Monday, 23 November 2015

Tales of Murder and Mystery - Susan Howatch
A fascinating set of stories from a great storyteller.

I love Howatch. She has an amazing way of fleshing out characters, equipping them with the most bizarre qualities yet make them seem so believable.

Except for The High Flyer, I have loved all her books. In this set there are three great stories. The first one is a bit of a period story whereas the other two are set in a more modern period. But there is timelessness to it all. After all, she is dealing in human frailites and the psychology of the mind. The stories reveal that though we may have become modern in our lifestyle and attire, the human mind is the same.


The Shrouded Walls is about a young bride who gets married for convienience. Just as she is about to fall in love with him, she finds herself in a wierd set of circumstances where she doesn't know if she can trust the husband after all.

The second story is about a set of twins - one good the other bad. April is the bad twin who wreaks havoc in her sister's marriage and is reported to have taken off. No one realises she is missing and when the search gets underway, it takes the reader through many secrets before getting to the revelation.

The third story is my favourite. It is about witchcraft masquerading as a nature foods society and how it affects the people who come in contact with it.

What works:
  • The stories more or less have a pattern. Do you really know the person you love? How circumstances can trust your faith and love in a person.
  • Howatch's characters are a bit weird but they are distinct. You can identify their traits and wonder how Howatch manages to get them act the way they do.
  • She keeps the pace very well. I was hooked with the last story where I wanted to know if Tristan will win his way after all. The way she presents the denouement is a masterstroke of a gifted story teller.
  • The language is so fluid that it just carries the story along without any bumps or hiccups.

What doesn't:

There isn't anything.

A great read. Howatch is a master of the story whether it is the long form - novel or the crispier version - short story.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Last Dance and other stories - Victoria Hislop

photo courtesy:
A glimpse into Greece life.

Having been to this fascinating place, I was intrigued by this book which offered a glimpse into the Greeks and their way of life.

I am mesmerised by the country, I have to admit. Despite their troubling economy, the place is very tourist friendly, rich in history and a fantastic getaway.

After all, the Greeks were said to be the most innovative in their time apart from being the oldest civilisations in the world. Besides, for me, another clincher is their similarity with the Indian cultures in terms of good food and close families.

So I picked it up with the idea of reading about a much loved place. As has become a habit, I checked the reviews and found quite a few that were not too encouraging. It was time to check it out and decide for myself.

What works:
  • The pages instantly transport you to where the islands come to life during the tourist season and where life buzzes in the most remote islands.
  • Greek words used in abundance reflecting the writer's comfort and confidence in the place and its culture.
  • The stories are pleasant to read and offer a sneak peak into the Greek way of life.
What doesn't:
  • Though the stories give you a slice of the people and the way they function, the stories leave you feeling a bit shortchanged.
  • Apart from the Greek flavour, the stories do not offer much in terms of plot.
  • Though some of the stories I really enjoyed, there were some that left me hanging there wondering where was Hislop going with it.
 Hislop has based a lot of her books in Greece which has been won much appreciated. However, these set of stories do not satiate the curiosity that is piqued by its promising cover.

Pick up one of her novels instead.

The Visitor's Book and other ghost stories - Sophie Hannah

photo courtesy:
A spooky read just as the jacket promises.

The title suggests a fairly ordinary set of stories with a touch of "spookiness" to it with the inclusion of "ghost stories".

Sophie Hannah is known for her  crime thrillers. I haven't read any and this was my first. It was a delighful introduction to the writer and her style.

I was looking for something racy and fast paced and this fit the bill well.


There are about 3 or 4 novellas in it. The settings are perfectly ordinary, a woman visiting her boyfriend's house, a woman waiting at the school playground at pick up time, a birthday party at a house.

The locations are very ordinary and the beginning is quite ordinary too. What makes a difference is the way the story progresses and takes it to a whole new level.

What works:
  • It is a slim volume, easily finished in a sitting or so. 
  • Gripping. Within sentences Hannah, has you feverishly turning the pages to find out where is this leading.
  • Very plot driven and thrilling.
  • The settings are very believable and ordinary yet they pave way for something unexpected.
What doesn't:
  • These stoeis are snippets so it feels like fast food really. Hunger is satisfied but the craving is still there. I reckon I will be turning to her novels for a full course meal.
  • They race through the plot taking it to a conclusion. Sometimes it leaves you a bit cold. 
  • The stories though believable, do leave you with a bit of a question mark  in the end.

Having said that, this is what is expected of a short story isn't it? Building up the atmosphere from a familial setting to the high point where the story ends. These stories read like classic short stories that follow the textbook pattern. Once I got to the end, I read back to find out how she did it and upon analysis, ended up enjoying them even more.

What more can a reader ask for?

Commercially, the timing couldn't have been better. The book is the ideal size for a stocking filler.

Saturday, 14 November 2015


There is nothing more intoxicating for a writer than a word of praise that says - "Good job!"

Recently I had submitted a piece for "The Child Within"contest to an online magazine- Writer's Ezine.

The entry was for the their Children's Day edition that had me revisiting some wonderful memories.

Sometime back,  I got a notification saying my piece had been selected for publication. The issue is out today.

Open a new window and paste this link onto it to access the write up:

Thanks to Aarti Honrao of Writer's Ezine. This is my first accolade in blogsphere.

It will always be special!

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Housework? How boring!

My trips to India are quite an eye opener ; a reflection of the changing mindset of the Indian society.

During a visit sometime back, I had a very interesting conversation with a lady, - my husband's maths teacher. P has a soft corner for her. She had coached him at a crucial stage (read SSC, HSC) and he claims she is responsible for inculcating a perpetual love for academics in  him.

Anyway, so we made it a point to drop by her house. Since, I was meeting her for the first time, this is how our conversation went:

" what do you do?"

"Full time mum to two kids." said I, looking at my two boisterous darlings.

"Oh..." I realised somewhere, I lost grades for that reply.

"What have you studied?" I knew she was making up her mind about me. A lot hinged on this question.

"Masters degree in English lit and Journalism. I was a TOI journalist in my former lifetime!"

A slight nodding of head there.  "Right....and you gave it all up to stay at home?"

Was that a sneer? I was not sure. I was busy trying to think of some repartee to counter it.

"Yes and I don't regret it." At least most of the time, I said to myself silently.

" it nice where you live? Do you get servants there at all?" she asked raising an eyebrow.

"Yes, it is lovely. But no servants. Never felt the need to employ one," returned I with a reply.

"What? Who does the housework then?" bounced back the question accompanied by a flabbergasted look.

"I help her out. She does the cooking. I do the cleaning. Between us, we are a good team," P stepped into the conversation.

"Really!" she said making it sound like a preposterous thought.

photo courtesy:
Why was that so astonishing, I thought.

True, house help for the domestic chores are now a given in every Indian household. Though I envy it occasionally, I don't regret the lack of help. I like to think this has made me more self reliant and capable of handling domestic chores.

Crucially, I would not have worked my way through household chores so confidently if I had help around.

So back to the story. Walking back, P filled me in more about the teacher.

Apparently in her heyday, she held classes starting from 5 in the morning till 8 am after which the children headed for school. The classes resumed after school and went on till late in the evening. Her classes were full on even during important festivals like Diwali, inviting the ire of many parents.

But she remained popular because she "guaranteed" success (well, more or less!). It was therefore not difficult to understand, that for her servants were a given. After all she would have found them invaluable for for a smooth family life.

Nonetheless, I find this disdain for domestic chores increasingly common. Perhaps education and career prospects have made domestic chores look like a waste of time. Often time is cited as a reason. But often help are employed just to avoid doing it themselves. The general notion is it is not worthy of one's time when you can get someone to do it.

It has always puzzled me and I look for reasons to understand it. More so, because though help is available, it does not come cheap nor is reliable. There are days when the servants do a no-show, leaving the house in chaos. The economics of it, is also quite interesting. The domestic servants educate their children to get them more skillful jobs. This results in a shortage of domestic help which in turn leads to pay hikes to keep them on.

Often at a get together of my mum's friends, talk invariably turns to a common refrain - servants.

"Did yours come today? Mine didn't."

"She wanted time off just when I have hordes of guests turning up at my place! I had to pay extra to coax her into coming to do the dishes!"

To which someone said:

"At least she is around. My maid has asked for a pay rise or is threatening to leave!"

That's the catch, isn't it. If you have someone to come in, they can leave you you in the lurch too. But at least for someone like me, there is no scope for such "betrayal".

photo courtesy: firstclass
I take a quick look round the room. The layer of dust is getting thicker on the windowsill. The floor has dark patches in some places and the sink is crying out, "Help, I am full!"

Oh, for the joys of having a maid!

Lo and behold! I transform into one.

If You Don't Know Me By Now - Satnam Sanghara

photo courtesy:
A great memoir that is brutally honest and entertaining.

Looking at the jacket cover, I thought it was some whining Indian ranting about grappling with the "Indianness and the Britishness". This was that and much more.

I found it to be a great read, a brutal account (I wonder what the family had to say) and an entertaining style.

Right from the first page, the author is honest about what he is about to do. He introduces the reader to the family and but what happens next is the author confronting his family about his need to branch out. But the book also operates on various levels and this is what adds value to it.


When the author is is in his 20s, he discovers that his sister and his father are suffering from schizoprenia. What happens then is a journey of finding out how the family particularly his mother, who is caught in the vortex, dealt with it. The story also examines Sanghara's relationship with his mother, how his need for her approval thwarts his relationships.

What works:

  • The style is great and the content is packaged so well.
  • It works on many levels. It talks about being a Sikh in the 1970s, the duality of living in a traditional household while embracing a modern lifestyle.On the other hand, it is deeply personal about a man in his 20s unearthing deep family secrets and trying to come to terms with it.
  • The narrative is extremely engaging. It is bold - after all sharing personal life in a book is not easy. It is brutal - the author is honest and does not mince words. It is also entertaining - the drama of how his mum accepts the letter and what she has to say about it is very well done.

What doesn't:

  • The book works completely. However, as is the case in such accounts, you often wonder how much of it is staged. At least with fiction you never worry about such things. But when it comes dressed as a memoir, it leaves one speculating, much of it is packaged.
  • However, the book is great. This is clearly one of the best non fiction books I have read this year. Having read the author's second book as well, I have bookmarked him and will be looking out for the his later works too.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Silent Witness - Richard North Patterson

photo courtesy:
A superb thriller that kept me up at night.

After a long time, I relished a crime thriller that forced me to get to bed early, just so I could turn a few more pages before I turned in.

My previous Patterson book Escape the Night was a disappointment, Although, I had read too many Patterson books to give up on him, I was a bit sceptical when I started this one.

The Gist:

Anthony Lord, a successful lawyer is called back to his hometown when a close friend seeks his help. Returning to the hometown means confronting the ghosts of his past; the unresolved murder of his girlfriend  where he is the main suspect.
Lord is forced to come back after his friend Sam, an assistant principal is a suspect in the murder of a teenage girl Marcia Calder.
Things turn murky as Lord finds himself oscillating between his ordeal of years ago and trying to focus on helping his friend.

What works:
  • Patterson has a way of getting into the skin of the character and outlaying his plot so skillfully.
  • It was easy to imagine Lord's situation and relate to it, yet the pace and the suspense elements were maintained so well.
  • Although it boils down to a courtroom case, Patterson takes you in to the back scenes and explains out how it pans for those concerned. 
  • The courtroom scenes were a treat to read. You could imagine sitting in the courtroom and watch the drama unfold.
  • The suspense is well maintained and is a killer when it is revealed in the end.

What doesn't:
  • It took me a bit to get into it, but perhaps it was because of my block and less due to the writer.

A great read, cannot recommend highly enough. For a guilty pleasure reading, this is one courtroom thriller you will love to be lost in.

The Flying Man - Roopa Farooki


It  is not often that you come across a novel that is screams quality and yet you feel slightly out of depth with it. I felt that way with this one.

Roopa Farooki is a name that I have come across before although this was the first time I was reading her. She has a way with words and is amazing at describing the most difficult situations.

Being a major fan of Indian writers, I knew this was one writer to look out for. Therefore when flying man caught my eye on the library shelf, I was determined to give it a go.


The story is about Maqil Karam, a man of many names, identities and addresses. It takes us through the building of the personality, right from his childhood, to the time when he grows up and ventures outside the family fold. Throughout we are told how the character thinks, his wanderlust, his inability to stick to a place or a wife and what happens to him in the end.

To be honest, I had other expectations from the book. I mistook the book to be about this guy who is a swindler and a crook.I was hoping to read about his exploits. Howeve,r the story is more about the effect it has on his family and the people he leaves behind.

Not finding what I had expected, it quelled my curiosity a bit. However, half way through the book, I happened to read an interview of Farooki about the book. The interview talked about how Farooki had drawn inspiration from real life - her father. Karam was her father who walked in and out of Farooki's mother and her siblings lives, often leaving them to fend for themselves.

Farooki took pains to explain that it was loosely based on her dad but the plot was original. When I picked up the book in the light of the interview, somehow it made more sense and illuminated the reading experience.

I enjoyed the second half of the book especially the characters of Samira and the twins. The writing style has always been great but now that I had the context to the plot, it made the reading more enjoyable.

What works:
  • A great story. Farooki's narrative technique kept me going even I wasn't interested in the story.
  • However, once I got the background story, the book became more enjoyable as it was easier to see Farooki's perspective.
  • The way in which Farooki's describes the effect Karam's nature has on Samira and the kids is said subtly and the emotions are quite understated. I suppose that is the reason why they had a profound effect on me.
  • The hindsights and the justification that Karam comes up with are quite spot on. Despite drawing heavily from real life, Farooki manages to give Karam a very unique personality.
What doesn't:
  • The jacket cover leads one to believe that the book is a spicy masala story about swindles and scams. On the contrary, it is more a tale of domesticity. I was misguided by a pre conceived notion and ended up feeling a bit disappointed. Thankfully, once I got the perspective, it became a more promising read.
This is her fifth novel and I safely say now that I enjoyed. it. I have come to admire Farooki's writing. Definitely looking forward to featuring more of her books on the blog.