Book Review — Murder in a Minute by Shouvik Bhattacharya

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

The Aroras are an esteemed family in Palampur, Himachal Pradesh. When the eldest daughter and head of the company, Esha Arora is found murdered in their house, the very foundation of trust in one another starts crumbling as many of them had an ax to grind with the deceased. Shouvik Bhattacharya’s debut novel, Murder in a Minute reflects the extremely sensitive nature of the human psyche and how even the smallest of actions can have unfortunate consequences.

I haven’t come across any murder-mystery or thriller written by an Indian author that has bowled me over with the sheer brilliance of its plot like this one did. For almost two-thirds of this novel, the pace, albeit fast, is very placid; like the calm before the storm. The last handful of chapters are going to make you INSANE with anticipation. I was anxious and excited all at the same time. I must commend the author for crafting the suspense in such a way that nothing is predictable, which is an essential determinant of whether a suspense novel is going to keep its readers on edge or not. That said, I channeled the psychology student within me and from the very beginning, had stinking suspicion as to who the culprit might be. AND I WAS RIGHT! Taking apart the thought process and actions of all the characters made the reading experience so much more fun. It was an absolute delight!

The writing style of the author is punchy, interspersed with analogies and philosophical musings. The plot, much like other murder-mysteries, is the usual as someone of great power is killed off and also, the blame falls on immediate relations. What I found to be interesting is that the so many people in Esha’s surroundings are portrayed sketchily, thereby heightening your doubt as to the identity of the murderer. Moreover, the chapters give you a glimpse of the past. In doing so, it adds more dimension to the story, because you come to glean the equation that Esha had with different people. As far as the characters are concerned, there are some very disagreeable people in the novel. I didn’t really like them or care for them. But being a suspense novel, this book isn’t about character arcs and that’s totally understandable. I’m not sure exactly why, but I found some of the mannerisms of the main inspector to be funny.  Few of the themes mirrored by this book are true to the Indian society, like the pressure of following a specific educational field or being intolerant of deviance. Overall, I enjoyed reading this book a great deal and would definitely recommend it to everyone who is into this genre of writing. READ IT, PEOPLE! It’s a rather quick read and I finished most of it in one sitting.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A thriller with tons of suspects and a maddeningly good unraveling of the mystery

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

Advertisements

Book Review — Austenistan [edited by Laaleen Sukhera]

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

Austenistan is a compilation of seven short stories that, in true Jane Austen fashion, comment on the nature of society and revolve around the lives of modern women. Based in different cities of Pakistan, these stories are as immersed in Pakistani culture as they are tweaked to accommodate the whims of 21st century folks.

I had such great expectations of this book, particularly because it was inspired by Jane Austen’s writings with the promise to feature Pakistani culture. Unfortunately, I didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped. Now, the writing style (of the different writers) is colloquial and easy to get accustomed to, which was an interesting change from Austen’s very ornate and wordy style. Most of the stories had some element of a wedding celebration or a party, the vibes of which were aptly conveyed through the use of imageries and cultural references. You’ll also find empowered women refusing to bow down to society’s ridiculous expectations. Clichés like insta-love, brooding men and marriage-fixing-aunties notwithstanding, I really liked reading about how different female protagonists reacted in different circumstances.

My problem was with certain characters and value systems that overshadowed even the simplest of stories. In Begum Saira Returns, Saira’s plight is heartrending! She is bullied by society for being open-minded. BUT THEN, the turn of events at the end is bewildering. How is it okay to let go of your morals, especially when doing so could hurt a loved one? Many of the stories emphasize superficial standards, when it comes to arranging a marriage or fixing a date, by placing those with a better outward appearance, money and stature at a pedestal. In Austen’s writings, these aspects could be justified because the time was such. But the same is not an overarching truth of today. Certain parts of the stories do get predictable after a point, but because they’re cutesy romances it’s not really bothersome. My favourite has to be The Autumn Ball by Gayathri Warnsuriya. The disconnect between a couple is heartbreakingly sketched in that story. All in all, the book had it’s good and bad aspects. I enjoyed reading most of the stories. It’s just a couple of them that irked me.

Ratings – 3 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A few entertaining stories which attempt to reflect prevalent ideals about marriage, womanhood and society.

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

Book Review — Until The Last Dog Dies by Robbert Guffey

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

Robbert Guffey dives right into the field of stand up comedy with his science fiction novel, Until The Last Dog Dies, speculating a future devoid of humour. A virus has infected people’s ability to register or respond to humor, thereby threatening Elliot and his friends’ profession.

The premise of this novel is a fantastic one! I couldn’t have been more excited to read it. But sadly, I didn’t finish it. The initial couple of chapters weren’t gripping at all and try as I might, I couldn’t bring myself to push through till the very end. There were some scenes strung together that didn’t make sense to me and Elliot’s character didn’t help make matters better. All throughout the chapters, his thought process is all over the place and so the narrative digresses multiple times in a confusing manner. The writing style of the author is pretty articulate and does not heavily rely on dialogue. Apart from the writing style, the plot was something I really looked forward to. But when you are unable to connect with any of the characters in a book, it becomes a little difficult to keep reading.

Perhaps if you do finish reading it, you could let me know your thoughts about the book. But I tried a couple of times to get a grip on it and failed.

Rating –  1 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? Honestly, other than coming to terms with what it’s like to be a stand up comedian, I can’t highlight any plus-points within the chunk of the book that I read.

Thank you Ingram Publisher Services and Edelweiss for an e-galley in exchange for a review.

Book Review — How May I Help You? by Deepak Singh

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

How May I Help You? is a memoir that traces Deepak Singh’s experiences in America, as a well educated individual who is compelled to work a minimum wage job. Through chapters that unravel his descent into American society, we are also pulled into the lives of his colleagues and acquaintances who are themselves struggling to get by in a world that is foreshadowed by apathy and fallacy. Spanning across two years and some, this book brings to light the strong culture shock that Deepak deals with, when confronted by an America quite unlike the picture painted by the big screen. What this autobiography succeeds in doing commendably is emphasizing that people may be separated by oceans and borders but we all couldn’t be more alike due to our shared sufferings and encounters.

As someone who has aspired to live abroad, the synopsis of this book was very intriguing to me. At the same time, I don’t really read autobiographies. That said, How May I Help You? is a very smooth read, captivating because of its simplistic depiction of a foreign society and earnest in its portrayal of a profession that isn’t held in high esteem. The author’s writing style is very straightforward which I appreciate when it comes to non-fiction; I found myself wanting to finish the book in one sitting. The story is endearing to say the least. I’m sure we’ve all felt lost at some point in time and so Deepak’s sentiments resonate with us. To be stranded in a foreign land, unable to form genuine connections with people there, can be a heartrending experience. I really liked how diverse lifestyles were reflected in addition to Deepak’s. All of which help us get a better understanding of the non-glitzy aspect of living in America.

It also draws comparisons to the low income group in India, trying to find a togetherness in the struggles of people across the world. The voice of immigrants and diasporic communities is always a refreshing one and this book is no different. We come to learn just how ignorant people can be about other cultures, misled by popular representations. Kudos to the author for having aptly delineated themes of poverty, loneliness, camaraderie and personal growth. Don’t be intimidated by the harsh realities that are mirrored here; it is one that we should acknowledge. All in all, I really liked this book and it has encouraged me to pick up other memoirs. I would definitely recommend it to everyone; whether you read autobiographies or not, DON’T MISS OUT ON THIS!

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? An honest glimpse of what it means to be working abroad, devoid of any sugar coating. And a taste of culturally diverse mindsets.

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

Book Review — Secret Lives [Darke Academy #1] by Gabriella Poole

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

Cassandra Bell has been invited to study at the Darke Academy, an elite boarding school that shifts base every term. Initially she can’t believe her luck, but as time passes she realizes that the school is built on a foundation of deceit and danger. In the past, students have met with unfortunate “accidental” deaths and there is something extremely odd about the school’s chosen group, the Few. Cassie has never been one to play safe, not if it means being left in the dark about what’s happening around her. And so, she walks down a path from which there’s no return.

I gladly admit to loving Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. It was one of the first vampire fiction books that I’d read, which made me realize just how much I love paranormal and supernatural genres. I would still re-read it, despite all the hate that it has surprisingly garnered. Secret Lives being the first book in the Darke Academy trilogy has a very promising storyline. Boarding school on wheels + vampires = YES PLEASE! But it just didn’t work for me. Sure, the setting and the author’s writing style is enough to make you want to teleport to the Darke Academy. But there was quite a bit about the book that I couldn’t digest. Gabriella Poole’s writing is very colloquial, not wordy and moderately descriptive. Some of the plot points are in deed commendable and unique. Who’d EVER think of a boarding school that moves to a different city every term? It’s brilliant! Who’d think of vampires and not associate them with blood lust? The author of this book, that’s who.

Moving onto characters, themes and some half-baked cliches. Cassie is your average studious girl, who has been in foster care for very long. I found her personality to be confusing at times; her thoughts and actions were just all over the place throughout the novel. Isabella is the one character that I really liked in this book. She has her heart on her sleeve, is fiercely protective of Cassie and Jake and exhibits very real emotions and opinions. Usually in media representations of vampires, the vampire characters are ostracized in society. But it’s interesting to notice that here, they are placed on a pedestal. So much so that the Few are considered above authority at the academy. The use of cliches overwhelms this novel. The vampire male lead is mysterious and brooding, the rich people are shown to be brats, there’s a lot of jealousy at play in between the female characters because of certain attractive men etc. On the whole, it was an okay book. Parts of it were truly fun and others could have been better. Read it and see for yourself, if you’d like.

Ratings – 2.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A new perspective on vampires. Also, you begin to wish that you’d studied in a magnificent boarding school.

Book Review — Demigods and Magicians by Rick Riordan

All Images Courtesy – Goodreads

The three short stories that make up Demigods and Magicians bring together the characters of the Percy Jackson series and those of the Kane Chronicles series in a thrilling fashion. There’s a new baddie in town and for a change, his ambitions are a lot bigger than usual. Setne (or Prince Khaemwaset) is an evil magician who wishes to combine Egyptian and Greek magic to become more powerful than all the Gods. In doing so, he threatens the very foundation of the world.

Rick Riordan has, without a doubt, become one of my auto-buy authors. I will read anything and everything that he writes. Having loved the Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series, I wasn’t the least bit hesitant about picking up this collection which focused a tad bit more on Egyptian mythology. The stories were short, fast paced and an absolute treat! My favourite has to be The Crown of Ptolemy. Percy and Carter’s friendship is just as heartwarming and filled with funny moments as is Sadie and Annabeth’s. Both the duos couldn’t be more unlike each other. But when they all come together at the end, oh boy. And even with the others, the interaction between characters is sketched out so commendably.

I haven’t read the Kane Chronicles, but suffice it to say, Percy will always be my favourite character. He is hilarious and has a beautiful relationship going on with Annabeth. This book reminded me just how much I missed Percy’s sass and headstrong personality. Time for a re-read of the PJ series. I’ve come to realize that I love Riordan’s full fledged novels a lot more, even if they are as chunky as the Heroes of Olympus books. Because short stories don’t really do much justice to his writing style and the potential of the story. What prevents me from giving this book 5 stars is that even though I can’t pick a single fault with the stories themselves, I would have rather liked to see them interwoven into a novel than cut short abruptly. All in all, I would 100% recommend this fantastic book to everyone who is interested in mythology.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? Three really incredible and exciting reads that introduce you to Egyptian mythology. And if you need more motivation, have you seen the covers?

Book Review — The House That Spoke by Zuni Chopra

The House That Spoke is a story of how darkness makes its way into Kashmir, in the form of a demon that haunts Zoon’s house as well as the growing socio-political tension in society courtesy of militants. At 14 years of age, Zoon is a very spirited young girl, unaware of the power her lineage has. But as her fifteenth birthday looms near, she begins to realize that the strange occurrences are tied to her father’s bloodline, generations of Guardians meant to protect Kashmir and all of its inhabitants.

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

At this point, it’s no surprise that I enjoy reading peculiar books. And if the title wasn’t explanation enough, EVERYTHING in Zoon’s house “speaks”. Remember the enchanted household objects in Beauty and the Beast? Exactly like that! Although, the books flinging themselves off the shelves was always a cringe-worthy moment. I liked the plot, despite its very obvious tropes of “the chosen one” and darkness being equated to the villainous  component. I LOVED the setting and how the author weaves a tale around the realistic situation in Kashmir; bringing to light the troubled lifestyle of locals who have to be on guard, lest they get caught in the crossfire between governmental troops and rebel militants. Zuni Chopra’s writing style perfectly reflected the cold, hilly vibes which makes this an apt wintery read.

Most of the times, I enjoyed the conversation between the household objects because their personification was interesting to observe. But I found it quite surprising that Zoon’s mother never really caught on to that. And try as I might, I couldn’t bring myself to connect with or remotely like the protagonist (Zoon!). She was unnecessarily rude. And even though the burden of protecting her hometown ultimately lands on her shoulders, I couldn’t digest her butting into matters that were beyond her maturity. As far as I’m aware, in a household, you wouldn’t see 14 year olds making life-changing decisions or even intervening in such conversations between the elders. Zoon’s mother and Tathi (grandmother) are the two supporting characters. They come across as very affectionate and lenient, but shockingly they weren’t involved in the life threatening situations, even a least bit. The cover of this book and the illustrations on some of the pages is absolutely gorgeous. All in all, I didn’t like this novel as much as I had hoped to. Nevertheless, I’d recommend it to younger audiences.

Ratings – 2 out of 5 stars.

What do you get out of it? Those in and around the age group of 14 years may enjoy this a lot more than I did. That aside, this book captures a realistic portrait of the social scenario in Kashmir and envelops you in the vivid imageries of a winter wonderland.