Sunday, 18 June 2017

Sophie Hannah - Kind of Cruel

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

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

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

Gist:


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


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

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

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Restless - William Boyd

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

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

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

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

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

Gist:

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

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

Braided Ball


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


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

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

Here is the picture to give you the inspiration: 


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

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













Saturday, 27 May 2017

The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid

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

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

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

Gist:

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

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

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

A Spy By Nature - Charles Cumming

goodreads.com
The Making of a Spy

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

Gist:

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

What works:

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

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Gold - Chris Cleave

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

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

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

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

Gist:

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

What works:

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

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

Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Angel Tree - Lucinda Riley

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

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

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

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

Gist:

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

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

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

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

A great read.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Mandibles - Lionel Shriver

photo courtesy: goodreads.com
An unnerving futuristic story. 

Unnerving because, although the premise of the story sounds bizarre it seems so plausible. The title gives the impression of a saga - well it traces the lives of the family members over a 18 year period - but it is interspersed with elements of science fiction and "economic fiction" (if the genre exists!).

Lionel Shriver's books are known to many; for me she was a new author. A quick search told me her books have been great successes, winning reviews containing the word "thought provoking" to say the least. 

I agree with them. I received this book from the mumsnet book club. I am glad I did and stuck through with it. It was not an easy read.

Gist:

As the title suggests, the Mandibles are a family of three generations living in the US and are going through a period where the dollar as a currency has crashed and its implications on their lives.

What works:
  • Loved the wordplay especially with the names of Willing Darkly and Elona. Very cleverly done.
  • Loved the futuristic world. A Mexican president and the immigrants taking over. A wall keeping America out. oh and the program. Wow! what imagination.
  • My favourtie bits from the story were the dialogues where a character says "No one reads books. Everyone is writing them." Also in another part, where Lowell laments that work of the mind is not considered a skill anymore when compared to physical labour. 
  • The story has been structured and loved the chapter headings too. Cynical and at times mindboggling. But it makes sense once you delve into the chapter. 
  • It is a demanding book; definitely not an escapist read. But it kept on playing on my mind long after. Worth the trudge then.
What doesn't:
  • There are times when it reads like an economics textbook.
Overall, a very interesting, thought provoking story. Especially in this Brexit and Trump era, such books hold more relevance than they would - normally.





Sunday, 7 May 2017

The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing - Mira Jacob

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
An unusual title for a story about loss.

It was the title that hooked me in. I do not remember a more offbeat title that I have read in recent times. Sometime back, I was travelling to the US and got the chance to read it while visiting the country. Two reasons why I have been wanting to read this for a while - firstly because of the title and secondly because of its author.

The book promised to be a diasporic read (one of my favourite genres) and the timing felt right. It is a tome of a book and despite friendly warning by a fellow reader "not to keep my expectations high" and that it was "still a good read".

Gist:

A malayalee family settled in the US visits family in Kerala for holidays in the 70s. There is a matriach mother who wants to bring her prodigal son back home. A son who resents the trappings of a tight knit family and a child who sees everything through her own childlike vision.

Years later, when the son, now a famous surgeon is seen as behaving erratically, the daughter Amina Eapen is called back home. She has to piece together events in the past and present as she delves into family secrets and tries to find direction in her own life in the process.

What works:
  • The prose. It is beautifully written though a bit of sharp editing would have helped a bit.
  • The characters. It was reminicent of God of small things, mainly because of the Syrian family connection. However the story is completely different and very diasporic in nature.
  • The story moves well back and forth in time. I loved the incident in India and the growing up years of Amina and her brother more than the present timeline. For me, that held a better connection than Amina's current situation.
What doesn't:
  • There are times when the plot loses the reader especially pertaining to Amina's life. The author takes for granted that the reader will be familiar with Amina's line of work or setting. That is not the case.
  • The writing sounds a bit alien at times, failing to build the connection with the reader.
  • The story with its weighty paragraphs can be very heavy, affecting the reader's interest levels.

It is a good one off read but then like the fellow reader also suggested, go in expecting much else and you may be disappointed.


Thursday, 30 March 2017

The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters - Nadiya Hussain

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A dollop of "Little women", a dash of Pride and "prejudice" mixed with Asian culture maketh this breezy read.

That is how it felt like, reading this novel. Discovering that this baking star had turned author was a pleasant surprise and I was eager to see if she wrote as well as she baked!

Everybody remembers her "I am never going to put boundaries on myself ever again." Well, it does feel she has followed it up. A quick search told me ever since her win, she has brought out a cookbook and also a book for kids. I also remember a TV series about Nadiya visiting Bangladesh made it on BBC screens last year.

Hmm...I have a problem with celebrity books though. Are they popular because of how they good they are or because of who it is written by? Does the brand help to overlook shortcomings in the work? I was curious to find out.

Also, how do these people manage to rustle up stories so adroitly when others like us take ages to weave a decent story?

Gist:

Told from multi person narratives of four sisters - Fatima, Farah, Bubblee and Mae, this is a story of an Asian family living in the English village of Wyvernage. The chaos and the banter makes them seem like any other family. But something happens, that disrupts the balance. Will it bring them closer or drive the family apart?

What works:
  • The banter. The dialogues are very good. Be it Bubblee's feminist tirade or 16 year old Mae's reactions - I loved the book for this exchange of words alone.
  • The structure. The story moves very well, fluid and action oriented. It pauses at the right time to introduce a twist or some action to move it forward.
  • The characters. They are well etched and have their own personality traits that justifies their actions.
What doesn't:
  • Reminds me of the Bend it like Beckham movie. Except it doesn't feel as though we are looking at anything different. 
  • Also, marriage between first cousins is seen as the norm and there is no attempt made shed light on it. It tackes the usual women-should-be-married-and-have-babies concept but then it does not offer any insight or perspectives. Or maybe I am asking for more.
So although it is entertaining, it misses that crucial ingredient that elevates an entertaining story to a great story.

The first page reveals Hussain's name along with Ayisha Malik, a talented author whose book Sofia Khan is not obliged was highly commended. From then on, it is easy to see where Nadiya takes off and Ayisha steps in. It is a work of brilliant collaborative effort though. Nadiya's TV series and her love of baking blends with the repartee and varied characters of Malik to make an interesting concoction.

The story is bound to appeal to fans who are eager to devour Nadiya in any form. Perhaps, a measure of its success was already gauged, which is why it is part of a trilogy. Will be interesting to see if the second one manages to live up to the first one. 

Reminds me of that frothy cupcake carefully packaged with colourful icing and a generous dash of sprinkles. Lick off the icing and the sprinkles -  and it is just fairycake after all. It may fill you up for the moment, but not leave you satiated.

But that doesn't make a cupcake any less appealing, does it?

Traitors in the Shadows (Empire of the Moghul #6) - Alex Rutherfurd

photo courtesy: goodreads.com
A well told fragment from the drama ridden Moghul dynasty.

I loved reading Indian history at school way back as a primary school student. As an older reader, when I came across historical fiction, I found it a bit frustrating to see the absence many Indian historical warriors. Indian writeres seem more interested in the mythological genre, bringing to life so interesting peripheral characters. Although of late, Indian writers are taking an interest in historical fiction, it is yet to take off like the boom in mythology genre.

Therefore, my excitement at coming across the Empire of the Moghul series. Here was the story written by a "non-Indian", and that somehow made it more alluring. My reason for it? The perspective was not going to be biased and therefore bound to be more interesting.

I remember picking up one from the middle of the series Ruler of the World - the story of Akbar the Great, some time back. Akbar is one of my favourite historical characters. This book lived up to its expectations: it breathed life into the historical contexts. Soon, I began looking for the other books in the series.

Perhaps I harboured high expectations or maybe the later stories seemed a lot more formulaic. The subsequent books were a bit dissapointing. The mughal legend is full of stories about conquests, the fight for power and then the battle to hold on to it. It is very easy to miss the precarious balance between the violence and the plotting of the story. 

Traitors in the shadows, however, seemed to promise balance and and with some really interesting characters, it was too good to resist.

Gist:

Usurping the present ruler, his father Shah Jahan Aurganzeb is now the Moghul Emperor of the dynasty. He tries to make peace with his siblings who have been the collateral damage in this journey. 
On the other hand, he needs to keep a tight rein - rebels like the Rajputs, Jats and the Marathas are constantly looking for that weakness to break his defence.

On the family front, sons have always been the boon and bane of a Mughal warrior's life. Will 
Aurangzeb manage to stop history from repeating itself or will he be powerless in the face of fatherly love?

What works:
  • For me it was the introduction of Shivaji in the opening chapter that did it. I recall fond memories of reading about the Maratha warror in my history textbook. Seeing one of my favourite parts of history (Shivaji- Afzal Khan scene) come to life in the pages was such a delight.
  • History has Aurangzeb down as a tyrant and the story does not show him any different. But it shows how he struggles with his decisions, even when unjust and cruel. Loved the perspective and the way it was handled here.
What doesn't:
  • The action can get repetitive and there are places where the passage of time is not clearly marked. Events happen very quickly, but it takes time to understand that significant period has passed in between. 
Apart from this, the book was a great read. A thoroughly entertaining piece of Indian historical fiction.




Monday, 27 March 2017

Everyone Brave is Forgiven - Chris Cleave

photo courtesy: goodreads.com
A different take on the World war.

With the 100th anniversary of the WW1 celebrated last year, a lot of BBC dramas, stories on that period came out, to commemorate the event.

Having seen a couple of those, I had some preconceived notions about what to expect from this WW11 story.  Cleave was an established writer and the jacket compared the book to Atonement. When you read that kind of statement, you can imagine my curiosity regarding the book.

Apparently the author was heavily influenced by his grandparents and letters that he found about the World war. The author's note offers great insight into how titbits of informaton were woven into the novel.

My motivation for picking up the book, were the opening lines:

War was declared at 11.45 and Mary North signed up at noon. She did it, at lunch, before the telegrams came, in case her mother said no.

As a student of the craft who treasures opening lines, it really tops the list of some of the best I have read in recent times.

Gist:

Mary North leaves her finishing school and signs up as a teacher instead.

Tom Shaw doesn't think the war is going to last. He chooses to opt out and work in the
education authority instead.

Alistair Heath signs up as a soldier and is sent to Malta,  altering his outlook and life.

Three young people caught up in one of the most turbulent times recorded in English history. They are young and naive but remain neither, by the end of it all. Do they still carry the optimism of a young generation or does the war make them war weary and cynical?

What works:
  • The title. I found it too long and puzzling but by the time I got to the end, it made sense. My favourite lines:
I was brought up to believe everyone brave is forgiven but in wartime, courage is cheap and clemency is out of season. 
  • The love for the city. There are some beautiful lines that define the beauty of the city.
London was a lightening of the sky. It was the bloody last hour of the milk tooth. It was a city dying to begin. 
  • The so-called  high society attitudes
Society was not complicated after all. One only had to follow one's first name from the table plan to the wedding banns and all the way through to the tombstone.
  • The use of humour. I loved the banter between Hilda and Mary and then the letters between Mary and Alistair. The dark, cruel side of the war is blunted a bit with the use of humour flowing through the novel.
  • The multicultural fabric of the city taking its roots among racist attitudes.
Flat rubble waited for them in the far bank of the river. Rubble to build on caught no one's attention but theirs. It did not catch the light, having no promise but what they brought with them.
  • What I also liked is how it sheds light on the the dark side of evacuation - discriminating between who could go and couldn't
What doesn't:
  • Action follows very subtly and quickly. After reading a long description about how the characters feel or the city is turning into ruins, the plot moves forward without warning. Perhaps that is a stylistic thing, but as a reader, it took some getting used to.
  • There were times when the pace seemed to lag a bit and attention meandering. However, that did not deter me from enjoying the structure and the writing style. That alone kept me going till the end. 
Overall, a great piece of writing. It is not your average read, so quick-read, plot oriented book lovers may well steer clear. But for those who love to savour and linger over paragraphs, relish that aftertaste of reading good prose, well, this one's bound to tickle your taste buds.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Lie With Me - Sabrine Durrant

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
Tight storyline, complex characters make this an enjoyable read.

The pink letters against a background of bottle green are such an eye catcher. To be honest, it was that which drew me to it. The premise is vague yet compelling. I loved the evasive summary particularly, arousing interest without saying much.

Durrant is a journalist and author with a couple of novels under her belt. I had never read her previous novels but a quick search told me how talented she  is. I just loved her 140 character story for the Guardian twitter challenge.

Gist:

Paul Morris, a one novel success, is happily drifting through life when he meets an old friend Andrew Hopkins. A chance meeting leads to a dinner party and then a holiday with his family in Greece. Morris, who till now managed to have no strings attached suddenly finds himself entangled in a set of relationships which threatens to burst his bubble and confront his past.

What works:
  • The story works right from the outset. The slimy, narcisstic narrator who is honest, yet cavalier is finally etched. It is hard to like this character and yet you are curious to know what happened to him.
  • The entire novel rests on this one character. He is a one time success, yet a current failure. He is the intellectual snob who is good at dinner party conversations but not trustworthy. With lie after another, he works himself into a complex web of deceit.
  • The other characters of Alice and Andrew were well etched out too. The tension buildup as the story went on was palpable and keeps you guessing and reading on. 
  • I can see it easily as a movie. I am sure with the right actors to play the character, it will be much better than some of the thrillers that have made it to the screen.
What doesn't:
  • Hardly anything. It works at all levels. It had me hooked and though I was reading another literary novel at the time, it forced me to put it aside and get to the end to reveal the suspense.
An excellent thriller, a brilliant read to perk up the spring day.


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Granchester Mysteries - Sidney Chambers and the Dangers of Temptation

A breezy set of crime stories set in an English village.

I received this book as part of goodreads giveaway in return for an honest review.

I heard seen the itv programme and so was excited about the books.
I enjoyed it for its Father Brown type central character, but his handsome and young version. Being a character driven person, for me, a good mystery must have the important ingredient: detective with a distinct persona.


Gist:

A set of crime short stories set in Granchester. Sidney Chambers, the local vicar with a nose for investigation, always gets into it and helps Geordie Keating on the case. However, there are times when his objectivity is called into question, particularly when it it involves people close to him. Does he rise above it or falls prey to it?

 What works:
  • These are not drawn out mysteries but short stories that gives you a flavour of the small village. Living in a village myself, I can relate to how the community works and it is delightful to see it represented in fiction.
  • Runcie displays a keen understanding of the human mind and also of Chambers. Loosely based on his dad who served in the army and then became a clergyman, this detective is shown in shades of grey. Loved the complexity of it.
What doesn't:
  • I had seen the programme before and the storyline is a bit different to the book. The relationship between the characters is not how it was shown in the TV. That confused me a bit. However, once I saw it as a different story, it was a lot easier.
  • The format. Although they are nice to dip into, they do not have the compelling edge of a taut crime story. The writing is leisurely with musings on human behaviour. However, it does not give you that terse feel of action.  
  • It is a nice one to dip in and out. It is great for that lazy read, when you do not want the demands of a tightly written story, instead want something to relax with. But I found my attention wandering. The style was too meandering for me.
It reminds one of afternooon, one hour crime dramas. Entertaining but without the bite. 

Thursday, 2 March 2017

A Suitable Vengence - Elizabeth George

www.goodreads.com
A vivid, layered, atmospheric tale.

The book jacket does justice to the plot. The waves hitting the cliffs is quite reflective of Cornwall. In fact that is how I visualised it as well when I was reading the story.

George is a favourite and I have read nearly all of her novels and even re-read some in a attempte to study the technique. I still remember how my first novel of her : In the Presence of the Enemy. Her deft handling of plot and the characters were very impressive. The story stayed with me until much later and then I started hunting down her works and devouring them all.

This is one of the earlier novels in the Lynley-Havers series. The duo have not become work partners yet. The other characters St James, Deborah and Lady Helen are very much present. It is interesting to see how they are at an interesting stage and how the dynamics of the relationship shifts and evolves to form new liasons.

Gist:

Lynley and Deborah are in Cornwall with their close friends, St James and Lady Helen to celebrate Lynley's engagement with Deborah. However, where these characters get together, there has to be a murder nearby and that is what happens. A journalist is killed and since he happens to be the husband of the daughter of their employee, Lynley feels compelled to step in with his team and investigate.

Soon another murder is reported. This time it strikes closer home and brings Lynley's personal issues to fore: a troubled relationship with his Mother and a stormy relationship with his brother

Lynley must deal with them before it embroils them all further more in a tangled mess that bears a painful connection to the murder.

What works:
  • The characters are like old friends. I know I have said this before but then that is how it feels . It was interesting to see how the dynamics of the relationship is formed here and later shifts.
  • The plot. It is like picking up a thread buried in the sand and then lifting it up and following the trail. The narrative is so fluid and smooth, with no jerky movements or past/ present shifts in time.
What doesn't:
  • The trouble with George is that she can be too detailed. It takes the zing out of the story, slacking the pace. There are some middle bits which are a bit sagging, putting demands on the reader to stick with it.
Overall, a good read. Perhaps not as good as some of the others. But the characters are there and the twists are interesting. 

Thumbs up.




Elizabeth is Missing - Emma Healey

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
An intriguing title, a superb protagnist but then the interest fizzles out.

I had heard a lot of the book. The first page is full of great reviews and it did a lot to liven up my expectations. Alas, it did not deliver as promised, despite an impressivelyl packaged cover and premise.

The cover does draw you in. "How do you solve a mystery when you can't remember the clues?" That coupled with the fact that the person solving is a 82-year-old dementia patient is enough to pique average curiosity and mine was no different. It was a shame it did not sustain till the end.

Gist:

Maud is 82 years old with dementia. She cannot remember anything and is looked after by her daughter and carers. However in her muddled up state, she has one clear memory of a friend Elizabeth, who she worked with at Oxfam. Something is gnawing at her and she determined that Elizabeth is in trouble. She has been ridiculed for her attempts to call the family but she hellbent on finding out where she is.

Simultaneously, the story shifts to a wartime scenario where Maud's younger self is living with her family and something happens that changes the family forever.

The past shows a young, impressionable Maud who witnessing something, she is unable to make sense of. At some point, the past and the present collide. It finally gives meaning to Maud's present, senile existence.

What works:
  • Healey inhabits 82 year old senile mindset so well. It is so easy to associate and empathise with the confused character who has no bearings of herself. It is a brilliant portrayal and I loved it for that reason alone. 
  • The wartime narrative though is interesting, I found myself waiting for the present narrative which had lots of interesting characters such as the daughter Helen and her grand daughter. 
What doesn't:
  • I found the wartime narrative boring and although there was a sense of whodunnit to it, it seemed stretched out. Some solid editing would have tightened the piece up.
I am not sure if it was the hype that put me off or if it was the story. The story starts off well and I loved the protagnist but then it did not last long and there was a sense of "how long till it comes together". 

An OK read but a very interesting protagnist. For that reason alone, it is worth a read, I would say.









Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Power of Breath - Swami Sharadananda

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A good book for those looking for alternative therapy for better mental health. 

Disclaimer: I received this book as part of goodreads giveway in return for an honest review.

I studied reiki years ago and practised it for a brief period.  I therefore understand the importance of controlling the breath and as a practitioner of yoga and pranayama, I value and acknowledge the impact it has on our emotional happiness and physical well being. 

Breathing is such a natural thing that we are not aware of it most of the time. However, what we also don't know, is the way we breathe can have an impact on our body too. The book offers an interesting insight into the process of breathing and why is it important to breathe well.

Since I have been taught by someone and not learnt it from books, I was curious how the book could substitute for a instructor.

Gist:

The book explains in neatly divided chapters the various aspects of breathing. It outlines the way we breathe, the technical aspect of it. The subsequent chapters offer various forms of breathing exercises and its effects on your mental state of mind.

What works:

  • Interesting theory with some easy to follow exercises.
  • Simple explanation of the life energy force and how it can help you.
  • There is also background information on regular practice how affects your mental health.
  • You do not have to be in a great physical shape to be able to do these exercises.
  • Most of the yoga exercises are familiar to me, having done them at some point. However, even if someone is not familiar with the practice, there are helpful pictures and easy to read instructions that allow the reader to understand and practice them. 
  • This book works for beginners as well as out of date practitioners like me. The tone is clear, motivating and encouraging. 
What doesn't:
  • It will not give you instant results. If you are looking for something more immediate then you are better off looking for a physically exerting exercise.
  • It is a gradual process, the benefits of which will be felt over a period.
I wanted to be sure that the exercises worked and therefore put them into practice before doing the review. Though I cannot claim any superb benefits, but the fact that I did upto 5 minutes of concentration on my breath made me feel good. For me this was a starting point and I am sure it will only get better from here. My mother has been practicising pranayama for years and swears by its benefits. She claims her asthma is under control thanks to the breathing exercises.

In our fast paced life, even when we take breaks we are not mentally taking one. A lot is being talked about mental health and how it is affecting people in hordes. Pressures of modern life are a big contributor and therefore we need strategies to take care of our mental health equally, if not more than physical health. It is also a well known fact, that mental states translates into physical symptoms and ailments. So taking care of mental health is the first step towards good physical health too. 

This book helps you to pause and look into within for the various answers to questions. It makes you self aware and conscious of what is happening within in. 

For that reason alone, I think this is a great book. A great tool for someone looking into alternative therapy for physical and mental well being.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Family Life - Akhil Sharma

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A story about emigration laced with family tragedy.

I love diasporia stories and Lahiri and Divakaruni are big favourites. But where these writes have glamourised the idea of moving and living in a different country, Sharma explores the dark side of what happens when things don't go to plan.

Family Life with its low profile almost banal title tells a very poignant story of an ambitious family caught in a vortex of unfortunate circumstances. The long term effects as a result of those "three minutes" on the family members, is what the author explores in the book.

Gist:
Ajay is eight when he moves to New York with his mother and older brother Birju. Proud of his ability to get his family over, his father is looking forward to a better life in the states. They have set their hopes on fifteen-year- old Birju who is sitting a test that will get him into a top university. He does make it, but then a family tragedy turns their life upside down. Family life takes a look at what happened to the various members of the Mishra family as absorb the turn of events, making their way in a new culture.

What works:
  • The subject matter is quite sad. But Sharma looks at things very dispassionately yet manages to convey the seriousness and the desolate nature of the situation.
  • The fact that he is a creative writing professor comes as no surprise. He explains how he is fascinated by Hemingway and tries to study his style. There is another article in the New Yorker wherein he outlines the creative process. Reading it made me understand how the author must have stuggled with the book, writing a personal story yet distancing oneself to make it palatable for others. You can find the article here.
  • The killer is the ending. Just when you think he has finished telling his story, he drops a bomb that leaves you stunned, shocked that there isn't more!
  • He has an amazing style. Instead of delving on the emotional side of it, he has refrained from overindulgence and has maintained a detached demeanour. His strength lies in allowing the reader to figure how tough it must have been instead of laying it out. He has an implicit faith in the reader's intelligence and that works well for him. 
What doesn't:
  • It is a depressing story as guardian review rightly calls it "unhappy  emigration". So if sad depressing stories are not your thing, maybe you will feel let down. But having said that, it offers an interesting perspective into an average emigrant family's tough life in the Capitalist States. 
  • The title is boring. I actually stayed away from the book because the title did not intrigue me enough. It was only the rave reviews that drew me towards it.
But then this book has won the Folio Prize and also the Dublin International Literary prize. Although such prizes do not mean it is a good book (I have picked up prize winning books only to be sorely disappointed) this one is really worth the prizes it has won. I read through it in one sitting on a early night in bed. You just cannot put it down.

I love reading the acknowledgements. I have always believed writing though a solitary pursuit, always shines with a good support system. Sharma mentions about how long it took him to write the book (so does the article) and the pain and the struggle that went into it.

For me, a story based on personal experience makes it a lot more genuine. It brings to mind, Sanghera's Boy with a Topknot yet another story with the author's family riding at the heart of it. Like Family life, it draws on an unpleasant family secret that comes to fore years later and how the family copes with it.

If the review has made you curious, you can check out an excerpt of the novel, that appeared as a short story in The New Yorker. 


Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Kissed a Sad Goodbye - Deborah Crombie

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A melancholic yet absorbing story

This is one of the earlier books in the Duncan and James series. The duo are still grappling with issues in their personal lives, their relationship still fresh and new to bear the brunt of distractions and priorities.

Crombie has such interesting characters in Kincaid and James both single parents, both producing great results as a team.

Gist:

The body of a beautiful woman is found on an estate. However, when someone reports her missing, the trail takes them to a famous tea makers - Hammonds. James and Kincaid together with the local inspector Janice Coppins get inside the world of tea blending, its exotic flavours and its painful connection to the World War II.

What works:

  • Loved the tea company setting. James does a great job of setting the story in the backdrop of a company, embellishing it with details that is fascinating and shows off her good research.
  • Loved the parallel narrative. I remember the use of the device in another of her later novels and love the way she uses it. However, the world war narrative was a bit disorientating in the beginning, almost boring at times, but then it makes more sense as the story moves on and finally blends into the present. 
  • The suspense was a bit predictable but the run up to it was not. It built the suspense well, while throwing light on different suspects before zooming on THE ONE.
  • The characters are great. The jealous, posh lover, the loyal, insecure assistant, the underrated sibling and the doting, secretive father are great personas. 
What doesn't:
  • Too much detail in the world war story. To me, it sort of weighed down the pace an felt a bit unnecessary.
But then it is always great to see how there is always more, to a whodunnit. The personal lives of the protagnists as they move on from one case to the next keeps on evolving, making for a very interesting side plot.


Monday, 30 January 2017

Apple Tree Yard - Louise Doughty

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A story about relationships or rather the truth of it.

I have always maintained that the onscreen version of a book pales in comparison to its written version. Not in this case.

I heard about Apple Tree Yard when I watched a trailer on the BBC. It sounded great, looked intriguing and I was looking forward to it. After watching the first episode, I couldn't wait for the next one. I headed straight to my local library and got out a copy.

Funnily enough, the beginning was slow, the style was a bit strange and the pace very lethargic. I did not enjoy the first chapter at all. The only thing that kept me going was that I had watched the first episode and could tell therefore where the story was heading.

Gist:

Yvonne Carmichael is a high flying geneticist. She is a middle aged woman with grown up children, enjoying all the hard work that she put in during her children's growing up years.

However, a chance encounter turns into a clandestine affair and then a compulsive habit. And then something happens that transports Yvonne at the Old Bailey court forcing her to defend herself and all that she lived for. Does manage to get off scott free or does she pay for the choices she made?

What works:
  • The language. There is something very compelling about the way she uses words to build a sequence of events and the narrative. 
  • The lead character is believable. It is easy to identify with her. Funny, how you would look at her as accomplished and successful whereas from the other side, it looks all tilted. I read a couple of reviews where the protagnist was berated for her choices. I can imagine that having an affair and expecting it to be something more may be delusional but then what happens to her is definitely not her fault. (I am trying hard not to give the story away!) The rationale behind the character's actions seem to be justified in the story and I could feel sympathetic for her by the end of it. The fact that the character's psyche was so accessible to the reader made me like the story and that is where the story gets another star for it. 
  • The sequence. It is not linear and keeps shifting back and forth until the past catches up with the present. The scene opens in a court and then backtracks to what happened to before then. It is very well done.
  • The suspense is well kept, making you turn that page, one more time.
  • I am a hardcore fan of courtroom dramas and love the dynamics of how words are twisted and prodded to suit a version. It is a gameplay that keeps me hooked and this book did complete justice to it.
  • I also loved the way the central character takes control of the narrative. How we women never take things at face value and tend to read much into it. Our tendency to analyse and overanalyse things can be often our unravelling. Doughty captures the psyche of Yvonne very well. 
  • Her justifications for her actions are a bit unbelievable. However, Doughty makes it believable. How a careless act can then spiral out of control and complicate things. 
What doesn't:
  • I don't think I would have read it, had not been for that compelling first episode. The very writing that bowled me over later, did not initially pull me into the story. 
  • The initial chapters take some patience. The story moves slowly and at times the writing is so subtle, devoid of any emotion.  I suppose that tone of clinical detachment  is what makes the pace hard but it does create an impact. 
I have been reading many reviews where people have either loved or hated it completely. My favourite is where it says-  "Relationships are about stories, not truth." - what we tell ourselves rather than perceiving it for what  it is. Very true. Loved it.  

Friday, 27 January 2017

Churning the Wheels of Time


This post was written for Friday Fictioneers, a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wissoff Fields. 
The writers have to write a 100 word story in response to the photo prompt provided.

PHOTO PROMPT © Al Forbes

Although inevitable, it was still shocking. Watching them strip down the proud mansion was like surgically removing a nostalgic memory.

The vintage cars were the first to go. As the metal machines were wheeled out, they took away with them, the glamour of those grand evenings.

Soon a battle of wills competed over the house and its fate: a stubborn, dwindling past versus a shiny and sniggering tomorrow.

Then the winds of change blew in, heralding a confident yet unpredictable future, snuffing out the archaic at last.

Little did they realise, that today’s future will soon be tomorrow’s past.
  

Let The Dead Speak - Jane Casey

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
 Great story. Superb characters.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a part of goodreads giveaway in return for an honest review. 

I love psychological thrillers. Having read so many, I realise it is difficult to come up with a distinct detective duo when there are so many of them in crime fiction. I had never heard of Jane Casey before and it surprised me to discover she had written so many in the Kerrigan series. I loved Kerrigan and the way she and Derwent are such different personas and yet they work great together when it comes to solving cases. 

I read somewhere, Casey's husband is a criminal barrister. So that explains how she get the police aspect of the story so well. It was a joy to read the inner workings of the police system. Reminded me of the TV programme "No offence". Although the only similarity between the two is its focus on inner workings of the police system, it makes you appreciate the constraints under which these police officers operate.

Gist:

Chloe, an 18 year old girl returns home unexpectedly to find herself in a blood stained home and no sign of her mum.

Kerrigan arrives with her new rookie partner Georgia Shaw to investigate. Derwent joins in soon after and you realise these guys have a history. Kerrigan takes on the neighbours as she pieces together what happened and finds out some unsavoury secrets.

What works:
  • The plot. It is interesting and hooks you at the outset.
  • The characters. A bit confusing at first because there is a lot of them. However, the personas become clear as Kerrigan sifts through them to find out the truth.
  • The insight into how thw working of a police team is great. I loved the conversation between Kerrigan and Georgia about the importance of being a team player.
  • I loved the personas of the characters who solve the case. The two characters are intriguing and their partnership a distinct feature.
  • The writing. Even after who" is revealed, the "why" bit keeps you going. It requires a certain amount of skill to handle this and Casey is good at it. The underlying psychological aspects work so well to explain the motive.
  • I loved Maeve Kerrigan as a character: the not so perfect persona who is a great detective. 
  • Also loved the equation between Kerrigan and Derwent. It is an interesting relationship and I am curious to know how they first got together. 
What doesn't:
  • The reference to past makes you feel a bit lost especially if you haven't read the previous book. 
Overall a great book. It was great to find a thriller with such great characters and such a compelling story. Guess, I have goodreads to thank for it.



Thursday, 26 January 2017

The Naughtiest Girl Collection - Enid Blyton

photo courtesy:amazon.com
A great read that I enjoyed again as a mother!

I bought this book when Cheeky was  a year old. As a bookworm, I was keen to pass on my love for reading to my daughter.

So after she turned six and became a fairly goaod reader, I introduced her to Enid Blyton. Naughties Girl Again, was her first book ever. We decided that I will read it to her as a bedtime story. As the story progressed, I could see Cheeky was first intrigued and then hooked on it.

The collection has three stories and we read them all back to back.

Gist:

The story begins when Elizabeth Allen grows to love the school she first hated. She is looking forwards to coming to Whyteleaf boarding school. But this girl has a tendency to get into trouble even when she resolves not to. Will she stay away or find herself in a muddle again?

What works: 
  • It helped that the story is set in a British setting. Cheeky being a school girl herself could identify the school setting and dealing with naughty pupils.
  • There is something endearing about the school series. It allows children to imagine them easily and enjoy them.
  • She loved the whole boarding school setup with the school meeting and everything.
  • The stories are very simple. There is a school and there are good children and bad children. Cheeky could relate to the friends sticking together and punishment for naughtiness bit.
  • The stories have a "moral science" element to it. Blyton can be very preachy at times, rewarding good behaviour and condemning bad. But atleast at this age, the kids accept it without questioning it too much. 
What doesn't:
  • The language is a bit archaic. Cheeky found it funny to see words like "jolly well" . Although, terribly British, such words are not common, certainly not something she uses.
  • However, I realised that as a mature reader, I loved revisiting the story too. It was fun going through my earliest reading favourites and recall why I loved Blyton as a kid. 
Next mission: To introduce the St Clares/Malory Towers books to my daughter.


Monday, 23 January 2017

Writing Down the Bones - Natalie Goldberg

A fantastic read for those into creative writing.

photo courtesy:goodreads.com

I got this book when I was just about to start a writing course. As a journalist, academic writer, copywriter, I had dabbled in different forms of writing and found that creative writing is a different ballgame altogether. I had just started this Becoming a Writer Course and was required to read Dorothea Brande. The course allowed me to meet myself as a writer and demanded us to develop skills to become one.

When it comes to good books on writing, Natalie Goldberg and Brande are talked about in the same breadth. So while buying Brande, I procured a copy of Goldberg as well and found practical ideas that got me to open my notebook and start scribbling. 

It is said that nothing will teach you writing better than getting down to writing. But I have found, that dipping into this book now and again, has given me insight and many answers to queries about writing per se. 

Gist:

Goldberg analyses the craft and the whole mindset of writing - how to write and what to write. In short succinct chapters, Goldberg de constructs the myth of writing and talks us through the process with her no nonsense approach.

What works:
  • If you are a writer who has dabbled in creative writing and worked towards constructing a story, then this book is great. It is great, inspirational and the book really talks to you.
  • It also addresses various issues like where to write and when to write.
  • It allows you to forget the world, inhibitions and get your thoughts on paper. It makes you take yourself seriously as a writer even if what you are writing at the moment is rubbish!
  • I like to consult it when I am in the middle of writing a piece and find it boosts my morale and gives me direction in terms of writing.
  • It was a book written in the 70s but it holds true even today. It is this element that makes this book timeless to me - a classic.
What doesn't:
  • If you are thinking of becoming a writer and are looking for inspiration, then it is nothing but a good read.

But if you want to make it work for you, get down to writing and this book will help you get there!