Book Review — Murder in a Minute by Shouvik Bhattacharya

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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. 

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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 — 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

Book Review — Charlatans by Robin Cook

Thank you Pan Macmillan India for sending me a copy of this book for review. 

Summary – The unprecedented death of a healthy man during a minor surgery launches the super chief resident of Boston Memorial Hospital, Noah Rothauser, into investigating the ethical stance of doctors at BMH. But little does he know that he has been expending his efforts in the wrong direction. His discoveries lead him to question his judgment of people, thrusting him into a vortex of gradual disintegration. When his career as a surgeon is threatened, Noah finds himself jumping on a flight out of the city, to trace the root of the problems. Robin Cook’s Charlatans delineates the world of medicine and fraudulence with astounding clarity.

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Review – What started out as an overwhelming trip to the ORs and a close monitoring of Noah Rothauser’s daily schedule soon picked up pace and became the most gripping medical-mystery I’ve ever read! I never thought I’d be intrigued by surgeons and their job, but Robin Cook’s careful interspersing of conflicts and elements of suspense made the whole story very interesting. The plot in itself is commendable because it compels you into thinking just how reliable our lifesavers are, be it doctors, lawyers or even the police force. Themes of betrayal, suspicion and romance add the necessary sparkle to prevent this chunk of a book from being boring. His writing style is wordy and yet easy to grasp. There were times when I was wondering why we are privy to every minute detail of the happenings in a day.

Creating extraordinary characters and fleshing out the process of their unraveling seems to be something Robin Cook is great at. I was equally mesmerized by the actions and thought processes of Noah as well as Dr. Ava London. It is said that they are “two peas in a pod”, but they are actually quite the opposite of each other. Neither of their personalities is predictable by a far shot. They possess such a surprising bunch of qualities. Although I’d hoped that Noah would grow a bit of a backbone. That being said, parts of the mystery became predictable for me because of nagging doubts that took root early in the story. Even Dr. Mason, one of the villains, is imbued with such annoying qualities that it elicits a strong response from the reader. As far as the characters are concerned, Charlatans presents something new. I really liked the inclusion of social media as a theme that is vital to the millennial generation. This novel successfully portrays the transience of morals, identities in a day and age that is governed by social media. The climax and the aftermath were inevitably shocking. Just when you begin to think that you’ve figured it all out, you’re proven wrong. This book is a must read and won’t allow you to come up for air!

What do you get out of it? In addition to understanding the workings of a hospital, you get an insightful glance at modern technology’s role in creating charlatans. Plus some fantastic character arcs!

Rating – 4.5 out of 5 stars

Book Review — Awaken by Ashok K. Banker

Thank you Pan Macmillan India for sending me a copy of this book for review. 

Summary – Three female protagonists with different superpowers form the premise of Ashok K. Banker’s Awaken, the first book in the Shakti trilogy. Kiara, a resident of Delhi, is bewildered by the sudden growth of golden fur and heightening of her senses. Not far off, in Ahmedabad, Saumya is delighted by her newfound ability to teleport anywhere just by visualizing the place. And Sia, hailing from Nagaland, hasn’t fully come to terms with how powerful her singing is. Connected by a common thread of an ancient race, these women find themselves tasked with the responsibility of protecting all of mankind from the Haters, a species hell bent on destroying Earth. This dystopian fiction that mirrors the reality of a nation is simply a prequel to the major showdown inevitable next in the series.

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Review – Having been really eager to read this book, my expectations were a lot higher than what the book delivered. In fact, there was so much underutilized potential in terms of characters and plot that I really hope the next book picks up. The author’s writing style is a bit discursive and fluid. He makes use of Hindi language phrases occasionally to emphasis a character’s frustration. The chapters shuffle between the three protagonists’ perspectives. Despite that, it wasn’t difficult to follow the story lines of three characters simultaneously at all. I felt that Sia’s story was a lot more gripping because we are exposed to a culture that doesn’t usually fall under mainstream. Moreover, she is a transgender character and there’s a lot of clarity in how her story plays out. I was quite confused by Kiara’s superpower. For the longest time I figured she was a werewolf, but the cover displays something else. Perhaps because it is such a short book, I felt that the characters weren’t very impactful.

There were a few things that I couldn’t get past. First of all, the introduction of the characters goes on till half of the book. The plot only progresses towards the end. Secondly, some aspects of the story weren’t as realistically portrayed. I was surprised by the strong negative representation of Indian society and culture. Not to say it isn’t true. But this novel dives right into our backward thinking, extremist outlooks and polarizes it with the protagonists’ modernist views. Ashok Banker has outstandingly conveyed where exactly we are going wrong as a country of diverse groups. And I’d like to commend him for the same. I appreciate the fact that the author places great importance on women in this novel. Moreover, he has mastered the art of cliffhangers. At the end of every chapter I was keen to read the next immediately. On the whole, the book was unputdownable because of the idea underlying it, except for a few glitches. It is short and can be read in one sitting. If the story appeals to you, you should give it a try!

What do you get out of it? A captivating fiction that highlights the need for social reforms by positing modern women as the harbingers of peace, equality and justice.

Ratings – 3 out of 5 stars

Book Review — One Of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus

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Five students with distinct identities are seemingly tricked into detention, but what comes after that is no joke. One of them is dead and the four who walk out aren’t exactly blameless. They all have an ax to grind with the dead boy, Simon. You see, he was to set in motion a series of events that would threaten to ruin their lives. But now, they’re doomed to a fate of harsh judgment, discrimination and possible social isolation. While their world is being ripped apart by the police and media, they find solace in unexpected ways. The truth about Simon’s death is a lot closer than they think.

The premise of this book is so fantastic that I knew I’d love it. You couldn’t possibly go wrong with a mystery like that. But unfortunately, it all fell flat after the beginning. The initial couple of chapters are interesting because we are slowly submerged into their world, trying to understand the characters and the storyline. After that I felt like the story wasn’t progressing AT ALL. Almost three forth of the novel comprises of the students being questioned time and again by detectives, with no leads whatsoever. And that was frustrating. The only saving grace in 66% of the novel was Bronwyn and Nate’s chemistry. That being said, the rest 34% of the novel was as mind blowing as I’d hoped the whole novel to be. It was fast paced, the characters were actively contributing to the plot, the mystery was getting solved, additional themes were being established.

The author’s writing style is great, because it builds the right kind of atmosphere, encouraging you to try to put the pieces together. I just wished that a majority of the novel had as much depth. Because the synopsis is evidence to how much potential this novel had. It resembles Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars and The Lying Game to a great extent and I loved that quality! The novel follows some tropes like that of the bad boy lead, geeky girl protagonist and high school hierarchy. While it addresses important issues like that of peer pressure, bullying, depression etc, it doesn’t add much value in terms of how to tackle those concerns. On the other hand, it’s treatment of gay sexuality is commendable. I liked how the climax played out and little else. I’m one of those few people who didn’t really love the book.

Rating – 2 out of 5 stars.

Book Review — Domina by L.S. Hilton

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

Having gotten away with a host of crimes in Maestra, Judith Rashleigh is living the high life of an artist. But good things do come to an end, and she becomes a victim of zersetzung, a German psychological technique of messing with the opponent’s mind. All of Domina chronicles Judy’s single mission to discover the Trojan horse who betrayed her to the Russian mafia. Judy’s people skills reward her with a network of individuals who pave the path towards the boss of the mafia, Yermolov. She must further utilize her power’s of persuasion and wit to barter a good deal with the devil, so as to keep her head, at the end of the day.

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Unfortunately, Domina wasn’t better than the first book. While Maestra had substantial plot points, Domina felt like an elaborate goose chase and that too, not an interesting one. The whole book simply revolves around Judith trying to find the one person who alerted Yermolov (the big bad wolf) about her antics. It gets very monotonous and quite a few of the sections were so boring that it was a struggle. Even the places she visited felt like a weak attempt at making the book interesting. The only thing that keep me going was the expectation that L.S. Hilton’s writing had to create some kind of a blast. Because she is so on point and knowledgeable about art, it’s impressive!

Towards the end, it does pick up pace. Once Judy has found the mystery man, she quickly moves onto coming up with a game plan. And she is damn good at it! All of those sections were captivating. Moreover, the character of Judith has been altered. In this novel, we initially see her as someone who has lost her enthusiasm for blood shed and sex. She’s almost like a drone, atleast in the first half. But one thing I enjoyed about this book was getting to know her backstory. We learn of her past life and somehow, that makes her character more appealing. After the climax, you don’t know what to expect and that ambiguousness also added brownie points. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this book. But I hope that L.S. Hilton comes out with something that places Judith in a different scenario.

Ratings – 2 out of 5 stars.