Wednesday, 16 September 2020

The Dilemma - B A Paris

I had never read B A Paris before although had heard a lot about her "Behind Closed Doors" which was a major hit among book lovers. Her latest has been winning rave reviews o book twitter and I was looking forward to picking it up.
Gist:
Livia is looking forward to her 40th party, something that she has been waiting for it for years, especially she never had a proper wedding day. This was supposed to be a perfect day with all her family around her. However, her daughter studying abroad is not able to make it back on time. She needs to tell her husband something but decides to wait until after the party. Her husband Adam, on the other hand  is pulling out all stops to make it the day she had always dreamt of. However, he fears that he knows something that it might spoil the day Livia has been waiting for.

It is a big day for the family, but a day that will change it forever as well. 

What works:
  • The story gets right into the middle of things and then spirals out to give us the backstory. 
  • The characters are great, the reader gets into their heads easily, their situations and their close network is nicely laid out which makes it an interesting read.
  • The backstory that supports the characters is plausible, ties in well with their actions, shows the amount of work that has gone into creating them.
  • There is a gamut of emotions and I could feel myself on a rollercoaster ride, identifying with the character's emotions throughout the story.
What doesn't:

You can see the how and why behind the character's behaviour. The story does work a lot to focus on it and its consequences. Sometimes, wringing out the emotions a bit too much.


However, that occurs only in patches. Overall, it is compelling, believeable and a great read.





Wednesday, 2 September 2020

The End of Her - Shari Lapena

Shari Lapena's books are pacy, there is no room for slow burn, things happen fast, often within the blink of an eye. Each chapter moves up the plot with no room for mindless monologues or detailed description. However, once you get used to the style, it is like visiting an old friend. Her latest feels like that and I enjoyed this one better than her previous one.

Gist:
Stepanie and Patrick are parents to newborn twins and they are struggling with it. Sleep deprived Stephanie is getting forgetful and Patrick is unable to concentrate at work. In the amidst of it all, comes Erica, a blast from the past who claims Patrick's first wife was killed and not an accidental death as it was claimed.

Is she telling the truth? Is Patrick hiding something? Does Stephanie get to the truth before it becomes the end of her?


What works:

  • Lapena's character are well etched and are easily drawn within a few lines. It is amazing how she does that.
  • The first chapter is a killer and gets one hooked easily. Love the way Lapena lays out the plot.
  • The writing is pacy, the narrative races through taking the reader through various twists and turns.

What doesn't:

  • Sometimes it feels like the twists are too many, almost like an overkill.


Overall a great read. Much better than her last one. Lapena has experimented with the genre a bit. It works. Recommended.
  

Monday, 22 June 2020

The Sound Mirror - Heidi James

A compelling read.

My interest in the book stemmed from the fact that it was a story about an  Englishwoman sailing from Inda to England. I was thrilled to receive this copy for review, only to realise it was that and much more.

Gist:
The book is the story of Tamara, Clare and Ada. When the story opens they are on the threshold of a life defining journey.

What works:
  • It felt a bit demanding at first as the narrative switched between characters and the different periods but James rewards the reader well. The plot unravels beautifully once the reader settles in with the characters as they  navigate through trying circumstances, with far reaching consequences.
  • The characters are stark but empthatetic. I felt for the young Ada's disappointment as she sees England after spending a childhood in India, cringing when Tamara is told off by her husband and feel frustrated for Clare when she finds grammer school slipping through her fingers. It was also interesting to spot how common threads ran through their distinct lives, binding these women together.
  • The scenes are vivid, packed with layers. Like the instance where employee Ada asked to quit because she is an extremely efficient woman worker. The social undercurrent of the setting when Claire meets Den's family for the first time and the scene were toddler Tamara is wandering around the house looking for her absent mum is loaded with backstory. 
  • James writes with sensitivity. She unwraps truth through carefully chosen words and hints. It is heartbreaking in places but the compelling writing style forces the reader to keep going, consumed by the need to know more.
  • The three separate stories converge very well at one point. The unexpected turn nicely braids the threads into one narrative catching the reader unawares.
  • Also the references to the Sound Mirror and the hibiscus are done well. It was easy to imagine myself in a Kali Temple in Calcutta or strolling through the beach where little Tamara discovers Sound mirrors. James ensures the reader is well travelled just like her characters .     
A layered read that works on many levels. The Sound Mirror is published by Bluemoose books.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Flash Fiction Day 2020

What a busy weekend it has been! Time well spent participating in the Flash fiction day celebrations, thanks to the amazing team who put it all together.

June 6 was the National Flash Fiction Day (NFFD) and the festivities started early with Flash flood. It was indeed a flood with pieces being released every 10 minutes throughout the day, from talents from different parts of the world.

The afternoon was claimed by the stimulating session by Jude Higgins "Dreams into fiction." Her session was all about turning a fragment of a dream and exploring different angles to generate flash. We had to write for few minutes and move to smaller groups to discuss our experience. I really enjoyed chatting with like minded people: there was warmth and encouragement all round.

On Sunday the NFFD Write In went live where writers were invited to write pieces from the 25 prompts on the blog.

I went for the prompt Storm at Sea and was chuffed to see that it was published within hours!

https://thewrite-in.blogspot.com/2020/06/new-year-celebrations-at-sea-by-asha.html

And just as I was about to sign off this post...I just noticed another one has been accepted! This was a tricky one where the story had to be written in reverse and I spent a good part of Sunday afternoon struggling over it. I did not have much hope, it felt it still needed a lot of work. But thrilled to see it up there!

https://thewrite-in.blogspot.com/2020/06/there-was-nothing-dreamlike-about-this.html



Wednesday, 3 June 2020

The Far Field - Madhuri Vijay

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A debut that richly deserves the acclaim it received.

One of the reviews said this was about Kashmir that goes beyond the picturesque beauty that camouflages its grim reality.  That is what drew me to it. The novel cleverly highlights political issues against the backdrop of a sort of coming of age novel. I couldn't get a hard copy and had to make do with an ecopy...not a great thing for an old school hard copy fan. I had failed with e-versions before not this time. The story had me from the start and I found myself finishing its 400-odd pages in a couple of days.

Gist:

Shalini travels to Bangalore after her learns of her mother's death. As she drifts through life coping with the loss, she finds something tucked away in her mother's wardrobe that triggers childhood memories. She decides to leave the comforts of Bangalore and travels to Kashmir in search of that childhood connection.

What works:
  • Right from the first page, we find the narrator in a confesssional mode and settle in to learn what is it all about.
  • It is apparent in the first chapter that there is something odd about this modern Indian family. As the father and daughter deal with the loss of the mother - the persona of an unconventional Indian woman floats to surface. It has just the right level of unease and curiosity to urge the reader to keep going.
  • This sense of disquiet is a constant throughout the novel. I revisted the first chapter and it made more sense now that I knew that the narrator was hinting about.  
  • Life in Kashmir is very different from the shikaras and the beautiful views that we associate with it and Vijay's novel touches upon it well. Also the portrayal of the army presence and what it means for the residents opens questions that go beyond the popular patriotic version circulated in the rest of the country.
  • Plus I was interested by the family on the whole. This setup of the modern nuclear Indian family with no baggage of the extended family is a departure from stereotypes. I remember reading an interview where Vijay said the story was set it in the 90s, an era of liberalisation and the Indian nuclear families. It also offers a better foundation for the story, the privacy and the loneliness that comes with that setup.
  • This is not a feel good novel with the ends neatly tied in, Vijay's craft is evident in the way she creates some loaded scenes, such as the dinner party. 
  • It brought to mind a conversation I had with a friend. The friend was upset about the fact that her son was tracing a map of India quite different to what she had known as a child - a whole of chunk of Kashmir was missing. She was in favour of the revoking of article 370 and what it meant for India. I could understand her sentiment and yet it felt somehow selfish. As mentioned earlier, reading this novel gave me perspective about asserting our authority as Indians outside the state while it is a completely different scenario for the Kashmiri residents out there.

This is definitely a novel that gets you thinking about Kashmir and about journeys of self discovery. Vijay is a writer who layers her story on many levels. It would be interesting to see what she comes up with next.

Friday, 1 May 2020

Snegurochka - Judith Heneghan



This one will be always be a memorable one. My first lockdown read.

Since March, this bookworm who zipped through titles found it hard to read a page. I had not anticipated this when I was scrambling to stock up library books (before they closed) with the same urgency as I had stocked my kitchen cupboards. 

But with lockdown, I found it hard to to get through few pages of a novel. It was comforting to hear from the online reading community that they had it too. But for a stay-at-home mum who sought liberation in school hours, homeschooling and a lack of routine hit hard. It led to a restlessness that refused to shift.

This copy with its arresting cover came as a hopeful, welcome recourse. However, reading about a mother stuck with a baby in the city of Kiev did not seem like a great idea at the time. The sense of claustrophia felt unusually familiar. It will be like seeing myself on the pages, was the fear. I was wrong. It snapped me out of the slump.

Gist:

This is Kiev in the 90s and Rachel a young mother has joined her journalist husband with her baby, Ivan. She struggles to cope with her situation, in a foreign city where everything from language to way of life feels different. She socialises with her husband's work colleagues, but they are not her friends. And then a much needed gift turns up. But it doesn't feel right and brings consequences with it. Rachel turns to unlikely acquaintances for help. She questions whether this is the right while oscillating between the present and the past...

What I liked:
  • The title creates instant interest, injecting an element of the exotic. Despite being armed with google info, I was curious to find out how it fitted with the story. The connection blends beautifully with the narrative.   
  • The eye catching jacket matches the compelling narrative. The sense of unease, the city with its poverty stricken, wrecked buildings transported me to a different place (a boon at the moment).
  • I found myself accompaning Rachel as she explored the city by road and on foot, something that could be only dreamed of at the moment. Her irrational quirks make sense and the characters feel real and relatable.
  • As Rachel made choices, I found myself reading on furiously, swept along by the narrative.
  • Loved the intricatly weaved personal and the historical strands in the story and how the city has a solid presence throughout the book. Its shortlisting for the Edward Standford travel writing award is richly deserved.
  
Go for it. Reading it is like stepping out of your doorstep into another world altogether.  
  

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Paragraph Planet

The pandemic changed my life too like it has for many others in the country and the world. Writing had gone for a toss as routines upturned and home became school/afterclubs/campsites/craft workshops. Days seemed to blend into one another, one looking exactly like the one gone by. 

Just when I was debating if the the writer in me had disappeared into oblivion, this publication by Paragraph Planet came as a validation of sorts where the idea was to write a 75 word story including the title.

Thanks Paragraph Planet, for reaffirming my faith in myself when I really needed it.