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.