Wednesday, 3 December 2014

the few - Nadia Dalbuono

photo courtesy:scribe publications
An arresting thriller set the corrupted atmosphere of Italian politics.

To be honest what drew me to the book, was the fact that it was  a crime thriller set in Italy. The setting immediately made think of wafting smells of pizzas, filled with sun and people along the small curvy streets that defines Italy for me.

The book was good, and a welcome relief after three family sagas that I finished back to back. I was looking for some gritty crime story and "the few" looked like a good one get into.

The gist:

Leone Scamarcio is a tainted cop. He hails from a mafia family but now is on the other side and this makes life difficult for him especially with other officers on the force. However, his detective skills are duly acknowledged when his superior gets him on a sticky but high profile case.

Scamarcio gets down to unravelling the case but what seems like blackmail, quickly turns into a spate of murders. As he wading through the quagmire, there is also the abduction of a young American girl which appears to have connection with his case. The girl's abduction which so much resonates with the Madeleine Mcann case quickly gets the world's eyes on the Italian police force and Scarmarcio feels the pressure of racing against time to find the girl and solve his own case as well.

What works:
  • It is hard to believe this was a debut for the plot is handled with such finesse and skill. The story is tight and moves briskly.
  • The character of Scarmarcio is interesting, a man with a black past which hinders his present. The character is drawn well and has a lot of scope. I can easily see him solving a series of crimes and murders. He is definitely here to stay.
  • The Italian atmosphere is done very well. The language problem, the feel of the place is described very well indeed.
  • The author obviously has a good grip over the police force and the political system. She is aware of how things work and presents it an authentic manner.
The plot is a dark crime story which exposes the corruption in the Italian system and the stronghold of power over the law of the land. The author deals with the gory aspect with great sensitivity and brings out the dark aspects of the novel without going overboard with it unlike some crime novels that thrive on it.

What doesn't:
  • It is obviously a dark crime thriller so there is bound to be some unpleasant emotions to it. However, at times I found it too bleak and depressing. 
  • The tangle of the politics seems too complicated at times. Especially towards the end, I felt the writer rushing through with the resolution and tieng all ends neatly. It got a bit confusing then but then perhaps thats me. I was so busy walking down the dark corner that I missed a turn and should have been more vigilant about following the storyline. 

What makes this book different from the rest is that it not about a whodunnit, it is more like an expose of the corruption in Italian politics.

A good read. A great debut. I look forward to Detective Scarmarcio.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

A Mind to Murder - PD James

A very crafted mystery by a well loved author.
photo courtesy:amazon.A we
What never ceases to me about a PD James novel is its consistency. There is a very definite, distinctive way of handling the story and its amazing how PD James sets exacting standards and meets it every time.


This time the murder happens at a psychiatric clinic and the victim an adminstrative officer, Enid Bolam. Bolam being an administrator is not exactly popular among the staff and doctors making it difficult for Detective Adam Dalgliesh.  As usual, the way the victim is found throws light on many suspects, including doctors, nurses and the staff who have their own reasons to hate her.

I thought a psychiatric clince was a very interesting place to set the murder. Being a crime thriller fan, it was interesting to see how James sets out the murder and plays it out at the clinic. Apparently, James had served a short stint working in such a clinic and therefore it comes as no surprise how she draws on an accurate picture about the politics that inhabits the working environment.

What works:
  • The cast of suspects are drawn with care and detail. James' keen eye for human behaviour and insight into the workings of the mind works very well indeed.
  • Reading  PD James novel can be an eye opener in terms of life experience and leaves one a bit wiser about hows and the whys of human tendency. 
What doesn't:
  • Reading James' is not always easy. She tends to get a bit old schoolish and demands patience. For a contemporary crime thriller fan who does not have to "labour" in terms of lengthly paragraphs and detailed descriptions in novels of recent times it can get a bit trying. 
  • The writing gets a bit prosaic and once you are familiar with James' writing, you know you will have to trudge through the details before the story catches pace. 
I haven't read enough PD James nove to say whether it is one of the best or not. However, if you haven't tried James yet, perhaps this may be a good place to start.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Return to Fourwinds - Elisabeth Gifford

An atmospheric novel about family secrets.

This is my third novel in a row, for review in the family saga genre and I couldn't help but compare them. The three novels. Moriarty's Last Anniversary. Mcinerney's Hello from the Gillespies and Gifford's Return to Fourwinds deal with a similar theme yet they are distinct in their own way.

Where Last anniversary is more plot driven with a bit of suspense, Hello rides high on emotions and the characters and Return to Fourwinds, has underlying complex themes set in wartime atmosphere and a clash between the working class and the gentry.Gifford weaves a very atmospheric tale which has the past and present narratives running alongside giving it soft layers and laden with themes.


The families of Nick and Sarah have come together to celebrate their wedding. However, things don't go to plan and then the wedding is about to be called off, it throws open some secrets from the past. Both families have known each other in another era and the past finally catches up with them forcing them to confront repressed memories and deeply buried secrets. Ranging from the war time to the academic atmosphere of Oxford, there are various themes in the novel, the relations between the working class and the upper classes.

What works:

  • A great story, skillfully told. Gifford does a good job of painting the present day and that of the war time atmosphere very well. 
  • Her keen insight into the characters show off very well in the story as we move between the the working class to the gentry through the characters.
  • Her r narratives are very clear and gripping. Flitting through the past and the present can be difficult but the story moves fluidly and is very engaging.

What doesn't:

  • The story is wonderfully detailed however it tends to get a bit dry when you are wondering what is going on the mind of Ralph and how does he end up with Alice. 
  • Despite the dry going in the middle, the story picks up pace and gets interesting as it moves to the resolution with all ends neatly tied.

A great story and extremely enjoyable read. I am glad to have discovered her through goodreads and look forward to her next novel with interest


Monday, 17 November 2014

Hello From The Gillespies - Monica Mcinerney

photo courtesy:
A superb read from a much loved author.

I have always been a great fan of Mcinerney although I found her earlier works better than the later ones. What sets her apart is that her books are all set in Australia which makes it a fascinating read, her stories offer a glimpse into the country as well.

I can still dig into The Faraday sisters and enjoy re-reading my favourite parts of the book. Her later book, At Home with Templetons was not something I could stick with till the end and left me wondering if she has lost the magic, that made her books so enjoyable.

I was wrong. She is back with a delightful book, and reading every page of it was a pleasure.


The crux of the story is a Christmas letter sent out by the protagnist Angela Gillespie to the extended family and friends. Originally a Londoner, Angela is married to an Australian and living in an outback station with her husband and four children of varying ages. Her Christmas letters are usually cheerful, flowery and optimistic but not this one. Something has changed this year and the letter triggers off events, forcing the family to assess their priorities and relationships with one another.

What works:

  • Everything. Mcinerney connects very well with her reader and has an amazing ability to handle family issues well. The subtle shifts in family relations, the banter and the repartee between the characters is skillfully done and enjoyable.
  • She brings the characters to life through dialogue and description and the reader instantly takes to them and like them for their distinct personalities.
  • It was nice to read about a family in rural Australia. Having been in the country on holiday recently, it was nice to read and imagine a family in the outback. It made me regret the fact that that restricted my travel to the big cities instead of venturing into the outback.
  • The concept of spinning off the story from a Christmas letter was a very great touch.Couldn't help wondering if it was a timely launch to help readers pick it up as a Christmas read or as a gift. Well, it it certainly fits well as the perfect family read, this festive season.
What doesn't:
  • So much for gushing about how what a lovely read it is, I couldn't help but feel that a bit of editing would helped the story. The interaction between Will and Nick seemed to drag a bit. It could have benefitted from the editor's red pencil and made the story tighter.
Overall a great read. Much recommended for those looking for a nice, feel good book this Christmas.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Last Anniversary - Liane Moriarty

A delightful lighthearted read.

Having heard of Lianne Moriarty's The Husband's Secret, I was looking forward reading this one. The premise seemed a bit obscure and vague but interesting enought for me to get stuck in right away.


The story begins with Sophie, a 30 something career girl in the city, with a rotten love life. Things look up when her ex-boyfriend contacts her with the news that his dead aunt has left the house to her. Sophie, is shocked first but also exhilarated and then moves to the island into her new home and meets the Family.

Connie (Thomas' aunt who left her the house) has a reason for leaving the house to Sophie. She and Rose are known as the Doughty sisters who found the Munro baby and have been living of the story quite profitably.

There are also other characters, the Munroe baby (Enigma, who is grandma now),
Grace, their grandchild and a new mother struggling with the demands of a baby, Callum, her husband who is baffled by his wife's behaviour and Sophie comes as a breath of fresh air. Thomas, the ex who has married another but is hanging onto Sophie still. A divorced Veronika who first introduced Sophie to her brother Thomas but is grappling with issues of her own.

Over and above is the mystery of this abandoned baby, that Rose and Connie brought in years ago. Veronika is keen to unravel the secret behind it once for all and trigger off a set of events which are misleading, confusing but finally enlightening.

What works:
  • Moriarty's style of writing is fresh and though she tackles a predictable side storyline of a thirty something girl waiting for the right guy, she does it with humour and gets it right.
  • The characters are all well etched, although I must admit, I was a bit confused about who was related to who and how. However, the characters are good and although it gets a bit chaotic in between, it does keep you turning the page. In my view, the sign of a winner.
  • Moriarty's writing builds up suspense quite well which provides the necessary twists and turns. I think that was quite good especially she pulls it off well.
  • Moriarty also does a good job with the way she says her heroine loves Regency romance and keeps the focus on getting the right guy. The reader has fun finding out who she ends up with and Moriarty uses the Romance genre well. I do not want to say more for fear of spoiling the story, but it is very subtle and shows off her storytelling talent.
What doesn't:
  • It takes a while to get used to the characters. As I said, it takes a while to figure who is whose daughter and sister and so on, but the characters are all endearing and it is fascinating to watch who Sophie ends up with and what is the mystery all about. 
A great downtime read. A bit frivolous at places but a well written story.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Blame storming: Why conversations go wrong and how to fix them - Rob Kendall

A simple and effective way of studying communication in conversations.

I have to admit, after reading thriller and fiction genre for a while, reviewing a non fiction felt a bit like a challenge. However, I was glad to discover that I enjoyed reading it. There is something easygoing and pleasant about the book. I found it to be a great experience and ahem, picked up some tips as well.


We humans are a talkative race, our relationships are based on two way communication, be it verbal or non verbal. Communication occurs at various levels, in society. Language and communication therefore are crucial to any and every part of society.

However, more often than not, instead of using this important tool to our advantage, we end up abusing or worse, misusing it. We say something when we mean quite the other, a classic recipe for arguments, accusations and what not.

What works:
  • It is very easy to read. There are no heavy jargons or technicalities to put you off. The book speaks to you in a easy, friendly way. 
  • The examples are all simulated situations between characters. A handy tool to explain a point instead of long meandering paragraphs.
  • The topics are short and effective and the points are relevant. I found myself relating to many of the mistakes I tend to make. Obviously the author knows his stuff.
  • The book highlights clearly and cleverly the several pitfalls of letting emotions dictate sentences.
What doesn't :
  • Hard to say. I found myself dipping into it occasionally, often going back to remind myself of something. However, I am not sure how it will be if you read in one go. Perhaps, it can be a bit tedious. 

In a nutshell, it is a great read. For those of us, who feel we are great communicators but wonder what we said wrong, this book can come handy. It offers insight and tips to avoid pitfalls and improve verbal skills. An excellent aid for communication workshops or for readers with an interest in language and communication.


Thursday, 2 October 2014

Slipping Through My Fingers

It was a big day for us. Our firstborn was taking her first steps towards her academic journey; it was her first day at school.

It was something both Cheeky and I, were looking forward to; Cheeky, because of all the hype about “moving in to the big school". For me, it meant having her off my hands while I attended to my toddler son, without her endless questioning plaguing my actions.

Ever since we told her the school was starting in September, she would ask each day, least a few times. "What month is it?", "Is it September yet?"

photo courtesy:
Despite misgivings among friends about the school readiness of young 4 year olds, P and I were happy to see Cheeky off. As compared to the regimental style education we received as kids, we prefer this system, that coaxes young minds through play rather than a pedantic engagement with academics.

However, a school is an unfamiliar environment and I was worried she would be exposed to words, behaviour and information from various sources. A point of nagging concern, an unfounded fear.

Despite the fact that the school has children mostly from educated families, there was a sense of trepidation. Will she be singled out by the older kids? Will they be nice to her?

On the day, as the sun played hide and seek behind the clouds, Cheeky woke up bright and early, eager to get through the morning routine and get to school. She was excited and an early breakfast meant, she struggled to get it all down. Within minutes, she was posing for pictures to send her grandparents and be off.

At the gate, she rushed in to join the others, blending into the vibrant atmosphere. She was eager to show off her shoe box we decorated over the holidays, packed with craft projects and holiday pics.


 As she neared the threshold, she let go of my hand and joined the line, without being told to.  I saw a slow transformation taking place. She was excited but composed as she queued up and asked for her bag and the box. She was already looking ahead, her head full of what lay in store. 

As I stood beside her, it hit me then. My little baby was grown up already. It was time to let her go, to have her own experiences without my watchful eye over her. It was teary, a-lump-in-the-throat moment.

Somewhere, there was a sound.
She said “Oh, that’s the bell, I need to go, bye, mum.”

She walked right in, leaving me forsaken, without as much as a backward glance. It was a moment filled with pride and fear. 
Pride at having such a confident child, laced with a fear for the unknown.

As I walked back, I was gushing with pride; my eyes were flooding with tears and the song from Mamma Mia kept playing in my head-

Slipping through my fingers all the time
I try to capture every minute
The feeling in it…..

It felt great to be a mother. 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

September- Rosamunde Pilcher

An atmospheric novel set in the Scottish highlands.

This is my first Rosamunde Pilcher book and I am glad I got to read it. I had watched some of the films based on the books and they had a nice feel to it.

Pilcher's stories are quite straightforward. However, what sets them apart is her characters and her descriptions of the place, the setting that dominates the story.

The plot is set among the gentry where the focal point is a dance party that brings people of different ages yet connected to each other, one way or another. The dance party is set in September and as a run up to that big event, there tiny domestic situations in the lives of the characters that takes the story forward and builds the pace to it.

What works:
  • The details of the characters are good. The reader gets to know them quite well, although the style is a lot different to contemporary writing.
  • The story winds its way from the streets of london, up the scottish highlands, setting the scene for confrontation, confidences and explanation. It runs very well.
  • The insight and the objective gaze as projected by the Violet the central character is sharp and perceptive. Pilcher scores on her insight and the way she presents the tiny details in the character's persona.
  • Although, it is old fashioned, the characters keep you entertained and there is also a twist in the end, which makes it worth your while. 

What doesn't:
  • The story starts off slowly and builds up gradually. It takes a while before the action starts and that can be a bit trying for the restless reader.
  • There is something quite old fashioned about the story, maybe because there are no grey shades and you get a feeling that though the characters are steering away from societal norms, they do end up towing the line and all is resolved easily. A bit too convienient for my taste.
A good old fashioned read. If you are looking for something for a change that is not complex yet highly readable, then September may fit the bill.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Stone Mattress - Margaret Atwood

An interesting set of stories, where some are better than the others.

Margaret Atwood is quite a revered name. I have heard her more than read her books . Her books Blind Assasin and Handmaid's Tale are quite famous though I couldn't muster the courage to pick it up yet. Perhaps, my fear was that she was too "high brow" for me. Therefore when, I got this book for review, it gave me a chance to overcome my inhibitions and discover her writing.


It is basically a set of short stories where the first three stories seem to be linked as the characters are enmeshed in these three stories. It is more of a 3D perception of characters where a change of voice and perception, throw the same incident in a different angle. It was very interesting and I enjoyed it. The Stone Mattress, which forms the title of the book, surprisingly enough was towards the end. I would have thought it would be the first one in the book. But nonetheless, that one as well is an enjoyable read. There is a strong theme of old age running through the stories. The characters have all lived a long life and therefore the stories contain a big timespan which make a crucial contribution to the plot.

What works:

  • Atwood's description of an old authress living in a big house, while a snow storm is raging outside is terrific to say the least. In Alphin Land, I felt the Canadian winter raging across my window as Constance, tries to make sense of her surroundings, stocking on supplies, with her dead husband hovering in the background. 

  • I loved the way Atwood conveys the sense of loneliness, while talking about this fantasy game created by Constance. This mixing the old and the new was very well done in my opinion.
  • Stone mattress works on a more emotional level and is a case of revenge. Again, she conveys facts in a detached manner as Verna comes across Bob who destroyed her life, on a  cruise and seeks revenge. 
  • The Dead Hand Loves yYou is also an enjoyable read. How, a chance promise turns Jack's life upside down. It has an element of surprise and again the old age theme is dominant in the story.

What doesn't:

  • Some stories seemed like fillers and were a chore to get through. Though freeze-dried groom had an element of suspense running through it, it felt a bit bland and forced when compared to the other stories.

  • The Dark Lady, the third story in the book, is an extension of the first two stories. However, though the first two stories seemed to have substance, it seemed to fizzle out till you get to the third one. It was a bit dragging although things did look up once you got to the second half of the story, since it starts making sense then. 

Well, the best part of reading short stories is you can dip in and out of it. Some stories are gems which show a lot of insight and objectivity. However, some as I said are boring and bland.  Perhaps, I found it repetitive and it failed to engage my "low brow" sensibilities.

An ok sort of a read, aimed at the literary kind and not the casual reader.

Monday, 22 September 2014


As a child, I was always the one to be found in a corner with a book in hand. Years later, this passion turned into a profession when I became a journalist with Times of India.

Life moved on and so did I from India to the UK. I still remember arriving here as a newly wed bride shivering more from cold than the prospect of entering an unknown life.

A lot has happened since then. A new life, two wonderful children and a new cultural perspective are just some of them. One thing didn't change though - the love for the written word. The result- this blog. Besides it offers freedom from the trappings of the audience driven format of a broadsheet.

My creative instinct doesn't apply to just words but includes food too. What started off as a need based activity is now a much loved hobby. Now that I have overcomed the "hiccups" (read kitchen disasters) culinery experiments are now a favourite not only with me but with the family too!

Yet another interest is arts and crafts for kids. It is amazing how kids appeal to one's creative instinct. It began as an option to keep them occupied, now it is a fascinating inclination.  Often you will find me looking at discarded cardboard boxes or a pair of tights as potential art projects although not necessarily a successful one!

Anyway, this space is designed to celebrate my love for books and life.
If you like what you read, do drop a line.

It keeps the motivation levels up, when self doubt kicks in .

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Facebook Therapy

It is amazing how technology can make a convert out of the most resistant cynics.

I witnessed the changover in a close friend "Buddy" who was staying with us for a while. Never one to post pics or updates, he maintained an online account with a modest friend list. However, he termed it a "social therapy" with contempt. So, when he joined the bandwagon, the story had to be told.  

It all started when he went through a gruelling time at the Indian embassy. Applying for the OCI card (Overseas Citizenship of India) for his baby boy had turned into a frustrating nightmare and it took many a bump, hurdle and roadblock to see the application through.

The experience left him cold and seething about the rigamarole of the Indian bureaucracy. Looking for an outlet, he proceeded to open --not a bottle -- but his laptop and drown his sorrows in, ahem, Facebook.

After typing out a few furious lines about the frustrating experience, he decided to take a break. When he logged on a few minutes later - click click, click - his friend list had come out in hordes, hitting on many "likes" followed by accounts of similar dismal experiences. It was a gratifying moment, the hardened lines on his face eased into a smile, the trauma of his experience washed away by the torrent of shared sentiments by kindred spirits.

Buddy has now formed a solid bond with Facebook. Whether it is to talk about a lousy movie, a nail biting cricket match, the site gives him the chance to connect, be heard or just make a point. 

That is what makes Facebook so popular, isn't it; this ability to alleviate loneliness without crowding your space. A community ready to offer sympathy, solace and social approval. How else would you explain a public letter of affection between spouses, a digital shot of culinary experiment turned out well, raving about a great holiday or a rant about Monday mood? 

So much for critics berating that technology has impinged on social interaction; it seems to have opened more avenues than before. People are always chatting, watching, catching up through comments, updates and pics, even when engaged in an activity. 

Does that mean that we are closer to our friends, now that we are better informed about their lives? Or maybe it is a time efficient way of managing relationships, devoid of awkward pauses or the strain of maintaining a real conversation?

A recently published news article on the BBC website reiterates this. Apparently, UK has lost the art of conversation where a survey suggested that most people prefer to drop in a line on social sites or text a message instead of having actual conversations over the phone. I am sure it is not true only of the UK but of any metro city where technology is deeply enmeshed in the fabric of its lifestyle. 

But on the other hand, what can be a more effective way of maintaining contact when you are miles apart, in different countries, yet wish to keep in touch?

The other day our daughter first started school, a milestone moment for our tiny family. She was all dressed up and excited and I felt sorry that her grandparents, uncles and aunts were not around to see it. So, I held my phone, clicked a pic and off it went to our online group. Within minutes, they responded, saying how nice it was to see her off to school virtually at that point in time! My friends were responding with reassurances that she will be fine, while I was fighting back tears, thinking of my little baby as a big school girl.

All it took was a picture that helped me share that momentous occasion easily, across time zones! How marvellous is that?

Usually, the day would have been marked during our weekend calls back home, but thanks to social groups, it was possible to convey, communicate and share our feelings, right away.

I guess, these sites are our anchor, as we steer away from home and build lives in faraway countries. We may not spend much time talking but it surely helps us to keep in touch, sharing bits and pieces of our lives amid busy routines.

After all, it is all about staying connected, isn’t it?

The Signature Of All Things - Elizabeth Gilbert

This is one of those books that will leave you thinking about the book much after you have closed it. You will want to revisit sections for a better understanding of what was said because you are too busy enjoying the book to realise that you have been entertained and educated simultaneaously.

Gilbert's previous bestseller, Eat Pray and Love drew a lot of attention. Frankly, it did not appeal to me although I was impressed by her style. It was her style that stayed with me when I read the book for she has a great way of worming her way into the reader's consciousness despite the thin plot.

Her next book, Committed was  a comment, on marriage as an institution based on her analysis of its relevance in different cultures. Again, it did not garner my interest, as it seemed too contrived. I suppose this was a book for marriage sceptics who formed the fan club of Eat, Pray and Love.

The Signature of all things, however came as an interesting departure to her previous books. This was pure fiction set in the Victorian era in the Americas, centred around a heroine who was a scientist and was a story about her life experiences.


Alma Whittaker is born into a household where logic, reasoning are paramount and the education of the mind a crucial element. When still a girl, their parents adopt another girl called Prudence who is all she is not, breathtakingly beautiful and low on intellectual abilities. Both sisters grow up into young women and make choices which affects not only their lives but also their relationship.

What works:

  • Gilbert has a firm grip when it comes to depicting Philedephia of the 1800s and etches out a great character in Alma.
  • Her writing style is arresting and she pans out the story well, taking it from England to Philadelphia to Hiati.
  • She also introduces science in a very interesting manner, blending it in the story so well. The study of moss which can be boring is explained very well, so much that the reader is drawn into learning more about it. That is surely a plus.

  • Henry Whittaker's journey to America is interesting and I loved the businessman's character which was a foil to his intellectual wife. The characters stay with you for a long time whether they are suitors and later husbands of Alma and Prudence or the Dutch housekeeper, the keeper of secrets in the household.
  • It is obvious a lot of research has gone into the book as Gilbert brings in Darwin and the possibility that his theory of the origin of species is perhaps not his own. A commendable effort at making the world of science so accessible and entertaining to a science hater like me.

What doesn't:

  • The story stretches a bit towards the end. The Hiati experience is exotic but it seems Gilbert was too carried away by it all. It stretches on, losing the reader  momentarily and suddenly gets back on track with developments. That part could have been edited and turned into a taut section.

Overall, it is a great read, a terrific effort. This book shows off an entirely new dimension of the author and leaves the reader enlightened at the end of it. Much recommended.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Ralph's Party - Lisa Jewell
A lighthearted novel about the labours of love.

I enjoyed her other book, The House We Grew Up In and since then, Jewell has been a writer that I much like. She tells her stories with sharp insight. Her plots are all lighthearted and frothy but it is the clarity with which she describes her characters and gets them into situations that appeal to me. I reckon this is her debut novel and although it shows promise, she has perfected the art better in her later ones.


The story is about people inhabiting a set of flats on Almanac Road, full of working professionals and their trials and tribulations in love. Ralph and Smith are on a lookout for a flatmate and Jem walks in, into their flats and lives. Karl and Siobhan have been living together for a while but change is in the air, will it change their relationship too? Cherie is the beauty on the prowl for a guy and has sights on one of these guys. Although, they all lead separate lives, they find that they are all interwined and all is revealed at Ralph's party.

What works:
  • The story suggests of personal experience and Jewell seems to have drawn on her personal life to carve a story out of it. It is easy to get into and has a very urban feel to it.
  • The characters are all different although they have the same issue - their love life. It is entertaining to read how they connect with each other and the way they think about each other.
What doesn't:
  • The story is a breezy romance. However, there are times when all that candy floss can be a bit too sweet for itself. The introduction to the characters takes a while, but once they are established, the story is then on a roll. 
A great downtime read. It is entertaining and apparently her debut novle. This is not her best book.I found Vincy and Joy and The House We Grew Up In much better than this.

Well Schooled in Murder - Elizabeth George

A complex murder mystery typical of Elizabeth George.
I have enjoyed most of her books mainly because she manipulates the genre so well. Her stories are not only about who did it but the circumstances, the psychology that goes behind in the killing.

Her stories are mature and handled skillfully. It is amazing to get acquainted with the characters and get to know them so well. However, although I admire her skills, the plot themselves are quite dark and disturbing. I have to admit this one left me a bit uncomfortable, may be because I am a bit vulnerable when it comes to crimes against children.


A school boy is murdered in a posh boarding school. Lynley and Barbara are called in to solve and in doing so they enter the confines of an elite institiution that is burdened under its own nasty secrets.

What works:

The plot is complex and is layered with mystery. George unravels layer by layer to unearth the real story and thereby lies the pleasure of reading it.

Great characters. George's characters are so well etched, that it is difficult to stand in judgment against them.

What doesn't:

The trouble with such well etched characters and complex plots is that they take a lot of space and this slows the pace. The story takes a while to take off and requires patience on the part of the reader.

Overall a great read. If you are in the mood for something challenging in crime genre then this one will appeal to you.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Accidental Apprentice - Vikas Swarup

A rollercoaster ride of drama and emotions typical of a bollywood movie.

Swarup's other book The Slumdog Millionaire is quite famous for the controversy it courted.  I can't comment how much was true since I did not pick up the book, opting like others, to watch the movie instead.  My thoughts? Well, I share the reservations quoted by many about portraying India through "a white man lens", and using the squalor and the poverty to call it "a country with colour". But this did not put me off picking up this book. The reason being the premise sounded good, the title interesting and sounded like this was a totally different fare. 

The gist:

On a weekly visit to her favourite goddess, Sapna Sinha, a non descript sales girl is accosted by a billionaire with a proposition- to become the CEO of his company. However, she needs to participate in some tasks which will test her mettle. It comes with a sweetner; two lakh rupees would be hers to keep for making the effort, regardless of the outcome. Practical headed Sinha is tempted but she has her doubts. However, circumstances force her to accept the offer. This triggers a set of dramatic events that puts Sinha into the hotseat as the story zooms through the dusty lanes of Delhi, to the rural areas, from dilapitated factories on the outskirts to cramped prisons, ending finally in the one of the poshest areas of the city.

What works:

  • The premise is good. It immediately draws attention and kicks off really well. Swarup has a great way of telling a story without demanding much of the reader. Like a hindi movie, the plot is kept straight and narrow with a total focus of action. 
  • The writing style is simple, direct and the story totally plot driven. The series of events happen bang one after another, pretty much like a thriller.
  • Despite the improbable events, he does manage to convey the essence of India. The khap panchayat, the child labour, the organ donor racket, and the corruption that lines the fabric of the Indian lifestyle, is so true and rings a bell with the Indian reader while providing a keen insight for those not familiar with the workings of the country.
  • He also conveys the quinessential Indian concept of a family through Sinha's relationship with her mother and sister.

What doesn't:

The story has the entertainment value of a film. It seems as though it has been designed to showcase its potential as a film and has been constructed accordingly. That is sad. Swarup obviously buoyed by  his Slumdog success is eager to replicate it as well. However, it is a disappointing that the writer has focussed his energies on creating a film which is a different art form, before getting the book version right.

In the book, the protagnist strikes a conversation with a movie actress and all they can talk of is Slumdog as a movie. Surely, it is not such a great movie to spark conversation between strangers! It seemed as though Swarup wanted to have a say on the controversy and used the conversation as a medium. It was an obvious tactic and a desperate one at that. 


A great downtime read if you are looking for something racy with entertainment value.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The Girl in my Husband's life....

Ours was an arranged match; but by the time we got around to planning the wedding, it was because we were only too happy to spend our lives together.

It was a fascinating first couple of years. We took time to get to know each other, to share personal space and lives together.  There was a sense of harmony, a symphony of things falling into place. There were bumps and hurdles of two personalities meshing in, but we enjoyed every minute of it and thought this is how it is meant to be. But it was not to be the case.

Our lives changed one sunny summer afternoon.

She made an appearance and with her arrival, brought in a tsunami of change. It was no gradual or subtle transformation. The difference was immediate and striking; almost as if a bolt of lightening had struck us. It hit us both but left one casualty behind; my husband. He was overwhelmed by her presence and surrendered to her enchanting persona.

I saw him in a whole new light as if a new person had replaced the old one. To be honest, I do not blame him. I did not escape unscathed either from her mesmerising spell. She had a way with people, making them take notice and once they did, they were enchanted.

She would dictate terms and he, a default non-conformist, would fall in line. I could feel the pull, the power to which he was drawn her, as if swept by it all. But I also realised something; he was enjoying it to the hilt.

She glided into our lives and blended very seamlessly into it. Over a period, the changes became more obvious. Riding with us, in the back seat of the car, she soon moved to the front, sharing space with him. He would glance sideways and often hold out his hand to her. It was as if they were oblivious to everything else, quietly communicating in their own way, within the comfort of their world.

Our first born. Our daughter. The love of my husband's life.

There are moments of envy but it is mixed with pride and affection. It is a delight to watch her play around with my husband, testing his patience, pushing the boundaries. As a baby, she dictated terms about when we were allowed to sleep or not on those long nights. As a toddler, we were on our toes, as she took off to explore any nook or corner that caught her fancy.

Time passed by and eventually we settled into a predictable and comforting rhythm.

We thought the upheaval was over; tranquility had been restored. Nothing would rock the boat anymore. But we were wrong. The boat not only rocked furiously, it toppled us over.

Lightening struck again. This time I was the casualty. It was a surreal feeling when my baby boy smiled at me and I felt the mesmerising effect wrapping itself around me, covering me in that familiar pall of smoke...

Friday, 1 August 2014

The Mysterious Affair At Castaway House - Stephanie Lam

photo courtesy:
 I found Stephanie Lam's The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House to be an interesting story to say the least. My first impression was to think of a whodunnit, at this Castaway house. I realised soon, this is more to do with an old buried family secret. Sufficiently intrigued, I dug in, to find out for myself the merit of the book and the author.


Set in the 1965, eighteen-year-old Rosie Churchill runs away from home and finds work at a cafe in a tourist town, to sustain herself. She lives in this big run down mansion called Castaway house where shares a flat with three girls and is on good terms with her landlords, an enigmatic couple, Johnny and Star. Someone from home catches up with her and leaves expensive gifts and notes at her doorstep, urging her to return.

During the course of her stay at Castaway House, she meets a homeless man, who turns up at the door, inviting her sympathy and suffering from lack of memory. The only thing he keeps saying is, he had to come back to Castaway house to find some truth about himself.
Meanwhile, Rosie also finds a sketch of a man with the initials R.C. Later and later engraving over a window sill that says "Robert Carver is innocent". Totally intrigued, she is keen to find how it all fits.

Flashback to 1924. Recovering from an illenss, Robert Carver is on his way to Castaway house to spend the with his cousin Alexander and his new wife, Carla Bray. He notices the friction between the couple and is privy to some downstairs gossip about the house being tainted in some way. Carver soon finds himself deeply embroiled in the events concerning the house, changing his life forever.

What works:
  • Despite being a debut author, Lam presents a very intriguing and a well written story. She handles the myriad threads of storylines very well.
  • The story flashes back and forth from 20s and 60s. The period element of the 20s rings true, keeping in mind the post war era and the feel of the time. Similarly, the 60s era of the flower power is also done quite well and blends with the characters and the storyline.
  • She also simultaneous connections very well. The similarity in the initials of Rosie Churchill and Robert Carver and also the way they are implicated in situations not of their doing  is yet another positive.
  • With this kind of a plot, intrigue is very important and also how it unravels. Lam builds it up and  reveals with good timing. I was turning pages late into the night to figure who was Dockie and how was he connected to Castaway house. 
  • What I also liked is the why the parallels run through and still strike resonance in its characters Rosie and Robert and Star and Clara.
What doesn't:
  • Without giving away the plot, my only issue was the relationship between the two characters in the 1965 narrative. It seemed stilted and a bit awkward. I was not sure how it helped the story and found it a tad, jarring. 

A great summer read. Ideal for that beachside, lazy afternoon.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Sheer Abandon - Penny Vincenzi

It is amazing how these top authors do so well in the beginning but fail to recreate the magic in their later work. Perhaps it is the pressure to churn out a bestseller or to uphold an established reputation, the initial books are the true measure of such successful storytellers and this book is a case in point.

I thoroughly loved Vincenzi's Spoils of time trilogy. Whatever, I read after that paled in comparison or seemed like a repeat of what she had already accomplished. Therefore, despite reading great reviews about Sheer Abandon, I was reluctant to give it a try for a long time. But when I did, it felt good to learn that the reviews were not far off the mark, after all.

Three successful women a doctor, a lawyer turned potential polititican and a journalist share a past. Years ago, they met up as students travelling around Thailand and one of them left a baby behind at heathrow airport on her way back. Years later, the girl now wants to know who her mother is and sets on a journey that threatens the present and the future of these successful women.

The plot seems very predictable but Penny Vincenzi adds value to it. It doesn't help that the synopsis is a bit run-of-the-mill. It was as if the book jacket told me all and failed to create the intrigue to delve into it. Howver, once into it, it was good to note that Vincenzi adds dimensions to the story and its characters in her classic style.

What works:

The plot is made of many storylines that run parallel-  the women and the girl's lives are narrated simultaneously and at the same time there is also a flashback that takes us to the time when the women were students. Although this is a classic Vincenzi template, of drawing up characters and their lives before bringing them together, she does it with the finesse of an experienced storyteller.

Her plot twists are quite good, reminding one of her successful trilogy. She handles, juggles and dodges events and situations enough to keep us keeping the pages turned.

What doesn't:

The story is a bit slow to get into. Having read many of her books, it was quite predictable to begin with. I knew I would get to hear about the characters first before we get down to swerves and turns of the plot. That wait was a bit of a drag. However, once the characters and their lives became familiar, Vincenzi then zooms into top gear mode and gets the plot going.

In a nutshell:

It is a very predictable storyline with some twists put in for good measure. It is a simple straightforward read, nonetheless very entertaining. One of the reviewers mentioned the word "riveting".

I couldn't disagree with her.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Sense and Sensibility - Joanna Trollope

I remember much hype when the book came out, but bided my time and procured the copy from the library instead of rushing to purchase my own.

I am glad I did

The book is a modern retelling of the Jane Austen classic by the same name. I haven't read the original although I have read her more famous Pride and Prejudice and Emma and know of Austen's style and themes.

In the absence of a male heir, three sisters, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret are ousted out of their mansion with their mother Belle after the death of their father. The implications of having to fend for themselves does not affect Belle or Marianne. It falls upon Elinor, the sensible one to take over the reins of the family. She is the rock while flighty Marianne is caught in a disasterous romantic encounter and youngest sister Margaret at 15, is a typical teenager, coping with the changes all round her. This novel is in a sense, a coming of age novel where there these girls grow up and finally get their priorities right.

What works:
  • Joanna Trollope is a great writer and her accolades of the previous 17 novels shine through this one.
  • She has stuck to the original story (I have seen a tamil movie based on the same storyline) and endows it with the richness of texts, social media and mobile phones to give it a modern feel.
  • She has also added her own touch to the story, through dialogues which are sparse in Jane Austen novels. This modern device, I felt, was her way of making a contribution, giving it a very contemporary feel. I never cared for the Jane Austen's style much, where the narrator does all all the talking of letting the characters do it for themselves, which was quite annoying.

What doesn't:
  • It was a bit depressing that though Trollope had handled the story well, it was the same old-girls looking-for-right-boys-to-end-up with story. It was a bit tiring to be honest, seeing girls pining for guys, working out their level of commitment through their actions. More often than not, I found myself rushing through the lines in an attempt to cut through the candy floss. It was OK in Jane Austen's time but reading the same in 2014 makes it horribly dated.
  • The story is boringly predictable. Trollope follows the plot to the letter and in the process does not leave her signature on it. Her forte is domestic situations and it is easy to see why she was commissioned to rewrite, but there is nothing new except for a few stylistic alterations and the inclusion of technology in the plot.
  • A significant point is when Belle admonishes Mrs Jennings that she is sounding like a 19th century novel where girls main career ambition is to get married to rich guys. However, Mrs Jennings retorts that you think things are changed but they haven't ...well, it was kind of depressing to read it. I remember a guardian review highlighting the same lines making it sound like Trollope feels that Austen's way of life holds true even today.
No chance, Ms Trollope. Totally disagree.

In a nutshell, I did not like the book and don't know how Austen fans reacted to it. Trollope is very good at highlighting social nuances and has an eye for bringing out the subtleties in domestic situations. However, this is an ambitious project and it will always be difficult to measure up to Austen's popularity and standards.

But I see it as an independent work and I was not impressed. I would give this one a miss.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

No Safe Place- Richard North Patterson

I love Richard Patterson's books. But not this one.

I discovered him first when I picked up The Final Judgement and have read a few of his latest ones since then. When I picked this one up, I did not bother with the story, the author's name on the book cover was enough.

However, I have realised even the best of the writers cannot come up with a great book every time.


Kerry Kilcannon is a lawyer who is catapulted into high league when he becomes a senator and eventually fnds himself as the presidential candidate. His climb up the ladder, from a rough childhood to a lawyer fighting domestic abuse cases is remarkable. His elder brother, Jamie is the prodigal son who is a sureshot winner
eager to make it big in national politics. However, as luck would have it, eventually it is Kerry who is running for the big post amid a score of complications; a correspondent who he loves when he is already married, a reporter who is hot on their scent trying to get a scoop and a madman out to assasinate Kerry.

What works:

  • The story takes off very well. Patterson is an expert at building scenes, whether it is painting a household rife with domestic abuse or the life of a presidential candidate, Patterson's expertise shines through.
  • The plot is interesting. Kerry's build up as a rough young boy and a lawyer and eventually as the presidential candidate is really good till a point.

What doesn't:
  • Once I was a few chapters into it, when I realised the similarity to the kennedy story and to be honest, it put me off. Although it,is only loosely modelled, it took the sheen off it for me. The story tended to sag, it could helped if tightened a bit. I found myself looking up from the book more than once, often with impatience. 
  • Apparently, this is the prequel to the so called famous "Balance of power" which takes off from where this one ends. Hopefully that one will be better.
In a nutshell, it is an OK book. But there are better Richard North Patterson books out there.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Before I go to Sleep - S J Watson

 A good book that lives up to its hype.

Well, the story goes that the author was on a writing course and at the end of it came up with this novel which went on to become crime thriller debut of the year. I wasn't sure if I could hope the book to be that good. I have found the hype actually works against the book. Anyways, having read it now, I liked it and was surprised to find that for once the hype has not let the book down.


A woman suffers from memory loss such that each day she wakes up and it takes her a day to figure out who she is and piece together her life. However, by the end of the day when she goes to bed, all the information is erased from her memory and when she wakes up the next day having to start start all over again. She then takes it upon herself to find out who she is and how she got the amnesia.

What works:
  • The premise is good and the first few pages just race by.
  • There are not too many characters to defuse attention and the author does a good job of maintaining the tension to some extent.
What doesn't:
  • Although, the first few chapters are great, once Christine the central character, takes it upon herself to figure out why she is the way she is, the plot seems to clog with details which weighs it down. 
However a great read and quite an impressive debut. I will be definitely picking up more of her books.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The Fortune Hunter - Daisy Goodwin

An victorian love story filled with old countryhouse glamour and periodic detail.

I had just finished Claire Hajaj's Ishmeal's Oranges and what a refreshing change this was! A stark contrast to the war ridden climes of Isreal, this book transported me to the English countryside, filled with the trappings of royalty and glamour.


Bay middleton is the fortune hunter who cannot resist beautiful women till he has to choose between beauty and love.

Sisi, is the Empress of Austria who is known for her beauty and liberal views and therefore a pain to her husband.

Charlotte Baird, is a woman with fortune but average looks. An unconventional woman, she pursues the unconventional love for photography but cannot resist the charms of a rake.

A lot ensues between the three of them and caught within the confusion between "the norm" and what the heart desires, Daisy Goodwin weaves a tale rich in atmospheric detail and insights which takes this average story to a whole new level.

I was preparing myself to settle down to a story about an adulterous empress out to seduce a English lord and the young naive heroine who tries to win over the man with her innocence, but was pleasantly surprised to find that there was more to it than the cover suggested.

What works:

  • The story is average however, the characters and situations add a new dimension to it. Some situations such as the Empress meeting Queen Victoria is the highlight of the novel. Especially, where it is obvious the queen covets the title of Empress much to the amusement of the Empress, who recognises the the trappings of such a title, was a very enjoyable one.
  • Other insights that Goodwin brings to the novel such as the instance where her aunt applauds Charlotte's unconventional hobby believing that an intelligent pursuit is more preferable than her fortune. Charlotte, then, grudgingly confides that it is only her fortune that allows her to indulge in such an expensive hobby.
  • The American character of Casper is an interesting portrayal to highlight the difference between America and England.  I loved the lines.. "In the West, the landscape is unmarked by man." to show how America was still building its history in comparison to England's rich architectural legacy.
  • The rich atmospheric detail is very reminiscent of Downton Abbey. It would be interesting to see this book as a movie.

What doesn't:

  • The character of Sisi is hyped so much and falls a bit flat in my opinion especially since the back of the cover proclaims Sisi to be this enviable, elusive beauty with brains. Somehow I felt that the character was not as formidable as made out to be.

It was fascinating to read the author's note in the end how she picked these characters from history and breathed life into them. An enjoyable read for those who like their love stories filled with witty banter and some great storytelling.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Mrs. B- Elizabeth Walcott Hackshaw

A warm contemporary slice of Caribbean life.

Talk about the Caribbean islands and I begin to think about floral shirts, women wearing blossoms in their hair, moving around in flowing skirts and sleeveless tops. But how do the people living there feel about the changes engulfing the country, the rising violence, the political unrest that is shaping their country's present and future.

Elizabeth Hackshaw does a very good job of portraying the today of trinidad through the characters of Mrs. B, her husband Charles and their daughter Ruthie.


Mrs B and her husband Charles wait for their daughter Ruthie a student in Boston who takes a break from studies to a mental breakdown after a failed affair with a married professor.

At one level it is about relationships that of a mother and a child, a husband and wife and a of a childless woman who loves her neice as her own. While these relationships collide and blend according to situations, at the heart of it lies the changes in the community and country as people are forced to huddle in gated communities as a means of security against an unpredictable and insecure political climate.

What works:

  • The story is laid out well and Hackshaw does a great job of delving into the minds of characters and assess their perspectives.
  • The perspective of the young and the old is dealt with quite effectively. The liberal morals of the younger generation whereas the status conscious perception of the older generation is portrayed quite well.
  • It is not a plot driven story, for nothing really happens much and therefore the characters shine out well in the backdrop of some beautiful writing. Hackshaw shows off her writing skills as she flits between proper English and the Caribbean English at times. Very well done indeed.

What doesn't:

  • Since the focus is more on conveying a slice of Caribbean life, the thoughts and ideals of the modern people, it tends to sag a bit. But the characters more than make up for it.
  • I could never understand why the character was referred to as Mrs.B that stands for Butcher. Apparently, she hated the names and therefore the initial. It reminded me of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca where the heroine has no name or identity. But here it is not the case. Mrs. B is a strong character who affects situation but I still couldn't fathom the reason for not using her maiden name though it crops up in places.

Ishmael's Oranges - Claire Hajaj

A keen insight into the Jew-Palestanian conflict and the way it affects human lives caught within it.

I couldn't help compare it to the The Almond tree by Michele Coran Corasanti which handles the same theme from a different point of view. The Almond Tree book deals with the story of an Arab who battles poverty and the strife in the country to rise above his stature, he makes his way to the US as a renowned professor and then comes back for his family who were unable to escape as he could.  Hajaj's story is about a Palestanian boy, Salim and a Jewish girl, Judith who are on the opposite sides of the strife. They find love on neutral ground and attempt to build a life yet find their prejudices and differences constantly threatening their happiness.

The Gist:

As a boy, Salim flees his house, forsaking his beloved orange tree in Jaffa when the war breaks out between the Jews and Palestanian Arabs. To make matters worse, his mother leaves the family too, taking only their youngest sibling Rafan with her. Years later, Salim heads to London to pursue higher studies and falls in love with Judith, with a story of her own. Despite scepticism and stiff opposition, they get married and start a new life away from Israel, but eventually find themselves at crossroads, confronting their past and prejudices.

What works:

  • The characters come alive in the pages and win the empathy of the reader. This need to break away from the strife when everything else reiterates their cultural notions is done quite well.
  • The story flows very well and offers an objective and emotional view of the situation in Israel. 
  • The narrative is powerful and the writing style is smooth.

What doesn't:

The pace is a bit slow in the beginning, the letter in the beginning did not make sense till I read the end and then I had to read the beginning chapter again to make sense of it. But that highlights explains the skill of the writer and credit to her for handling such a difficult subject with such tact.

In a nutshell, a great read, well written and offers an interesting perspective on a conflict that needs to be documented more in literature.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

The house we grew up in - Lisa Jewell

A great novel about a dysfunctional family and a secret that lies at the heart of it all.

I picked up this one to decide if Lisa Jewell was more of a "chick lit" author and am I glad to be proved wrong. Jewell is a storyteller first and foremost and she weaves fantastic tales.

This is her latest book and about a woman who is a "hoarder". I remember watching trailers of documentaries of what made these people to accumulate stuff and Jewell has come up with a pretty good explanation for that.


The bird family is a big family with Lorelei and Colin at the helm looking after their four children. However, what seems like an idyllic childhoo turns sour over a period of time and the family disintegrates, leading to weird relationships, misunderstandings and chaos. As events unfold, all the children leave the house and so does Colin the husband and Lorelei is left all alone in the house turning the beautiful cotwolds cottage into a health hazard with her hoarding habit. Lorlei has an internet lover and it is through mails that we get to hear her side of the story when all the other characters simply wonder what made her act like a weirdo. She dies in the most tragic circumstances, of starvation and neglect. Upon her death, the family gets back together again and tries to piece together where they went wrong and look for redemption.

What works:

  • The characters are so effective that even when they make uncharacteristic decisions, it is very easy to see what drove them to it. Excellent portrayal of character.
  • Jewell has this great way of conveying banal, bizarre and the most uncomfortable facts in a dry and a matter of fact manner. Her style is so smooth that she manages to tackle the most awkward subjects ina very simplistic yet effective manner. 

  • Jewell also conveys quite well the way we perceive people through their actions, interpreting them in a particular way, without wondering if there could be other reasons to explain it. Lorelei's hoarding habit turned her eldest daughet into a cleanliness freak and her younger daughter into a diffident person but they mistook their mother's freak habit as abnormal rather than understanding the reason for it.

What doesn't:

  • The story is about a dysfunctional family is bound to be bizzare but sometimes, it felt as though Jewell was taking it too far. At one point I felt I was watching something out of Eastenders, the way the characters were forming the most unliky relationships. It seemed to be a bit too much.

In a nutshell:

Overall a great read, Jewell plays the story in a very understated manner that it flow well without building a hype and turn out lame. The characters start off as a family, move away to live their lives and then come back to the cocoon of the family nest where they find the evasive peace and resolution they have been looking for.

An engrossing read indeed.