Thursday, 22 February 2018

My Name is Leon - Kit De Waal

A moving Story about a nine year old boy, race and politics.

I confess I had some preconceived notions. When I read the blurb and some of the reviews, I presumed it to be a heavy dose book. But it is not. It is a touching story, where humour and dark reality come in close contact.

Gist:
A nine year old boy meets his brother for the first time when he is born. As the story moves on, we learn this is a dysfunctional family with an absent father and a boy who becomes a carer for his mother and his brother. However, their circumstances change and we find ourselves moving around with Leon as he tries to make sense of everything around him. 

What works:
  • The narrative. The writing style makes it a page turner. Written from the nine year old boy's perspective, it is heartwarming and full of insight. Kids have their own way of making sense of the world, much different to an adult's. It is insightful and practical without becoming overdramatic. 
  • There is a dark side to it but then there are many happy moments too. I was filled with dread about what was going to happen to this vulnerable boy - hallmark of a well written novel.
  • Also, it provides an insight into the social care system and the people and the procedures that make it work. De Waal does a great job of shining light on it all. The fact that she has experience in the field is an added bonus. It gives an authentic sort of ring to it.
  • Love the way she weaves in race into her story.  I couldn't help comparing her to Levy who writes on similar subject. But where Levy makes it the basis of her narrative, De Waal refers to race issues as part of her story along with its repercussions.
What doesn't:
  •  I loved the way the story panned out. It had me on the edge, even though it is not a thriller. The little boy I met on the first page, grew on me and I found myself looking out for him as he met new people on the way. Some might say, (without giving the plot away) that it is too chick lit and candy floss.
For me it was a life affirming read. A well written story which is told with humour and very insightful. Works brilliantly. 

Loved it. I enjoy De Waal's writing and shall be looking out for her books more.
 

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Six stories and an Essay - Andrea Levy

a photo courtesy: goodreads.com
A personal journey told through a set of stories.

Andrea Levy is new to me. I had never read her before. But after this collection that encapsulates all that she believes in, there is now an admiration for this author and the curiosity to know her works better.

The book has an autobiographical essay, a very well articulated experience of growing up as  an African child in Britain. It resonates with me, although it was decades before I arrived here as an adult. I see my children sharing similar experiences although the English society is a more modern and self aware than the one of her time.

The Gist:


The essay talks about the immigrant experience in Britain in the 60s. It talks of Levy growing up in a council estate absorbing all the English "flavours" of social behaviour and attitudes and yet she is singled out as black because of her origins and colour.


The six stories that follow are a slice of that immigrant experience - stories that come from her mother's experience and which introduce characters of her other novels.

What works:
  • The essay is strong and makes a valid point. It makes a case for British slavery in the islands and how has escaped the British history books. It reminds of the Indian Independence which has a similar treatment. The English history books claim that the empire chose to leave the country and decided to hand it over to the natives. But the Indian version claims that it had to fight tooth and nail to secure it. Levy's essay makes a very valid point and an insightful one at that.
  • The stories elaborate what the essay is trying to say. What I liked is how the author introduces the story with her own anecdote. It makes it personal and offered a masterclass into what goes into a short story.
  • Levy has a great writing style. That she feel strongly is clear in her tone in the essay and the way she has used it in her stories shows how experience can be woven into a well structured story. 
What doesn't:
  • Nothing really. It is a well packaged slim volume - full of impact and a fastread.
Only wish someone of Indian descent had the guts to write something like this.

Exit West - Mohsin Hamid

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
Story about migrants in an age of terrorism said through an accessible narrative.

I loved Hamid's Reluctant Fundamentalist - the book better than the film. When Exit West was shortlisted for the Booker prize book, that was when I heard the noise about the book - and also the the premise of the story. Ever keen to read about the state of migrants and their place in an age of terrorism, it was promising. My only concern was that it was a Booker prize shortlist.

I often find that such a book does not connect with mass readers like me (there are exceptions though). The writers often choose to write for the elite audience comprising mostly of Prize judges.

Gist:

Shy and reserved Saeed meets the unconventional burka clad Nadia and together they set off on a relationship that spans continents and situations. Both migrants in terrorist ridden countries, their lives are in constant uproar and we follow them as they find them opening doors to a better life as their own self changes as a result of the situation.

What works:
  • The narrative is very fluid. It takes you through gently, deep into the story, as you take flight in the magic realism.
  • The very first line had me hooked. 
"In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her."

I  can easily visualise this opening line joining the list of famous first liners. What a powerful line! It has a striking effect with its imagery and characters. It gave me the sense of a love story caught in conflict. A great way to introduce the story.
What doesn't:
  • The magic realism can be a bit abstract for some readers who want straight forward narrative. The story is very subtle and yet it has some strong imagery and statements. 
Overall, a great read. Don't be fooled by the thin volume, the writing makes you pause and think after every few pages. Superb.




Monday, 29 January 2018

Broadchurch - Erin Kelly

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A whodunnit set in a coastal town.

I remember seeing trailers for this series on ITV but missed it for some reason. So a chance to catch with its book version was so welcome! It was only after catching up with the book, that I realised what I had missed out on. Since I won't be able to compare it with its TV counterpart, a standalone book review this will be.

Gist:

The book opens like a screenplay, with a set of characters introduced in random situations in the first few pages. It is very easy to visualise the story unfolding albeit, a bit confusing. Once the story is set, the characters come together and it all ties in.

Eleven-year-old Danny Latimer is found dead on the beach in the coastal town of Broadchurch. At the police station, DI Ellie Miller finds out that she has been passed over for a promotion. Danny was her son Tom's close friend. She will have to work with new-to-the-town DI Alec Hardy to investigate the murder. DI Hardy feels that her knowing the murdered child will cloud her judgement. But Miller feels she can make inroads into the community the way Hardy never can. She dislikes Hardy at first sight. Can they work together and figure out the murderer?

What works:
  • The characters are so well etched. It takes a while to figure how they are all connected but then they are characters with distinct characteristics.
  • The sleepy coastal town is brought to life so well. A look at the last page shows where Broadchurch was actually based - Dorset.
  • The writing. I reckon it can be hard to work with established settings and characters but the narrative really breathes life into the story. The caption suggests that there is some additional material for those who have already watched the series. But for me who hasn't, it was great.
  • It is a gripping story that I could easily lose myself in. I don't remember the last time I was so eager to get into my bed at night. The plot moves fast and the insight into the characters is reminiscent of Elizabeth George's  novels. Love it. 
What doesn't:
  • I suppose considering that those already seen the series needed to get something extra and therefore reference to extra material. It offers a very detailed insight into the minds of the characters. It doesn't hamper the story telling for me, but it seemed like too much effort was going into it.

Overall a great story and I really enjoyed it. Looking forward to reading the second installment of the series.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

A Boy Called Christmas - Matt Haig

a photo courtesy: goodreads.com
A story that symbolises the festive spirit  of Hope and Goodwill.

As a child raised in India, my book diet included Enid Blyton and then Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. As my children are growing up I am discovering books that were never available to me - Roald Dahl. It is heartening to see how new authors are reaching out this generation in a contemporary style that was otherwise missing in ours.

Haig is a new author whose books are always out in time for the Christmas season for obvious reasons. Considering my kids are growing up with the same Santa magic as other western kids, they were excited to learn about this Boy who was called Christmas and how was he connected to "their" Father Christmas.

Gist:

Nicholas is a 11-year-old boy who lives with his father in Iceland. It is very cold there and they are quite poor. His father leaves him in the care of a wicked aunt promising to be back with money so that they can live better. However, Nicholas finds himself out in the cold, looking for his father. He has certain adventures which alter his mindset, transforms his life.

What works:
  • Haig uses informal language that connects with kids. The book jacket and the first chapter feel so personal as though someone is narrating a bedtime story to a child. My 7-year-old was instantly hooked on to it, when I first read it out aloud to her.
  • The character of Nicholas - the poor, kind boy is the classic underdog that each child relates to. It is refreshing as word by word we get to know Nicholas more and learn about his family and circumstances he is in.
  • The concept of love, kindness and goodwill is interwoven quite well in the story.
 What doesn't:

Although the style is engaging, it tends to flag a bit. Towards the middle, we felt as though the story was dragging where Nicholas sets off to find his father. We read each chapter as a bedtime story.  However, somewhere along the line, I couldn't help thinking that perhaps it was a bit out of league for my 7 year old despite our chats about it. But then there was a point when even I was getting bored. Some brisk editing would have helped, I felt.

Overall, it is beautiful book and later the pace picks up too. As we got to the end, my 7-year-old suddenly felt like she knew who Father Christmas was - when he was not sneaking presents under the tree.

A lovely story for kids between 8-12. We loved the book enough to pick out his next one soon. 

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The Trip of a Lifetime - Monica Mcinerney

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A story about families and the drama that lies therein.

 Mcinerney's books are all about families, which is why I love her so much. Although she talking about Australian- Irish families in her books, it speaks so well to my Indian mentality. I love her ability to show the dynamics of familial relationships with such a remarkable style.

I recall reading her Hello From the Gillespies and enjoying every minute of it.  It was about story of a family in a year - starting from one christmas to another. I was hooked on it mainly because of Mcinerney's contagious and compelling writing style.

So this time when this book came in as part of a goodreads giveaway, it was just in time to pack it as my holiday read for a week in Fuertaventura. 

Sun, sand and a Mcinerney book in hand - great.

Gist:

The family's grand matriarch 90-year- old Lola wants to visit Ireland. She left it decades ago as a young woman travelling with her husband to Australia. As with everything she does (for those who know her from Alphabet sisters) her decision sparks a lot of conflict in the family.  She wants her granddaughter Bett and her great grand daughter Ellen to accompany her, much to everyone's annoyance. 

For the journalist grand daughter Bett, it is bad timing. There is a possibility about a mystery series to be filmed in their area and the air is buzzing with news. Bett's newspaper is in the danger of closing down, and this trip is the last thing she wants to do right now.

Lola has a reason for going back - a decades old secret that was never revealed. But now she wants to make peace with the past and rectify things while she still can. She is the foundation that her family is built on and to keep it solid, she needs to make this trip of a lifetime.

What works:
  • Mcinerney's writing style. Her verbal strokes are amazing. The humour and the banter which she brings her characters to life are her strong points.
  • The characters. They are distinct and she describes them with ease. You meet them for the first time but it doesn't take long for you to relate to them, making you curious to see how they fare.
  • The setting. Mcinerney is great at drawing domestic situations and manipulating them to plot her story.
What doesn't:

Once Lola gets to Ireland, the pace is great and the story flows like a stream of clear water. Her observations about how the country has changed in her absence is perceptive and enlightening. 

However, the first half drama which is more about what is happening with Bett, her relationship with  Ellen and the preparations that go into their journey is tedious. It takes the wind out of the sails of narrative, weighing it down. 

It is not her best work. But the way she explores the family relations - stepmum and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law chemistry, it works well and is very easy, enjoyable read overall.

Treat it like a light, fluffy summer read and you will have a great time.


Monday, 15 January 2018

Rounding up the year in books

I love doing this yearly round up - cherry picking from my reads of the year. A bit late (year end holiday and little one's bday party to organise) and I realise we are already in the second week of January. I refuse to believe that its too late to do my 2017 round up in books and here  I am.

It was a great year, bookwise. Lots of good books to read from all genres - literary fiction, crime, chick lit -  a good reading experience. Goodreads tells me I have read more than 2016 which feels good. A quick look through the list refreshes my minds of the titltes that made it to my book log. Here are my favourite reads that made an impression on me:


The Peshwa - Ram Sivashankaran

After watching Bajirao Mastani, I was keen to find out more about this valiant Maratha Warrior and Shivasankaran's version does proper justice to it. It offers depth and character to the persona and offered a well researched insight into the lesser known warrior.

What I loved is the holistic way in which the writer had approached the subject. Instead of giving a breezy, superficial account, Shankaran has taken the pain to paint a detailed background which offers a well rounded perspective - meaning a satisfying story.


The Perplexing theft of a jewel in the Crown - Vaseem Khan

A great fan of crime fiction, it was great to read a thriller set in an Indian setting. For me, it was "Death in Paradise" set in Mumbai. A lighthearted crime story with its backdrop in a city dear to me. You can see why it has sold me. But that is not the reason why it has made it to my top five. It is also a well written story, that touches upon the main character and follows a parallel storyline. It looks superficial but it works on a subtle level.

Love the light humour, great array of characters and a superb writing style. It definitely had me hooked.


The secret lives of Amir Sisters -Nadiya Hussain 


Families, confusion and chaos in a Muslim family. The Bake off winner turns her hand to writing apparently - or that is how it is packaged. Well it worked. Perhaps it was the name that made me pick up the book but then I am not sure if Nadiya would have done this without the help of the hugely talented Ayisha Mallik. But hey! I am not complaining. The combo works very well.

I remember reading that the story was like Alcott's Little Women but then if that is the case because it is about sisters then yes but then that is where the similarity ends.

A set of colourful characters in the exotic Asian family set up, sprinkled with some great writing and humour and voila that's a story served up with a well packaged book.

What sets this apart as my top reads it that it does what it says - light, fluffy yet filled with great characters and writing. It has a writing style that is refreshing, making you want to read more.


Lie With me - Sabine Durrant

A crime thriller that sets off from the word go. It is menacing and kept me edgy for days. A writer who meets his friend on an off chance and says a lie that he has to maintain throughout. A great premise which is sustained very well throughout the novel. Loved the way the writer has used the narrator and came up with a racy style.

What I liked was the narrative device that Durrant has used. I am struggling really hard to not spoil for those who have not read it yet. But go for it if, like me, you dig crime thrillers.



Writing Down The Bones

I discovered quite a lot of books on writing this year. It is amazing how many there are out there. Is it because of the creative writing classes or because more people are turning their hand to writing, I don't know.

 From getting inspiration to write to finding out the nuts and bolts that make short stories work, there are a range of books to choose from. But what got me writing and impressed me with its no nonsense approach was Goldberg's Writing down the Bones. She nails the anxieties and procrastination of a writer very well. It spoke me directly. She reprimands, coaxes and encourages the writer mindset. Job well done.


There goes my top five I suppose. Ready to close the chapter on 2017, I look forward to a brand new book filled year. Join me as I embark on a yet another journey of discovering glittering gems in the world of books.

Happy New Year.