Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories - PD James

photo courtesy:
A superb collection of stories by the master storyteller.

I have always admired James' crime stories. This collection is a testimony to that and here there is not one but about a set of four that showcase how good she is at what she does.

Apparently, these stories were commissioned to be included during christmas time in newspapers. These four gems have been taken out of archives to be published as a book.

Her preface offers an insight into what a short story must do. It reflects her methodical approach bearing in mind the various elements to consider when writing a short story. Brilliant - and for a student of the craft - invaluable.


Mistletoe murder is about a widow being invited to a strange country house for christmas, the second is about an illicit affair that goes wrong. The Boxdale Inheritance is where Dalgeish makes an appearance and stays on to highlight the twelve clues of christmas. 

What works:
  • The stories showcase her ability as a good storyteller. They are atmospheric, strange yet they highlight the human tendency and the way the mind works when provoked to commit a crime.
What doesn't:
  • A few more stories would have really made it a reader's dream come true.

The other Child - Lucy Atkins

A compelling thriller with a great plot.

I have been reading a lot of thrillers lately and somehow they seem to centre around domesticity. It is amazing how these writers churn out thrillers from the mundane domestic lives. But then that is what makes a good writer. I had never heard of this author before but I liked the premise. 

I looked her up and found this was her first book but her approach felt quite "different"  and refreshing to other writers. 


Tess is a photographer and mum to Joe. She meets Grey, a paediatric  surgeon and falls in love with him. Things move fast when becomes pregnant and they decide to marry. She decides to fold up her life in the UK and moves to the States to be with him. However, things don't go to plan. She finds adjusting difficult and Greg too distant. Weird things start happening around the house and secrets are waiting to tumble out of the closet.Tess needs to find out what it is and whether it was worth building this new life.

What works:
  • The writing style. It is compelling and forces you to stick to it. I was reading an Elizabeth George novel alongside and had to abandon it to get to the end of this gripping story.
  • The plot. I am always fascinated by the English and the Americans. Atkins brings out the cultural differences so well and perceptibly so.
  • The characters are strong. Tess and Greg are great protagnists and it is very easy to relate to them. Atkins uses lack of communication so well to build tension in the story. 
  • What was also different was the ending. It results in Tess making a choice. I loved the way it ended, which gave the story a very contemporary feel to it. 

What doesn't:
  • Halfway through the book, the plot was becoming slightly predictable and it felt like Atkins was creating suspense and twists to confuse things. Thankfully, when the confrontation and action takes over and made for a superb rollercoaster ride.
For me, a basic criteria for a good book is that it should keep me hooked. This one did and quite enjoyably so. Since her next book is out only next year, I am on a lookout for her debut novel. 


Friday, 9 December 2016

The Private Life of Mrs Sharma - Ratika Kapur

photo courtesy:
A fantastic read by a fresh voice

Indian fiction is an alltime favourite and each time I discover a new voice, it is exciting, thrilling even. This book has been a happy discovery. I found it on the shelf marked new reads at our local library. The inital chapter blew me over and a quick search told me that this book was much talked about and the writer was said to be a promising talent to watch out for.


Although the first chapter suggests otherwise, Mrs Radhika Sharma is a married working woman who reflects a blend of tradition values and modern aspirations. She is unapologetic and it is her strong voice that moves the story forward. However, there comes a point when the personal and the duty collide leading Mrs Sharma to make a tough choice. 

What works:

  • The title is so enticing that it adds to the curiosity factor and the thin volume suggests a tight plot with no meanderings.
  • The monologue that opens the book is so strong and powerful that it had me hooked. The voice is strong, yet is Indian in tone and mentality. 
  • The character of Renuka is so relatable. She is aspirational yet bound by traditions. She represents the modern Indian woman and the plot is reflective of today's generation.

What doesn't:
  • The ending was disappointing. After a mindblowing start, a promising plot, the finale is a bit of a disappointing. The story ends with a abrupt ending which though unexpected is not satiating. It could have ended better.
Overall, a great change from stories that celebrate the poverty and the helplesssness of the Indian middle class. The book is positive, optimistic despite the struggles faced by the protagnist.

A great read.Recommended.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The Tea Planter's Wife - Dinah Jefferies

photo courtesy:
An atmospheric read.

I love Srilanka and enjoy reading about it even more. Therefore, it did not take me a lot to pick up this book. I was taken in more so by the cover.  What a colourful and an eye catching cover! The premise only added to the already building curiosity and was only too happy to devour it while on holiday.


Gwen, an England bred woman marries Laurence and comes to live with him on his tea plantation in Sri Lanka. The newly wed bride finds herself in a strange culture, trying to understand her husband who seems distant.

Things move along fine until Gwen faces a unique dilemma which forces her to make a decision that could break or make her marriage.
Does she make the right one or or does she pay for a choice made at the spur of the moment.

What works:
  • A great story. Jefferies has a great plot that she builds on. It was amazing to read the kind of research she undertook to get to the skin of the story. 
  • The writing. The first page itself pulls you in and forces you to keep reading. The narrative is so smooth and fluid that the reader just flows with it.
  • The characters. Gwen is such an interesting character and her struggles seem so real that the reader feels kinship with her right away.
  • Some of the descriptions are so vivid that it is almost as if it is unfolding before your eyes. I could easily visualise the plantation, the waterfalls. Indeed an evocative read.
What doesn't:
  •  Jefferies tackles the Tamil Sinhalese unrest so well and also the imperialism of the time. However, she does not delve much into it. Fair enough, the focus of the story is not political but personal but it left the reader feeling a bit shortchanged on the political unrest of the time.

A great read. I am already looking around for more titles by the author.

Monday, 24 October 2016

No Safe Zone - Competition

This flash fiction post was written for a competition hosted by the author of No Safe Zone, Adite Banerjie.

The theme is: “What does safe zone mean to you.”  Share a moment/incident/episode where you felt you were in a "No Safe Zone". It could be an anecdote, short story, poem, haiku or essay. Feel free to give it your own twist. As long as you use the words “No Safe Zone” somewhere in the post.

The Refugee

The tourists walking along the European shore, invariably cast their eyes on him.

His colourful array of bracelets and necklaces are striking and hard to ignore. It is only when their gaze travels to the dark skinned stranger selling them, that it registers – his faded light blue long tunic and wide trousers does not suggest “local”. His desolate, deep set eyes speaks volumes, but no one is interested. 

Some stop by to examine his wares, others walk past.

It is the rocks along the sea that claims their attention. They stand mesmerised by the splashing waves hitting the rocks with a vengeance and drenching it completely.  It impels the adventurous to scale these massive stones, feeding their sense of achievement, and capture it for posterity on lens.

The complacent ones are satisfied to click around, to take in the beauty of the waves and the huge rocks lining the shore. Many would venture as far as the foot of the sea, dip their toes in, taking them out in an instant, claiming the water was too cold for them.

The vendor is enamoured by the sea too; only he views it differently. Not an adrenaline challenge, for him, it is a perilous path to safety.

He closes his eyes and feels the icy wind and cold splashes, cut through the skin. 

He recalls battling the treacherous waters on a rickety boat, leaving behind everything he owned and his home - now branded a “No Safe Zone”.

You can buy the book from HERE or HERE

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

A New Dawn - Sudha Balagopal
warm hearted, feel-good debut.

It is fun to discover new writers and this debut was a delight.

I have read some of Sudha's short stories before and admire the way she infuses feelings to elevate ordinary situations.

Thanks to the author and the publishers for sending me the ARC in return for an honest review.


Usha is a 48-year-old woman who has lost her husband. Being used to his controlling, decisive presence she is still coming to terms to a new lifestyle. Years of habit have made it difficult to accept that new independence. Married at an young age and becoming a mother soon after, Usha has always lived in her husband's shadow. She wonders if her older, mature self can have a second shot at companionship, this time, on her own terms.

She decides to sign herself up on an online dating site to see if it works for her. Does she manage to find that true love or does she fall prey to a predator?

What works:
  • The writing. The opening chapter is compelling and very vivid. The opening scene gives an insight into Usha's nature and the reason she was put into that situation. It is a very powerful opening scene that takes the narrative forward.
  • The characters. They sound real and very easy to empathise. Usha sounds a bit dated but her insecurities and character are so heartwarming. Raja is also another character that is etched well. My favourite, though is Marcy.
  • The plot. It is quite straightforward and there are no major twists there. What makes it work is the compelling narrative and the insight into the mindset of a bereaved partner.
What doesn't:
  • Sometimes it feels like a short story has been stretched into a novel.
But having said that, it is a quick read with a good writing style that caters to the contemporary reader.

A well written weekend read.

When the Swings fall silent....

When the Swings fall silent..

The silence at the swings is deafening, forlorn,
As if their hearts from the bodies lay torn,

Waiting in vain for the shrieks and cries,
Of restless bodies jumping in, swinging high,

It is a long wait through the bleak winter,
Driving the children indoors to linger

No more fresh air, the mothers moan,
The swing is their respite, they groan

When the kids run and roam in glee,
There is mirth and enjoyment for free

When holed up in a concrete box,
They succumb to the lure of the x-box

Alas! Kids are busy improving scores,
Stepping out is now becoming a chore

The lonely swing calls out in a desperate bid,
Amid scary talks of a new build;

If the children do not come out soon,
The swings have to make way for more roofs.

Just when hopes are about to slither and die,
Look! The winter is bidding goodbye,
Heralding the brightening, warm sky

All is well as Summer beckons clear;
Followed by their rustling feet and loud cheer!

Sunny weekend by the Brighton seaside

Sea gulls. That is what I woke up to in Brighton where we went on a bank holiday weekend. 

I will forever associate Brighton with the sound of it. This was a novelty for a landlocked person like me, a constant reminder that we were by the sea.

The seaside swarming with people making the most of a glorious day.
Brighton was a beautiful discovery. Perhaps the weather had a part to play in it. Under the glorious sunshine with the temperature hitting a warm chord, this seaside town seemed like the ideal place to be.

Walking down the promenade, the Brighton Pier was a great sight, filled with rides and amusements galore. Spending some time in, we decided to walk down, biting into ice creams. It tastes best on a beach! 

The Lanes in Brighton. photo
Brighton has a buzz to it and that is not only because of its Pier. It has something for everyone. Carousels for kids, arts and souvenirs for shoppers or tons of food options for the gastronomic tourist. But we realised that it is so imporant for the weather to stay good. 

Day 1 the weather was a treat and it was bliss to be out there. 

Day 2, there was a sharp contrast. Gloomy day, blustery weather forced us to beat a hasty retreat indoors making us realise how lucky we were to have enjoyed he sun the day before. 

However, Day 3 was once again good. We went looking for The Lanes, a beautiful cobbled street alleyway that took you to some offbeat shops. We soon found they did not have much to offer us.
i360 British Airways - a newly opened tourist attraction 

We did get on the i360, the newly opened tourist attraction by British Airways. It is similar to the London eye in terms of concept only this looks like a spaceship moving upwards in a linear fashion, showing off an aerial view of the city while pampering you with its inhouse bar as you take in the view. 

This is a newly opened tourist attraction that opened only weeks before and is steadily gaining popularity among tourists. Personally, we were struck by the novelty of it all. Having done it once, I do not think we will be doing it again. I remember reading about the Brighton Wheel which was pulled down this summer after some controversy and I thought this was intended to replace it. Apparently some zip wires will be put up soon. Good for us. Something else to check out the next time then!

Walking down the lanes we spotted a familiar structure and out of curiosity checked it out.
The Royal Pavilion. Its Indian architecture caught our eye.

It looked Indian and soon I was looking around to check out its back story. Walking around it we were struck by its intricate architecture and its mammoth size reminiscent of the iconic Taj Mahal. The suspense was soon revealed when we spotted a plaque that said that was a gift from the Indian Maharaja of Patiala to the people of Brighton. Strolling through the gardens it was easy to imagine how this place was used as a treatment place for injured soldiers before throwing it open to the public.

Riding back, we were happy to have timed our visit to the city well and will be back for more!

  • i360 - It is a one off but not a must. 
  • Walking down the promenade - A must. It gives you a feel of what the place has to offer.
  • Brighton Pier - A great place if you are a theme park fanatic. They offer some great deals on rides. But remember it can be quite time consuming. It can eat into your time especially if you are on short holiday.
  • The Lanes. A great place to walk around. However we felt it was hyped. Go there for a stroll and round it off with a meal. We went at an odd time and found there wasn't anything for us except food and antique shops. 
  • Ice-cream on the beach. A super must! especially if the sun is out.
  • We had some great crepes on the pier. The portion was so big, one was enough to bite into for us two and our two. Super tasty with a variety of options.  
Slight disappointment:

Expecting a beach, we had packed our buckets and spades hoping to build a sand castle. It is a pebbled beach with very little scope for sand and sand castles. Kids were a tad disappointed but soon perked up when they saw other attractions.

The Girl With a Clock For A Heart - Peter Swanson

Photo courtesy:
A disappointing read especially since enjoying his other book.

I read Anything Worth Killing first and was suitably impressed. The style and the technique and the guessing game was neatly done. So when I heard rave reviews about his debut novel, I was keen to duplicate my previous experience. I was disappointed.


George Foss is an average guy with nothing much going for him. One day he is visited by a former girlfriend from college. She is in trouble and needs his help. They were a great couple in college but something disastrous happens that forces them apart. Can he trust her after what she did to him in college?

What works:
  • The plot. It is compelling and keeps you wondering what would have possibly happened. Even when you are reading the story and attempt predictions, the twist still throws you off. 
  • Character of George Foss as believable as Liana's sounds bizarre. However, Swanson makes you believe in the situations and the reader goes with the flow. 
What doesn't:

  • After the brilliant suspense of Anyone Worth Killing, this one seems like a draft, a test drive to see if the devices work well. The plot pales in comparisons and it sounds as if Swanson used this as the practice run for his next book that became a bestseller. 

Overall, the style and the writing is good. Reminds you of one of those Erle Stanley Gardener novels where action and plot twists are what the stories are made of.

An OK read but as I said, I prefer the second one.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Kind Worth Killing - Peter Swanson

photo courtesy:
A great plot that grips you from the start.

I am a great fan of travel settings. There have been times when waiting at an airport I would wonder about the passengers sitting around me, wondering what stories are they carrying within themselves.

No surprise then that the premise of two passengers meeting at the airport as a point of take off for the story really appealed to me. It is a great story that sucks you in and leaves you suitably impressed.

A man and a woman meet at the airport. The man has a story to tell; about his unfaithful wife and his anger that is driving him to kill her. The woman agrees to help him. Does it happen? Do they get away with it?

What works:
  • It defines the contemporary crime thriller; totally plot driven with action from the word go.
  • The plots twists and turns are like a rollercoaster ride. Nothing is as it seems. It is also as if the author is playing around with the reader. Leading them on to one way but taking the story onto another. 
  • The characters are interesting. Their persona are distinctive and in line with the way they react to the situation.
  • Loved the way the different narrators offer their version of events allowing the reader a 360 perspective. The device works very well and effectively used here. 
What stayed with me:

The scene where the older Lily finds her younger self standing at the same point as she was years ago sharing the same secret. Later the younger one merges into the older one and they become one. Very visual and evocative.

It is hardly any surprise that the book will be made into a movie soon. Reading the book, I could easily see it as a movie. It has all the necessary spice, action and formula.

What doesn't:
  • It is a quickfix, where plot dominates. 
  • Though character is given importance, it doesn't give you the layered, holistic satisfaction that complex novels have.
  • This is a beach read, a weekend getaway that is so compelling that you can get through it in a couple of sittings.  
Read it if you are looking for a quickfix, something that is compelling without being too demanding.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The Quill and the Keyboard

The Quill and the Keyboard

It had to be now.

Picking up the creased, worn page, she unfolded it with great care.
The lines, though familiar, still took her breath away. The sharp angle, the dark letters, endorsed a meticulously honed skill. The intimate, flamboyant writing, opened a door to the author’s psyche. 

It was time to let go. She had to sever the past — break the nib, overturn the ink. 
She must cut off this emotional bond, to face the impassive future. Clenching her fist, she watched the paper crumble against the weight of her hand.  With a muted farewell, she let the bits fall. 
She turned around.

The metal monster was waiting with its jaws open. With a deep breath, she booted it to life. Tapping away furiously, she entered the cyber minefield. 

Given below is the link to the WE magazine for access to the published version:

Friday, 2 September 2016

I found you - Lisa Jewell

A gripping story from a writer getting better with each book.

I have been hooked onto Jewell's books ever since I read  The House We Grew Up In. Her books are not profound or literary. But they are a good read; they force you to get to the end of it, stopping from doing anything else.

It is easy trace her development as a writer and storyteller from her earlier books. She is getting better in terms of handling the plot and the twists. It has now become easy to predict a Jewell book and she never fails in delivering the feel-good factor.

Alice is a mum of three and runs a small business from the attic of her home, by the seaside. One day, while working, she notices a man sitting on a beach for hours together. She walks up to him and realises he has no memory. She brings him home unaware of his past, or the fact if he was safe to be in contact with her family.

Lily a new bride is looking for her husband, who suddenly goes missing. She is new to the country and has no clue where to look for him. She approaches the police only to find her husband was not what he had claimed to be.

What works:
  • Jewell is today's writer. With short sentences and crisp dialogue, she writes for the restless reader, who loves action more than description.
  • Her characters are quirky and they do bizarre things. However, she makes them so believable that you actually care to see what happens to them.
  • The writing and the plotting are so good that the initial chapters just whiz by as you shuttle back and forth in a past and present scenario.
What doesn't:
  • Although the first half is good there is a point when it becomes all predictable. 
  • Jewell builds up a great premise and the suspense has a good too. But then once the hype is revealed, it heads into a predictable zone.
  • There is a bit too much of drama and the soap opera element to it.
A great holiday read. One can be assured that in Jewell's escapist stories, the characters end up in happily ever after. 

Lovely for those loving all-becomes-well romances. 

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

House of Silk - Anthony Horowitz
A contemporary story about the great maverick detective.

I have associated Horowitz with children's books and was pleasantly surprised to discover that he had written a screenplay for a lot of crime dramas  Midsomer Murders.

I was keen to see how he had handled the Sherlock Holmes series.I was more interested in reading Moriarty but I was glad that I got to this one first since it was the first in the series.


Holmes is dead, Watson is in a care home and he writes this story from there. The story goes in flashback from when he comes from dead at the falls. They settle down to normal life. Watson is married and once when his wife is away visiting, he meets up with Sherlock. He finds himself on time as a visitor comes calling at their door. leading way to another mystery for them to solve.

What works:
  • Horowitz's grasp of the Doyle style is good. It reminded me so much of the master storyteller and Horowitz had clearly imbibed the original Holmes series . 
  • It was easy to see flashes of Doyle characters make their way into the characters in the new series.
  • The story is action oriented such that you have to be alert lest you miss out an important development.
What doesn't:

  • It is dark and while there is not much poetic justice as with the original series.

Overall it is a good read and has prompted me to look for more of Horowitz and his Sherlock stories.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Playing It My Way, My Autobiography - Sachin Tendulkar

photo courtesy:
A book about a man who lives and loves the game.

It is no surprise that Sachin's autobiography made it to the Limca Book of Records. For someone who is considered "The God of Cricket" the autobiography is bound to generate interest and expectations.

But does it live up to it?

I am not a fan of cricket. I love Sachin though and was curious to find out more about the person behind the Superhero avataar. The contents chronicles interesting points of his life including his marriage to Anjali, his wife. Sounded good, settled in for a long haul.


Sachin takes us through his childhood, his first break and then his entry into international cricket. It chronicles his highs and lows and the struggles that went behind his mystical persona wielding the willow at the crease and churning out records. The book is packed with photographs and ends with his retirement speech.

What works:
  • The book feeds the reader's curiosity about how this cricketer meteoric rise from humble beginnings. It traces his rise from a rookie player to the doyen of international cricket he subsequently became. 
  •  The writing is good and the narrative is so smooth that it wades through each phase of his life with ease. Well written.
  • I have not followed his career closely but for those who have, will feel like walking down the key- Tendulkar-moments lane. 
  • It is funny how Tendulkar admits his superstitions - like not watching the last ball of their World Cup win or eating at the same table twice/thrice in a row to invite luck. Amazing that such a great player resorts to such antics instead of his skill. It goes on to show how desperate these guys are at the top. 
  • There is a bit of self congratulating when he talks about how he figured out Murali's Doosra before the players. But then, it shows how good he is at the game too. 
  • It is commendable how he talks about injuries during matches. We as spectators see only the performance and not the grit of these players who battle various injuries to play the game.

What doesn't:
  • If  you are looking for gossip and masala about controversies, Tendulkar and Majumdar steer clear of it. 
  • There are some titbits, though, like the instance of Bhajji-Symonds spat, that is the extent of it. Match fixing allegations or the Chappell episode are just glanced over. The book is not a hotbed of gossip where Tendulkar settles scores or voices resentments. 
  • The most he does it is lay out his disappointment with Dravid for not letting him complete his double century, but he talks of it like .
  • Couldn't understand the point of having the scoreboard of the matches mentioned. But then I am a cricket novice.
The farewell speech was touching, so was the reaction of his family. I remember waiting to hear about Tendulkar's retirement, thinking he was past his best. I was relieved when he finally did. However, reading about it made me realise how tough it must have been for him .

It is a well written book about someone who thought of cricket and nothing else.This book reflects just that.

Monday, 15 August 2016

The Mahabharata Code - Karthik K B Rao

An intelligent tweak to the ever popular Indian epic.

Looking at Indian fiction shelves, the mythological genre has never been more popular. No wonder then there is an upsurge of books exploring the famous Mahabharata epic from various angles. A lover of the genre, I feel however, Mahabharata and Ramayana have been explored too much to my liking. 

Therefore my initial reaction to this one: Gosh, not another one!" But you couldn't deny that the premise was intriguing. A past-present concept coupled with a bit of science fiction with a sprinking of truth distilled from the Geeta. was compelling enough to apply for a review copy on the Book Blog tour. 

Narayana Rao, a NASA scientist goes on the Mars with his team after they receive mysterious signals. He ends up participating in the reenacting of the Mahabharata with Vyas as the mastermind. His son is groomed to be Krishna and then events unfold where technology and manipulation force Narayana Rao to question his beliefs and his mind.

What works:
  • The concept. Rao uses technology and contemporary language to present his version of Mahabharata. The style is fluid and smooth and his version of the events in the epic work.
  • The language. I read a review saying that the language was far too informal. But for me, that was the USP. It drew me into the story and empathise with Rao as he explains the dilemma of  growing up in a different country, yet rooted in Indian mythology and ethos.
  • It is very easy to identify with the character as he talks about the lifestyle and mindset indicative of today's generation. It has shades of humour, yet is philosophical in nature.  
  • Also, it is noteworthy, how Rao uses technology explain mystical events. It is bizarre and preposterous but Rao makes it work with language and compelling narrative.
  • My favourite was the exchange between Shristi and Narayana Rao. The conversation about materialism and its value was very well done. Also, The distilled truth from the Gita is presented so well and in a matter of fact style here.
What doesn't:
  • Nothing really. The fact that the author managed to convey the essence of heavy dose scripture in such a simple, effective format is quite impressive for a debut author. Obviously the subject is close to his heart; it reflects in the book too. 

Overall, The Mahabharata Code is lighthearted and entertaining at one level. At another, it makes you think and re-read chapters and ponder over it.

For me, that is a good package and a cracking read.

Recommended for anyone  who appreciates good writing, self deprecating humour and a good story.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Vikram Rana investigates - Sharmistha Shenoy

An interesting thriller set in Hyderabad.

Like the author states on her bio-profile, I love reading thrillers too. So I jumped at the chance to review this book when it came through tbcblogtours. 

Indian whodunnits are something I have watched more on TV. I was looking forward to the reading experience.

This book held promise. It has not one but two crime stories. Terse, compact and plunging right into action, these plot driven stories offer a fascinating insight into the high society and its inhabitants.

The protagnist Vikram Rana reminded me of Rowling's Cormoran Strike, both embarking on their first case after a stint elsewhere. But that is where the similarity ends. Rana is a more conventional and stable character than Strike.


Vikrama Rana is an ex-cop turned detective. He lands his first case when a close friend calls on him to solve a murder. To get to the killer, Rana will have to wade through murky secrets and lies, while trying to balance a feisty domestic front.

What works:
  • The setting. This is the USP of the novel. I loved the way Shenoy infuses the story with Hyderabadi names, food and flavour. What sets a thriller apart for me, is the setting and the backdrop. This book scores on that count.
  • The protagnist. Vikram Rana is an interesting character with his own set of vices. His relationship with his wife and their domestic banter is portrayed very well. It is interesting how Shenoy had etched out the two characters. Only wish Gopi Reddy had such a distinct persona as well. The stories change but these characters will remain constant through the series. Developing these characters better through each murder case will add value to the series.
  • The suspects. Shenoy lays out an interesting set of characters in each of her cases. They represent different social strata and contribute to the story in their own way. 
  • A fast track read. The stories are quick and compelling perfect for today's restless readers. 
What doesn't:
  • The story is action oriented and focused towards containing the reader's attention. However, the plot twists could have been worked better and the characters could have a bit more depth. 
Barring few typo errors, the book is like a quick snack. An ideal travel companion for those holiday weekends.

Detective aficionados will like this more.

Disclaimer: I received a copy from the author in return for an honest review.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Kabali - The Hype and the review

photo courtesy:
I arrived in the city just in time when the city was in a frenzy- the Kabali frenzy.

The moment I stepped into the city, posters, radio commericals, newspapers stories launched a visual, audible assault - left, right and centre. This "superstar movie" was the hottest thing in town and the topic of any conversation everywhere.

Everybody was making a beeline for the movie, It did not matter how good or bad it was, you just had to watch it - such was the hype surrounding it.

So, when I got the chance to watch this movie a day after its release, I thought, I couldn't have timed my visit better.

Determined to enjoy the movie despite bad reviews. I told myself it was the hype letting the movie down. But on the other hand, if it weren't for it, I do not think I would have bothered.


Kabali, a tamil gangster in Malaysia comes out of prison at the end of his sentence. He vows to take revenge on people who had wronged him. The reasons unfold as the movie progresses and we get to know Kabali - the messiah of the masses and tragic scars that he carries with him.

What works:
  • Rajnikanth - the only star who still has the power to pull people into the theatres. He is a true superstar with a following that many envy. His style and antics are what people wait for and he delivers.
  • The grandeur. Some of the malaysia shots are so breathtaking. The greenery and the city shots are so good that it made me want to visit the country. 
  • The first half of the movie is better. The cliff hanger on which the interval came on, left me thinking, perhaps people were too hasty in their judgement.
  • The movie is good in places. The build up to a certain element is satisfactory. It keeps the viewer engaged but then the story falls flat and then goes haywire. 
  • Kabali's strength lies in the women in his life. Loved that angle, which showed off the vulnerable and sensitive side of the gangster.
  • Thankfully, Rajnikanth is shown in an age-appropriate role instead of the "superman" who can whip up a storm by stirring up some leaves with his foot.
What doesn't:
  • The story. It is a safe, revenge story packed with the potential for Rajni to show off. Unfortunately, the star is much bigger than the story. There is only so much Rajni you can take, after that you need a tight story with a good flow to enjoy the film. That is when the disappointment creeps in.
  • The superstar is ageing and it shows. What came naturally off the bat, requires a a lot of effort here. The punchy dialogues and style though classy, look forced.
  • Mindless,gory violence. So glad we left the kids behind. Shooting and killing are part of any gangster story but here, it seemed senseless after a point. The villain was shot thrice at close range and still managed to fight back. Left me wondering what will it take to bump him off totally! 
  • The cast. Apart from a few known faces,there are a lot of malaysian actors - bad ones at that. Especially the villain who looks like a pathetic buffoon. The poor acting does not help either.
  • Radhika Apte. I loved her in Sujoy Ghosh's Ahalya and looked forward to seeing her. She has a meaty role in the film and is very much visible (unlike some of Rajni's other heroines) but then the script fails her too. After a point, she is left doing nothing but staring down at the villain.
Overall, there are some good points which makes one think that the movie could have been much better. But then when you have Rajnikanth in the film, the pressure and the expectations move up a notch. There is no way get the balance right when it comes to the weight of this star.

Although the whistles and the claps resonated the theatre at the beginning, it fell silent as the movie progressed. There was hardly any cheering in the end when the hero thrashed the villain. Says something about about the movie, doesn't it?

As I walked out of the theatre with a hardcore Rajni fan, she said, "Rajni is so big that he will draw criticism no matter what he does." This theist fan loved the movie and stood by her star.

But for this agnostic viewer, it was a case of Dil Maange More. That did not happen.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

The Turning Point - Freya North

photo courtesy: Harper
A warm story about domestic dynamics and about accepting change.

The story is about families. We love them, we hate them but we cannot ignore them. Our identity is often defined by domestic relationships and North explores the dynamics of it all quite well in the book.

This is my first book by the author and I enjoyed it. Although it took a long time to come via goodreads and when it did, I received  not one but two copies!

Nonetheless, it was a pleasure to discover this author and her writing.


Frankie is a children's author and a single mum to Sam and Annabel and lives in Norfolk. Scott is a musician and lives with his teenage daughter Jenna in Canada. When sparks  fly between Frankie and Scott, they instantly recognise that what they have is something unique. Making it work over two continents seems like the tough part. The changes that follow as a result, transforms the two families forever.

What works:
  • A storyline that seems so real. It could  happen to anyone and the characters felt so genuine. The plot though conventional is  fresh and fraught with the realities that anyone can relate to.
  • The easy going style. The story  is simple but the way North describes; the hassle of dealing with children, the way single parents struggle to carve their lives while managing their childrens' is so good. North has kids of similar age of her own so perhaps she drew her experience from that. But her plight as a single mum is something many women can identify with, even if they are not.
  • The characters. The main characters make you feel as if you know someone like them already. I could relate to Frankie's "mummy fail" moments and her clumsiness. I loved the way Scott was introduced to Frankie's family, very warm and upfront. It was very easy to visualise christmas in the  family and the friction between Frankie and her mum.
  • Frankie's struggle with Alice. Loved the way North has shown the tug of war with her character. It makes one realise how difficult and solitary it is, to be a writer.
  • Loved the way the lilawat nation is described. I did not know Canada had its native population too and the story with its Canadian native characters offered a new refreshing insight. It enlightens the reader and adds value to the story. 
What doesn't:

The story sags a bit in the middle. Frankie invites Scott over and then she visits him, there was a point when I was wondering where was this going. It got a bit boring but when the twist happens, it really perked up the story and took it to another level.

 Overall, a warm, weepy read. However, it is the writing style and the devices in terms of the different perspectives that won me over. For me that was the highlight.


Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The Lighthouse - P D James

photo courtesy:
A reminder of why I like PD James' books.

Her books are a class in their own. It is classified as a thriller, a whodunnit but each book is a lesson in the study of human mind. This book is one of the later ones and I prefer them over the earlier ones. The story has a very contemporary feel to it and builds up a great wintry atmosphere on an island.


Combe is an isolated sanctuary for those looking to escape the ills of city life and enjoys a great reputation. However, when  a famous writer, Nathan Oliver is found dead before a top official's visit, there is an urgent need to find out the cause. Enter Adam Dagliesh and his team who get down to unearthing long buried secrets in the island to solve the case.

What works:
  • The setting is great. A secluded sparsely populated island is such a haunting place to set a thriller. James lays out the plot so well. It is convincing and effective.
  • Her characters have such weird names. Mishkin and Dagliesh - with a distinct persona to match. I love the way she paints them in different colours and keeps adding dimension with each book. You get to know them better with each story as they bring their experience to the case.
  • The story. It is simple and straightforward. But you realise that only when you get to the end. The story is shown in a different light and as light falls on their entirety of the plot, parts lead you to the whole. A great way of approaching a whodunnit.
  • The unique thing about PD James is that the reader doesn't feel like she is reading just a crime story. Every story sheds some light on human behaviour, a lesson in how the minds works. Brilliant.
What doesn't:
  • The writing style. It is full of substance but unfortunately it takes a lot out of the reader. It is demanding and the paragraphs can wear ones patience thin. That is the only problem. Although I am such a huge fan, the writing style puts me off sometimes but I hang for I know there will be nuggets of great writing, titbits of wise perspective from a lady who understands human tendencies so well.
What seemed a bit different in this book is that for once Kate and Benton took the centre stage while Adam Dagliesh stayed out of spotlight when it came to the revelation. It seemed as if Dagliesh was making way for Kate and  Benton to take over the detective mantle. Just an observation.

Overall a great read from the doyen of crime writers.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

The Bones of You - Debbie Howells

A chilling story that had me hooked till the end.

I randomly picked up this book from my local library. The jacket and the premise sounded good and good thriller always tugs my heart.

The moment I ran through the initial pages, gosh it was so compelling, I had to keep going till the end.

I was surprised to realise this was a 2015 book and heard no hype about it. Although the jacket was full of great reviews obviously a marketing strategy, this one is really good. I thought it had its place with other bestsellers slike Girl on the Train and I let you go (that is what it says on the cover). Really good.


In a sleepy picturesque village, Rosie, a quiet teenager is found missing - later her body is discovered in the woods. It rocks the local community and Kate, the neighbour of the bereaved family finds herself pulled into the situation. There are doubts and lingering feelings that she is unable to shake off. She soon finds herself right in the midst of the turbulence that uproots the family from its roots.

What works:
  • The narrative. Very powerful and from the word go, it forces you to get into the story and keep plough through various bits of information.
  • I loved how the story reveals itself as layer by layer. With each bit of information, the truth slowly floats towards the surface, a bit bizarre, unexpected yet convincing.
  • The style.There are so many perspectives and each one offers a different dimension of the situation. Very well done and well crafted.
  • The characters. The flawed and the complex thoughts of the characters are shown so well. Very interesting.
What doesn't:
  • It is a disturbing and a sinister story. I remember feeling uncomfortable, in the dark night, reading some passages. I am not sure if that was my state of mind or the amazing capability of the writer to stir emotions in her reader.
I couldn't help wondering that domestic abuse seems to be a favourite theme with crime writers these days. Of late, it seems to be the best choice for many a crime thriller plot. 

In each book though, Girl on the Train, I let you go and Bones of You, there is a different reaction to the way domestic abuse to borne by the victims. That's it, I am not saying any more lest I spoil it for you.

A superb read. I will be looking out for more from the author.

The Silkworm - Robert Galbraith

photo courtesy:
A well crafted. compelling story.

I am a major Harry Potter Fan. But when Rowling reinvented herself as Galbraith through Cuckoo's Calling, she did not find a fan in me.

I found it had too much hype and the reading experience was no where near the Harry Potter series (I have read the series twice!)

I found it hard to believe Rowling had written in and suspected some ghost writers stepping in to make it work. Cuckoo's calling seemed to be trying hard to break away from its children's fantasy genre and it took great effort, as a reader, just to get to the end.

Therefore, my reluctance to pick this one up. But once I did, I admit, I just zoomed through it. The premise is a bit bizarre and unconventional but it is convincing and the detective duo of Cormoran and Robin are a great pair of solid characters.


Cormoran is asked to locate a well known author who has gone missing. However, he ends up finding his body. Bizarrely, the author's book details his murder. The book is also controversial for he has offended many meaning there are a host of suspects, interested in bumping him off.

Cormoran who has found publicity after the Lula landry case, finds himself in the the thick of things again. Together he and Robin get to the end of the matter even as they go through upheavals on the personal front.

What works:
  • Great characters. Loved the character of Owen Quine and his wife Leonara.  They are distinct, full of flaws and have a great presence. The detective duo is also etched so well. The way they progress into the second book is good and interesting. 
  • The narrative. It is linear and does not attempt experimentation. It is smooth and fluid.
  • The plot is interesting and moves forward at a great pace. There are no boring portions and contain some very interesting twists and turns.
What doesn't:
  • There is gore and violence especially in the way the murder has been described. This can be a put off for those preferring subtle, psychological thrillers. 
Overall, it was a good read. The writing is smooth and compelled me to sit up for two consecutive nights. 

I am looking forward to picking up the latest one now.

Monday, 27 June 2016

The Italian Girl - Lucinda Riley

An interesting peek into the world of Opera.

I came across Lucinda Riley in a very strange manner. Her name was scribbled across the last page of a Susan Howatch book that I finished. The dark letters on the yellowed page said something. Perhaps the previous reader had jotted down Riley as the writer to check out? So yes, Riley's name seared into into my memory. Her popularity hit me, when her books lined up my shelves of my public library. 

I picked this one for its interesting backstory. Apparently, this book had first come out years ago, as one of her  earlier works. I reckon she was not that popular then. But then as her fame caught on, her publishers thought packaging her earlier novel in a new cover might be a sound idea. What was called Aria, was then repackaged as The Italian Girl which was welcomed by her readers. 

Rosanna is a girl with gift - her magical voice. Helping her parents in their cafe, Rosanna's gifts go unnoticed except for her brother Luca. One day, Roberto Rossini, the charismatic opera singer hears Rosanna sing and urges her to take lessons. Rosanna who has lost her heart to him, agrees. She finds an ally in Luca and together they embark on a journey that takes her to the heart of the glittering world of Opera.

The story takes the reader through the streets of Naples, to Milan tracing the highs and lows of its characters as they balance fame, emotions and secrets in their lives.

What works:
  • Atmospheric detail. Riley brought Italy alive in my mind. I could smell the warm dough, the tomatoes and the wafting smell of the risotto. The smells and sounds of Italy are present in the descriptions and the dialogues and that to me was one of the highlights of the story.
  • The characters. They are strong yet flawed in their decision making. I loved Abi and Luca's story as it ran through the main thread of Roberto and Rossanna. I also liked the way at each stage how the character flaws moved the story forward, an important learning curve for a student like me.
  • The writing. It is smooth and fluid. There is not much depth to the story, but it keeps you engaged and makes you want to know what happens next.
  • I particularly loved the letter writing device which has been used very well to narrate the story. 
What doesn't:
  • It is a tearjerker and a romantic story. There are moments when the plot seems to drag and becomes predictable. At a point it is so easy to predict how the story will take a turn with the twist that is coming, pulling the protagonists apart.
The writing though good is not very profound or hopes attempt anything literary. It is a fairly average story, but what makes it different is its Italian and opera setting and the way in which Riley gets her characters to act - a character driven story through and through.

An enjoyable read. Recommended.

When Religion became a talking point...

The other day while waiting for Cheeky at the school gates, her class teacher walked up to me.

"We are learning about Hinduism this term. If you can come in and talk to us about being a Hindu, it will be great."

I was a bit sceptical. Really? Although a practising Hindu, was I devout enough to talk about religion and engage a bunch of restless 5-year-olds? 

But while all this was going in my head, all that came out was "OK".

"Great. Our next lesson is on Tuesday. See you in your traditional attire then!" She walked off.

What? Wait, you never told me about turning up in a sari, my head screamed.

But the commitment was made and as I walked back, my brain was working on how best to handle this.

It was easy to see why I was the obvious choice; there were hardly any Hindu families in the school. Religion for us, is more like cultural identity rather than a strict code of conduct. Gosh, I did not even know the the dictates of Hindu religion! Will I be able to tell them enough to satisfy their curiosity and yet educate them?

Later, one night, I was watching Bajirao Mastani an Indian period film about a Hindu Brahmin-warrior and a Muslim princess. The autonomy of religion in that era and its intervention at every point seemed such an alien concept in this day and age. Today we lead a more individualistic lifestyles where religion is woven loosely around the daily fabric of our lives.

My values and practices stem from a default part of growing up in a Hindu household. But what seemed natural and effortless for P and I, is not the case for our kids. Growing up in the West, they do not have the exposure enjoyed by their Indian counterparts. They did not have the default understanding of who and why, we are the way we are. 

Living in an non-Asian community, we were never particular about celebrating festivals when the kids were babies. But then as they grew older, it became obvious they needed Indian cultural education. Cheeky had to understand Christmas and Easter were not the only two occasions to be celebrated. Our Indian festivals spread out across the year, each customised with its own story, food and way of celebration.

 P and I did not want them to miss out on what we had as kids. So began our Diwali and Navaratri festivities. The celebrations are on a very small scale but at least it offers them a sense of their unique cultural identity. 

"Bommai Golu" - Doll Display at our home -
A traditional way of celebrating Navratri in Tamil Brahmin households
So with these thoughts swimming in my head, I turned up at the school on the day - complete with sari, jewellery and bangles. Feeling terribly overdressed, I settled in the chair as the kids looked up to me with dazzling eyes.

As I began, the kids hung onto every word - utterly fascinated by the things I had brought along - a pooja thali (plate), lamp, Bhagwad Geeta book, images of gods and goddesses. They were awestruck by the fact that we had so many Gods and a variety of food options.

The talk was rounded off by a rapid fire Q&A: How can one become a Hindu? Where do you find Hindus generally? Why do you eat with your hands? How does it affect your lifestyle? were some of the googlies that came hurling at me.

I answered them with candour and humour, impressed at their grasp of religion and its concept. The afternoon whizzed by and soon it was time to wind up. Cheeky and I sang some shlokas (bhajans), signalling a musical end to the session.

The next day, the parents stopped by to say their kids came home excited, eager to show off their newly acquired knowledge!

Phew! Not bad for someone who prefers wielding her pen instead of her voice!