Friday, 25 March 2016

The Curse of Damini - Debajani Mohanty

A story about women and their place in society.
photo courtesy:

Sounds routine but with the setting of the zamindari era infused with Bangla culture and a strong female protagnist, now that is an interesting concoction indeed.

Let me make the disclaimer here. I got this book to review from the author in return for an honest review and the post aims to do just that.

Looking out for emerging Indian voices is a much loved habit and my trips back home always include browsing bookstores, checking out new trends and voices in Indian writing.

Of late, there has been a plethora of mythological fiction crowding the Indian fiction shelves. Ramayana, Mahabharata and all other popular stories have been rehashed with characters telling their version, offering a new twist to an age old tale. However, it was all getting too formulaic and I was glad to come across a book which offered me something different.


Set in the pre-independence era we meet Renuka, a spirited girl from the zamindar family who makes a terrific entry at the start of the book. However, her promising life takes a surprise turn when her father dies and she is married off at a young age.

The circumstances of the marriage are quite interesting and soon she enters her husband's household and becomes privy to the age-old curse that has been haunting the Roy Chaudhury family for generations.

The story focusses on the women characters and their place in society. The plot spans years and generations and shows how the choices made by the women characters - Renuka, Papia and Mandira - shapes their lives and destinies.

What works:
  • The structure: The story pans out well, the time period and the characters blend seamlessly and the atmosphere is so evocatively created.
  • The period feeling: The independence movement and the patriotic passion in youngsters is well conveyed. Also the zamindari feel for traditions and status comes across very well.
  • The characters. Renuka and Mandira are strong women whose personas are very well etched out. My favourite though is Mandira, the bolder one who defies conventions.
  • The story. It was interesting to see how this penniless girl manages to work her way through life and make a success of it in a highly patriarchial society.
  • The strong voice of the narrator is undeniable and adds to the force of the story.
  • The conversation between Renuka and Mandira at the end was well handled and was a scene that had me mulling over it.
  • The romance between Shekhar and Renuka is very subtle and subdued, well handled.
  • The use of Bangla sentences and phrases gave it a more Indian feel, while adding a new dimension to the story.
  • The wedding and death rituals are explained beautifully and offered insight into the Bangla traditions.
What doesn't:
  • At one point it attempts to become a social treatise. The last speech of Renuka is a bit loaded and goes overboard in its ardour. 
  • The first half lays out the story so well but the second half seems like it was rushing through to get to the end. The latter part had more information rather than scenes that helped the story move forward. It could have been a bit more elaborate, with the second half taking its time to unfurl the story.
  • "The curse of Damini" which was dominant in the first half, fizzles out in the second part of the book. Though there is an explanation, it seems a bit lost towards the end.
  • The exclamation marks could have been toned down. Perhaps that's the pedantic me, but it felt like the story was shouting out for attention when it already had it.
Overall a great read. Though the themes are heavy, it is a light read that can easily be finished in a couple of sittings. 

It clearly has the potential to be a opus considering the time span and the generations it covers. Perhaps, the writer was mindful of the length because of the short attention span of today's reader. However, the story and the writing work very well and make for an enjoyable read.

Mohanty has an engaging style that keeps the reader hooked. It will be interesting to see what she writes next.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Career Girls - Louise Bagshawe

A guilty read that was better than expected.

I picked up this book because it reminded of my teenage years when such plot would be the stuff I loved - young female underdogs and how they triumph in the male dominated world. The fact that the book promised to be a "sexy" read was an added bonus.


Two girls Rowena and Topaz (what name!) come to study in Oxford. They become best of friends in no time but soon something drastic happens and they become the best of enemies!

What happens next is how they vow to ruin each other and work really hard at it while becoming successful women themselves. Rowena makes her mark in the music world and Topaz becomes a top notch journalist.

The story takes through the men they love, their professional persona and also their serious attempts to destroy each other.

Eventually, years later something happens that brings them both together. The hardcore enemies will now have to work and help each other in order to survive.

Can they do it? Can they overcome their feelings of jealousy and hate for each other is what the story is about.

What works:
  • The language. The style is contemporary and the tone direct. Perhaps it is in keeping with the world of the music and journalism industry. Exclamation marks, swear words flow in abundance, making it a racy prose.
  • The plot. It is fast moving and action oriented. One thing after the other, the events take the plot from Oxford to New York while stringing along a series of events.
  • The second half about their professional lives is so well detailed. As someone having worked in the journalism industry, I could empathise and identify with the world. It was a job reading about her trials and tribulations as a journalist and editor. 
What doesn't:
  • Clearly the plot is based on a formula. The drama is planned to end on a neat note. The racy prose comes up to a neatly tied conclusion which took the edge off a bit for me.
Occasionally, it is nice to dip into such predictable reads. It is like floating in the lazy pool letting the waves wash over you without making much of it. It is not  high brow literary stuff and the characters don't stay with you, but like any guilty pleasure, it is as good as it lasts.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Beneath the Surface - Heidi Perks

An interesting debut by a talented author.

I received this book as part of the goodreads giveaways in return for an honest review.

Heidi Perks' Beneath the Surface is all about families and secrets.Well, so what? Many books on a similar theme there already. But what piqued my interest was the shocking premise and the curiosity to see how the plot panned out.

Seventeen-year-old Abigail comes back from school to find that her entire family has vanished. Years later, when she is about to start her family, she is still traumatised by the past. Compelled to find out what and why, Abi embarks on a journey that leads to shocking discoveries for her that makes up the plot.

What works:
  • The structure. The story moves through the many narratives running through it. We get to hear what happened from all the major characters. An interesting way of taking the reader in.
  • The style. The characters reveal a bit about themselves and in turn shed light on their situation. I found it interesting to read on how they attempt to control the events whereas eventually the events take over.
  • The writing is good too. I particularly loved Amy's description of her mother's loveless marriage to her stepfather.It combined emotions and an element of mystery quite succinctly.
What doesn't:
  • The first few pages are good. Soon it is obvious that it is an unhappy family and the emotions and the sadness dominate the plot. However, I felt it weighing down the story and slowing down the plot. 
  • About 50 pages later, I felt as though I was wading through the descriptive paragraphs. It was boring and the only thing that kept me going was the thought that it gets better. After a couple of hundred pages, the pace finally picked up and the narratives merged into the plot, turning it into a rewarding read.
  • The premise is shocking and bizarre. The explanation of why the mother left the girl behind, had to be justified. Of course Perks takes care of that, but it left me wondering about the plausibility. Perhaps I am being too harsh but after such great characters, a great structure, the suspense element, I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't unflinchingly call it a great read. However, technically the novel works well and as a reader, it made me stick to the end - that says something about this debut author.
  • Also a bit of editing in the first half would have made it more taut. I could see she was prepping the ground for  the second half. The pace really zooms ahead in the second half and I found myself ignoring the bedside clock to get to the end.
Overall, it is a well written book and a good debut. Perks knows  how to hook the reader and keep them dangling till the end - job well done.


Thursday, 3 March 2016

Leave the Grave Green - Deborah Crombie

photo courtesy
A complex story from a loved author.

As mentioned earlier, I am backtracking and going over the Duncan-James series beginning from the first one. It has been an interesting journey and gives a lot of insight into how each book sounds more confident and complex as the series moves ahead.

I started with the latter ones and once I got hooked them all, I decided to get my hands on the earlier ones. As a wannabe writer studying the craft, the series allows the novice the opportunity to understand how the series is slowly developed with each whodunnit.

In this third novel, Duncan and Gemma are getting closer as they tackle yet another death and find themselves entangled in the process.


The son in law of an opera singer and the husband of a well known painter is found dead in mysterious circumstances in a loch. Being a family with connections, the family call in Scotland Yard to get to the root of it all.

Enter Duncan and Gemma who find themselves getting into the opera community and find all sorts of secrets coming to fore.

What works:
  • The characters are good. I particularly liked the way, Crombie was showing more confidence by linking the death to a past incident that has an irrevocable effect on the family. 
  • The past incident and the present murder tie in well. 
  • The narrative flows very well and the development of Gemma and Duncan's relationship is also progressing simulteneous to the plot.
  • The third books marks a difference from the ones before, as Crombie seems more surefooted about her characters and lays out some complex scenes.
 What doesn't:
  • I realise I need a break from Duncan and Kincaid. Reading so many of their mysteries is grating a bit. Perhaps I am familiar with the style now so much that it is becoming a bit predictable as well. But then thats me and not the book.
This mystery is better and far more enjoyable than the earlier ones.