Thursday, 31 December 2015

My Top Reads of 2015

It is coming up to the end of of 2015 and as I see many book bloggers doing their round ups, thoughts circled around doing one of mine.

This was a good year for me as a reader. Goodreads tells me I have managed to exceed the number of books committed to the reading challenge this year. Hmm... it felt nice. The feeling was akin to a weight watcher standing on the bathroom scales to find that the news is good.

However, this year is also great because of  my discovery of two new writers (to me) in the crime fiction genre. M R Halls's Jenny Cooper series has become a firm favourite and Debrorah Crombie's Kincaid and James duo are now old friends.

Having said that, I like to think I have a broader range of genres too as part of my reading repertoire.

Here are my top five reads:

The Flying man by Roopa Farooki:






This South Asian writer has an remarkable eye and talent for telling a story. As mentioned earlier in my review, I approached the book with some preconceived notions and once I was rid of them, it was a lovely journey. The narrative is smooth and she layers a story with complex emotions and characters.














The Taj by Colin DeSilva:

It was fascinating to how non-Indians perceive our history. I love the Mughal dynasty for its drama and the action. Alex Rutherford is yet another non-Indian who has a similar set of stories in series format. However I found De Silva's version to be more enjoyable.

Though weighed heavily on entertainment value, it was an interesting piece of historical fiction. Where Rutherford offered a more documentary style of narration, De Silva does a better job.










If You Don't Know Me By Now by Satnam Sanghera:

A brutally honest memoir which was very brave or desperate of Sanghera. The book reads well and gives us a peek into the author's family. The heart of the memoir are family secrets and how they all deal with it, especially schizophrenia. The writing was smooth and kudos to the writer for handling such a tough subject with aplomb.











The Sound of the Broken Glass by Deborah McCrombie:

My first Deborah Crombie book was Necessary as blood but
it was her latest book that had me wowed to her storytelling skills and talent. The series gets better with each book and for me, it had reached a pinnacle with this one.







The Coroner - M R Hall: 

I remember coming across this book on the shelves of the library and charity shops (my favourite place), wondering if it was worth the trouble. I also recall opening the pages with a lot of trepidation. Therefore, when it lived to the hype (or lack of it), it has found a place on this top 5 list.












I write this on the last day of 2015. Over the year, this blog has won more viewers that boosted my morale to no end.

Now that the blog has come up on the public domain, the new year should see it scale new heights in terms of latest book reviews and interesting content.

Happy 2016.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters

photo courtesy:sarahwaters.com
A great introduction to a talented writer.

I came to know of her when her latest book Paying Guests created a big buzz. Just as with any book that is hyped, I was sceptical of the writer, for often there is disappointment lurking behind such hype.

Aftering evading it for a long time, I came across her previous novel on a book blog with the keywords, "gothic", "supernatural" and "suspense", the premise sounded very promising, I opened the pages to find myself riveted.


Gist:
A doctor, Faraday is called out to an old country hall called the Hundreds. It triggers off memories of visiting the place as a child.  He remembers the place in its heyday and is shocked to see its decline. More than that, he witnesses the effect it has on its members. What starts as professional visit gradually turns into a complex relationship with the Hall and its residents. It also sets the scene for some unexplained events that threatens the doctor's life with life altering consequences.


What works:

  • The premise is very intriguing. It is reminiscent of the Downton Abbey kind of a feel. There is a country house, sprawling grounds, rich legacy. In the backdrop of such a landscape you have these characters who are still living out their past glory tattered in financial and emotional ruins. I love such set ups like these and when there is a supernatural element in the midst of it, it offers such a brilliant plot to relish!
  • I loved the character of the doctor. Being a doctor's wife, I can relate to the restrained conduct and the clinical approach to things. The doctor is human and has his own fallacies and these cause him to act the way he does. Brilliant. You can see the conflict, the social ambition, yet the need to uphold professional conduct. Loved the complexity of the character.
  • The characters of Caroline and Roderick are so in sync with the time period. Roderick, a victim of the war and Caroline a victim of the societal bias against women are such poignant characters. Mrs Eyres on the other hand is the face of the decadent past. Memorable and distinct characterisations indeed. 
  • Waters also does a great job of setting the atmosphere of the post war effects on the English society. I loved the insight into varied themes such as class and ambition, the state of medicine before the NHS and the decay of the feudal society. 
What doesn't:
  • There is too much detailing. In the process of offering an insight into the societal bais  and the post war effects on characters, Waters gets too wordy. There are pages where nothing much is happening. Instead what we get is pages of people's reactions, thoughts and behaviour. It bogs down the book a bit.
  • Wading through it all, there came a point when boredom began to set in.  However, Waters narrative kept me intrigued enough to keep going to find out what was going to happen to them all. 

Overall, it requires perseverance, but this is a well crafted and superbly written book. Books shortlisted for Man Booker Prize are not really my favourites. 

But this one is an exception.

Recommended.



Saturday, 19 December 2015

Recklesss - Tilly Bagshawe

photo courtesy:Harper Collins
A good attempt at reviving a well loved heroine.

I was a major fan of Sidney Sheldon in my teens. I would devour all his books, some again and again. If Tomorrow Comes was one of those. I loved the way Tracy would outwit and dupe people. Fifteen is an impressionable age when underdogs especially women serve as great role models.

I suppose that is where his talent lay. His protagnists were ordinary people who were victims of sinister plots and their struggles and successes was something we all enjoyed to read.

Sometime back, I read that Bagshawe was resurrecting all his characters and taking their stories further. Tracy Whitney being a my teen favourite heroine, I was eager to see what she had done with it.

The result; a Sidney Sheldon style story packed with action and adventure.

Gist:
Tracy has given up being an international con artist and is living a quiet life in a small town with her son. She has bid goodbye to her past and Stevens as well. However, not for long. She is brought back into the game through an unforeseen set of events when her personal life comes under attack.

What works:
  • The plot mirrors Sidney Sheldon so much. The book refers to If Tomorrow Comes and it is evident that Bagshawe has gone through that book with a fine toothed comb to slip it back into the  pages of the new book.
  • I picked it up for Sheldon's racy plot and narrative. I was not disappointed. Sheldon's style has been replicated here very well. The twists in the plots and characters are pretty similar to his older ones.
  • Like Sheldon's plots, this one races through countries, sweeping along people, connecting random events in a very interesting manner. 

What doesn't:
  • Although this book could well have been written Sheldon himself. It is too much like a copy and lacks the author's original talent. I did not see Bagshawe anywhere. 
  • I reckon that is the trouble with working with an original well known piece of work. You end up imitating rather than showcasing your own talent.

The book is great. However, it lacks originality and the style of the writer.

Read it if you are a Sheldon fan.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

A Poetic Interlude

I am pretty chuffed about some news I just received and this seems the right place to share it.

Sometime back, I scribbled out some lines for a poetry contest at our local library. I say scribbled because poetry is not my forte and I just dabble in it.

The theme was light and since it was October, my choice was Diwali.

I got a call informing me that mine was the winning entry and that a £10 voucher was awaiting me.

It took me back to the time when I was about 7. During school holidays, lying in my bed bored, I would jot down mundane details of my day in a "poetry" format and show it to dad. I have still the notebook after all these years. My dad who would see it at the end of a long working day, would read each line and award me with words of encouragement. Never once do I remember him saying it could have been better, that I need to work just a bit more. Just plain unconditional appreciation.

It taught me an important lesson in parenting. Kids need you to be a non critical audience of their creative pursuits. They do need direction, but what they really need first is your blind approval.

Thanks to you Daddy, I finally managed to get a poem out there that was considered good enough to win the top prize.

This is for you Dad:

The Light


We call it the festival of Light;

A time when all houses are lit up bright.

A celebration of the good over the evil,

Wishing happiness to all, bearing no will.

The Light is crucial, it holds great significance,

As we turn towards God with utmost reverence.

We marvel at the miracle of Lord Krishna,

When he vanquished the evil demon Narakasura.

Dispeling the dark, he restored light and harmon,

Peace and prosperity to all, is the gist of "Diwali".

The Burning - M.R.Hall

photo courtesy: goodreads.com
A treat for crime aficionados.

I remember picking up the first Jenny Cooper book called the The Coroner. This is my second one and am beginning to love Hall books.

The protaganist is a coroner, a very unlikely person (according to me)to be investigating crimes. If you thought coroners had a very boring job signing certificates, Mrs Cooper's character is an eye opener.

The plots are intricately woven and the main protaganist is also a flawed character - classic elements for a great whodunnit and to keep the series going.

Gist:

Mrs Cooper is investigating a fire that has razed a family. Apparently, the father shot his kids before setting himself and the house ablaze. The mother is away working late at a pub and therefore escapes being killed. Jenny gets down to finding out what actually happened, when a past case of a girl disappearing without a trace surfaces in connection with this killing. Jenny is grappling with issues of her own, but soon gets down to the trail of what could have driven the father to commit the crime.

What works:

  • Loved the character of Jenny Cooper. She is piecing together a life torn apart by divorce and professional neglect. She is hoping to build a new life and career and it is not easy. However, that doesn't stop her from taking risks and asking difficult questions. She is real and the reader can empathise with her.
  • The plots are so good. As mentioned earlier, this is my second M R Hall and I have started liking the style and look forward to it. The stories are complicated yet seem simple once you get to the end. 
  • I also loved the Madeline Mccann reference. I enjoyed thinking this story as Hall's take on what could have happened to her.
What doesn't:
  • Nothing bad about it, really. It is gripping, enough to keep you awake and engaging enough to make you want to read more from the author.
Highly recommended.






Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Place of Hiding - Elizabeth George

photo courtesy: amazon.co.uk
Another enjoyable mystery by a favourite author.

I admire George's ability to draw out the complexities of her characters. When reading her book, I can look forward not only to a complex who dunnit but also witness the drama that unfolds in the lives of her main characters.

The recurring characters of Deborah, Simon and of course Lynley and Helen are so well etched that with each book, it is like revisiting old friends.

She unfolds the complexities of the characters, their relationships so well that with each book, you feel like you know the characters a bit more.

Gist:

Deborah is trying to launch her career and in the midst of it, finds a friend from the past knocking on their door for help.

China Rivers, a close friend from Deborah's time in the US, is accused of murder in the island of Guernsey and seeks Deborah's assistance.

Deborah drags Simon along to the island, but what begins as a step to clearing China's name ends up unravelling a spool of secrets.

What works:
  • The characters. They are real and you feel so close to them mentally.
  • The story. George sets out her story so well. Laying a plot in a isolated place like Guernsey but with a rich historical past, is simply great. Reading the story felt like visiting the island. Brilliant.
  • The complexities. A whodunnit is quite simple. Someone is murdered. By the end of the story you get to the point when it is revealed, who that is. But what makes it extraordinary is the way story is laid and that is where this book scores.
What doesn't:
  • Although the characters are laid out well, sometimes too much information can bog down the plot a bit. It tends to get a bit slow and weighs heavily on the story. 

Overall a great read. A fascinating who dunnit by a writer I much admire.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Tales of Murder and Mystery - Susan Howatch

goodreads.com
A fascinating set of stories from a great storyteller.

I love Howatch. She has an amazing way of fleshing out characters, equipping them with the most bizarre qualities yet make them seem so believable.

Except for The High Flyer, I have loved all her books. In this set there are three great stories. The first one is a bit of a period story whereas the other two are set in a more modern period. But there is timelessness to it all. After all, she is dealing in human frailites and the psychology of the mind. The stories reveal that though we may have become modern in our lifestyle and attire, the human mind is the same.

Gist:

The Shrouded Walls is about a young bride who gets married for convienience. Just as she is about to fall in love with him, she finds herself in a wierd set of circumstances where she doesn't know if she can trust the husband after all.

The second story is about a set of twins - one good the other bad. April is the bad twin who wreaks havoc in her sister's marriage and is reported to have taken off. No one realises she is missing and when the search gets underway, it takes the reader through many secrets before getting to the revelation.

The third story is my favourite. It is about witchcraft masquerading as a nature foods society and how it affects the people who come in contact with it.

What works:
  • The stories more or less have a pattern. Do you really know the person you love? How circumstances can trust your faith and love in a person.
  • Howatch's characters are a bit weird but they are distinct. You can identify their traits and wonder how Howatch manages to get them act the way they do.
  • She keeps the pace very well. I was hooked with the last story where I wanted to know if Tristan will win his way after all. The way she presents the denouement is a masterstroke of a gifted story teller.
  • The language is so fluid that it just carries the story along without any bumps or hiccups.

What doesn't:

There isn't anything.

A great read. Howatch is a master of the story whether it is the long form - novel or the crispier version - short story.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Last Dance and other stories - Victoria Hislop

photo courtesy: amazon.co.uk
A glimpse into Greece life.

Having been to this fascinating place, I was intrigued by this book which offered a glimpse into the Greeks and their way of life.

I am mesmerised by the country, I have to admit. Despite their troubling economy, the place is very tourist friendly, rich in history and a fantastic getaway.

After all, the Greeks were said to be the most innovative in their time apart from being the oldest civilisations in the world. Besides, for me, another clincher is their similarity with the Indian cultures in terms of good food and close families.

So I picked it up with the idea of reading about a much loved place. As has become a habit, I checked the reviews and found quite a few that were not too encouraging. It was time to check it out and decide for myself.

What works:
  • The pages instantly transport you to where the islands come to life during the tourist season and where life buzzes in the most remote islands.
  • Greek words used in abundance reflecting the writer's comfort and confidence in the place and its culture.
  • The stories are pleasant to read and offer a sneak peak into the Greek way of life.
What doesn't:
  • Though the stories give you a slice of the people and the way they function, the stories leave you feeling a bit shortchanged.
  • Apart from the Greek flavour, the stories do not offer much in terms of plot.
  • Though some of the stories I really enjoyed, there were some that left me hanging there wondering where was Hislop going with it.
 Hislop has based a lot of her books in Greece which has been won much appreciated. However, these set of stories do not satiate the curiosity that is piqued by its promising cover.

Pick up one of her novels instead.


The Visitor's Book and other ghost stories - Sophie Hannah

photo courtesy: amazon.co.uk
A spooky read just as the jacket promises.

The title suggests a fairly ordinary set of stories with a touch of "spookiness" to it with the inclusion of "ghost stories".

Sophie Hannah is known for her  crime thrillers. I haven't read any and this was my first. It was a delighful introduction to the writer and her style.

I was looking for something racy and fast paced and this fit the bill well.

Gist:

There are about 3 or 4 novellas in it. The settings are perfectly ordinary, a woman visiting her boyfriend's house, a woman waiting at the school playground at pick up time, a birthday party at a house.

The locations are very ordinary and the beginning is quite ordinary too. What makes a difference is the way the story progresses and takes it to a whole new level.

What works:
  • It is a slim volume, easily finished in a sitting or so. 
  • Gripping. Within sentences Hannah, has you feverishly turning the pages to find out where is this leading.
  • Very plot driven and thrilling.
  • The settings are very believable and ordinary yet they pave way for something unexpected.
What doesn't:
  • These stoeis are snippets so it feels like fast food really. Hunger is satisfied but the craving is still there. I reckon I will be turning to her novels for a full course meal.
  • They race through the plot taking it to a conclusion. Sometimes it leaves you a bit cold. 
  • The stories though believable, do leave you with a bit of a question mark  in the end.

Having said that, this is what is expected of a short story isn't it? Building up the atmosphere from a familial setting to the high point where the story ends. These stories read like classic short stories that follow the textbook pattern. Once I got to the end, I read back to find out how she did it and upon analysis, ended up enjoying them even more.

What more can a reader ask for?

Commercially, the timing couldn't have been better. The book is the ideal size for a stocking filler.


Saturday, 14 November 2015

Yippee!

There is nothing more intoxicating for a writer than a word of praise that says - "Good job!"

Recently I had submitted a piece for "The Child Within"contest to an online magazine- Writer's Ezine.

The entry was for the their Children's Day edition that had me revisiting some wonderful memories.

Sometime back,  I got a notification saying my piece had been selected for publication. The issue is out today.

Open a new window and paste this link onto it to access the write up:

http://www.writersezine.com/2015/11/childhood.html

Thanks to Aarti Honrao of Writer's Ezine. This is my first accolade in blogsphere.

It will always be special!




Thursday, 12 November 2015

Housework? How boring!

My trips to India are quite an eye opener ; a reflection of the changing mindset of the Indian society.

During a visit sometime back, I had a very interesting conversation with a lady, - my husband's maths teacher. P has a soft corner for her. She had coached him at a crucial stage (read SSC, HSC) and he claims she is responsible for inculcating a perpetual love for academics in  him.

Anyway, so we made it a point to drop by her house. Since, I was meeting her for the first time, this is how our conversation went:

"Hmm..so what do you do?"

"Full time mum to two kids." said I, looking at my two boisterous darlings.

"Oh..." I realised somewhere, I lost grades for that reply.

"What have you studied?" I knew she was making up her mind about me. A lot hinged on this question.

"Masters degree in English lit and Journalism. I was a TOI journalist in my former lifetime!"

A slight nodding of head there.  "Right....and you gave it all up to stay at home?"

Was that a sneer? I was not sure. I was busy trying to think of some repartee to counter it.

"Yes and I don't regret it." At least most of the time, I said to myself silently.

"Hmm...is it nice where you live? Do you get servants there at all?" she asked raising an eyebrow.

"Yes, it is lovely. But no servants. Never felt the need to employ one," returned I with a reply.

"What? Who does the housework then?" bounced back the question accompanied by a flabbergasted look.

"I help her out. She does the cooking. I do the cleaning. Between us, we are a good team," P stepped into the conversation.

"Really!" she said making it sound like a preposterous thought.

photo courtesy: timescrest.com
Why was that so astonishing, I thought.

True, house help for the domestic chores are now a given in every Indian household. Though I envy it occasionally, I don't regret the lack of help. I like to think this has made me more self reliant and capable of handling domestic chores.

Crucially, I would not have worked my way through household chores so confidently if I had help around.

So back to the story. Walking back, P filled me in more about the teacher.

Apparently in her heyday, she held classes starting from 5 in the morning till 8 am after which the children headed for school. The classes resumed after school and went on till late in the evening. Her classes were full on even during important festivals like Diwali, inviting the ire of many parents.

But she remained popular because she "guaranteed" success (well, more or less!). It was therefore not difficult to understand, that for her servants were a given. After all she would have found them invaluable for for a smooth family life.

Nonetheless, I find this disdain for domestic chores increasingly common. Perhaps education and career prospects have made domestic chores look like a waste of time. Often time is cited as a reason. But often help are employed just to avoid doing it themselves. The general notion is it is not worthy of one's time when you can get someone to do it.

It has always puzzled me and I look for reasons to understand it. More so, because though help is available, it does not come cheap nor is reliable. There are days when the servants do a no-show, leaving the house in chaos. The economics of it, is also quite interesting. The domestic servants educate their children to get them more skillful jobs. This results in a shortage of domestic help which in turn leads to pay hikes to keep them on.

Often at a get together of my mum's friends, talk invariably turns to a common refrain - servants.

"Did yours come today? Mine didn't."

"She wanted time off just when I have hordes of guests turning up at my place! I had to pay extra to coax her into coming to do the dishes!"

To which someone said:

"At least she is around. My maid has asked for a pay rise or is threatening to leave!"

That's the catch, isn't it. If you have someone to come in, they can leave you you in the lurch too. But at least for someone like me, there is no scope for such "betrayal".

photo courtesy: firstclass domestic.co.za
I take a quick look round the room. The layer of dust is getting thicker on the windowsill. The floor has dark patches in some places and the sink is crying out, "Help, I am full!"

Oh, for the joys of having a maid!

Lo and behold! I transform into one.


If You Don't Know Me By Now - Satnam Sanghara

photo courtesy: guardian.com
A great memoir that is brutally honest and entertaining.

Looking at the jacket cover, I thought it was some whining Indian ranting about grappling with the "Indianness and the Britishness". This was that and much more.

I found it to be a great read, a brutal account (I wonder what the family had to say) and an entertaining style.

Right from the first page, the author is honest about what he is about to do. He introduces the reader to the family and but what happens next is the author confronting his family about his need to branch out. But the book also operates on various levels and this is what adds value to it.


Gist:

When the author is is in his 20s, he discovers that his sister and his father are suffering from schizoprenia. What happens then is a journey of finding out how the family particularly his mother, who is caught in the vortex, dealt with it. The story also examines Sanghara's relationship with his mother, how his need for her approval thwarts his relationships.

What works:

  • The style is great and the content is packaged so well.
  • It works on many levels. It talks about being a Sikh in the 1970s, the duality of living in a traditional household while embracing a modern lifestyle.On the other hand, it is deeply personal about a man in his 20s unearthing deep family secrets and trying to come to terms with it.
  • The narrative is extremely engaging. It is bold - after all sharing personal life in a book is not easy. It is brutal - the author is honest and does not mince words. It is also entertaining - the drama of how his mum accepts the letter and what she has to say about it is very well done.

What doesn't:

  • The book works completely. However, as is the case in such accounts, you often wonder how much of it is staged. At least with fiction you never worry about such things. But when it comes dressed as a memoir, it leaves one speculating, much of it is packaged.
  • However, the book is great. This is clearly one of the best non fiction books I have read this year. Having read the author's second book as well, I have bookmarked him and will be looking out for the his later works too.



Friday, 6 November 2015

Silent Witness - Richard North Patterson

photo courtesy: goodreads.com
A superb thriller that kept me up at night.

After a long time, I relished a crime thriller that forced me to get to bed early, just so I could turn a few more pages before I turned in.

My previous Patterson book Escape the Night was a disappointment, Although, I had read too many Patterson books to give up on him, I was a bit sceptical when I started this one.

The Gist:

Anthony Lord, a successful lawyer is called back to his hometown when a close friend seeks his help. Returning to the hometown means confronting the ghosts of his past; the unresolved murder of his girlfriend  where he is the main suspect.
Lord is forced to come back after his friend Sam, an assistant principal is a suspect in the murder of a teenage girl Marcia Calder.
Things turn murky as Lord finds himself oscillating between his ordeal of years ago and trying to focus on helping his friend.

What works:
  • Patterson has a way of getting into the skin of the character and outlaying his plot so skillfully.
  • It was easy to imagine Lord's situation and relate to it, yet the pace and the suspense elements were maintained so well.
  • Although it boils down to a courtroom case, Patterson takes you in to the back scenes and explains out how it pans for those concerned. 
  • The courtroom scenes were a treat to read. You could imagine sitting in the courtroom and watch the drama unfold.
  • The suspense is well maintained and is a killer when it is revealed in the end.

What doesn't:
  • It took me a bit to get into it, but perhaps it was because of my block and less due to the writer.

A great read, cannot recommend highly enough. For a guilty pleasure reading, this is one courtroom thriller you will love to be lost in.


The Flying Man - Roopa Farooki

courtesy: goodreads.com

It  is not often that you come across a novel that is screams quality and yet you feel slightly out of depth with it. I felt that way with this one.

Roopa Farooki is a name that I have come across before although this was the first time I was reading her. She has a way with words and is amazing at describing the most difficult situations.

Being a major fan of Indian writers, I knew this was one writer to look out for. Therefore when flying man caught my eye on the library shelf, I was determined to give it a go.

Gist:

The story is about Maqil Karam, a man of many names, identities and addresses. It takes us through the building of the personality, right from his childhood, to the time when he grows up and ventures outside the family fold. Throughout we are told how the character thinks, his wanderlust, his inability to stick to a place or a wife and what happens to him in the end.

To be honest, I had other expectations from the book. I mistook the book to be about this guy who is a swindler and a crook.I was hoping to read about his exploits. Howeve,r the story is more about the effect it has on his family and the people he leaves behind.

Not finding what I had expected, it quelled my curiosity a bit. However, half way through the book, I happened to read an interview of Farooki about the book. The interview talked about how Farooki had drawn inspiration from real life - her father. Karam was her father who walked in and out of Farooki's mother and her siblings lives, often leaving them to fend for themselves.

Farooki took pains to explain that it was loosely based on her dad but the plot was original. When I picked up the book in the light of the interview, somehow it made more sense and illuminated the reading experience.

I enjoyed the second half of the book especially the characters of Samira and the twins. The writing style has always been great but now that I had the context to the plot, it made the reading more enjoyable.

What works:
  • A great story. Farooki's narrative technique kept me going even I wasn't interested in the story.
  • However, once I got the background story, the book became more enjoyable as it was easier to see Farooki's perspective.
  • The way in which Farooki's describes the effect Karam's nature has on Samira and the kids is said subtly and the emotions are quite understated. I suppose that is the reason why they had a profound effect on me.
  • The hindsights and the justification that Karam comes up with are quite spot on. Despite drawing heavily from real life, Farooki manages to give Karam a very unique personality.
What doesn't:
  • The jacket cover leads one to believe that the book is a spicy masala story about swindles and scams. On the contrary, it is more a tale of domesticity. I was misguided by a pre conceived notion and ended up feeling a bit disappointed. Thankfully, once I got the perspective, it became a more promising read.
This is her fifth novel and I safely say now that I enjoyed. it. I have come to admire Farooki's writing. Definitely looking forward to featuring more of her books on the blog. 




Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Sound of Broken Glass - Deborah Crombie

photo courtesty:goodreads.com
A fantastic read, an enjoyable experience.

I have come appreciate Crombie more each time I finish her books. Having read the previous two books that follow the same story and principal characters of Kincaid James and Gemma James, this one was an easy one to get into.

I couldn’t help but compare her book to Elizabeth George novels. Crombie is constantly compared to George maybe because they are both American writers who set their stories in England. However, this one indeed reminded me of George’s previous novel Traitor to Memory which employs a similar narrative technique.

Gist:

Gemma James is back at work while Duncan is still on leave holding the home front. It is work as usual when James is called in after a body is found in a hotel. The scene suggests kinky sex gone wrong and James together with her assistant get headfirst into the investigation. The dead pan is a punter who got into an altercation with a guitar player at a bar the previous night. Running alongwith the investigation is a parallel story of the same young band player. How is this band player connected to the dead man all? 

What works:
  • Great characterisation. The characters are so good that they pull you into the story right away.
  • There is  a simultaneous past and present narrative. The two flow superbly and after a point they blend into one narrative. Credit to author's story telling technique for getting it so well.
  • The twists are great and the action is placed very well.
  • Meanwhile the parallel narrative with Kincaid and Gemma’s personal life is laid out neatly. It doesn’t affect the main plot co exists without being overbearing.
What doesn’t:
  • Nothing really. It is a great book. Worth the time that goes into finishing it.
This really a great one from the Crombie pen. Highly recommended.







Sunday, 27 September 2015

Degree of Guilt - Richard North Patterson

photo courtesy: waterstones.com
A classic reminder of why this author is one of my favourites.

Despite being disappointed with some of his last reads, this is an extremely enjoyable, one that reiterarated my faith in the author.

I love his style and the way he delves into the psychological aspect of the characters. It is said that he is similar to John Grisham, but I disagree. I think the similarity is due to the courtroom scenes but that's it. I find him different since he focusses more on behind the scenes rather than the courtroom scenes themselves.

Gist: 

Christopher Paget, a lawyer of repute, lives with his son Carlo. Mary Carelli, the boy's mother, is a television journalist who leads a separate life. However, one day she calls up Paget asking for help when she is accused of killing a well known author. She claims rape and self defence and wants Paget to defend her.

What follows then is Paget's attempt to prove her innocence which also involves a complex ride down the memory lane. Together with his assistant Theresa, they try to piece together what might have happened amid the publicity and the difficulty of the case.

What works:
  • It is a good plot and rape as a subject is carefully handled. Patterson is known to have used certain topics like rape, abortion and gun crime as the basis for his books.
  • The story has such an authentic ring to it that it reminds the reader of the author's background as a lawyer. His characters with their flawed personalities are distinct and identifiable. 
  • The narrative is smooth and gently eases the readers into a complex plot.
  • Once the pace gets going, the reader is taken into the inner workings of the characters which adds to the charm of the story.
  • The twists are great and unforseen which make them very enjoyable.
What doesn't:
  • The background behind certain events bogs down the plot. But having said that, the details add another dimension to the story and the reader cannot complain that the author is cutting any corners.    
Overall a great read. This is a typical Patterson kind of book with lawyer protagnists trying to prove one's guilt or innocence while questioning the real reason for the motives.

Recommended.





Eye of the Needle - Ken Follet

A fantastic read from a master storyteller.

Ken Follett is my guilty pleasure read. I pick him up when I feel like treating myself to some spicy, fast food like entertainment.

I was going through some heavy dose literary reads and this book turned up at a time when I was desperate for some light and easy stuff.

This is one of Ken Follett's famous works and written quite sometime back. However, the popularity of the author has ensured that his earlier books have survived as well as his latest ones.

Sometime back, I watched a Hindi movie version of the work. Though the principal characters were the same, the story had been adapted to suit the Hindi audience. I was glad to watched the movie before I opened the book. It helped me appreciate the Ken Follett's story better.

Gist:

Set in the world war II, the English army is spreading false word about a large army ready for invasion. Actually it is a ploy designed to deceive the Germans. However, Needle, a German spy gets the wind of it and dashes off to inform the Germans. However, in his attempt to race from one end of the country to another he leaves behind a murderous trail. Rough weather on the sea washes him up to to Storm island, where a brave woman and her family take him in. What happens is a race against time to see if the English intelligence are able to thwart Faber or let their secret get to the Germans.

What Works:
  • A racy read. A thriller that is filled with twists or turns to keep the reader up till late in the night.
  • The characters are very well etched out and the dialogue and narrative are in line with the world war II era.
What doesn't:
  • It is a typical commercial plot -driven thriller and promises nothing more than a great escapism. If the reader is looking for some exalted, complex plot then he or she may be disappointed.
A Ken Follett book with sex, adventure and action. A masala fare that offers you entertainment on a platter.






Friday, 18 September 2015

Brutal - Uday Satpathy

photo courtesy: amazon.com
A taut debut by a promising writer.

I love reading new authors and this is a great time to be reading them. More and more local names are coming out with some great original stories or with a twist on the traditional ones. On my annual trips to India, I make it a point to browse through new names and invariably pick out promising books to take back with me.

It is great to see choice of genres too. Chick lit, crime mythology, you name it and Indian names are out there making their mark. Also, there are more avenues for these writers, to reach out to the readers and get a chance to prove themselves.

Therefore, I was elated when Writer's Ezine announced that I had won this book in a giveaway. With crime being a current favourite genre, I was looking forward to this Indian crime story. However, even before I opened the book, my initial thoughts were heavily influenced by the book jacket. Going by its cover, I braced myself to expect a good deal of violence in its pages.

I was not wrong.

What I found was violence accompanied with a gripping storyline and some great writing.

Gist:

A teacher is accused of carrying out a massacre at a school. Covering the case in court is Prakash a journalist, who has just recovered from a perilous assignment and is getting back on his feet after a hiatus. He hopes that this routine assignment will ease him back into work.

What seems like a predictable job turns into a deadly game of survival when the prime accused is shot dead in public. Prakash decides to delve into it and unearths some deadly truths. Along with his colleagues Seema and Mrinal, Prakash becomes an unwilling participatant in a game that threatens to be fatal for them all.

What works:
  • Right from page 1, the reader is glued to his seat and treated to a roller coaster ride of events.
  • There is always some action happening and before you realise, you are a part of it, chasing the truth with Prakash and his friends.
  • The book is a short one and can be easily finished in one sitting, ideal for those train and car journeys.
  • The pace is quick and the narrative races through places and events keeping the reader occupied.
What doesn't:
  • What I love about crime novels, apart from the whodunnit bit, is a parallel storyline about the protagnist himself. That doesn't seem to be happening here. Although there is information about Prakash and his past, the myopic vision of the fast paced action prevents Prakash from endearing himself to the reader. 
  • The passive voice that fills the reader in with the information jars a bit.  the paragraph just goes on and on loaded with information. 
  • Typo errors in the pages are a bit of a turn off.
  • Too much focus on the plot, less on building of characters. Seema, Mrinal are such fascinating characters but although we are told about them, we do not have the luxury of knowing them better. The info is too brief for us to engage with their lives.
That said, it cannot be argued it is a taut thriller, full of action and a compelling contemporary storyline. The plot is well executed and has a sound structure. It must not have been easy dealing with a crime action paced story. However, the descriptions are very graphic and the narrative flows well. The writing also offers great verbal visuals whether it is about the chase or some of the gory elements that are a part of the story.

Hats off to the team what worked with the author in launching this edge-of-the-seat thriller. However, a bit of proofreading would not have gone amiss.

Overall a racy read. A promising debut. Recommended.


Sunday, 13 September 2015

Sweet and Simple Kind - Yasmin Goonaratne

Amazon.co.uk
A great novel about two girls growing up in Srilanka, living through the changes that transformed its landscape.

This book was appealing after I learned that it was shortlisted for the Commonwealth prize. I fell in love with Srilanka after I read Nyomi Munaweera's An Island of Thousand Mirrors. So when I came by this one that showcased a similar promise, I couldn't resist dunking into it.

Gist:

Latha and Tsunami are two cousins growing up in the 50s and 60s Srilanka in an sprawling estate, nestled in beautiful countryside. Theirs is an idyllic childhood, spent in the company of books and nature. However, certain events in their childhood severs their relationship temporarily and consequently changes it forever. Growing up, they bond once again as they join the same university. However times are changing. The once tolerant society is simmering with racial conflict and Tsunami and Latha find their lives affected by it, one way or another.

What works:
  • It is a very well written and a beautiful novel about a much happier time in the beautiful country of Srilanka. 
  • The story seems partly autobiographical as the author, like Latha, has a similar academic background and hails from a political family.
  • There is a certain indulgence especially when it comes to the Peredeniya parts, where the author seems to revel in the academic life of the campus.
  • The story gathers pace when the girls get to the university and are exposed to a broader canvas of life.
  • Despite an old school style the writing brings out the author's love for her country and her characters. 
  • Latha and Tsunami are loveable characters and the names show a lot of insight into their personalities. Although, not all readers may be able to connect to them, but it is easy to empathise with their characters.
What doesn't:
  •  I began this book hoping to gain more insight into the Srilankan conflict. Although this book touches upon the issues concerning the Tamil and Sinhalese, the story doesn't go beyond the individual and refrains from becoming a national experience.
  • Latha and Tsunami find themselves indirect victims of the conflict. In Tsunami's case it is Daniel Rajratnam and in Latha's case it is Paula and Rajan Phillips. However, the story sticks to their individual lives and choices and does not shed more light on the conflict. I felt a bit disapppppointed on that score.
  • The pace is slow in the beginning. It reads moree like a memoir of idyllic childhood spent at the family home and the author seems to savour it as she devotes pages to it. The only thing that kept it going was her fluid style and her ability to draw introduce interesting characters.
Overall an enjoyable novel. It is a good story about two women in a conservative Srilankan society of the 50s and 60s. 

A well written story about women and their position in a changing society. Do not expect much insight into the Srilankan conflict and it is an enjoyable read. 

Escape the Night - Richard North Patterson

Interesting plot, however let down by a dated style.

Being an ardent Richard Patterson fan, I picked up unmindful of what the story was. I was disappointed. This seems like Patterson's earlier novels.

Gist:

The story is about a publishing magnate family, the Careys and how events within the family and outside changes their fortunes.
Peter Carey, heir to inherit a publishing empire, carries ghosts of his past. He suffers from nightmares after surviving an accident that killed his parents. The accident left his psyche so deeply hurt that it effects his future relationships as well. Now as he stands to take over his inheritance, there are forces that want to stop from getting to the helm.

What works:
  • Patterson has a way with his characters. His characters are well etched and the reader has the chance to understand them very well and connect to their psyche.
  • The story starts off interesting. The patriach Carey's relationship with his two sons Charles and Phillips and the relationship between Charles and Peter is shown with great depth and insight.
  • His stories are always high on the psychological aspect and this story is well embeded in the psychological goings of the main characters. 
What doesn't:
  • The plot thought starts well, gets too mired in the psychological aspect of it all.
  • So much of it is focussed in the mind, that it affects the pace of the novel.
  • A good story always makes you want to turn that one page more before closing it for the moment. This one doesn't.
  • The story gets so convulted at places, that it takes determination on the part of the reader to hold steadfast with the story.
  • The book was written way back in 1983. Perhaps that explains the dated style which does not add to the story in any way.
I was surprised the good reviews that this book has got on other sites. I don't know what they got that was lost on me. However, I will stick to my feelings and maintain my stand. 

Patterson has many others which are more enjoyable that this one. This one just did not work for me.



Wednesday, 9 September 2015

When the gang of "Dacoits" turned up....

photo courtesy godolphin.org
was excited about our annual trip to India this year. His college reunion was top of the agenda. I, however,  was sceptical.

"Are you sure the kids and I won't be out of place?"

"Of course not. It has been designed to be a family thing," P said, with his usual conviction.

Reluctantly conceding, I could imagine it already. Lost in a sea of new faces, I would be the wallflower, yawning away in a corner. P would be busy reminiscing "those days". I would be left to fend for Cheeky and Aadi and my lonely self.

On paper, the itineiry sounded glossy although I was unconvinced. A posh resort was the venue with rooms for overnight stay, laced with a promise of great entertainment for kids and adults.

Reaching there on a hot afternoon, as we walked up, the kids faces lit on seeing the bouncy castle.

 That's them sorted. What about me? My thoughts were swirling around as I watched over them.

Suddenly, there was a pat at my shoulder. I turned around to see a face smiling at me.

"Hi, I am P's batch mate and it's good to meet you finally. I hope you are enjoying yourself." she said.

We chatted for a while and found myself being introduced to some of the other new arrivals as well.

It was a interesting visual before me. Bright eyed youngsters who had left college had returned back as professionals and parents. Many had travelled a good part of the day to be there and introductions were flying around.

Now that acquaintances were made, people were slowly warming up to each other. As the evening wore on, people began to relax. Unihibited kids were having a great time. For many, talking about children served as an ice breaker offering a common ground for conversation.

wallspapercraft.com
After dinner, many slumped on the seats to collect their thoughts.  The evening and the dinner had offered a great chance to register the changes in themselves and their friends, in the last two decades.

There was a moment of trepidation when the lights dimmed. Soon, the DJ began playing a selection of numbers, deigned to turn reluctant shakers into uninhibited dancers.

Initially, only a courageous and confident few got on the floor. But then the songs changed, uncoiling emotions and moves. People began filling the floor, taking solace in the growing crowd, to enjoy themselves without feeling awkward.I found myself getting into the rhythm and danced my heart out.

Taking a break between numbers, I caught a sight that has stayed with me since. In a corner, a former student was watching the dancers, with an expectant gaze. Hardened by years of domestic and career demands, she was stirred by the tempo but reluctant to join in. Clearly, it had been ages since she had let her guard down and indulged in carefree revelry.

 Tapping her feet to the music, she was drawn to, yet resisting the pull of the dance floor. Then as a popular friendship song began to play, something snapped, releasing her, as she broke into a short run across the floor, to join her batch mates in the chorus.

Despite busy lives, various obligations, the evening had managed to draw out the spontaneity in people, bring back that buoyant student of '95 in them.

The song ended and people began to disperse. P stayed back for a late night chat with friends;  I headed back, dragging my knackered body and a happy heart to bed.

Next day, when we met for breakfast, it was like meeting old acquaintances- our shared experience of last evening had bound us together, creating a history of its own.

Bidding our goodbyes, we parted as new friends, with the promise to meet again like old mates!


Monday, 3 August 2015

Why I read Indian Fiction

My tryst with South Asian fiction, more specifically Indian fiction began as a literature student. As a third year English undergraduate in India, we had a module on Indian writers as part of our course. We had read only English writers till then, and were eagerly looking forward to the experience. I was particularly excited. There was a craving to read something closer home, something I could relate to as an Indian reader.

Initial days:

As a child, reared on a steady diet of Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew and later Grisham, my reading was largely unsupervised. Although I had read my share of classics, Indian writers unlike today, were not easily found in bargain book stores.
http://www.series-books.com/

Indian writers:

Finally, I thought will be reading something from my realm; Indian mentality, culture and experiences. I was disappointed. Thanks to an outdated syllabus, most texts were written in bygone independence era with themes of caste conflicts, oppression, exploitation of the poor by the rich (Mulk Raj Anand’s Coolie) or stringent, obsolete religious practices (Anand murthy’s Samskara) back in the 19th and 20th centuries. The themes did not resonate with my metro city upbringing. Also, the language was constrained and inhibited; after all English was not a native language.

There were few exceptions though. RK Narayan’s Guide written in the post-independence era and later made into a famous Bollywood classic is about a self-centred corrupted man who takes to wrongdoing to suit his purpose. It is one of the few novels that transcends the conventional themes and is one of the few texts that can be enjoyed even today. However, such examples are very few and far in between.
http://www.yuvasuneet-karampudi.in
The turning point occurred when I moved to another university to pursue a master’s degree.  Provided with a better course list, we were now exposed to an array of contemporary texts that enhanced our experience of Indian writing.

Blazing trail of new writers:

This time around, we discovered Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things and thoroughly enjoyed it. I suppose, its success was proof that local talent armed with a definitive instead of an imitative style was now ready to showcase good quality of writing.

amazon.co.uk
By the 2000s, Indian writing also saw a mushrooming of Indian writers based outside India. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Jhumpa Lahiri were popular names and their books were most sought after by students like us. I still remember bunking classes to finish Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Sister of my heart or the hype surrounding Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Namesake”.  This was mainly because most Indian households, by now, had at least one relative who was based overseas. Their stories was something, Indian readers like us, could relate to.
As someone who had never been out of India, I found the dual identity concept exotic, just as my other friends. Also, the writing was accessible and we all loved the way the language flowed, outlining the immigrant experience and its dilemmas.

Crossing over:

Little did I foresee that I too shall be moving over to the other side when I settled in the UK after marriage. It was as if a whole new experience unfolded in front of me. Although, by now there were more Asians in the UK as compared to two decades ago, I was living in a predominately white community where my Indian accent and hair colour proclaimed my racial status.
goodreads.com
I could now understand what it meant to be an immigrant, the need to blend in, yet retain cultural connections. I found the experience clearly reflected in many of the novels by UK based south East Asian writers. It was a fascinating time as I discovered many new names and shared their insight into what went into the making of a British Asian.

However, I do keep a track of what Indian authors are writing, during my visits back home. It was exciting to find shelves packed with various genres ranging from thrillers, chick lit, campus novels to coming of age ones.

Indian writing has come a long way indeed. It has a definitive style and more importantly, reflects the contemporary Indian society and its myriad aspects, in its works. Coming to the UK has opened me up to various south Asian writers who offer a parallel yet unique experience through their books.


It has been a fascinating reading journey, one that started in childhood, that continues to empower and enlighten, till now. 



Saturday, 1 August 2015

The High Flyer - Susan Howatch

A disappointing read from one of my favourite authors.

I have loved her books. Wheel of Fortune was the best and her insight and killer observation are amazing. However, when I picked this one without even bothering to read the jacket cover, it left me surprised, shocked and well let down.

Gist:

Unlike most of her novels, this is a modern one set in the 90s. Carter Graham is this ambitous high flyer doing very well in her work. She has plans of peaking her career and then settling down that way she has both the worlds.

She meets Kim another high flyer like her with similar outlook. They marry and just when life looks perfect, Kim's mysterious past catches up with him. He has an ex-wife who is stalking him. Initially seen a bit of bother, turns into something more sinister and Carter begins to doubt everything around her and ends up having a crisis which is not only domestic but more spiritual in nature.

What works:
  • Howatch's characters are always well rounded and accessible. It is not too difficult to connect with them and be a part of their lives.
  • Howatch has a bit dated but an engaging way of laying out her characters and her plot and for those familiar with her style enjoy the way she does it.

What doesn't:
  • The transformation of the Carter from an atheist to a person filled with doubts is a bit too much.
  • I read somewhere that Howatch too went through a period of doubts and found God eventually. Perhaps Carter was just her mouthpiece to lay out her experience, however it sours the experience for the reader.
  • The plot after a point begins to weigh on the reader, turning it into a more personal piece rather than a piece of fiction. 
  • The impressive personality of Carter comes to nothing when you see how she ends being this confused soul who has lost direction and puts herself in the hands of others. It does not strike a chord with the reader in any way and makes the reading a boring experience.

Despite being a hard core Howatch fan, I couldn't finish the book, leaving it midway not caring to find out what happened to Carter in the end. It left this reader cheated and not worth pursuing it all the way through. 

I feel bad about leaving it half finished. My reasoning however is this; I would rather leave with some semblance of enjoyment from it rather than be miserable by the end of the reading experience. 

Some may believe that not having read it through, perhaps I should not have the right to pass judgement about it. But for me more than getting to the end, its the journey thats more important. 

Don't you think?



Myth=Mithya Hindu Mythology Decoded by Devadutt Pattanaik

goodreads.com
A book that encapsulates all the Amar Chitra Kathas(ACK)  I have read in my childhood.

I love ACK. I think they are the most fascinating books for kids and provide a great introduction to Indian mythology. I am trying to get my daughter interested in these books. I really hope she too will be enamoured by the illustrations, and learn to love them.

Gist:

The books touches upon the various gods and goddesses that form the Indian mythology and also the religious texts. It has a very interesting structure as it talks about the various practices and beliefs and connects the stories to mythological characters.

What works:
  • Everything. Pattanaik has done his research well as he touches upon the cultural beliefs of various communities in India. He is obviously well read and does a very skillful attempt at amalgamating all in the text.
  • The points discussed are most complex in theological and spiritual aspects but the text is engaging and the language simple. A delight to go through it.  
  • As the author himself says, that you can dip in and out without reading in a linear fashion. This in turn offers great flexibility to the reader to grasp the various aspects and revisit them whenever they wish.
  • The illustrations add to the value of the text and add to the clarity offered by the narrative.
  • The structure is well very constructed. It flows well and the matter discussed is clear and concise.
  • I take pride in the fact that I know my indian mythology but reading this book left me a bit more enlightened than before and enriched my understanding of it.
What doesn't:
  • I love this book because I am interested in Indian mythology. For a person not so keen, I am not sure enjoyable the book will be.
A great read for anyone interested in Indian mythology.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Destiny - Sally Beauman

photo courtesy: http://www.bidorbuy.co.za
A typical beach read full of twists and turns.

I had read rave reviews about the book. Years ago, I picked the it and then discarded it, hoping to go back to it someday.

Now when I saw the book in a charity shop, it seemed the right time to see if the reviews held up to it.  This book came out in 2003 and the writer Sally Beauman apparently won a lot of praise (and money) for the book and having read all that, it was time for the truth.

Gist:

This is the story of Helene and Edouard two lovers who are destined to be with each other. They meet and decide to be together but fate intervenes and it is a long time before they get back together.

Edouard is a French aristocrat born into money and at the helm of a jewellery empire. Helene born into poverty makes her way out of it by becoming an actress.

However, there is a host of characters who are the reason why they meet and then separate. The story takes us through their childhoods, their different upbringings and the qualities and circumstances that shaped their personalities.

Beauman introduces a lot of subplots that keeps the story connected and going. It is interesting how she lays out this plot that spans during the world wars and its aftermath and places her characters in the post war era.

What works:

  • The story is designed to shock with some elaborate sex scenes and Beauman revels in it. However, to give her credit, it adds to the story and the characters. 
  • The characters come from all classes of society and cultures. Beauman is as comfortable describing characters in the rural pockets of America as she is talking about the cream of French society. Credit to her for describing it well.
  • It is an ambitious novel spanning decades. However at some point the timeline especially the time when Helene and Edouard are away from each other, seems a bit too short a span for all the twists and turns occuring in the story.

What doesn't:

  • It comes across as a raunchy novel designed to purely shock and entertain. It is commercial through and through and though many would argue against that. I was hoping to get something more out of it and did not.
  • There are scandolous elements to it which must have raised a lot of eyebrows and contributed to its popularity but as said earlier, they seem formulaic to create interest in the book.

In a nutshell, it is a typical soap opera-like-kind-of-a-read. Apparently, this was a first novel and Beauman went on to better ones like Dark Angel. The more popular one was the sequel to Rebecca, called Rebecca's Tale which also got some great reviews.

Destiny is an average read. Go for it, if soap opera type plots are your thing.

If not, there are better books out there.