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.

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The Peshwa: War of the Deceivers

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Tell me that a 400+ paged novel about politics, war and strategy will have me rooted to the spot for over 6 hours and I’d probably have laughed in your face. Well, I’d have done exactly that before having read The Peshwa: War of the Deceivers by Ram Sivasankaran. Set against the backdrop of the Mughal Empire and the increasing agitation of the Marathas against the Mughals, this second installment in the Peshwa series begins with a sense of alarm as someone from the royal family meets an unfortunate end. It then picks up the pace, touching upon the conquests of Peshwa Bajirao Bhat as he tries to weed out the Mughals from his homeland. However, a secret group of assassins, known as the Scorpions, continue to pose a serious threat, ravaging villagers and disrupting Rao’s attempts to bring the Emperor to his knees. It falls on him to capture these elusive hitmen before they get to his family and lay waste to the Maratha Empire.

Ram Sivasankaran’s writing equips you with the tools for imagining exactly what he is trying to convey. I was glad to see that it didn’t focus too much on nature imageries, rather chose to spend all its powers of persuasion in delivering crisp scenes, with an equal amount of dialogue and description of the happenings. The cruelty with which the assassins and tyrants dealt a blow to the Marathas and Sikhs is absolutely horrendous. But the author had the good sense to depict it in a subtle manner and not get into the gory details that would’ve been entirely too harsh on young, impressionable minds.

Interspersed throughout the narrative are several words in Hindi, Marathi and Sanskrit – all of which have been explained in the glossary. Something that aided in making this book extremely gripping is the fact that each of the chapters (sometimes the subsections too) followed different storylines. So you could be reading about Bajirao or Emperor Muhammad Shah or Kashibai or Nizam Ul Mulk or any of the several other characters that are featured in this adventurous, action-packed story. While the illustrations that intervene the writing are simple, they reinforce what is being told and so were a welcome distraction.

Oscillating between pride at the depicted valor of some heroic historical figures and exhilaration at the pace with which the plot of the novel advanced, I couldn’t believe how genius some of the plot points were. It truly takes a mastermind to weave such intricate designs into a tapestry borrowed from Indian history. Speaking of history, I’m not sure to what extent some aspects of this novel are true and where exactly the author’s imagination steps in to add some seasoning. But collectively, this was such an impactful and awe-inspiring account. I took a peek at the Goodreads page and was so disheartened to see that a third book in the series hasn’t been announced yet. But be sure that the moment it is out in the market, I’m going to bring home a copy. Meanwhile, you should pick up The Peshwa: War of the Deceivers for a gala time. Take my word for it, you won’t be disappointed!

Thank you Writers Melon and Westland Books for sending me a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review.

★ ★ ★ ★.5

All Your Perfects

In my opinion, an integral part of the new adult or adult genre is the sub-section comprising of stories about the newly-wedded. There is an excess in novels about students and early 20-somethings trying to figure out their place in the world. But I’ve seldom come across books that tackle the subject of marriage without having their characters be 40 year olds. And that’s where Colleen Hoover’s heartrending novel about a couple in their late 20s, whose marriage has become so strained that it threatens to rip them apart, comes into play. Graham and Quinn said the vows almost seven years ago, knowing full well that they would continue to love each other through thick and thin. But somehow the troubles of today have blinded Quinn to that promise. And as the miscommunication drives a wedge between the two, they must confront the reality that if their saving grace is not enough to hold them together, they are very likely hurtling towards the end of their marriage.

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

Colleen Hoover’s writing never fails to tug at my heartstrings. The people that adorn the pages of her books are some of the most realistic and relatable characters I’ve ever read! There is almost nothing about them that makes you feel like they’ve been copied off a blueprint of typical contemporary fiction characters. While this book is all about learning to not shine too much light on your flaws, the male MC, Graham comes across as a near-perfect ideal partner. Well, almost ideal because that misdeed towards the end of the novel made me desperately wish for an undo button. I’m not going to condone that kind of behavior. But for the majority, he wasn’t egoistic or selfish or superficial in anyway. Their relationship, although predictable, was a perfect segue from the disaster that was Quinn’s previous relationship. And since heartbreak is something that can very well bring two people together, I wouldn’t call it cliched.

What I particularly loved about this book is that all the chapters go back and forth between two timelines – one when Quinn had just met Graham and another when they had been married for a few years. That helps ease the genuineness of their relationship into the minds of the reader and I found myself, soon into the book, growing to love their bond. The author’s writing style is neither full of ostentatious wordings nor too simple as to take away from bringing these people and their stories to life. I was hooked to it right from the start. Since it is an adult fiction novel, it is quite explicit in its sexual content. So fair warning to younger readers. Something I truly appreciated about this novel is that Colleen Hoover doesn’t try to make her plot cheesy or her characters deliver lines that can be construed as highly exaggerated. When you read it, you’ll come to realize that Quinn, Graham and the others are just like real people with real issues that bother them. It is convincing enough to leave you blubbering atleast once. I know I shed some solid tears a couple of times in the book, not necessarily because something bad had happened, but because their love seemed so pure and so beautiful.

Truly glad to have picked this up and chanced upon a story which addresses a medical concern that many individuals have had the misfortune of experiencing. I do not wish to explain further because that’s too much of a spoiler. Also, brownie points for how Colleen Hoover manages to imbue letter writing with such importance yet again. It is through letters that some of her characters single-handedly manage to “save the day”. I’d definitely recommend this book, whether you are in the mood for a contemporary fiction or not; read it, get empowered by it.

★ ★ ★ ★.5

Bestseller by Ahmed Faiyaz

The publishing industry does not garner nearly as much limelight as entertainment industries do. But Ahmed Faiyaz’s Indian contemporary fiction, Bestseller, more than makes up for it by adding heaps of glitz and glamour to an intriguing premise. Kalim Publishing is a sinking ship that has been nearly reduced to the position of swatting flies because of the great paucity of titles to be published as well as motivated personnel who could make that happen. Picture a decrepit building in some corner of Mumbai and three bored-looking workers. Into such a scenario steps the savior of the day; Akshay Saxena has recently been fired from his job as an editor of a magazine in the UK. In order to be able to go back and work on starting an imprint, he is tasked with the responsibility of making Kalim a successful business once again.

All was well and good up till the first chapter of the book. Thereafter, the appeal of the book was on a steady decline, as we are introduced to character after character who hold no real significance. I didn’t find an ounce of professionalism in most of the characters and they were supposedly experienced in their own respective fields. The entirety of the novel is colored by a very carefree, “chalta hai” (blase) attitude which undermines the importance of the industry. Because it gives you the impression that all sorts of funny business are brushed under the carpet in order to push a title onto the bestseller list. There wasn’t a single character I found likeable. Zorah tries too hard and before you know it, she and Akshay have begun an office romance that is at times unreasonable and otherwise, cringe-worthy.

The plot in itself could’ve been executed better. I was really looking forward to reading a well-structured novel based on the synopsis. But it felt like the author chose to fast forward over the parts that were the most important and instead focus on unconvincing aspects of the story like:

  • Akshay and Zorah’s romance.
  • The painfully demeaning representation of writers (all most everyone who approaches the publishing company either didn’t know basic English or had some ridiculous story proposal or employed tricks like seduction, blackmail to have their books published).
  • Akshay being caught in an elaborate tug of war between celebrities and politicians.
  • His rather silly plan to make the books sell.

Peppered by a couple of sentences in Hindi, the author’s writing style is the one thing I found moderately enjoyable. It has all the qualities of being colloquial and can easily be understood. However, there were a handful of errors that had been overlooked in the editing phase of publishing this book.

What ultimately got on my nerve is Akshay’s mental commentary. It follows you everywhere from the beginning of the book till the end. During his interactions with the various characters, his clear disdain for them is evident from his thoughts. So there are comments printed in italics in between conversations that show us what exactly he thinks about the person he is speaking to. And mind you, it just all makes him look like an arrogant imbecile who can’t fathom enough courage to speak his mind to his clients. Here’s a line that’ll help paint a picture in your mind about the kind of relationship Akshay and Zorah have:

This is easy, she’ll crib, I’ll say sorry and we’ll end up in the sack.

I’m sure it is apparent from this review that I was extremely disappointed by the book. There was nothing that made me smile or feel happy about reading it.

Note – This book was sent to me by Writers Melon in exchange of an honest review.

★.5

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi


Narratives on religion and the implications of shifting blame have been written time and time again. But what is extraordinary about Tahereh Mafi’s brainchild is the brandishing of a character, a 16 year old American girl of Iranian descent, whose integrity is questioned simply because she happened to exist in a time rife with terrorism and extremism. Before 9/11, Shirin led a relatively more peaceful life. But ever since the heinous incident set the world against those of Islamic faith, she too has been marked as the harbinger of all evil. She can’t set foot in public without having to hear racist slurs thrown her way, and for what? Choosing to display her religious inclination without fear?

Told from the point of view of a person of color, A Very Large Expanse of Sea is more than a YA romance. In all its honesty, it brings to us the extremely fickle nature of high school hierarchies. Even the hypocrisies that underlie societal behavior towards men and women of similar backgrounds is seen in the novel. It is apparent in the way Shirin and her brother, Navid are treated. While she is constantly battling remarks like, “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?”, he receives no such flak for being a Muslim. That begets the question, are symbols of diversity what propel people into deepening cultural barriers. Simply because Shirin chooses to wear her hijab and be empowered by it, she seems to remind everyone of her “otherness”. Moreover, the interactions, that Tahereh Mafi puts to paper in this book, are appalling enough to make you wonder if people are so blinded by fear as to fuel a fascist society.

Some of the things I really appreciated about this book is the inclusion of Persian words and a passing mention to a learning disability. You don’t really find that a lot in books. I was really pleased to read about a family that hadn’t allowed modernization to scrape away at their roots and traditions. The author’s writing style is crisp and straight forward. Shirin’s voice appears to be blunt at first, but her increased attachment to Ocean thaws her resolve and by the end of the book, her personality changes a bit.

One of my biggest pet peeves with regards to stories is having a character make sacrifices on the behalf of another (for the betterment of another) and I was quite afraid that was going to happen in the book. While Ocean is an incredibly supportive and open-minded character, it was Shirin’s story that appealed to me more; her struggles and her opinions. All in all, I would definitely recommend reading this book for the sake of the themes it juggles with, not necessarily for the love story aspect of it.

★★★★

Book Review — Fortune’s Soldier by Alex Rutherford

If I’ve learned one thing about Hindustanis, it’s their endurance, their patience. When I hear my fellow officers whining on in the mess, I think how much we could learn from these people if only we wanted to… if only we made an effort…

Nicholas Ballantyne was meant to enjoy his life in Glenmire, Scotland, but when an unprecedented move on his uncle’s part sends him across the world to Hindustan, he becomes deeply involved in the changing political scenario of the nation. As an employee of the Company, Nicholas ventures into the heart of its presidencies in Calcutta and Madras. It is there that he displays the true meaning of loyalty and humility, racing from one battlefield to the next, protecting those he loves and serving the Englishmen who’ve given him a chance to rebuild the name, Ballantyne.

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

I enjoy reading historical fictions and this one features my homeland, so of-course I wasn’t going to pass it up. Moreover, it promised a great deal of adventure surrounding the operations of the East India Company in the 1700s. That is a subject I’m not very familiar with and so, I couldn’t wait to see how Alex Rutherford would combine this fictitious storyline with the recounting of events that actually happened in world history. What impressed me from the very beginning is the authors ability to characterize Nicholas in such a way that he becomes a full-fledged, realistic person, one who begins to surprise you with his strength of character. And I feel that it is this very quality about the writing style that prevented the entire tome from being dull. Even though we read about many battles and war council meetings, I wasn’t bored of it (barring the last couple of chapters) because I was fully invested in Nicholas’ as the lead.

The writing style is not over the top and neither is it too simple or plain. It doesn’t make allusions to any event or occurrence in a way that leaves you perplexed or unable to proceed reading the book without a quick dash to Google. That was another aspect that made me the like the novel. Apart from Nicholas, I enjoyed reading about Tuhin Singh. He is a respectful steward and friend to Nicholas, often shown to be just as (if not more) brave and has strong opinions about the Company’s operations in Hindustan. He is not easily fooled or subjugated. I felt that Meena’s and Lucia’s characters were not explored enough. They could have played a more significant role.

From the beginning, we know that Nicholas is going to be this heroic character, and so it is the stories of Robert Clive and George Braddock that introduce the themes of greed for power, communal rivalry, corruption, betrayal etc. This book also brings to light the opinions of several Mughal rulers towards Hindus. And so, religion is evidently a common symbol throughout. By the time I’d read past page number 350, I was getting worn out by the sheer quantity of battles that are spoken about in this book. That said, I appreciate the ease with which these stories are delivered to us. A majority of this book makes for a very immersive read which will surely have your rapt attention. Nicholas’ adventures were thrilling to read about! And so, I’d definitely urge you to give it a try, if you are interested in historical fictions.

Rating – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? An insightful story about the East India Company’s interest in Hindustan and the resultant changing dynamics within the nation.

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

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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

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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.