Friday, 26 March 2021

The Quickening Rhiannon Ward

Seance and secrets set the scene for this story

Spooky happenings, seance and eerie atmosphere - it was enough to get me excited about this gothic novel. But my curiosity also stemmed from the fact that this was Derbyshire crime novelist Sarah Ward's debut in the gothic novel genre.

The Story:

Set in the 1920s, pregnant photographer Louisa has been commissioned to take pictures of the contents of Clewer Hall before they are auctioned. Louisa needs the money and agrees to stay at the Hall to complete the assignment. Upon arrival, she learns about a seance that is being recreated to replicate the one held there years ago. Louisa finds herself tangled in it and soon finds that this job is much more than she bargained for .

What I liked:

"January mornings are worst times to greet the living when you'd rather be amongst the departed."

  • I loved the angle of the story, how it introduces the main character and then zooms in on the setting. The atmospheric feel of Clewer Hall a country house shutting down for good ends up taking sinister hues by the end of the chapter. It really set the tone for what was to come ahead
  • Louisa the protagnist is a strong character and her backstory justifies her actions. It was interesting to watch her connect with the members of Clewer Hall. The class divide is portrayed well in their interactions.  
  • Despite a small drag in the middle, once the seance scene is unravelled, the repercussions sweep the reader in a roller coaster ride till the end.   
  • Particularly enjoyed reading about the photography in the 1920s. Sarah uses her research well to explain the elaborate process using glass plates and chemicals which seems quite alien when compared to a snappy "click" on our phones today! 
  • The use of historical elements lend authenticity to the narrative and meeting Arthur Conan Doyle as a character. It syncs with his real life reputation which for me was a nice touch. 

Loved this period story which had a contemporary echo. It is well structured and flows well. I found myself racing to the killer end, caught up with story and intrigued to know Louisa's fate. 

From crime thrillers to gothic novels, Sarah Ward's writing keeps me enthralled. Recommended read.



Monday, 15 March 2021

Trust me - T.M Logan

Pacy, action packed read

What if you are on the train and someone hands you a baby to hold for a bit. Sounds routine but the same premise in Logan’s hands, turns into a crazy rollercoaster ride in his latest book, Trust Me.

Having read Holiday, I love his style and the way his stories pull you in and keep you there till you find out what it is all about. That is what happens with this book as well.

Gist:

Ellen is travelling on train and finds herself opposite a young mother holding a beautiful baby opposite her. She agrees to look after her for minutes while the mum sorts herself out only to realise, she is left alone with the baby and a note that says,

“Please protect Mia. Don’t Trust anyone, Don’t trust police.”

This triggers off a series of events that Ellen has no time to fathom before realising that her life and the baby’s are at stake. Ellen has no choice but to catch scraps of information thrown at her and assembled before it is too late for her to act.

My review:

  • It is a fast-paced thriller, that leaves you no time to breathe as events collide into one another, a layered story that slowly unveils itself.
  • Love the title. Trust is such a loaded word and the story is so much in sync with the current times.
  • It is a plot-driven story, where the events propel the story forward but the characters - Ellen, Dominic, Leon, Gilbourne, Holt are well well rounded too, their backstories justifying their actions, which in turn makes for a great reading experience.
  • A high octane read for those who love thriller/race against time/who dunnit reads or boxsets. 

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Allegation - R G Adams

An evil monster exposed? 
Or an innocent father condemned?

Can looks really be deceiving? That is what social worker Kit Goddard is out to discover when she is asked to tackle a high profile case.

Matthew Cooper, a prominent member of a small community in South Wales has been accused of historical sexual abuse. While allegations are being investigated, the social services step in to remove the accused from his family and home before a formal assessment is made. This case falls into the hands of Kit Goddard, an inexperienced but intuitive social worker. With support from her colleagues, she gets down to finding out the truth even as the rigid walls of influence and affluence threatening to keep her out.

Adams plunges the reader right into action, filled with acute observations placing Kit at her workplace, simmering with referrals and bureaucratic hurdles. The writer’s experience in the sector is apparent as the initial chapters offer pertinent insight into the pressures faced by social services, a stark realisation of the mammoth responsibility they shoulder.  

Kit’s past is weaved in well with the case, each running parallel till it reaches a point when they blend in. As tensions run high towards the end, the suspense and the pace work really well at keeping the pace up.

As Kit finds herself knee deep in the case, the story is told with a great deal of sensitivity. The plot unravels slowly and at each stage you feel for Kit Goddard as she battles demons – in the past and the present and has the reader cheering for her.

There are lots of well etched peripheral characters likely to be the recurring fixtures in this police procedural series. Apart from her colleagues Ricky and Maisie and the DI there is an interesting angle of the new manager towards the end. Adams establishes their dynamics well here in preparation for the next case.

Overall, a compelling debut that handles a sensitive issue very well. No wonder then that this story has already been optioned for TV. 

I will be definitely looking out for Kit Goddard's next case. You will too, once you read this one.

 Allegation by R G Adams is published by riverrunbooks. 

 

 



Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Kololo Hill - Neema Shah

Neema Shah’s debut explores the themes of home, belonging and immigration about an Asian family in Uganda.

The story is told through perspectives of three main characters– newly married Asha, her mother-in-law Jaya and Vijay, her husband’s brother. Asha’s husband Pran does not have his own version, which is just as important as the story unravels against the backdrop of the Idi Amin regime.

 The Uganda Asian history is told through the peripheral and the main characters in fascinating detail albeit slows down the narrative a bit. However, it works hard to draw the reader into their lifestyle - the rushed socialising before the curfew, their dukans and the sense of community, fear of being targeted and hunted down by the Idi Amin regime. But once the 90-day expulsion is announced, the family realises that it is their differently coloured passports will decide their destination to safety.

The story really picks up momentum when the family makes a mad dash to get out of Uganda and into the cold streets of London. The sense of disorientation upon their arrival, as they re-examine the concept of home, forms the crux of the novel.

For Jaya, like many Ugandan Asians, it was like leaving home twice over. It is interesting how Shah portrays the two generations, - the older one that still refers to India as home whereas for the younger generation it is Uganda.

While the personal sense of home is prevalent, the effects of the empire is felt throughout the novel – lurking in the Asian presence in Uganda or in the local hostilities faced by the refugees. The biased attitudes are deftly conveyed through well-crafted scenes and casual conversations.

The sense of solidarity that emerges from shared experience is carefully portrayed through the interaction between the characters. I really enjoyed the banter between Vijay and Asha that shows off their chemistry while hinting at possibilities. Shah’s writing style is good at nudging the reader, urging them to make assumptions, making them a willing participant as they are immersed in the lives of the characters. A truly enhancing experience.

The characters are so firmly lodged in the psyche that the ending of the novel leaves the reader bereft, hoping fervently that they live on in Shah’s next.

Overall, a slice of immigrant history not recorded much in fiction, by a competent novelist who knows exactly how to tell it. Highly recommended.

Kololo Hill is published by Picador and is out on Feb 18, 2021.

 






Monday, 18 January 2021

Heat Wave - Kate Riordan

Suspenseful and a scorching read for a cold evening 

Thrillers are my favourite simply because of the possibilities of the genre. A simple story about mothers and daughters can have an edge if you add the thriller element to it. I really enjoyed how Riordan has managed to shape such a suspense story on a premise that could have been a domestic, contemporary story.

Gist:

Slyvie is back at their family home in France with her daughter Emma. However there is a deep sense of unease. It is hot in the French countryside but that is not all, there are some bad memories, something has driven them away from the place and now they are back revisiting the past with some devastating consequences.

What works:

  •  Superb sense of foreboding that kicks off from page 1.
  • A mother-daughter story that everyone can relate to yet you can sense straight away that something is off. It is believable and yet the reader would be aware that there is something seriously dysfunctional here. 
  • Riordan builds the story so well and then turns deftly around on its head, such that the reader never sees it coming.
  • Couldn't help feeling it had a Rebeccasque quality to it. The brooding presence of an absent character in the house and the protagnist's memories of her is so powerful and is so beautifully done. 
  • Superbly atmospheric, I felt like I was in the hot climes of France, could feel the heat and the thunderstorms against the palpating tension in the house. 


 



How We Met: A Memoir of Love and Other Misadventures

As the title suggests, this memoir is about Qureshi met her husband. But it is also about so much more.

As she states earlier on, it is not a tale of drama and oppression but more of a coming-of-age story.  She reflects on an upbringing where the houses were always full of guests, tables full of food and the mindset that girls who do not have a vocational career must marry young.

One may cringe at the way she puts herself through the matchmaking process. But we have all been in situations which in retrospect we would have handled differently. It takes courage to relive them again with transparency and that is where Qureshi wins hearts. 

Although marriage plays a pivotal part, the memoir also reflects on the personal trauma of losing a loved one – her father - around the time she was starting a new job at a newspaper office. Her experiences resonate as she battles grief and workplace bias at the same time, such that the reader feels triumphant when Qureshi finally begins to feel at peace with herself.  

The latter half of the memoir reflects on how she meets her now-husband and their efforts to convince the family. However, there is reference but no in-depth analysis about the cultural conflict. Perhaps that is where the appeal is. It is an upfront account of a woman relating her experiences and, in doing so, highlights societal stereotypes and pre-conceived notions. 

It is a feel-good story after all, and we know how it ends. The facts are neatly lined up like a well-planned fictional story, but the authenticity and the voice remind one that it is a memoir, and an engaging one at that.

Ten things about Writing - Joanne Harris

 When Joanne Harris’ name appears on a book about the craft, it is bound to attract attention. So, how is it better or any different than the ones already out there? 

Ten Things About Writing is clearly designed for the tech-savvy contemporary learner attracted to the luxury of a well-laid-out website. The book is moulded in a similar fashion, offering writing advice in a very palatable format with its crisp short sentences. 

It is divided into ten sections, each section containing ten short chapters. Each chapter is further laid out in ten bullet points. It is so easy to dip in and out that you whizz easily through the pages and marvel at how much has been packed into those short chapters. 

Right from getting into the zone to constructing a nuanced narrative, the book covers a wide range of topics. It offers tips on basic skills of “show not tell” and foreshadowing with equal ease, making it a comprehensive writing toolkit for the novice as well as the advanced practitioner. 

Harris’s experience as a contemporary author shines through when she discusses commercial issues like readings and requests. There is a section that addresses all sort of random queries from publishing trends to handling frustration. The questions are random and yet relevant for the writer navigating their way round the writing world.

The book ends with section, “Welcome to the dark side” and this is the best part where the stern, but warm voice inspires the reader and urges them to take pride in leading the life of a writer.

For someone keen to understand the concepts, this is a great book; for someone looking to sustain the joy of writing, this is invaluable.