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.