Sunday, 29 May 2016

The Theory of Death - Faye Kellerman

photo courtesy:twitter.com
An interesting thriller set against the backdrop of American academia.

This is my first of the Faye Kellerman books. Actually, this book came to me in an interesting way. I won another book on Goodreads but received this one instead.

Since this was a crime thriller with an interesting premise, I decided to find out if the author's reputation was actually as good as the review of her books. I was glad to find out that that it was true.

Besides, it has been a while since I have read American fiction though it was my staple reading diet during my teenage years. Living in the UK for so many years, I end up reading more Brit fiction now. This American thriller reminded me of different yet enjoyable they can be.

Gist:

Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus have moved to a new place and are starting afresh. While a former colleague Tyler McAdams, now a university student comes to visit them, a suspicious death gets Decker to the crime scene followed by McAdams.  The death takes them into the maths department of a well known college. That combined with the background of the victim, Decker finds himself in the murky world of academia where secrets are dark and relationships dubious.

What works:

  • The dialogue. The banter is funny, the dialogue is crisp and takes the story forward effectively.
  • Obviously the investigating trio have a past and this book builds on it, but it works also works as a standalone novel and you get a feel for the characters.
  • Like any crime thriller, an important of the plot are the main characters. It was interesting  to see how they were etched, ageing but sharp and with their own style of cracking secrets open.

What doesn't:

  • Although the story can be read as a standalone, I wish I had followed the characters from their previous novels. That said, the book can still be enjoyed on its own.
When I read the premise about a genius that seems to have committed suicide while facts state otherwise, I began to imagine Inspector Morse and Lewis. This American version of academic murder is good and the plot is well crafted to keep the reader guessing.

Would love to read more from the author.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

A Weekend In Wales

I have always loved Wales ever since my first visit years ago. We have been there many times and each time it has been a better experience than before.

Often I find myself defending the place against the staunch Scottish and English nationalists. Yes, it rains a lot and the initial impression is that there are more sheep than people in Wales, but hey, it is unspoilt and retains its pristine, natural look!

Besides, I like the place more because of some lovely friends who play excellent hosts. With a house as big as their hearts, they pull out all stops to ensure we have a good time. I realise we are very lucky to enjoy such hospitality and this post is my way of appreciating the beauty of Wales and the friends who have made it their home.

This bank holiday weekend, we set of as a group of 5 families to Pembrokeshire, a pictureseque county in Wales. The cottages was snug and cosy, located well within the serene atmosphere of St. Florence.

We arrived at the dead of the night on a Friday and to be honest in the pitch dark we did feel like we were moving right in the middle of nowhere. But as the day dawned, unveiling the beautiful scenary, it felt great and we set off to explore.
  • Dinosaur Park
It was a mini theme wtih rides and a trail that had interesting nuggets of information for children to fill their info sheets with. There were a number of rides for the kids to try their hands on. Zorbing, bungee jumping, boat rides, the park had something for everyone and on a bright sunny day like this we went all out, making a beeline for one ride after another.

Besides, the fact that it was a dry day meant we made the most of the place. There was also a ride into a dinosaur park where the visitors were taken on a stroll to see how some new dinosaurs inmates were settling in. It was entertaining and the kids had a great time checking out the huge figures and their bellowing vocals! There was also a cafe nearby which was ideal to appease rumbling stomachs. That rounded off with an ice cream made it an ideal day out for the kiddies!

photo courtesy:visitpembrokeshire.com
The holiday was not only about the kids. We found something for adults too. While it was raining on Sunday, we headed to a Go Karting area nearby which called out to the adrenaline rush of the adults. It was a great experience and while the daddies had a go, the kiddies got into a really competitive mode, cheering their dads.  It became serious after a point when the kids began to argue whose daddy was the winner!

After the sessions ended, the dads conceded that one had to have a good wrist control to move better - hearing this, the ladies who had planned to go next, decided to give it a miss and moved on.

We did not have great weather through the weekend. But when we did,  we made the most of it. Tenby beach was another lovely place to be on a beautiful sunny day. Although the water was still cold, the kids had fun making sand castles while the adults had a quick round of football. A couple of dads actually managed to catch some naptime amidst of it! For some of us, it was fun sitting on the beach watching the waves lick the shore, sipping cappuchinos, watching the world go by. At times, doing nothing is the best form of relaxation! It was obvious that others had a similar idea to ours as the beach was full with people thronging the beach for a similar experience!


Overall a great weekend getaway. While we spent the days at these gorgeous places, it was great to relax in the evenings in the cottage. The kids were happy to settle in with a movie or board games, while us adults enjoyed great banter, basking in the warmth of friendship.

We headed back home on Monday, having had a great holiday feeling completely relaxed.

We were lucky to have a bunch of friends who were great sports and excellent company. It was the first time we were all spending a holiday together and we unanimously agreed, the experience was worth repeating.

The search is on for the next holiday destination!

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

My first half term break

(I recovered this post when I had written it about a year and a half ago. I found this only recently and This seems like a great place to share the experience.)

As a mum of newly joined school going daughter, I was a bit worried when the February half term holidays drew near.

All the parenting websites, TV ads urged me to choose from different options for a stimulating holiday break. After all, at school they are engaged in activites and may need some while at home too, won't they?

Although, this was not technically our first half term,(the October break was the first) and for Christmas holidays we were in India, leaving the day after the school broke up and arriving a week after the school resumed, somehow this time around I really felt the pressure to make sure I had an variety of activities for each day of the week.

Weeks in advance, I began asking around for possible options with other school going mums who shared their plans. So, one day it was a crafts afternoon t the library, another day a movie experience and go-karting at the leisure centre.


It was only a week long break but they seemed to stretch for so long! Cheeky did not need to be entertained all the time. After all, she is at an age when the TV and tablet serve as able companions that she never asks me to spare time anymore.

It was just that we had to get out every day for a few hours at least to tell ourselves that we had an interesting time doing something other than plonking on the sofa with a gadget.

So anyway, Day 1 the crafts session was a hit, Cheeky had fun with friends from school who turned up at the event. Day two, movie was alright, although Cheeky was more fascinated with the idea of sitting in front of a wide screen munching popcorn. Go karting was fun although I feel a bit shortchanged for the money they charged for it. Finally one day running out of options and taking the advantage of a sunny day, we spent a morning at the park, on the slides and rounabouts.

However, there was nothing to do on Friday and finally we decided to give ourselves a break. I got on with the daily chores whereas cheeky decided to keep herself amused.

I was relieved to get ready for the school week. I can now enjoy a break for the next 6 weeks. But no, easter holidays will be here soon, putting me under pressure!

And they say it gets easier when school starts!




When my monkey dressed up as a Hungry Caterpiller...

Now this was few months ago when the World Book Day was celebrated, but now is just as good time to gloat over my efforts!

I got a notification from nursery about World Book Day and the need to turn up in a costume. There were lovely costumes dotting the shops but it seemed like a shame to buy one just for the heck of it.

My creative instinct came to rescue and so did a couple of websites - mumsnet in particular who offered ideas about how to get round it with regular materials.

So, one Sunday afternoon, the discarded boxes came to the rescue where they transformed themselves into the body of the caterpillar. Aadi loved the story anyway and he enjoyed going through the routine of

So there, Cheeky's red wolly hat became the face of the caterpillar with pipe cleaners serving as antennae and a blob of paint turned the body into a stripy one.

Viola! Aadi was so excited to put it on and walked with pride to his nursery.

I was in cloud nine - the costume making gave me a creative high and a reiterating the fact - you don't need to spend money but time to get this effect - the joyful expression on your child's face.



I let you go - Clare Mackintosh

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A terrific read and superb debut.

Why did I take so long to get to it? As soon as I finished this cracking read, I trawled the net for info. A quick search briefed me that it was the Richard and Judy winner.

Well it is certainly endorsed by some great names in crime thrillers on the book jacket. However, not one to go by promotions, there was some skepticism at the beginning. It was quite a wait to get to this one and wow, what a read. Greatly recommend for students of the craft.

Gist:

It has a very arresting premise. Jenna has run away to the scenic beauty of Wales to escape a past. It was a cruel night in November that changed her life forever. Can she start over and escape the past - that is the gist of the plot.

What works:
  • Everything. Right in the beginning we learn of the tragedy and what happens later is just the repercussions. 
  • The setting. I like Wales, and Mackintosh makes it come alive. The bay, the waves and the salty air bring the setting to life and provide such a beautiful backdrop to the story. I was utterly fasciated by Penfach, that I am half tempted to drive up the place to find out if it really is as awesome as its bookish description!
  • I loved the way the narratives ran parallel. There are sub plots that run along smoothly and then blend in at a crucial juncture into the main narrative.
  • The sub-plots are rich, independent, complex threads filled with some great characters.
  • The characters are so rich and distinct. They seem real and endearing. Jenna's vulnerability, Ray's principles and Mags' situation sound so accessible. My favourite character was Mags, the police officer who gives it all up to be a mother, yet is in sync with her policewoman instincts. There is a character there just waiting to be developed.
  • The fact that the author has been in the police force shows through the ease with which the police scenes are well detailed. They politics, the bureaucracy, the limitations under which the police force try to do their duty shines through.   
  • The best part is the ambiguity of narrative. There are some OH! moments where you feel a bit lost but that is the best part. The twists in the narrative are so well planned that it really makes the reader sit back and be more alert.
What doesn't:
  • Nothing. The only thing striking out is the violence. It is brutal and tragic but then that forms the crux of the story. But Mackintosh doesn't make it gruesome, it is ordinary yet full of impact. It creates the hows and whys for the plot to move forward.

A fantastic read. Highly recommended. 

The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time - Mark Haddon

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
For a long time, I was put off by the book because of pre-concieved notions. I had this impression in my head about this boy with autism and the patronising way in which this boy deals with it.

I was wrong. I remember My name is Khan where Shahrukh Khan does a sorry portrayal of a man with autism. It put me off and I reckon that influenced my decision in refusing to pick up this one.

Then I remember coming across this character in one of my favourite dramas - Holby City. There was this character called Jason who had Aspergers and it was then I was introduced to more accurate portrayal of the syndrome and this intrigued me enough to reach out for the book.

I am glad I did. It is a funny, intelligent and an engrossing read.

Gist:

Christopher Boone is a 15-year-old boy with some "behavioural difficulties". He derives comfort in mathematics, where the complex numbers offer him comfort from the rigid societal guidelines. He lives with his dad. One day he discovers that his neighbour's poodle has been killed with a fork. It brings out the detective in him and he decides to look for the perpetrator. However, this journey takes me on another one where he had to deal with some harsh realities.

What works:

  • The character. Society hardened individuals like us can easily figure out that the character is weird. But what makes him endearing is his direct and transparent approach towards situations. He has a very black and white way of seeing things but with the help of his mentor Siobhan he tries to make sense of it all. It is superbly done and works so well.
  • The plot. It seems like an ordinary plot but as it progresses the complexities are woven in which makes it a rich tapestry of emotions and situations.
  • Since the book is from Boone's point of view, it is a very refreshing perspective which transforms ordinary situation into something enlightening.
  • Loved the way Siobhan breaks down societal concepts into understandable chunks. Made me wonder, we are such complex individuals. It is not Boone, but us who make things complicated. Especially where the bit where Siobhan says, that people do not reveal they are sad even when they are. It made me feel like such a hypcrite! 
  • Loved the optimism in the book. It feels weird, I mean we would never get into situations like Boone, but with his complex issues like touching and straightforward answering, life must be so difficult for him. However, he manages to get what he wants. he delves into the root of the matter and gets to the crux of it. In the process, he also manages to set things right. What a life affirming feel the book has.  
What doesn't:
  • I am not much of a maths lover. Therefore I could not appreciate the the mathematical formula and the prime numbers in the book. However, I could understand how Christopher needed them to make sense of the world and thought they were well used.

A truly fascinating read. A superb book on autism and aspergers syndrome. I read somewhere that the author did not want it to be associated with aspergets or autism but to me, that is what the book is and found it to be a great way of understanding how their minds work. 

Brilliant.









In A Dark House - Deborah Crombie

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
Another great read in the Kincaid James Series.

As said earlier, in Leave the Grave Green, one of the earlier novels, where Crombie seemed to be just about getting her bearings. But the second one, In A Dark House, she seems to be in her element and got it spot on.

The story clearly works and was a very interesting read too. Crombie's maturity in handling the characters as well as drawing the reader in is superb in this one.

Gist:

There are a few isolated incidents - a corpse found in a warehouse, a woman gone missing as reported by her housemate, and not too far away a woman holding a 10 year old girla hostage.

It falls to Kincaid and incidentally, James to unravel the connection between the incidents and bring them to their conclusion.

Meanwhile, a lot has happened in their personal life. Though not working as partners anymore, they are a couple and trying to build a home for their children from other relationships. While the domestic front demands attention, their professional lives are under trial as they pursue the case with diligence.

What works:

  • Loved the way the sub plots are introduced and developed. It kept me guessing and marvelling at the storytelling.
  • The characters of Duncan and Gemma are developing very well and offers a dimension by happenings in their domestic life. 
  • I have always loved the way Crombie meshes the domestic and professional of the characters so well. It adds depth to the characters while adding interest to the plot.
  • There is a lot of woman characters and it is very interesting the way Crombie paints them in different shades.

 What doesn't:

  • However with different sub plots, it does take some time to get on track with what Crombie is getting it but they are managed well and the suspense is good too. It certainly had me hooked.

A story that works so well. An enjoyable read that can be easily finished in a couple of sittings.

One of the better ones in this series definitely.

Scarlett - Alexandra Ripley

en.wikipedia.org
Loved the Original, disappointed with the sequel.

Like so many others, I loved Scarlett and Rhett in Gone With the Wind. The romance in their backdrop of the American Civil War was superb and well crafted. Having read the book and watched the movie, the book left a big impression on me.

Eager to extend such a rich experience, I started looking for the sequel. Scarett sounded exciting but atlas, so much for the enjoyment for the original, this was such a letdown.

Gist:

Scarlett is back at Tara and has come to see Mammy on her deathbed. Mammy asks for Rhett and scarlett sends a word out. Rhett and Scarlett are at loggerheads again. He comes back but does not so much as glance at her although he admits his attraction for her. This offends the stubborn beauty and she decides to pursue him.

She tracks him down to to Charleston, Rhett's hometown and tries to win him back. However, as it usually is, series of events tear them apart only for them to meet years later at the end of the story where things are put to rights.

What works:
  • The atmosphere, the aura of the era is well captured.
  • Scarlet and Rhett's persona is well etched too to a certain extent.
What doesn't:
  • It is boring. After the exciting rollercoaster ride of Gone With The Wind, this one just seemed like a rehash.
  • The character of Melanie is brought back to life again through another character - Anne Hampton.
It is almost as if Ripley, read and reread GWTW so much that she just couldn't separate herself from it to create something original. It feels that we have been through it all in the previous book and I have to admit that there were times when I felt the book could have been edited to half its length.

It is hard to fault Ripley though - she did have a monumental gap to fill. Mitchell's Rhett and Scarlett are one of a kind and to have them again was like having too much of a good wine. The first glass is delicious and satiating, the second - overrich and saturated.

If you are a die-hard Gone with the Wind romantic, you might like this one. It has all the features - the balls, the plantation, the old world charm, the country feel, the sense of community and the gossip.

What it lacks is the uniqueness that makes Gone With The Wind special. Disappointed.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Windermere Witness - Rebecca Trope

photo courtesy: goodreads.com
I love Lake District and each visit leaves me in awe of its natural beauty. It is very easy to see how the place has inspired the best writers. The quiet and the freshness of the landscape have a therapeutic effect and inspire the most reluctant artist.

I had always thought what it would be like to live in the lake district, seeing it not with touristy eyes but with the look of a someone who lived there.This book provided me with the perfect chance to find out.

Gist:

Persimon - Simmy Brown has moved to lake district to recover from her divorce. She has set up a flower shop and takes orders for weddings. However, a murder takes place at a wedding where Simmy had taken up a contract. Unwittingly, Simmy finds herself at the heart of it and so does the police. Does she find out the killer before the murderer seeks her out|?

What works:
  • Loved the descriptions of Windermere. You can easily visualise the fells, the steep and winding paths and the sense of community.
  • The character of Simmy is good. The way she pokes her head around situations and finds herself in the midst of it is interesting too.
  • The narrative is smooth, very matter of fact and cosy. There is no attempt to show off. It is a story that sets to solve a murder in a particular place. It is simplistic yet very articulate in style.
What doesn't:
  • The plot is simplistic in nature. Very linear, no complicated characters or complex sub plots. It starts out well, but tends to get a bit more predictable as it goes on.
  • The other characters are not so interesting to make an impression. 
  • The plot is so predictable that you lose interest in the plot and just want to get to the end. 

The same author had done a series on cotswolds and the reviews for that are quite good. That is what prompted me to go for this one. However, this book lets the reader down. Apart from the beauty of lake district, there is nothing much to it, I am afraid.

I saw another book called Ambleside Alibi by the same author - not sure I will be picking it up anytime soon.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

The Easter Bonnet that finally won the prize!


When you look at this picture, it looks pretty unremarkable doesn't it? Well, you won't look at it the same way once you know the story behind it.

I have been making Easter bonnets for my kids ever since they needed one for their nursery parade. The added attraction was that it was also a competition.

Now, this full time mom starved-of-creative -challenges, loved the idea of securing it (a long shot since I had no idea about the concept!).

So then on began my quest to find the right idea on the internet.

So the first time, after much research and spending a fortune on Poundland, I came up with a bonnet that was cute and painstaking. I took it with pride to the nursery, only to discover there were bonnets which did not have the accessories but were completely original in style and making.

Hmm,,, next year was more of a struggle, because there was no time - with a baby in one hand and toddler in other, my creative pursuit had to put on the backburner. I came up with one nonetheless, but it was no way as good as I would have liked.

Cut to a couple of years, my creative interest did not wane and I found myself looking for ideas for that dream prize winning easter bonnet.

Cheeky was in school. She did not needs bonnets anymore, but Aadi still needed one for his upcoming Easter parade.

Finally after 4 years, this year Aadi was grinning away(I was whooping in delight) when they called out his name for the certificate and first prize!

To be honest, there were beautiful and fanciful bonnets out there, but what clinched it for me, was the fact that the kids helped me do it and it showed.

Funnily enough, this bonnet came out of nothing but recycled materials. The head was made of cereal box, the flowers made of white paper, green tissue paper was a leftover from a previous project and the stalks are bamboo skewers.

Moral of the story: You don't need to spend to make a decent hat when you have the right creative idea.

A huge thanks to kids.com.au for the wonderful idea.

You can check out their link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWa56Y1iHg4



Where the legend comes alive.....Shakespeare at Statford

(I remember writing this a couple of years ago, when I first went to the place. This post was lying around in the drafts and although it seems a bit dated now, but the experience of going to visit a playwright that I am in awe of, holds pleasant memories for me. )

Shakespeare, for me, is the ultimate writer. His lines and sonnets resonate long after reading them, not because they are oft quoted (To be or not to be...) or (All the world's a stage) but because of what it contains in a few words. I could go on and on but that is not what this post is about.

It is about how this literary god came alive when we went to visit the writer at his well kept birthplace. The trust that looks after the writer's houses, has a well organised tour for those interested in the "Bard"such as the house where he was born, the land where he built a mansion upon his return from London as a star (New Place and Nash's house), the land he gave his daughter and son-in-law John Hall to build a house (Hall's Croft), his wife Anna Hathaway's cottage and his mum, Mary Arden's Farm and his grave.

Although I couldn't visit them all, leaving Anne Hathaway and Mary Arden for another day, it was totally fascinating to say the least. The English know how to market their legendary figures.

The tour provided an interesting introduction to the persona of Shakespeare in a nutshell for the uninitiated.

The Bard at work


It offered an insight into his modest upbringing, starting with his father's ambitions to rise above his station as a  glove maker and secure his fortune through marriage to a gullible heiress.

His humble beginnings as a glove maker's son

Although it did not focus much on Shakespeare, the person it was more about their humble trade and modest lifestyle. Later the story goes on to enlighten us how Shakespeare went on to become a successful playwright, made lots of money in London and then returned to his hometown as a rich man.


Actors reciting famous Shakespeare lines

The places give a very different perspective contrary to what we know of Shakespeare. For here, the emphasis is on Shakespeare the businessman and not the playwright as he is more popularly known. It is his dark side that gains prominence here and makes for an appealing story.

The tour was rounded off with some well known pieces from his prominent plays by some very talented actors. A terrific summing up of an enlightening tour.



Sunday, 8 May 2016

Her - Harriet Lane

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A great psychological thriller that fizzles out at the end.
I had picked it up once but then had to give it up when I was swamped with other books taking precdence. The writing was indeed very good and atmospheric that I just had to return to it once my TBR pile had reduced.

I picked it up again recently. The writing is very compelling, it forces you to turn pages but then sadly all that tension fizzles out at the end, leaving the reader disappointed and a confused.

Gist:

Nina is an accomplished woman, comfortable in her skin and lifestyle. Emma on the other is young mother, caught in the throes of motherhood. When these women meet, it is for a reason. There is a lot going on where visits are manipulated and designed for a reason. The women have a past, though one of them has no clue, and what that is, is the crux of the story.

What works:
  • The superlative writing. The initial pages force you to keep going, ending each chapter on a cliffhanger.
  • Each incident is shown from the perspective of the two women. I thought that was a great device and very well handled by lane. It added depth and an angle that drew the reader into the story.
  • The building of tension is amazing. The whole story is about atmosphere and Lane finds it in domestic life. Commendable. I liked the way Lane managed to make the ordinary so spine chilling.
  • I also liked the way she describes the pangs of being a new mother so well. Having been there, it was very easy to empathise with Emma. A woman who gives up her career to have children and is struggling with a young family. It echoes so much with many women who have been in a similar position. The emotions are so good and the details are spot on.
  • The dangers of steering away from routine, the significance of having the specific toys to maintain the sanity of a family are so well described.
What doesn't:
  • The climax. Once you start reading and enjoying the ride, you enjoy the friction and the tension that is building with each incident. You start to expect a climax that will take the veil off the secret. You are waiting for a face off that will put an end to the covert tension simmering through the story.
But that does not happen.

What happens instead is a sort of an abrupt end, which is unexpected and open ended. I couldn't believe what was happening and had to turn back a few pages to make sure I understood that was the end.

Not happy. Not satisfied.

The explanation does not justify the action as a result, spine chilling though it may be, it failed to evoke a satisfed response from it.

Read it for the style. As a plot, it could have been better.




Becoming a Writer - Dorothea Brande

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
I bought the book as a part of the Asian writer's Becoming  a Writer course and found it invaluable.

Brande talks about the mindset of a writer and her experiences of dealing with students who want to write.

 She obviously is well experienced and knows what she is talking about. She categorises writers into slots and then talks about why they are the way they are.

Gist:
The books talks about the mindset of a writer and slowly initiates the rookie into writing through various exercises.

With each chapter, there are some foolproof techniques that coax thhe writer in you into coming out and producing work.

The exercises seem quite arbitrary but eventually as you keep at it, they make sense and you realise why the book written in the 1930s still holds relevance today.

What works:

  • The style is a bit dated but the exercises are not. They are thought provoking and motivating.
  • Despite the fact it was written ages ago, it has come out in different editions, which proves its popularity and its longevity.
  • I have done all the exercises and have dipped into it time and again whenever wanted motivation. It has not failed me.
  • It is a slim volume and is not intimidating. It feels like your personal mentor is out there, coaching you and guiding you on.
What doesn't:

  • There are some things that mark the book as dated. Its reference to typewriters in a age of laptops and tablets just jar a bit. But the the way it suggests to channelise the mind and focus it on the work at hand is definitely something that struck a chord with me. 

References to the unconscious and by forcing the mind to submission to get down to the task of writing was something I could really relate to. I admit I see the Brande as a matronly figure with glasses perched up her nose with a stern look to ensure I do what I love most.

Love the book! Thanks to Asian Writer for introducing me to Brande.