounds so good.
A great read about athletes' lives and the sacrifices they make to stand on the podium. But what I also liked was the holistic experience of it. After the story ended, my copy had an author's note that explained his research into the athletes' lives and into children afflicted by life threatening diseases. There is also a diary about his cycling tryst on a cold morning that allows him the feel of what it is to cycle down the lane.

For me the note and the diary, were valuable add ons, providing a well rounded feel of how the story took root. Cleave does that with his latest novel, Everyone Brave is Forgiven. That is the kind of thing that really clicks for me - when the author shares his vision with the reader. Priceless.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Angel Tree - Lucinda Riley

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A multi generational story about family secrets and its consequences.

I picked it up after Shriver's Mandibles and this was such an undemanding one! I love Riley's writing. It is easy going and yet compelling. Plot driven stories with some character development, it is essentially an escapist read.

Riley has been writing for decades but for some reason her old books are now being packaged decades after they they were published under a different name. For me, she is new and therefore it is was interesting to read the footnote to see how she redeveloped the story and added new dimension. However, those who may have read her old ones may want to be sure they know which one they are reading.

Apparently, this book which was published in the 1990s called Not Quite an Angel under the name Lucinda Edmonds. I have to admit though that the cover and the title are eye catching. 

Gist:

Greta, a stage performer finds herself pregnant during wartime and stuck with raising her child alone. She seeks stability and security and finds that in a marriage to an older man at the Marchmont house.

Francesca, or Cheska Hammond is popular child star. Right from a young age, Greta steers her into the glamour world. Away from Marchmont House and loving the arclights, Cheska is now ready to make the transition into an actress. Greta is her greatest ally but when teenage rebellion rears its head, Cheska pays a heavy price for it.

Ava Marchmont, is the complete opposite of her mum, Cheska. Raised away from her mother, she is happy, stable and content. Her world turns upside down when her mother makes a comeback into her life.

What works:
  • The plot really works. It is multigenerational and has a bunch of interesting characters.
  • Riley captures the movie world so well. It is atmospheric and paints a great picture of wartime and the Welsh landscape.
  • The narrative is so smooth. It is also compelling because the events keep happening. Very action oriented.
What doesn't:
  • Nothing really.
It is a well told story and Riley has a way of creating authentic characters. Cheska and the menacing way in which she moves around disrupting the people's lives around her makes for a very compellng narrative.

A great read.