Ahmed Faiyaz

Best Seller By Ahmed Faiyaz

1:21:00 PM


                     Indian writing in English (the popular/urban pulp kind) did get an enormous boost in the early 2000s, when Chetan Bhagat brought out his record breaking best seller, 'Five Point Someone'. It not only proved that there was a market for that kind of stuff (read urban fluff) but also paved way for many new publishing houses and revived quite a number of old ones.Best Seller from Ahmed Faiyaz is a satirical take on the new age Indian(English) Publishing arena and how things work out in the back end.
                    Akshay Mathur, is an out-of-work editor of a defunct literary magazine in UK.His debut work as an author has just flopped big time and he also has debt running to half a million in London.So when he is assigned to India to turn around Kalim, an ailing Indian Publisher, he is not left with too many choices.In a world of misfits and has-beens , Akshay has to work really hard to find his own voice. Also joining him in his mission are Anya Malik, the pretty lass,the practical and street smart Zorah Kalim , a Bollywood heart throb who wants to get his work published.Will Mathur succeed in his mission to turn Kalim into a leading publishing house?
                    Coming to the positives, Ahmed Faiyaz has written a fast paced,slick book which shows some light on the cut-throat world of Indian Publishing.There aren't too many characters and the overall tone of the book is largely light hearted.
                   On the downside,though the theme of the book had a lot of potential,for some strange reason,the author hasn't really bothered to go much deeper into the murkier world of publishing.The characters are quite shallow and one dimensional and for the large part of the book I couldn't fathom why the world was so seemingly obsessed with Mathur and his small publishing firm.

Overall I'm giving a 2.5 out of 5 for this book. It's a light,harmless read! 

-nikhimenon

crime thriller

The Moving Shadow -electrifying bengali pulp fiction

9:13:00 AM

                   
                  A few years back, Westland released a book titled : The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction. If my memory is right, the book came out in two volumes and it apparently featured the English translations of  some of the most celebrated works of 70 s-80 s Tamil Pulp Fiction.I badly wanted to read those books then, but for some reason I have never been able to read them yet.
                The Moving Shadow, is a similar attempt on Bengali Pulp Fiction by the award winning translator ,Arunava Sinha (incidentally the jacket cover of both books are also strikingly similar).
                 The book is basically divided into two parts. While the first half is a collection of four crime stories written by some of the biggest names of Bengali Pulp(Premendra Mitra,Swapan Kumar,Vikramaditya,Muhammed Zafar Iqbal) , the second half (Satyajit Ray,Adirsh Bardhan,Gobindolal Bandhyopadhyay,Bhabhani Mukhopadhyay) comprises of an equal number of carefully hand picked horror stories. Though some of the stories were first written almost 60-70 years back (evident from the descriptions and the dates mentioned in them), they never fail to engage and intrigue the average reader.
                 Of the four crime stories featured in the first part, I liked the first one the most (Parashar Sharma makes a bid).It tells the story of a multi-millionaire and his spoilt son. The suspense was good and the climax twist was also un-predictable. The second story, ‘Moving Shadow’ about the escapades of a mad scientist, though too far fetched was also entertaining (provided you don’t take it too seriously).The third one, ‘The Secret Agent’, incidentally the longest one in this collection is some sort of a spy-crime-thriller which badly needed some better editing. It’s not only over-long but also gets monotonous after a point. There are too many characters also in the story which confuse the reader after a point.However the loose ends get tied neatly towards the end and the twist is also neatly done. Copotronic Love is about a robot which is madly in love with a woman. An illogical,yet interesting short story, this one is.
                 Among the four horror stories ('Bhuto','The Moon is Back','Saradindu and this body','Foreshadowed' featured in this book, my pick is 'Saradindu and this body',about a doctor with mental illness penned by Gobindolal Bandyopadhyay.The story has got a killer twist which manages to send a chill down your spine.
               Arunava Sinha deserves accolades for his wise selection of stories as well as for the translation which is quite neatly done. The language is pretty easy-to-read and the editing is also crisp.

On the whole, I’m giving a 3 out of 5 for this anthology. It’s a fun read!

-nikhimenon
 

Jagadesh Sampath

Review: A Dead Man's Trials by Jagadesh Sampath

3:18:00 AM

A Dead Man's Trials
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a story of Mr December who is sent to hell after death. Since he questions it, he is given a chance to judge five cases to decide whether the person needs to be sent to heaven or hell. If he correctly decides the case result, he is promised to be sent to heaven.

Through these five stories, the author has raised some questions on human nature, beliefs, and intentions behind an action. In the end, Mr December realizes that he had been correctly sen to hell, even though he had always thought himself to be on the right path. This is a short and powerful collection of stories that make one look at yourself and the world with a new light. I would have liked to know more about Mr December and the reason he was sent to hell. But, perhaps in the next book. This 58 page long (or short) book is one of the most memorable ones for me this year.

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Chic-Lit

Opening Night by Diksha Basu

8:27:00 AM


                         Diksha Basu is better known for her satirical , moving take on Indian Urban Middle class,'The Windfall'. 'Opening Night'(2012), Basu's debut novel which came out much before her break out work is an average chic-lit ,at best. It is the story of twenty something Naiya Kapur and her life in Mumbai.
                     Naiya Kapur, our protagonist is a Non Resident Indian who after suddenly getting hit by the acting bug has migrated to Mumbai and is on the look out for that 'big break' in Bollywood.Sadly, as any other newbie (read the non-filmi background), she has to face multiple rejections and try her luck at 'dubious',sleazy auditions.Meanwhile she gets into a relationship with Jay, the ex-model-turned producer. 'Opening Night' is all about Naiya's tryst with page 3 parties, fake auditions,fame and her neurotic boyfriend.
                     If you have read the above para, you might have figured out by now that there is nothing that differentiates 'Opening Night' from the n-number of Bollywood chick-lit works which came out in the earlier part of this decade.That exactly is the problem with this book.I myself have read atleast half a dozen books with similar story line.But to give Diksha due credit,'Opening Night' by and large maintains it's light hearted tone and never takes itself too seriously.It is a harmless,light read .Nothing more,nothing less!

On the whole,I'm giving it a 2.75 out of 5.

-nikhimenon

crime

Murder Games by James Patterson and Howard Roughan

5:14:00 PM


                     I am no big fan of the assembly line thrillers that come out of the James Patterson syndicate. As a matter of fact, I try to avoid them as far as possible since most of the recent works from the JP factory (books written by one of his many collaborators , but invariably featuring 'his' name in 'bigger fonts' in the jacket cover)have been pretty medicore. I picked up 'Murder Games'(also published as 'Instinct' in some territories) as it had been recently made into a successful television show. I must say that the book turned out to be much better than I expected.
                   The setting and the basic premise are pretty generic.There is a serial-killer on the run and our protagonist ,Elizabeth Needham is an NYPD detective who is in charge of this case .She turns to the brilliant professor, Dr Dylan(whose book on criminal behaviour the killer seems to be following) for help .Meanwhile the upstate tabloids have found a nick name for the killer, "The Dealer".Murder Games is basicallt the cat-and-mouse game between "The Dealer" and our investigators-Elizabeth and Dr Dylan.
                  The twists were interesting and the climax was also pretty decent.I kind of liked how the author(s) etched out Dr Dylan's personal life.Like anyother book from the JP syndicate, the language is pretty easy-to-read and the chapters are also short.

On the whole, I'm giving it a 3 out of 5.

-nikhimenon

Contemporary Romance

Review: Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden

8:26:00 AM

Beyond All Dreams Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“After all, everything in here is just pieces of paper with words and lines on them. 
They're not even very valuable. Pieces of paper with words and lines on them have the ability to change the world...They always have.”

Beyond all dreams introduces us to a librarian Anna who lost her father and has never been able to accept the official explanation for her father's death on the ship that disappeared in the sea. During her work in the library of Congress, she meets Luke Callahan who was one of the nation's most powerful congressmen until he picks fights with the speaker and is eventually sent to the house of commons. Though opposite to each other in many ways, they strike a friendship easily. Luke wishes to impress Anna so he joins forces with her to solve the mystery of the lost ship. Set against the backdrop of Spanish-American war , the story showed many aspects of peace efforts and how the price for peace is sometimes too high on the people responsible for it.

I have always liked a story that could add people's view of some of the famous historical events. I have always wondered about normal folks impacted by wars, peace talks and some of the unexplained events in history. This is one of those stories where the hunt for truth by Anna leads her to make unexpected alliances and the truth is not easy to keep a secret. This is also a story of troubled families struggling for generations to fix themselves and be better for the kids. There was an easy comfortable friendship, some romance and a lot of mystery and passion for the ideals to keep this book going.

Such stories with a strong female cast also shows the paths our ancestors have taken to break out of the norms and open opportunities for generations to come. 

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book about books

Review: The Library Book by Susan Orlean

5:40:00 AM

The Library Book The Library Book by Susan Orlean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"In total, four hundred thousand books in Central Library were destroyed in the fire. An additional seven hundred thousand were badly damaged by either smoke or water or, in many cases, both. The number of books destroyed or spoiled was equal to the entirety of fifteen typical branch libraries. It was the greatest loss to any public library in the history of the United States.” 


The Library Book, tells the story of the fire in April of 1986 that damaged or destroyed more than one million books in Los Angeles' Central Library.  It is a sad account to read in the beginning as the author catalogs all that is lost in the fire - the manuscripts , the first editions , the music, and the theater plays recorded in the library that are lost forever. But as I read the book, it also shows the power of books to bring people together and to make a real difference. The book starts with the author first listening about the fire on a tour of the library and she then starts reading more about it. So we get to read about a usual day at the library and what happened on the day of the incident. We get to know of the prime suspect in this case and how the case finally ends. 

The book goes into many tangents - how libraries are run, history of the LA library, its prominent librarians and their contributions to the library, different times when the books were destroyed and burnt as acts of terror or attempt to prove one culture's power over the other. It is like a collection of stories that revolve around books, reading and the growth of LA library from its inception to where it stands today. Along with all this, we also witness some historical lessons and how all systems stand on the shoulders of visionaries who have toiled to make the world a little better. Some of the librarians were inspiring and I felt my admiration for them grow immensely.  

The book might get a little boring in places but then the very next chapter hooks you back to the story. It is not a casual read but it will definitely interest many readers who like to read about books and reading. I had only heard of libraries as a place where we could find books to borrow but before coming to Canada, I never knew what a heaven the library system in Western countries is and how it is a safe community space for all - readers or not.  This book has made me more resolute to build something similar one day in India - even if it starts with a personal library first. 

Here is a youtube video on this fire and the events after that transpired. 

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crime fiction

QBR: SUSPICION BY FRIEDERICH DURRENMATT

1:30:00 AM

   
                                                       Suspense
                                                       156 + pages
                                                       Pushkin Vertigo
                                                       Originally Published in 1962
                                                       RT Rating: 3.2/5

This work first came out in the 1950's, almost two decades ago, but still it makes for an interesting read. 

The Verdict:This vintage thriller is quite an engaging read!
Synopsis: Inspector Barlach is suffering from Cancer. He notices that a successful Swiss Surgeon bears a striking resemblance to an infamous war criminal.Suspicion is Barlach's journey to un-mask the criminal hiding in plain sight. Or is it all a ploy by someone with vested interests?

The Good:the setting, the characters,suspense

The Bad:predictable at times
RecommendationsBorrow it!

-nikhimenon

crime

Regional: Kattima by Jayan Shivapuram

1:00:00 AM


'Kattima'  is the kind of book which looks like something but ends up being something else altogether. If you go by it's cover, in all probability you might get deceived into believing that it's a work of detective fiction. I'm sorry to say that it's neither a time pass enjoyable pulp nor a flawless literary gem. I seriously don't know to which category this one belongs to(or who will enjoy reading this kind of stuff,for that matter). At the end of 150 pages or so, what I was left with was sheer exhaustion and absolute boredom!

The plot goes something like this-Devi Aunty is found killed in her room with the murder weapon (a shining butcher's knife is also lying close by) and her roommate, a twenty something girl tries to figure out who (what) killed her beloved aunty. From here, rather than going into a full on investigation mode or an interesting character study, the narrative meanders on through the girl's memories and about the sexual escapades of a lady named Rajamma!

To give it's due, the novel had a killer opening sequence.Nothing less,nothing more!

I'm giving this a 2 out of 5.

-nikhimenon

crime

Regional: Kapalam by Dr B.Umadathan

7:08:00 PM



            I had read Umadathan Sir's 'Oru Forensic Surgeon nte Ormakurippikal'(Memoirs of a Forensic Surgeon), a few years back  which was undoubtedly one of the few authentic works pertaining to Forensic Science which had come out in Malayalam till then.The book basically was a memoir and dealt with some of the cases Umadathan sir had solved during his service. 'Kapalam'(The Skull) is it's follow up which has been brought out by D.C.Books (incidentally the book came out soon after Dr Umadethan's death in July, 2019).Unlike it's predecessor, this one is a fictionalised version of fifteen other cases which Dr Umadethan had worked on. 
            Forensic Surgeon Dr Unnikrishnan,his wife Mrs Mani ,Chief Chemical Examiner and Investigator Hari are the recurring characters featuring in the fifteen stories in this book. Though the book claims to be a fictionalised take on some of the cases which Dr Umadathan had worked on during his life time, it's pretty evident that most of the characters in these stories are fictional replicas of real-life personalities. Kapalam' has 15 'stories' of criminal investigation ranging from poisoning,fire-arm homicides and deliberate self harm.
            The writing is quite crisp and fast paced and never lets you down.Though some might find the repetition of some basic tests(diatom,DNA ,nitrate test) and techniques in some stories irritating, it's pretty fine, considering the limited resources the investigators have at their disposal,especially in a resource limited setting.
             The book covers some important aspects of forensic criminal investigations like diatom tests (traditional test, but still very effective), Haemoglobin analysis, forensic toxicology, DNA Fingerprinting and chemical analysis of viscera.The descriptions and explanations are never over-long and don't tire the reader at any point of time.

On the whole, 'kapalam' is an engaging read.

-nikhimenon 

Chic-Lit

Letters to my Ex by Nikita Singh

10:45:00 PM


At times, You pick up a book , knowing fully well that you might not relate to it in any ways, but still try your luck with it. 'Letters to My Ex' was one such book for me and frankly speaking,this one didn't entertain or engage me in anyways.

Basically this one is written in the form of letters between two ex-lovers(no prizes for guessing that!)and through these, the readers also get to know what happened to their relationship and why the young couple broke up in the first place. Totally predictable and intermittently annoying, this work might work with teenage readers. For the rest of us, this one is a safe skip!

I'm giving this one a 2 out of 5.

-nikhimenon

nikhimenon

Regional:Shareera Shastram by Benyamin

7:51:00 AM


'Shareera Shasthram' is quite different from Benyamin's earlier works(Goat Days,Jasmine Days). Unlike his previous books,this one is more of a crime novel and tries to trace the organised conversion and crime happening in the name of religion.The story begins with the accident of Midhun, a youngster who gets hit by a mysterious vehicle and dies in the hospital later.His friends Sandhya, Rajesh, Pretty set out to find the truth behind his death only to realize later that their lives are also in danger.

Positives- This one is a decent crime novel and also explores some hitherto unexplored aspects of organised religion.

Negatives- the pace slackens a bit at times,some loopholes in the plot,there is nothing 'new' in the motive!

-nikhimenon

Michael Connelly

#BookReview: The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

7:42:00 AM

The Wrong Side of Goodbye The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some stories mean a lot to you just the way they span generations and way it changes the course of someone's life. "The Wrong side of Goodbye" starts with Bosch being hired by an old guy, almost on his deathbed to find his heir that he abandoned about 60 years ago. And so starts a search that leads Bosch to revisit his time in the Vietnam war and in parallel search for this heir and any other family that the Old guy might have. Also, Bosch is working as a reserve for the Police department and a case of a serial rapist is taking shape and getting a lot of traction. With these two cases running in parallel, this book has no dearth of action and revelations.

This is by far my favorite of all the books I have read in the Bosch series. It had the same intensity that Bosch has but there was something about him being on his own that showed how he has made connections over the years and how he has this other side outside his old job. The investigation was laid out very systematically and engaged the reader at every turn. Once you start this one, I bet you won't take much time finishing it.

It also had the other Connelly character - Mickey Haller [ Bosch's stepbrother who is also a really good lawyer] whom I liked so I would now read the books in the Lincoln lawyer series based on him.


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nikhimenon

QBR: Morning, Noon & Night by Sidney Sheldon

9:33:00 PM

                                                        Suspense
                                                       372 + pages
                                                       Originally Published in 1997
                                                       RT Rating: 3.5/5


This work first came out almost two decades ago, but still it hasn't become dated and manages to be a racy read. Sidney Sheldon was truly the 'Mr Blockbuster' and will remain to be so and I can confidently say that no Tilly Bagshawe or James Patterson can replicate Sheldon.

The Verdict:On the whole,Morning,Noon& Night is  racy,entertaining pulp.
Synopsis: The Great Harry Stanford, one of America's richest businessman has drowned mysteriously while cruising on his yacht.He was never fond of his three children during his lifetime and soon a young lady appears claiming to be his illegitimate child and a share of his fortune. Is she an imposter?
The Good:enough twists and turns which makes it a racy read.
The Bad:the characters are quite shallow and you never get to invest in them that much.
RecommendationsBuy it!

-nikhimenon 

legal thriller

#BookReview: Justice Gone by N. Lombardi Jr

1:08:00 AM

Justice Gone by N. Lombardi Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


About the Book:
When a homeless war veteran is beaten to death by the police, stormy protests ensue, engulfing a small New Jersey town. Soon after, three cops are gunned down.
A multi-state manhunt is underway for a cop killer on the loose. And Dr. Tessa Thorpe, a veteran's counselor, is caught up in the chase.
Donald Darfield, an African-American Iraqi war vet, war-time buddy of the beaten man, and one of Tessa's patients, is holed up in a mountain cabin. Tessa, acting on instinct, sets off to find him, but the swarm of law enforcement officers gets there first, leading to Darfield's dramatic capture.
Now, the only people separating him from the lethal needle of state justice are Tessa and ageing blind lawyer, Nathaniel Bodine.

Review: The book is not just a thriller but it actually packs a lot of observation about American society and highlights a lot of issues that have no resolution currently but need understanding from everyone. The story actually starts once the cops are gunned down because that is the true polarising event for everyone. The author has not gone into defending any action but through a brilliant set of characters, he has shown how such events impact everyone.

The writing is really good and the book is fast-paced without losing the focus on people and their emotions. I had not expected to read a detailed discussion of the jurors but it surely works for the best as it engages the reader too to dissect all evidence and statements by all parties called in court.

Tessa is a strong lady with her heart and head at right places and too much reference to her past without much clues was intriguing. But I also felt that she was also too judgemental and suspicious of even her best friend and colleague.

The courtroom scenes were amazingly crafted, so much that I laughed loud two or three times reading that section. The combination of Nat Bodine and his daughter iis brilliantly executed in the scenes. I would want to read more stories that involve this pair and not just Tessa alone.

Book Links:
Goodreads * Amazon


  




Winner of Three Awards:
2019 American Fiction Award
National Indie Excellency Award - Best Legal Thriller of 2019
Silver Medal Winner 2019 - Readers' Favorites Awards
Chosen by Wiki.ezvid.com among their list of 10 Gripping and Intelligent Legal Thrillers


About the Author:
N. Lombardi Jr, the N for Nicholas, has spent over half his life in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, working as a groundwater geologist. In 1997, while visiting Lao People's Democratic Republic, he witnessed the remnants of a secret war that had been waged for nine years, among which were children wounded from leftover cluster bombs. Driven by what he saw, he worked on The Plain of Jars for the next eight years.
His second novel, Journey Towards a Falling Sun, is set in the wild frontier of northern Kenya.
His latest novel, Justice Gone was inspired by the fatal beating of a homeless man by police.
Nick now lives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia


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crime thriller

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

8:27:00 AM

Book Cover

The 'Lying Game' is a 2017 thriller by Ruth Ware. Much like her previous works, this one also has an atmospheric setting and a good mix of interesting characters with grey shades and relies heavily on their antics to take the story forward.

Thea, Kate,Fathima and Isa are four childhood friends.They used to play a secret game in their childhood-the lying game!Seventeen years later, all of them receive a text message from Kate which says that she needs to meet them all urgently.At the drop of a hat, the three of them rush to meet Kate(!),only to witness some bizarre experiences at Kate's 'Tide Mill'.Pretty soon they realize that their past is catching up and it has something to do with the disappearance of Kate's beloved father, Ambrose and their expulsion from the Salten boarding school, all those years ago.

The Protagonist is Isa and the story is being told from her perspective.The supporting cast include Isa's toddler Freya, her friends Kate,(step)brother Luc,friends Fathima and Thea and a few others.The basic problem with this book is that while Ware has invested so much time and pages in getting her characters right, she has forgotten to add some layers and twists to the story.The 'Lying Game' angle is also forgotten after the initial gimmicks(the school re-union scenes)!  Things get highly predictable and boring after the first hundred pages or so and the overall length of the book at 370+ pages doesn't help in making the proceedings racy or interesting either!

Ruth Ware gets her setting right, the claustrophobic premise is quite unsettling and to be very frank, the episode involving the dead goat is also quite scary.But from then,the story goes downhill , the next 350 pages or so is sheer boredom.The narrative gets some life again only towards the last ten pages or so,by then the reader has totally lost interest in what Mrs Ware has got to say. The basic problem with the book is that it has only one genuine suspense to tell and the entire plot is an excuse to reach that point!

On the whole, I am giving it a 2.5 out of 5.

-nikhimenon

crime fiction

Regional: Padinjare Kalam Chorakkalam by Indugopan

8:28:00 AM

     
  G.R Indugopan is one of the new age writers in Malayalam whose works are absolutely engaging reads.Padinjare Kalam Chorakkalam is his latest work which explores the dark underbelly of Kollam.In this world inhabited by rowdies and goons, Indugopan weaves in three delightful stories which dabbles with the themes of lost love,redemption and revenge.The three novellas have a couple of recurring characters and as a result the book jacket (published by DC) claims that this one is a novel! Neverthless, this book is an absolute delight to read and my pick of the lot is the third novella, 'Shankhumukhi'. It traces the story of underworld Kingpin,'Binu' and his/her escapades(spoiler alert!).I is funny,poignant and cinematic.On the whole, I am going with 3.5 out of 5 for this book.Indugopan's prose is simple,relatable and highly readable.Looking forward to his next work!

-nikhimenon

5 star

Review: The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

11:47:00 PM

The End of Your Life Book Club The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the story of the author and his mother Mary who is diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer. While visiting the hospital for various rounds of treatment, he asks her what she is reading at the time and thus starts this book club where they discuss books read before , exchange more books and after a while even read same books to discuss as and when they talk. So this book is also a collection of all the books, their discussions, and their life stories. It is a wonderful book and though I did not keep track of the books they talked about, I learned so much about life lessons, human bonds and how stories help make things happen.

My favorite lesson from the book was that one must never stop asking about other's stories and also share the word about a good cause you believe in. You never know when you might find help or be able to provide help to someone. Then there is a point where the author asks his mother how to help and how to know you are doing enough to which his mother says, when you want to know more about the world and how to help - You Read.  At every other turn, Mary shows how books are the ultimate safe haven for everyone and also the only way we can know how to be better.

This book inspired me to work harder, read better and help more and more people in every little way and most importantly, to be kind and to always show my love and respect when I have time. I liked the book so much that I gifted it to friends and have bought my own copy so I can mark my favorite passages in the book.

Some quotes from the book -

“This, I finally realized, was how Mom was able to focus when I was not. It was how she was able to be present with me, present with the people at a benefit or the hospital. She felt whatever emotions she felt, but feeling was never a useful substitute for doing, and she never let the former get in the way of the latter. If anything, she used her emotions to motivate her and help her concentrate. The emphasis for her was always on doing what needed to be done."

“How can you be lonely, Mom said, when there are always people who want to share their stories with you, to tell you about their lives and families and dreams and plans?”

Mom talked to everyone and had no hesitation approaching people who were crying, in pain, or in distress. (“If they don’t want to talk, they’ll tell you so, but how can you ignore them?”)”


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Damon Baker

Review: Second Skin: Fractures: A litRPG Adventure by M Damon Baker

10:48:00 AM

Second Skin: Fractures: A litRPG Adventure Second Skin: Fractures: A litRPG Adventure by M Damon Baker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my first book where the story is set up in a Role-Playing video game. It was a little difficult to get into the rules and calculations that go into score and capability measure [ i am still not too sure ] but once you read through it, the world and the people in the story capture all your attention. The way the various abilities are built in the game and measured starts making sense after a while and it is quite crafty. The game is well designed and easy to follow, even if it's not too easy for the players. The land description and the people of the land are intriguing, especially in the latter part of the story. The solo travel for the lead character is a little repetitive but the book is fun to read when she teams up with others. The main city, in the end, was quite interesting and hope it continues to be so since the little story that has been built up for the sequel is well crafted.

My only complaint was from the whole scorecard being pulled up again and again when I already had read the gist of it from the character point of view. Also, I am not too sure of the way her feelings about her transition from real to gaming world were handled. The struggle was believable, but the conclusion, not so much.

Still an enjoyable read out of my comfort zone and area of interest. Might try the sequel in a few months.


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A L Sowards

Review: The Redgrave Murders by A. L. Sowards

7:07:00 AM

The Redgrave Murders The Redgrave Murders by A. L. Sowards
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes it is not the big picture but what is happening within that frame that makes a story work for the reader. This is a story of two people with different past working for a common future - a future together.
Evie and Gary are an unlikely couple for the 1950s and coupled with Gary's past it was not easy for him to be the kind of boyfriend he would have liked to be. Evie's father is murdered and the blame falls on Gary. Evie works on finding the alibi for him and clearing the blame and along the way she gets a better picture of the man she is dating. This is actually the core of their evolving relationship and their struggle to make it work.

The murder mystery is well crafted and easy to follow as they together go through the list of possible suspects. It reveals the bias and the struggle the minorities face in society and how love can heal it.

An easy read that has a lot of heart in it.


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monsters of verity

Review: This Savage Song [The monsters of Verity] by Victoria Schwab

1:40:00 AM

This Savage Song
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This Savage Song is a Young Adult fiction set in a city full of monsters and human. The city is divided into two sections - one ruled by Harker who has made monsters his slave and now sells his protection to humans, other section ruled by Flynn who saves the humans by fighting the monsters and the evil humans alike and keeping them out of his part of the city. There are three kinds of monsters - and one of them is August - the boy who loves music but can not play at his will as his songs can steal a human's soul. Harker has a daughter - Kate who he keeps away from the city as much as Kate struggles to return home and eventually succeeds too.

“She cracked a smile. "So what's your poison?"He sighed dramatically, and let the truth tumble off his tongue. "Life.""Ah," she said ruefully. "That'll kill you.” 

This is a story of these two and how one saves the other from acting like a real monster and ultimately saving the city, perhaps temporarily. Maybe this is about choices we make - to be the monster or not and to shape our own destiny even in the bleakest times. But what moves the story forward so seamlessly is the dialogue and the pace of the story. Supported by some really amazing cast on August's side and the conflicts on Kate's side, this is a really good quick read.

I did not love the book, but I did like it enough for one of the main characters - so that I am curious about the second part of the book to know the story further.

“I read somewhere," said Kate, "that people are made of stardust."
He dragged his eyes from the sky. "Really?"
"Maybe that's what you're made of. Just like us."
And despite everything, August smiled.” 

The story ends at a point where it is satisfying to be left without reading the sequel.


Here is the link to the audiobook from youtube.

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Nature

Review: A Mango Tree in the Courtyard by Shweta Gour

8:48:00 AM

A Mango Tree in the Courtyard: Fifteen comforting stories of nostalgia, humour, irony and macabre. A Mango Tree in the Courtyard: Fifteen comforting stories of nostalgia, humour, irony and macabre. by Shweta Gour
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars


"Always be aware of men who make you feel miserable, who always put their needs above your wishes and stand for yourself, without hurting anyone; but, also be wise enough never to become the woman who compensates for their suffering by instilling the same onto others."



This book is a collection of short stories divided into two sections - 1. Nature and Nostalgia and 2. On the dark side. As the name shows, the first one has stories of the author's childhood and growing years coupled with a love for nature. These are the stories that appealed more to me as it clearly shows that the author is passionate about these memories and the way nature has left an imprint on her life. There is certain warmth in the stories, even if sometimes they fail to have a proper closure. 

My favorite story is the first one which is also the name of the book. A dream in a dream is a really sweet story that has inception like feels but thankfully not that twisted. Misfortune is another story I liked a lot in the book.


In my more rational days, the polarities between the existence of wildlife and those of humans come forth clearly. The former in its very process of just being in making this planet worth living while the latter in all its intelligence is only making it ugly. The view of trails of trees and plants rejoicing with various avians and squirrels against the high concrete blocks, standing sullen strengthens my conclusion.

The second section has some interesting plot and moments that make you think of creepy moments you have encountered. The perfume is one of my favorites stories in this section while the last one could have been a little better plotted. It leaves you with wanting for more. 


Overall the book has some misses but most of the stories can make you a little bit nostalgic and think of the simpler times of summer vacations, train journeys, and some spooky tales. A good debut attempt by the author. 


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indian crime

Regional Book Reviews: Mystic Mountain, 307.47

8:34:00 AM


               Malayalam Pulp Fiction is going through a golden phase now. More and more youngsters are bringing out their works and mainstream publishers are picking them up without any inhibitions (there used to be a phase when A-List Malayalam publishers kept a 'safe' distance from 'popular/pulp' writers and wanted 'nothing' to do with their 'works') .They are not only vocal about their works in the online platforms but also aggressively cross promote each other's works. It won't be an overstatement to say that Malayalam popular fiction is witnessing what desi writing in English experienced in the 'Chetan Bhagat' phase (ofcourse, Chetan Bhagat is still hanging around, but the many pale imitations have slowly faded out,by now!).This week, we are reviewing two books which are making waves in the social media- Mystic Mountain by Sree Parvathy and 307.47 by Ashish Ben Ajay. In more ways than one, both these works have a couple of things in common.
               Mystic Mountain is a novel which tries to explore Devil worship, Lesbian Love and adventure travel. Thara and Agnes are a lesbian couple who are madly in love with each other and desperately want to start a life together.To tide over her personal crisis, Agnes decides to go for an adventure trip to Mount Aleena with her friends but there she chances upon a mysterious church (church of insanity) and decides to go after the secret behind this abandoned Church. But little did she know that the place had been taken over by dark forces. 
            On a concept level, this theme/one-line might sound exciting.But the plain narrative and below par treatment makes this one a not-so-pleasant reading experience.
             Plagued by poor character development, a back story heavily borrowed from a Malayalam Comedy Film (the track from 'Romans'), illogical plot twists and loopholes in the narrative (the entry of Devasi Achan, the 'conveniently placed' mobile phone in the climax , the 'keys' appearing from nowhere, to name a few),'Mystic Mountain' ends up as a royal mess. The scenes depicting the Devil worship are so unimaginatively written that they end up being cringe worthy and outright boring.

On the whole, I'm giving it a 2 out of 5.

           Asish Ben Ajay's 307.47 is a work which tries to blend different genres. It has elements of horror, travelogue and mystery.The plot goes something like this-Abhisekh is a young banker who has recently got transferred to Kochi. There , he chances upon a book written by someone named Asish Ben Ajay which basically is an account of the travel which Asish and his friends had made to Munnar (Chinnacanal).Not very much later, Abhisekh and his friends also decide to go on for a pleasure trip to Munnar (Chinnacanal). In the course of the journey, Abhi soon realises that they are also going through the same experiences, as described in the book, one by one!
          Coming to the positives, this book is undoubtedly a light and easy read.For the most part, 307.47 works well as an atmospheric ,suspenseful read.
The illustrations accompanying the text deserve special mention.It did help in elevating the reading experience to a great extend.
          On the downside, the book is not devoid of flaws either.A travelogue becomes more enjoyable when it describes places we haven't been quite acquainted with.But when it's about familiar places, you don't 'feel' much about it.In that sense, it didn't quite work for me.The mystery about the 'Thamizhathy' was also quite predictable.The climax and tail end portions could have been better thought out, though!

I'm giving it a 2.7 out of 5. Asish Ben Ajay is a promising talent as far as Malayalam Pulp Fiction is concerned!

 -nikhimenon

Frederic Dard

QBR: The Wicked Go To Hell by Frederic Dard

8:31:00 AM

                                                       Noir/Thriller
                                                       152+ pages
                                                       Pushkin Vertigo (2017)
                                                       RT Rating: 3.5/5

The Verdict: 'The Wicked Go to Hell' is a classic tale of friendship, betrayal and redemption.
Synopsis: Two Convicts escape from a high security prison.The police is after them but they have succesfully deceived them so far. But there is one small issue- one of the escaped prisoners is a police mole himself.Will 
The Good:The setting is perfect, the narrative is fast paced, the suspense is terrific and the ending is quite unexpected 
The Bad:Nothing really!

RecommendationsBuy it!

-nikhimenon

Anne Bogel

#BookReview: I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel

9:06:00 AM

I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This year, I accidentally picked The uncommon reader from my library on my first ever visit. This book then led me to explore more books in the genre - Books about Books/reading. And surprisingly the second book I picked was "I'd rather be Reading" I was vaguely aware of Anne Bogel's name but I had not matched it to her very famous podcast - What should I read next till I started reading the book.

This book was like a trip down memory lane - through Anne's life in reading and surrounded with books, I traced my own as I read through each chapter.

From the time books come into a reader's life , to early influences on the reading habits , managing to get hands on the books within your small town (for me) or within your pocket money , exploring new genre, reading classics and to actually like them, passing the love for reading to others (friends in my case, kids for Anne),  Book Clubs, book twins, book meets and dilemma of not liking a popular book - Anne wrote about it all in a warm, loving yet really fun way. I really can not think of any aspect of the reader's life that Anne missed writing about.

Though the concept of the library was unknown/starkly different from my imagination until I moved to Canada, knowing about it and reading about it in her book gives me a goal to have a library someday that can boast of introducing literature to some young ones and inspire this blessed habit.

I am also glad of the names of books added in the end, of the ones that were referenced within the different chapters. The book is a delight to read. It is what it is - a reader's life. There is nothing too flashy about it or a message to readers. It just feels more like a guide to non-readers how readers operate in the world. And we are sure, a little crazy bunch! This book describes us perfectly.



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gay love

#Review: We Contain Multitudes by Sarah Henstra

3:35:00 AM

We Contain Multitudes We Contain Multitudes by Sarah Henstra
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.75 / 4 to be precise ;)

I actually did not read this one but listened to the audiobook version and I must mention that it is one of the books that perfectly done in the audio. The book is written in the form of letters exchanged between the two characters. what starts with an assignment for English class between two strangers, become a friendship that saves them both from their fears and results in a relationship that's is a beauty in itself to see grow. This was also the first time I read a book where one of the characters is not sure of his sexuality and it made for a different experience for me to see the struggle and the mental stress it creates for the person and the partner too. 

The other characters in the book are not mere caricature and fleshed out well, especially Jo's family and friends. The story of his parents made for a good twist but nothing to justify the reaction of Jo's sister. On the other hand, I felt that Kurl was handed the raw deal in terms of family and history though it kind of turns out good in the end?

The book does ask for a certain amount of belief from the reader for certain plot points but overall it is an engaging and entertaining read even when it is not a purely happy read and has its own share of flaws and troubled parts. Finishing this book over a solitary dinner at my favorite restaurant was a perfect Friday evening for me. The writing is really beautiful and at times I paused to really admire the observations and the metaphors that the author used were awe-inspiring. Plus point for this book introducing me to Walt Whitman in a completely new and personal way and leading me to explore his poetry.

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Classic

The Pledge by Friedrich Durrenmatt

8:38:00 AM


                 The Pledge is a classic Novella by the Swiss Author ,Friedrich Durrenmatt, recently re-released by Pushkin Vertigo.Though on the face of it, it's a crime /mystery thriller, it's much more than that and delves more into the obsession of a criminal Investigator.
                The story is narrated by a character named Dr H (the former chief of Zurich Police) to a writer(who remains unnamed) of detective fiction. It's basically a tale of a man's (Matthai's) solitary search for a serial killer. A young girl, Gritli is found murdered in the woods close to a Swiss Mountain Village and a local felon is arrested for the crime.But Matthai is convinced that the real killer is someone else and he might also have been responsible for two similar murders which happened a couple of years back. Matthai's hunt for the real killer doesn't yield fruitful results and soon his obsession takes him to borderline insanity. How Matthai overcomes his obsession and how he manages find the truth behind the murder is what 'The Pledge' is all about. 
                The Pledge is what can be called as a realistic take on detective stories. Durrenmatt's disdain for formulaic crime novels which proceed like mathematical equations with a definite solution is pretty evident through out. Infact, the origin of this novella itself stems to the fact that Friedrich was unhappy with a formulaic screenplay he had written for a crime thriller film!
                The characterisation of Matthai is flawless. An aloof ,highly intelligent man who values his 'pledge' more than anything else is what Matthai is. It's brilliant characterisation which makes us root for him and it's again these character traits which makes his obsession look convincing.There aren't many other characters in this book and the climactic reveal is also decently done.
                What makes this book a masterpiece is the author's brilliant vision and his razor sharp observations about formulaic mystery thrillers. Most of his observations remain true to the day and it's quite difficult to believe that this book was written almost 60 years ago!

On the whole, I'm giving a 4 out of 5 for this work!

-nikhimenon

Humor

Dork: The Adventures of Robert Einstein Varghese by Sidin Vadukut

8:18:00 AM



                    Sidin Vadukut's 'Dork' is a book which came out in 2010, at a time when the Indian writing in English for the young Urban readers was 'trending'. I had chanced upon this book soon after it's release, but for some reason, never felt like picking it up for reading. But after all these years, finally managed to get a copy and finished reading it in a couple of sittings.
                  As the title suggests, Dork is all about the adventures of Robert Einstein Varghese, soon after he joins his new office.How he manages to get into the company, how he bonds with his fellow team-mates and what happens to his non-existent love life with Gouri.Written in the form of diary entries, Dork is the kind of book which works in parts. For a satire which doesn't have a plot per se, the writing should be sharp and witty for it to work. But 'Dork' is only funny in parts and doesn't manage to be a laugh out loud kind of work.
                 The book begins well, but once the novelty wanes, the diary entries did get monotonous and even plain boring. so ,by the time Robert manages to be an 'associate' following an illogical  'twist',neither the reader nor his team-mates do care much about it!

On the whole, I 'm giving it a 2.5 out of 5.

-nikhimenon