Friday, 31 July 2015

Destiny - Sally Beauman

photo courtesy:
A typical beach read full of twists and turns.

I had read rave reviews about the book. Years ago, I picked the it and then discarded it, hoping to go back to it someday.

Now when I saw the book in a charity shop, it seemed the right time to see if the reviews held up to it.  This book came out in 2003 and the writer Sally Beauman apparently won a lot of praise (and money) for the book and having read all that, it was time for the truth.


This is the story of Helene and Edouard two lovers who are destined to be with each other. They meet and decide to be together but fate intervenes and it is a long time before they get back together.

Edouard is a French aristocrat born into money and at the helm of a jewellery empire. Helene born into poverty makes her way out of it by becoming an actress.

However, there is a host of characters who are the reason why they meet and then separate. The story takes us through their childhoods, their different upbringings and the qualities and circumstances that shaped their personalities.

Beauman introduces a lot of subplots that keeps the story connected and going. It is interesting how she lays out this plot that spans during the world wars and its aftermath and places her characters in the post war era.

What works:

  • The story is designed to shock with some elaborate sex scenes and Beauman revels in it. However, to give her credit, it adds to the story and the characters. 
  • The characters come from all classes of society and cultures. Beauman is as comfortable describing characters in the rural pockets of America as she is talking about the cream of French society. Credit to her for describing it well.
  • It is an ambitious novel spanning decades. However at some point the timeline especially the time when Helene and Edouard are away from each other, seems a bit too short a span for all the twists and turns occuring in the story.

What doesn't:

  • It comes across as a raunchy novel designed to purely shock and entertain. It is commercial through and through and though many would argue against that. I was hoping to get something more out of it and did not.
  • There are scandolous elements to it which must have raised a lot of eyebrows and contributed to its popularity but as said earlier, they seem formulaic to create interest in the book.

In a nutshell, it is a typical soap opera-like-kind-of-a-read. Apparently, this was a first novel and Beauman went on to better ones like Dark Angel. The more popular one was the sequel to Rebecca, called Rebecca's Tale which also got some great reviews.

Destiny is an average read. Go for it, if soap opera type plots are your thing.

If not, there are better books out there.

The Third Wife - Lisa Jewell

photo courtesy:
Another winner from a top author.

This book was a reminder why I loved reading this author. Her last one, The Making of Us was a disappointment, despite an interesting concept (sperm donor). However, with this one Jewell is back doing what she does best, highlighting the tangled web of family relationships.


The jacket cover succinctly puts it; there is one man Adrian Wolfe who has three wives, five children. The stage is set for a host of characters and their secrets. Story starts off when the third wife dies in an accident. It is only after her death that it is revealed that there was something sinister that drove to her death. Her demise comes as a bit of a shock for the other family members, for she was a much loved person in the family. Her death raises some disturbing questions and Adrian is out looking for answers. He soon realises that he needs to look within his family to find them.

Soon secrets start tumbling out when the seemingly normal relationships change hue in a
different light.

What works:

  • The story is bizarre (I mean three harmonious marriages where they holiday together!) but Jewell makes it convincing. It reminded me of her other one, The House We Grew Up In, which had a similar bizarre storyline (that of a house hoarder) but somehow Jewell has a way of taking the reader through with conviction.
  • The characters are so believable and though they are all dysfunctional (they wouldn't be interesting if they were) it is easy to empathise with them.
  • The suspense element is done very well. I was hooked and keen to find out who the mysterious lady with mismatched eyes was.
  • The past and the present narrative blends very well and neat. There is no confusion between the two thanks to Jewell's storytelling expertise.

What doesn't:

  • It is a straightforward story with no complexities in terms of language or plot. Maybe that is why she is such a hit with the contemporary audience. 
  • It is a light read not some exalted piece of literature. For those looking for more depth in their stories may be a bit disappointed.
Overall, an enjoyable read on a train or a holiday. Nothing to tax the mind and interesting enough to keep turning the pages. Isn't that the basics of a good book?

I have always admired Jewelled for the storylines, it is off the cuff and yet when she is done with it, she presents a story worth reading and enjoyable. 

This is one of Jewell's better ones. Recommended.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Payment in Blood - Elizabeth George

photo courtesy:
A whodunnit marred by a complex handling of plot.

I love Elizabeth George and have enjoyed most of her books. Unfortunately this is not one of those. Despite being familiar with her style and structure, I found this book very difficult to follow and had to rein in my attention to get to the end.


A theatre group meets up in a Scotland mansion to rehearse a well hyped play due to open in London west end soon. However things turn murky when the writer of the play is found dead in her room. Suspicion falls on the group comprising actors, director, producer all having their own reasons to hush up the writer.

Lynley and Havers are called in after the high profile producer pulls
strings to get Scotland Yard on the case.

However, Lynley feels his judgement cloud when he finds Helen Clyde one of the suspects in the investigation. Their history though spoken of in veiled tones, has a spark to it. He struggles with the fact that his ladylove was seeing someone else. Meanwhile, pressure from other high profile suspects, prompt him to get on track and solve the case.

What works:
  • George has this amazing ability of laying her plot and introducing characters. Her grasp of the theatre scene, the acting industry is obvious as she works her characters around it.
  • She works out the relations between characters very well. 
  • It is amazing despite being an American she brings in "Englishness" to the British setting with lords and peers in it.
What doesn't:
  • This is one of her earlier novels. Perhaps that is why she can be excused for producing such a mediocre book. The setting is good but the story is a drag.
  • Despite well etched characters, they fail to form any connection with the reader. 
  • For some reason, she does not seem to be in sync with her talent here. Her books are usually slow at first but subsequently they build up pace. This one doesn't.
  • Her plot are always complex but rewarding in the end. This one just seems to complicate itself more and more and then desperately tries to unfurl itself desperately towards the end.

Not one of her better known ones. Give it a miss and pick up something else.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Taj - Colin De Silva

An ambitious tale about court intrigue and power play in mughal rule.

As the title aptly suggests, it is about the famous monument and the ruler who built it. The central protagnist is Shah Jahan and the novel starts off with him as a young lad, still in training, watching his grandfather Emperor Akbar rule. He is the mute spectator as his father usurps the ailing Emperor and takes over the reins of the empire not realising that someday he will be doing the same.

The line of treachery and violence that mars the mughal rule makes for a great story. Taking his pick from the mughal period De Silva does a very good job of deciding on a timeframe and sticking to it.

However, I had my doubts when I picked up De Silva's Taj. A Srilankan writing about the Taj? How good can it be.

But De Silva has done a good job with it and produced a compelling and an engrossing tale.


A young Shah Jahan watches his father take over the reins of the empire by force and learns to defend himself from treacherous enemies at an early age. The female protagnist is Noor Jehan, the ambitious conniving queen who sets her sights on Emperor Jehangir in order to procure power for herself.

The two protagnists clash over the need to hold on to power and the book very ably touches on their personalities and their circumstances as they manipulate their way to power. 

The circumstances that result in building of the Taj Mahal, is yet another element in the story.

What works:

  • It is apparent that De Silva has a big job on his hands, handling two powerful protagnists, at the same time keep focus on the famous monument but it is well done.
  • I loved the way the story swiftly encapsulates the rise of the mughal empire in a few paragraphs paving the way for the Shah Jahan bit of the story. The story also rounds off with the entry of the British, as the reader is only too aware of how the British will end up winning power eventually.
  • The story takes off after a few hundred pages and the De Silva's good story telling comes to fore when we see the various obstacles that Shah Jahan has to face before he becomes the king.
  • The author also shapes shah jahan's personality quite well and marks the changes in him after he becomes an emperor. 
  • Noor Jehan's character is also well etched she works her way through a male dominated society. Her transition from a clever lady of court to a power hungry empress to a desperate aging queen is very well narrated.
What doesn't:

  • The book starts off on a slow note but picks up pace after a good 100-200 pages into it. 
  • It feels that De Silva took his time outlining the story but suddenly realised he was losing a lot of ink and rushed to tie up loose ends and get to the end.

Apart from that, a great story about the mughal period. Alex rutherfurd has a similar series that covers the entire mughal period starting from Babur to Aurangzeb.

This one is a lot better. It leaves you educated and entertained and makes it well worth your while for picking it up.

Friday, 10 July 2015

So long, farewell...
...And so my daughter is at school on the last day of her academic year. How quickly has time sped by! I remember doing a post about her first day at reception and here I am writing about the last day of the school year already!

I just got back from the last assembly at Cheeky's school, also called the leaver's assembly for the final year children. I have a long way to go before I join those parents, gripping the tissue and holding back tears. Nevertheless, it was an emotionally charged atmosphere, offering a peek into how the school celebrated its wards and wished them luck for future.

It took me back to my days at a similar primary school. I remember feeling very secure and confident and some of my best childhood memories stem from that school. I recall it as a place that celebrated me as a star and doused me with affection. I suppose these year 6 kids must feel the same. Their camaraderie with their teachers was quite obvious, especially as teachers choked over their words with emotion when talking about their pupils.

What was touching was Cheeky's class teacher's speech, also leaving the school for personal reasons. She told us parents that we could not have chosen a better place for our kids education. Her emotions were evident when she talked about how the school supported her and her family through some tough times.It was reassuring to see the staff value the school, also a reflection of the school's treatment of its assets.

It was indeed a familial atmosphere where boxes of tissues were generously passed around when leavers stood up to sing their friendship song. The words were so apt for the occasion that it touched many a dispassionate heart.

Sitting through the speeches, the songs, the surge of emotions, I felt a sense of peace.

I have chosen the right school for my little girl.