The Flower Girls

Twisted.

It is the one word that keeps echoing in my mind when I think about this mind-boggling story by Alice Clark-Platts. It starts out much like any other thriller, introduces the plot to us, delves into the minds of the suspects and teases us with the flashbacks that are interwoven in the present-day narrative. But unlike the usual murder mystery, the plot of which is driven by the need to know who the culprit is, The Flower Girls opens with two girls being caught for a crime they supposedly committed. And in executing the plot this way, the author ensnares us. The need to know the rationale that propelled the perpetrators weighs heavily on our minds and so, I just couldn’t set this book down!

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

Two sisters, of age 10 years and 6 years respectively, get caught for the abduction and murder of a two-year old child. Laurel Bowman, the elder one, faces years of imprisonment and estrangement. But since Rosie was considered too young to be held responsible for such a crime, she escapes doing time and is given a new identity along with her parents, so that they may relocate. Now, nineteen years later, another case of a missing child threatens to upturn the lives of the Bowmans.

One third into the book and the main plot of the novel appeared to have been wrapped up, or so I kept thinking. But it was the determination of Detective Hillier that kept me on my toes, because she refused to be content with how the kid’s disappearance was solved. In fact, the novel would’ve been really dull if the present day mystery had not been tied up to the case of the Flower Girls.

You should be aware that it deals with some sensitive topics like child abuse, kidnapping and torture. So keep that in mind before you start reading. The chapters are really short and that helps us transition from one scene to another; thereby, keeping up the pace of the novel. Alice Clark-Platts’ writing style in this one is marked by long sentences and subtle indications that really drive you insane with anticipation. I particularly enjoyed reading the chapters that were set in the 90s because they had such a peculiar tone to them, almost creepy and disturbing. But it was the last two chapters that left me stunned beyond doubt!

There are quite a few characters in this book, many of whom play fleeting yet essential roles. I didn’t like Laurel and Rosie’s parents. They could’ve dealt with the whole thing in a much better manner, instead of abandoning their daughter. The representation of media, although true, is also something that irked me. In between, there comes a point where the pace of the book slows down and you begin to wonder what’s going to happen now. But rest assured that the end is worth the wait. It’ll likely knock you off your feet (that is if you haven’t guessed it already). I had a feeling about what really transpired but it made no sense, so I didn’t bank on that theory and allowed myself to be persuaded otherwise.

The fact that I sat all day and finished this book speaks volumes about how compelling it is. And so, I urge you to read it. While it is not going to be featured on my favorite books of all time list, this is a story you shouldn’t pass up reading.

★ ★ ★ .75

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

Advertisements

Book Review — Land of the Living by Georgina Harding

Georgina Harding’s war narrative seeks to remind us of the debilitating nature of such crimes against humanity. By positing a husband-wife duo at the centre of her novel, Land of the Living, the author allows us a glimpse of how intricately the trauma following war permeates a relationship.  Charlie’s experiences in the Battle of Kohima haunt him till date and Claire’s attempts to get through to him, comfort him remain futile. This unforgettable story takes on more meaning with the recurring themes of memory and grief.

My foray  into WW2 fiction has been very limited and as with any book containing sensitive topics, I didn’t know what to expect. But from the very beginning we get familiarised to Georgina Harding’s feathery writing style. It focuses quite a lot on elements of nature in a way that is meant to add to the ambience of the novel. And that was one reason I wasn’t hooked to the book. This kind of ambient writing is not for me. The chapters aren’t very long and are split into separate sections, each of which are different observations or happenings. So there isn’t a linearity to the narration.

I particularly enjoyed reading about the Naga tribes. The parts where those instances were being recounted added some flavour to the book. It is interesting to observe how these people take on roles of healers and nurtures immediately without a care for treating him as an enemy or being hostile towards him.

It is also heartrending to read about Claire, because she is shown to be a supportive wife, who doesn’t demand a great deal from him and is always trying to be understanding. But her affection is not really reciprocated, since Charlie is still battling with his own emotions and thoughts.

I felt that the strong imageries of the environment sort of overshadowed the important parts – Charlie’s memory, his connection with other characters. Another note you should keep in mind is that the dialogue in this book, although very minimal, is not put in quotation marks. So that was a unique reading experience. It is left to you to realize at what moments a dialogue would pop up in between observational passages. On the whole, it is definitely worth a read because of the subject matter that is dealt with and the way it has been written. The writing style may or may not suit your tastes, but give it a try!

Rating – 3 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? An atmospheric narrative about how war affects people who’ve had first-hand experience, as well as those who know the survivors.

Book Review — The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

Madeline Miller has a way with words. Reading The Song of Achilles was like swaying with the waves, the ocean lapping at you and the peace making you one with the environment. It was soothing, inviting and towards the end, a surge of emotions. I hadn’t felt this connected to a book in the longest time and so, was more than eager to get swept up in Patroclus’ narration. Told from his point of view, the novel builds a timeline of events that have seen Patroclus and Achilles together, wrapped in a cocoon of love and support for one another. While we are introduced to Patroclus as a young boy of 9 years age, floundering under his father’s decision to present him as a suitor for Princess Helen, it is much later that he grows into an individual in his own right.

The author delivers the story of Patroclus and Achilles with such beauty, as to absorb us into the book, unable to set it down even for one moment. I was especially convinced of her genius when the scenes pertaining to war and politics, instead of diminishing my interest, furthered my desire to know more of what had transpired. In all its unabashed honesty, Miller depicts the foolishness of humans; the manner in which the pride and prejudice of kings have ushered in their downfall. Bound to the story with ropes of intrigue and awe, I kept wishing that Achilles had had more clarity of thought, allowing him to assess the situation better and take decisions that might have (sort of?) prevented a great deal of mishap. One thing you’re going to have to keep in mind is that this novel mentions a large number of mythological figures, which means atleast a hundred Greek names bouncing off your mind. They weren’t easy for me to remember, particularly the names of the secondary characters. But rest assured, the twenty or so important ones will remain in your memory.

It was a mesmerizing thing indeed to read about Patroclus and how he changes from an ordinary, under-confident lad to one who stands up for people, knows his worth in war and is incredibly courageous. Achilles’ character arc, on the other hand, takes a surprising dip. I like the inclusion of Briseis’ character. She plays a pivotal role in Achilles’ life and brings a new dynamic to Patroclus’ identity. The Song of Achilles is abundant with themes of love, politics, greed, slavery, monarchy to name a few. On the whole, it was such a pleasant experience reading about the eternal nature of Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship. I can’t believe that I put off reading it for so long. Now that I have, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that this has become one of my all time favourites. Highly recommend it to those who enjoy reading mythological fiction. PICK. IT. UP. NOW.

Rating – 5 out of 5 stars (and more!)

What do you get out of this book? An epic story about two epic characters from Greek mythology, with a dash of romance, politics and friendship.

Book Review — Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Inspired by Sophocles’ Antigone, Home Fire shows us the plight of a family embroiled in modern day politics and Islamophobia. Isma Pasha has been a second mother to her siblings after the demise of their parents. But her decision to move to America marks the beginning of the disintegration of their family. The twins, Aneeka and Parvaiz, find their paths diverging as he gets roped into joining the Islamic State, while trying to follow in his father’s footsteps. Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018, this novel brings up compelling truths about human vulnerabilities and manipulation.

This was one of those award winning books that I was slightly more hesitant to pick up, because it was apparent that it tackled a serious issue, one that wouldn’t allow for an “enjoyable” reading experience, in a matter of speaking. I couldn’t smile or laugh my way through the 260 pages that it took for the author to convey the story. Once I began reading it, my hesitation proved to have been not baseless. The writing style of the author just wasn’t for me and quite often, I found my attention diverted by the flowery language. A few portions of the book felt draggy and extremely slow. So while the book on the whole wasn’t one of my favorites, I cannot deny the power that the story in itself carries. It depicts to us the gradual process of breaking down someone’s mental faculties to such an extent that they become open to any kind of suggestion. And how easy it is then to channel their inner rage or turmoil into making them do questionable things.

The book is split into different sections, wherein the story is told from the point of view of different characters. I liked that about the novel. Since it is not written from first person perspective of these characters, I didn’t feel one with the book as I usually do in the case of books with such strong themes. But I was so astonished by Parvaiz’s decisions that it pained me to read about him. If I had to pick a part of the book that had been done well, I would choose the section about Parvaiz. What I would commend the author for is taking up such a prevalent topic and spinning a story around it in such a way that you cannot ignore what’s going on in the book. Overall, I would say that this is an integral read because of its premise, but I wasn’t a fan of the writing style.

What do you get out of this book? Insight into how young men and women get persuaded to join terrorist forces and how their families and loved ones get affected by their drastic choice.

Book Review — French Exit by Patrick deWitt

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

French Exit displays the gradual unraveling of a mother and son, as they are left to deal with the brunt of the father’s death. Upon Franklin Price’s demise and the consequent bankruptcy, Frances and Malcolm realize that there’s very little left for them in Manhattan. And so, they set sail for Paris, unsure as to what life awaits them in that new continent.

Right off the bat, it is clear that Patrick deWitt’s tragic-comedy does not read like an easy, fluffy contemporary in terms of the language and style of writing. I wouldn’t really recommend it for beginners, because it takes a bit of getting used to and if you’re not familiar with comedy of manners as a genre, then you could find it somewhat dry. That said, I would’ve finished it in one sitting simply because of how engaging the story is. On the surface, the plot is about a mother and son relocating to another place because of all the hardships that have come their way. But as you get into the groove of the novel, you realize it’s as much about the disconnect in their family as it is about their dependence on one another, and how they’ve allowed that to shape their individual relations.

In my opinion, none of the characters in this book can be classified as a type, which is a great quality in a book. They’re unusual in their mannerisms and add new dimensions to the story. Take for example, Mme Reynard who passive-aggressively paves her way into the lives of Frances and Malcolm Price. She becomes so possessive of her friendship with them that she likes it not when others join the gang. In a way, she takes on this nurturing role, caring for the troop when no one else would. At times, Malcolm and Frances relation reminded me of Norma and Norman Bates from Psycho. One of the things I didn’t like about the book is that I wasn’t convinced by Malcolm’s love for Susan. He appeared to be indifferent and distant towards her. In fact, that’s how he is portrayed for almost the entirety of the novel. You’ll find themes of divination, class hierarchy and familial reparations in this book. I definitely enjoyed reading it, because of the humor that has been imbued into it and it is quite unlike the books I usually read. So, do give it a try!

Rating – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A tragic-comedy that takes you from the upper echelons of society to a state of deterioration.

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

Book Review — Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

Imogen Sokoloff and Jule West Williams studied in the same high school. Now, years later Jule finds her and they kindle a friendship unlike any other. Jule is a wanderer, trying to come to terms with a past that refuses to let her be. And Imogen is fed up with everyone’s expectations of her. She has a tendency to take off when things get too difficult to handle. With each other, they find the confidence to lower the facade and give in to their true selves. Until one of them goes missing.

The first thing I will tell you about this book is to not read too much about it. Just let the story sweep you away, okay? When I flipped open the first page and the chapter was numbered “19”, I already knew that E. Lockhart had once again nailed it. Upon flipping through, I realized that the story was being told in reverse, with the most recent happening being covered by the first chapter. You may think that in a murder mystery, that sort of spoils the whole climax. But no, dear friend. Almost every chapter unravels some part of the mystery, and yet there’s so much more to be known that you are fully invested in the novel. From the first paragraph, E. Lockhart digs her narrative talons deep into your mind, refusing to let go till the very end (and in my case, even after that). Her writing style, as usual, is crisp and tantalizing. She is not one for long sentences. Especially when she can deliver a punch with fewer words than most.

The plot of the novel asserts just how complex and sensitive the human mind is. While the storyline is similar to something I’ve read before, it is the structure of the book and its characters that steal the show. Imogen reminds me of Alison from the Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard. She puts on this artificial persona to draw people in. And when she’s bored of them, she doesn’t give two hoots. Jule has so many layers that, as we delve deeper into the book, become more clear. We come to understand her mindset as being rooted from her experiences of the past. What we see of the other characters is from the perspective of Jule and Immie. You reach a point in the novel where you don’t know what to believe, which is something I really like in psychological thrillers. Genuine Fraud is fast paced and makes for a killer book that is going to leave you screaming. E. Lockhart has now become one of my auto-buy authors. I will simply devour anything she writes. If you haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, don’t waste time. Just please pick it up. I urge you.

Ratings – 5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A murder mystery that slowly backtracks over the astounding truths about family and friendship.

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

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.