Thursday, 23 June 2022

Portable Magic: A History of Books and their Readers - Emma Smith

This is an excellent read about books, their origin, influence and survival.

Chapters with catchy titles takes the reader through the journey of bound books through the ages. flexibility to dip in and out. My favourite is the one about Gutenberg where Smith explains how colonialism came into play when Europe started claiming a first regarding printing on mass scale.

Smith makes a case for physical books, examines the various aspects such as its evolution from a xmas gift to a must-have accessory (remember our bookcase obsessions during pandemic video meetings!) to an instrument of power, religion and democracy.

She also uses contemporary examples such as the climate movie Day After Tomorrow to illustrate her point, making it very accessible for the non academic reader.

Writer Val Mcdermid says on the cover, "If you love books, you'll love Portable Magic".

I second that!


Monday, 28 March 2022

Into the Sideways World - Ross Welford

This book is a delightful read for 11+ readers who enjoy science fiction and time travel.


Gilly and Manny are friends who discover the pathway to another world, a perfect universe with no complications of their own world. Things seem odd but perfect here and soon Willa and Manny will have a make a tough decision. There is also war going on in their world and they must race against time to find a way back and to convince the elders of what they have seen before it gets too late.

My review:

  • The characters of Willa and Manny are well etched. Welford has captured their voices well and I see children relating to them as they accompany them on their adventuers.
  • Reading about World War Three felt topical considering Russain Ukraine war is dominating the news.
  • I loved how the plot is injected with realism. Instead of delivering a straight forward story, the writer makes the reader think. The story also gets a bit technical in places, which may wear the patience of the young reader. However, if they persist, they will be rewarded. Welford shows how life is not all about tying up loose ends especially in the later half of the story, but often a complicated arrangement at times. I really liked that element in the story. 
A great read for readers who love science fiction and time travel. I received this book in return for an honest review.

Into the Sideways World is published by Harper Collins is available at all bookshops. 


Friday, 18 March 2022

A Killing in November - Simon Mason

Simon Mason is well known for his compelling books for children and young adults. I knew I would be in good hands when I received this copy about this police procedural, set in Oxford. Besides, when I learnt that it had already made it to the Sunday Times Crime book of the month, it definitely raised my expectations about the novel. I was so glad when it delivered and turned to be a highly enjoyable reading experience.


A woman's body is found in the college head's house and the police are called in to investigate. There is no explanation about the identity of the woman or how she ended up there. DI Ryan Wilkins turns up first only to realise that he was mistaken as he shares the same last name DI R Wilkins called Ray. Oxford educated Ray has to work alongside a rule-breaking Ryan to piece together the identity of the woman before they move to zero in on the killer.

My review:
  • What instantly struck me about the book is the sense of place. I love reading stories set in Oxford and Inspector Morse is a firm favourite. Yet this one is markedly different in terms of its approach and the way the detective duo is portrayed. Seeing as it has the potential to be a series, it offers a great starting point with loads of potential.
  • Ryan and Ray are brilliantly plotted characters who add a whole new dimension to the story. Mason weaves their stories alongside case developments so seamlessly that it feels like we are reading two different threads at once. It makes for a very strong plot and a layered reading experience for the reader.
  • Yet another thing that really worked for me was how it reflected the contemporary society by incorporating funding, refugee crisis in the plot. It felt topical and a sign of the times and that for me enhanced the reading experience.
  • The writing is fast paced and full of action such that it feels like the reader is on a roller coaster as events quickly move towards the resolution. 

Finally a compelling read about a detective duo I am keen to know more about by a seasoned writer who crafts a cracking read. 

I am already hoping it is the start of a series and look forward to the next one.  Highly recommended

Disclaimer:  Thanks to the publisher for this copy in return for an honest review.
A Killing in November is published by Riverrun and is available to buy from your favourite bookshop.  


Friday, 11 February 2022

The Midnight Library - Matt Haig

What if we get a chance to revisit the regrets of our life? To go down the path that we discarded ages go and see where it lead to?

Matt Haig's latest novel is a heartwarming read about second chances and opportunities in a well packaged narrative.


Nora is unhappy, she sees her life as a big dump of poor choices and one day she chooses to end it all. Interestingly that is when her life actually begins. She finds herself in a library where she picks up the book of Regrets and gets the chance to revisit her choices and to do things differently. The result is a startling revelation about the concept of a perfect life.

My review:

  • I absolutely loved the book. Nora Seed's character is endearing, her misery and unhappiness is relatable. Matt tells her story by counting down the hours to the point when she decides to end her life, a great way of revealing her present and the circumstances that lead to it. I was hooked from the beginning.
  • This could have easily been a preachy, self help kind of a narrative but the concept of examining regrets and exploring outcomes is very beautifully packaged in a story. The framework of a library, the idea of sifting through options is done very well. I couldn't wait to see how Nora fared in each of those lives and what she would choose. 
  • It was a pleasant surprise to see how the story steered to the resolution, did not see that coming at all. I won't say more because I don't want to spoil it but the real reason why I liked it is that I often think back to what ifs and this spoke to me in many ways.

One of the best life affirming reads I have read in a while.

Thursday, 3 February 2022

Aarti and the Blue Gods - Jasbinder Bilan

This is the third book that I have picked up by this author and I have grown to love her style now. Bilan's books are a beautiful mix of magic realism interspersed with cultural references. This one is no different.


Aarti has always lived with her temperamental aunt on this island for as long as she can remember. They live off the land alone and Aarti has never known anything different. However, she keeps getting these flashback images about a living a different life lived elsewhere. One day when she gets into a locked room, and stumbles on certain things that make her question her present and delve into her past.

My review:

  • Bilan's forte is magic realism and this story brims with it. 
  • The amalgamation of cultures into her story - in this case Indian and the Druid cultures - makes for an interesting reading experience.
  • Her stories now are beginning to have a set pattern and it is easier to predict how the story is going to flow. Although the familiarity feels great, perhaps a bit more exploration in terms of style and themes will sustain that "wow" factor that drew the reader to the first two books. 
  • Bilan is good at handling senstive subjects like grief, acceptance in her stories for the young reader. It is for this reason alone, that I am confident about gifting a Bilan book to a young reader, knowing well that she will be in good hands. 

If you have read her other books this one may not be up to the mark, but if you haven't read her before, this standalone book is a good introduction to her writing.


Thursday, 20 January 2022

Djinn Patrol On the Purple Line - Deepa Anappara

 A Heartwrenching Story 

This title was our book club choice and though I wasn't too happy to pick it up, but when I finished it, it left me in awe of the writer and her ability to create such an authentic world. In an interview, Anappara said she had to stick to facts as a journalist but this debut novel offered her opportunity to give voice to those people in her newsreports . 


Ten year old Jai lives in an unnamed basti in the outskirts of a metro in India. When, a school friend goes missing, Jai sees a perfect opportunity to play the cop from his favourite show and investigate the disappearance with the help of his friends. Matters turn ugly when more abductions are reported and Jai and friends realise that it is getting more sinister as danger moves closer to home.

My review:
  • I enjoyed reading about Jai and his friends. The character of Jai with his street smartness and humourous one liners made me smile. 
  • I also enjoyed the world building. Jai does not live in the best of circumstances and yet his family is not stereotypical, there is happiness in his life that I found refreshing.
  • The setting really works. Whether it is the government school where the main attraction is the midday meal, or the basti life it feels authentic and is done with sensitivity that really appeals to the reader.
  • The story turns a bit grim as a feeling of dread builds as the story picks up pace. The emotions are real and relatable especially it is based on newsreports that are full of similar news of children going missing.  
  • The fact that the story evokes emotions in the reader is a major plus, a nod to the writer's skills. 
Overall, it is a heart ripping, well told story. Evocative and eye-opening.

The Girl Before - J P Delaney

I picked it up after the BBC adaptation was announced and I wanted to get to the book before I got to the TV version. I am glad I did. Its been a while since I raced through a book and I finished this in two settings.

About the story:

Emma finds a property of a lifetime when she stumbles on this modern house in London. Jane also feels lucky to have got this place to rent despite a weird set of dos and dont's. There is a shocking parallel as both women fall in love with the landlord and soon it feels like there is something more to Edward Monkford other than just an eccentric architect.

My review:
  • The story starts off with a bang in a voice that reels you in. Loved how the author has captured two distinct voices. Even though it is easy to detect the pattern, you can tell which character is narrating the story. Very smoothly done.
  • The two women are mirrored quite well and yet their circumstances are so different. It was interesting to see how the two narratives would blend. The pacing is great as reader races through the story to get to the end.  
  • The story is not only fast paced but also has a heart. It operates as a racy story on one level but then it has themes and motives that are carefully embedded into the story, taking the reader by surprise. A cracking read. 

TV adaptation:

Since I had just finished the novel before watching the series, it was easy to see how the screenplay had been adapted for the 4 hour series. Some minor tweaks worked well. However, the TV adaptation portrays Emma's character completely different towards the end. It is hard to say anything without divulging the plotline but suffice to say I like the Emma in the book better. Plus the character of the Jane has an arc in the book which is missing in the screen Jane. However, credit where it is due, they have retained the ending which explains the title, which was something that truly elevates the book in my opinion.
Totally enjoyed this book. I am off to check out his backlist now.