Book Review — The Goat Thief by Perumal Murugan [Translated by N. Kalyan Raman]

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Famed Tamilian writer, Perumal Murugan’s 10 short stories have been compiled into this volume called The Goat Thief. Steeped in cultural nuances and throwing light on the simplicities of life, the stories draw our attention towards the very nature of humanity; be it seeking company or obsessing over ordinary objects. Some of these tales are testament to the hardships that people from lower tiers of society undergo. And by imbuing common occurrences with an almost surreal quality, this book digs its talons deep into the psyche of the reader. In Mirror of Innocence and Musical Chairs, you’ll read about household objects that grow to mean something different to certain inhabitants. Whereas, The Well and Sanctuary are two stories that hauntingly convey how the protagonist loses himself in the depths of a well.

I’m not all that familiar with translated literature, but if they are anywhere as good as this one, sign me up! What’s refreshing about this collection of short stories is that they concern the most random of things like salt shaker, toilet bowls, tumblers, wells, chairs etc. and yet there’s something so captivating about the narration. You can’t help but be in awe of how realistically basic human sentiments are unearthed by such ordinary events. As far as the form goes, there’s very little dialogue in all of these short stories. But that didn’t deter me, because the narrative was so reminiscent of several quirks and attributes unique to Indians. Two of my favourite stories are An Unexpected Visitor and The Well. Another factor that I simply LOVED about this book is that the stories have ambiguous or abrupt endings. And you can’t even see it coming. All in all, this collection is a quick read; appealing to those who enjoy stories that challenge the norms of possibility and bring out the endearing quality of companionship. I thoroughly enjoyed it and so, I urge you to pick it up!

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A microscopic glimpse at the lives of individuals from different backgrounds, the little things that keep them going.

Thank you Juggernaut for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for a review. 

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Book Review — Written in Blood by Layton Green

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Written in Blood by Layton Green follows Detective Preach, as he attempts to wade through the murders cropping up in Creekville, North Carolina. The town, that was his home, beheld a devastating change after his departure. And now that he’s back, carrying his own nightmares of a time in Atlanta, he is forced to wonder what exactly went down during his absence. The serial killer is vengeful and won’t stop until he/she has recreated the murders that took place in the writings of Poe, Dostoevsky etc. Preach’s hands are tied and he has very less time to figure out who’s upto no good in the previously peaceful town of Creekville.

Literary references and a murder mystery, what an incredible combination! From the very beginning, this novel was unputdownable. The murders, the leads were all explored in due time, spaced out evenly throughout the book so that no part of it is draggy. Nothing about the plot is predictable and like any good murder mystery, you’re most probably going to bet on the wrong person as being the suspect. I did. And when the climax did roll around (almost at the end), I was completely bowled over!! Like *hyperventilating* bowled over. The author’s writing style is crisp, to the point, tinged by great imageries and analogies. As a reader slowly growing to love older and modern classics, the discussions and novels that are pivotal to the plot were my absolute favourite.

The manner in which themes such as rape, prostitution, child abuse and bullying are dealt with doesn’t make light of the situation. In fact, Preach’s sentiment or reaction towards these comes from a very real place. And alongside him, we can’t help but shed a tear for the hundreds and thousands of people who are undergoing such horrors. There are only a couple of characters who are regulars in the novel, so there isn’t much to detect in terms of a character arc. Sure, Preach and his partner, Kirby undergo some personality change. But that’s about it. I did not have a single complaint about this book and the whole reading experience was spotted with squeals of excitement. I’m still hungover and can barely contain myself at having read such a superb book. Highly highly highly recommend it to all those who enjoy murder mysteries!

Ratings – 5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A mind blowing murder mystery that, in true meta fashion, is fueled by four timeless classic novels.

Thank you Pyr and Edelweiss for sending me this e-galley in exchange for a review. 

Book Review — The Nine by Tracy Townsend

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In The Nine, Tracy Townsend creates a world quite like our own, throwing different species into play, in its deceitful and dangerous alleys. The aigamuxa and lanyani are as much a part of the looming mystery as the humans. A book that writes itself, the murder of an intellectual and nine individuals who are chosen as representative of a race – you’ve got yourself an action-packed novel that refuses to slow down. Rowena Downshire was a mere courier, working for the hardhearted Ivor. But when she is dragged into the midst of a conspiracy, she is forced to fight the greater of two evils.

This book has so many plot points in it, its a whopper of the highest quality. It is a dark fantasy, that weaves in steampunk elements, while also sending its characters on a tiresome adventure. I feel that the synopsis doesn’t convey just how intricate the story is and that’s why it was such a pleasant surprise. Tracy Townsend’s writing style is mesmerizing to say the least, vividly descriptive and devoid of sugar coating. There wasn’t a single dull moment. Some of the slang and phrases were new to me, but nothing that Google couldn’t fix. I like how to plot reflects very real human tendencies to be threatened by diversity and the unknown. Incorporating species like lanyani and aigamuxa added more dimension to the novel. Also, each chapter is told from the POV of a different character. In the beginning there were more POVs, so it was a bit overwhelming what with the highly detailed world-building too.

As for the characters, a majority of them were interesting; full of the flavor needed to carry the story forward. Rowena may have started out looking like a helpless girl, but we soon see how loyal and fearless she truly is. She, surprisingly, forms alliances with two very powerful men in order to “save the day”. Anselm Meteron is your typical badass boss, who is wealthy and cunning beyond measure. I liked the equation that was explored between him and Rare Jeulls. The Alchemist who is also part of the trio is a mysterious character for pretty much the whole book. His backstory, identity and such is only revealed at the end, which ideally could have been an impediment to the reading experience but wasn’t. Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and would surely recommend it to those who like dark fantasy.

What do you get out of it? A thrilling adventurous tale that unearths human depravity. A unique supposition about the creation of our world.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

Thank you Pyr and Edelweiss for sending me this e-galley in exchange for a review. 

Book Review — The Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

The Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch is a graphic novel beyond par. It transports us to the childhood of the narrator, shuttling between the story of his family  and that of Mr. Punch, a devious sock-puppet. The stories draw on melancholic and mysterious themes with its disjunctive artwork and unique narrative style.

Neil Gaiman is one of the reasons why I love to be a writer. His writing challenges everything we know, with regards to form, structure, rules, genres etc. The whole time I was reading this graphic novel, I kept wondering to myself, “WHAT IN THE WORLD AM I READING?”. And that’s simply because the entirety of this novel doesn’t follow the three act story progression structure. In fact, the narrator recounts anecdotes from his childhood at random, many of which leave us with an impression of how bereft he may have been as a child. The inclusion of the Punch & Judy show made for an interesting but worrisome story break. It made me feel like it was a commentary about familial neglect, because the kids, who were the audience of the show, were exposed to the devilish ways of Mr. Punch.

The artwork by Dave McKean, while dark and dreary, is all too compelling. In addition to sketches, there are some sepia-toned, ambiguous photographs that add to the strange vibes of the book. The color tones used in this graphic novel are black, reds and darker shades of blue-green. It is in no way a bright novel. After I finished reading it, I couldn’t process how I felt about it, for the longest time. And while I loved the narrative style, I’m somewhere in between the continuum of love and dislike for the content of the narration, i.e. the story. Mr. Punch is an annoying character. I also didn’t feel very happy reading about the parents and grandparents. All in all, it is classic Gaiman and I’d recommend it to all those who can stomach weird stories.

What do you get out of it? You get mind-boggled.

Ratings – I honestly can’t think of a rating that would be suitable to the sheer madness that is this book.

Book Review — The Indian Spirit by Magandeep Singh

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The Indian Spirit captures the historic events and societal nuances that led to Indians embracing spirits  and alcoholic drinks like rum, vodka, whisky, wine, beer etc. It digs deep into the origin tales, bringing out the long processes of evolution in our drinking culture, some of which we imbibed from foreign forces. Equipped with years of experience in the field, the author throws light on the many brands that took root in India; some of which have inevitably soared to international standards and others that have been forgotten. Almost every kind of spirit has a deep rooted connection to the growth of the F&B industry in India. This book in its entirety is a delight for those who indulge in alcohol, heightening our experience of consuming the said liquor, with tips on how to best approach it and amazing anecdotes from the past.

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but some books (like this one) are simply splendid and the subject matter of The Indian Spirit appeals to me a great deal. The author’s writing style is quite conversational, flavored by quips and straightforward commentary on various products. Even though there’s a lot of factual information, it doesn’t feel textbook-ish because the narrative style is light and catchy. I often found myself cracking up at the humor wedged in between all that data. There are separate chapters on whisky, wine, beer and many more. The chapter on local alcohol variants was an eye-opener because if not for this book, I wouldn’t have even heard of many of the traditional alcoholic beverages. I like an occasional (read often) glass of wine, rum or vodka, but it wouldn’t be far fetched to say that my understanding of these drinks has been absolutely bleak, when compared to what I learned from the book. Thanks to the little guide at the end of certain chapters, I now know the correct way of tasting, judging and serving some liquors.

Since this book explores a rather wide variety of drinks, it is best read slowly, so you can grasp as much of the information as possible. Rush it, and you’ll risk not remembering more than half of it. Many of the anecdotes mentioned in this book were really intriguing. My favourite chapters (which I am going to re-read again and again) were the ones about wine, drinking etiquette and rum. Overall, this book makes for a great reading experience and I would recommend it to EVERYONE, whether you are a tippler or not. Also, regardless of the number of times I have tried beer and whisky, I strongly believe that they still taste like “something that could power space expeditions”!

What do you get out of it? Priceless knowledge about how alcohol was brought or came to be made in India. With the help of amusing stories and factual deductions, we are able to follow the changes that this market has gone through.

Ratings – 5 out of 5 stars

Thank you Penguin India for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for a review. 

Book Review — There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

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Osborne, Nebraska seldom draws attention from the outside. It is a quaint little place where everybody knows everybody. But when students of Osborne High start to become victims of a serial killer, the entire world tunes in. There’s a pattern to these killings, which none other than Makani Young and her friends are able to notice. Unfortunately for them, the devious killer is always one step ahead, messing with the minds of his next victims. Would they have to fend for themselves in a town where the police seem incapable of solving the case?

In true YA murder-mystery fashion, this book involved a good chunk of school drama and suspense. That was exactly what roped me in. It was one of those books for which I read the synopsis and had to pick it up the very next second. What’s sad to see is that the poor ratings of this book stem from the fact that it doesn’t border on paranormal even though it is categorized as horror. Certainly it is evident that horror doesn’t merely pertain to that which is supernatural, it is in fact the emotion elicited from being spooked. And boy does the serial killer know how to horrify his/her victims before he/she goes in for the kill! I know that Stephanie Perkins’ writing is highly hyped because of her YA romance novels, but never having read anything written by her, I didn’t know what to expect. I really really enjoyed reading There’s Someone Inside Your House. It was written in a very chatty and smooth manner, such that you can breeze through it. The narration is easy to grasp and doesn’t disconnect from the story. As with any suspense, you attempt to guess who the culprit may be throughout the book, but in this one it is not predictable by a long shot.

The characterization isn’t all that unique, because the author employs some tropes relevant to high school hierarchies. The male lead is shown to be brooding, quiet and slightly secretive. The “jock” is inevitably a douche. There isn’t much substance on secondary characters except for when they are in danger of being attacked. Mostly everyone performs the role of furthering the plot, by creating an air of whodunnit. Even though the plot isn’t complicated or filled with twists and turns, you find yourself bewildered by how the story progresses. Fair warning to people who can’t stomach gore, the killings are quite brutal. Those who love books like Pretty Little Liars, One Of Us Is Lying and Dangerous Girls, should definitely pick up this one; you won’t be disappointed for sure.

What do you get out of it? A fun, thrilling read.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars