Book Review — Swear You Won’t Tell? by Vedashree Khambete-Sharma

It was supposed to be one press release. That’s all the tolerance Avantika Pandit, Bombay based journalist, had built up towards her school time archrival, Aisha Juneja. But that one event exposes her to the astounding news of her old bestfriend’s death. This discovery sends Avantika hurtling towards the people from her past, whom she had been glad to see the end of. And as she gets closer to understanding how Laxmi Swaminathan passed away, she begins to comprehend just how far from the truth she had been straying, inevitably placing herself in grave danger. Vedashree Khambete-Sharma has spun an engaging tale of women who still carry the scars from their younger days.

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With a protagonist as sarcastic and unapproachable as Avantika, this book could easily have been one of those cases where the plot is great but the main character spoils all the fun. However, that is totally not what happens. A couple of pages in, I was already inching towards disliking her for her callous behavior, when the author takes us back to the 1990s i.e. Avantika’s childhood. We come face to face with a character whose experience with bullies has compelled her to build an armor of steel as a defense mechanism. And all throughout the book, the narrative alternates between the present and the girls’ school years.

Being a media student and a 90s kid, everything about this book appealed to me. I could relate to the references made about campus culture, the lingo used in Indian English medium schools etc. Something I particularly loved about this book is its tone, that is the narrative through Avantika’s voice. It is colloquial and upfront, witty and attuned to Indianness. Undoubtedly, there will be moments when you can’t help but crack a smile at the humor imbued in the writing. I felt strongly about Avantika’s past, having had to deal with girls like Aisha who are drowning in their sense of entitlement and corrupt mind.

A couple of things I wasn’t a big fan of were Avantika’s possible chemistry with Aisha’s brother, the high school clique representation where one of the girls had to be shown as daft, gullible and Laxmi being given this clean chit for never standing up for her former bestfriend (Avantika). Of course, at the root of it, this book is a mystery fiction. And it’s no wonder that I finished it in a day. Fast paced, thrilling and finally, surprising, because that’s an ending I would never have thought of, even though it makes some sense. I really enjoyed reading Swear You Won’t Tell? and I’m sure you wouldn’t want to miss it! So pick it up now!

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A suspenseful story explored through the perspective of a snarky journalist.

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

Book Review — Hush A Bye Baby by Deepanjana Pal

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In Deepanjana Pal’s Hush A Bye Baby, renowned gynecologist Dr. Nandita Rai, who is known for her upper class connections and standing up for women’s rights, is accused of conducting sex-selective abortions. When this news spreads like wildfire, all of Mumbai is astounded. As the Mumbai Police chase leads left, right and center, they’re forced to consider what is it that the elite in society are keeping hush about Nandita’s supposed crime.

I had really high expectations from this book, especially because the plot sounded unlike anything I’d heard before. And so, when I finished reading it, I realized I had mixed feelings about it. The start developed a bad taste in my mind because, all that surfaced were just how static the characters were; many of them had morality issues, others simply couldn’t perform their jobs properly. On the whole, all of them annoyed me! But once I crossed the first quarter mark, Hush A Bye Baby showed all the promise of a fantastic suspense novel. The clues were unraveled at a steady pace. I began to focus on the story that the author was trying to convey. And I must commend her for coming up with such a thought provoking concept, interlaced into a thriller.

So undoubtedly, a majority of this novel was definitely gripping! But then after all that build up, I felt that the climax was a little underwhelming; it fell flat against the tension and intrigue that the novel was able to maintain till the end. Nandita comes across as somebody who is very sarcastically witty and detached; totally uncaring of the allegations that have been made against her. But soon, you’ll realize the reason behind her perspective. Themes of infanticide, rape, cult are explored. The deeply woven corruption within Indian society peeks out over the course of this book. Despite it’s shortcomings, I believe this book will entertain a lot of readers, and so I do recommend it to those who enjoy thrillers.

Ratings – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A medical thriller that echoes some very pressing concerns regarding the future of our country with respect to gender security.

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

Book Review — The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

It is 1785 and Mr. Jonah Hancock, a merchant trader from Deptford has chanced upon a miracle like no other. Having lost his prized ship Calliope and left with a mermaid, Hancock can barely contain his dejection. But much to his wonder and disbelief, he comes to realize what a jackpot he has struck upon when this mermaid launches him into a world of fame and wealth. It is there that he meets Angelica Neal, a renowned courtesan. Afraid that his reputation would take a nosedive, he tries to extricate himself from the company of those who engage in prostitution. Hence begins the story of a man and woman whose lives are propelled in different directions by the very creature that he has caged.

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The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock was equal parts enjoyable and overwhelming. Set in the 1780s London, we are privy to a society that is not only speckled with simplicity and sophistication but also far removed from other cultures in its mannerisms. Imogen Hermes Gowar’s writing is one with the times, ornate and flowery. Some of the phrases, although alien in today’s time, represent an era bygone. And it is because of that very reason that it took me a while to fully get accustomed to the writing style and thereby, the novel. At times I found the narration to be discursive, so focused on the descriptions of nature and setting that it drew away from the core of that scene.

The plot in itself is very rich, filled with all the likeliness of a classic novel. I particularly enjoyed reading about their avant-garde lifestyles; of gowns and social calls, marrying for stature and deriving at a sense of self through ostentation. The mermaid, while central to the progression of the story, takes a backseat and leaves the humans to their own devices. Of course there is a hint of the surreal, especially in the chapters that displayed the mermaid’s consciousness and when the mortals were within it’s vicinity. The ending wasn’t entirely clear to me, but I can guess.

Enveloped in a stunning velvety cover that has embossed oyster shells, this historical fiction displays an array of characters, some down to earth in their profession and others wanting of the highest glory. Mr. Hancock, in my mind, is a simple man, whose life becomes much more complicated than he’d like. Angelica Neal, on the other hand, is someone who doesn’t leave any leaf unturned in her attempt to be loved and come by a fortune. Apart from the storyline of the main characters, I was intrigued by that of Polly’s. What little I saw of her personality, I quite liked and I would have liked it even more if her story had been pursued to a proper end.

I also found it amusing that the mermaid captured by Mr. Hancock almost becomes their undoing. In trying to be masters of a foreign species, they themselves become puppets to its allure. This is an approx 500 paged novel, but it feels so much longer. I would suggest reading it at a comfortably slow pace and not in a hurried manner. If you’re looking to breeze through a historical fiction, then this is not the one. That said, it is beautifully written and will transport you to another world; so give it a try, if the synopsis sounds agreeable to you.

Ratings – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A surreal tale of 18th century London that has all the likeliness of a classic novel plus a hint of magic realism.

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

Book Review — More Bodies Will Fall by Ankush Saikia

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Amenla Longkumer, a woman from Nagaland, was murdered in Delhi a year ago. So when the Delhi police closes the case without identifying any leads, her father approaches Detective Arjun Arora for help. The mystery behind Amenla’s death takes Arjun on a long journey into the inner recesses of the North-East, where he is forced to confront the actions of his past that have left an indelible mark on him. Soon it becomes apparent that this case is mired with complexities as it involves many branched off connections. More Bodies Will Fall is a window to the political clime in India, marked by corruption and communal tension.

I am always in the mood for thrillers and so, was intrigued by the premise of this novel. The plot is definitely multi-layered and you can’t take anything at face value. Usually I do have some suspicions when it comes to murder mysteries, but this book has way too many possible suspects, so my conjectures were a bit pointless. As with novels, we don’t come to know much about all of the characters, except that of Arjun. I felt that that’s probably because there are so many characters who play small roles and so they all appear on few pages here and there. That said, they are essential for solving the mystery, hence are not fluff characters.

One thing I didn’t really like about this book was the overwhelming amount of detail about Arjun’s course of action. In the sense that, for example, when he is out and about, hunting down suspects, the author goes into the very minute facts of which road he is on, where he takes a turn, which building he passes by etc. And if that had been a one off instance, I would not have minded it. But such explanations happen EVERY time Arjun heads out. What I did appreciate about the author’s descriptive writing style is his focus on the North East. The glimpses of their culture has left me wanting to read more books based in those states. The mystery in itself is very well thought out – not easy to predict and gradually, all loose ends are tied up. If you do pick up this book, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

Ratings – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A murder mystery that is heavy on the detail and is set in Delhi as well as North East India.

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

Book Review — The Oddling Prince by Nancy Springer

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King Bardaric of Calidon is on his death bed, dying from an unknown illness, when a stranger rides into their home and demands to see the king. Prince Aric, although unable to identify this fey stranger, knows that he’ll be of some help. But what the royal family doesn’t know is that Albaric is not a stranger to them. He brings with him a shocking revelation, that is bound to solve the mystery behind the king’s illness and also threatens to disrupt the family equation.

In comparison to how excited I was upon reading the synopsis, the actual experience of reading this novel sort of fell short. The plot is undoubtedly quite intriguing with its hint of mystery, promise for politically driven action and supernatural element. I even enjoyed reading in the tone that the author adopts, to sell the story based in a monarchical society in Scotland. Her writing style is very foreign and at times, I couldn’t wrap my mind around certain usages or terms which were probably meant to compliment the culture she is bringing to life. Nevertheless I really did like Nancy Springer’s style of storytelling.

So you must be wondering, what then didn’t work for me? When I take apart the book and consider individual aspects of it, I am able to appreciate all of it a lot more. But somehow, put together, it didn’t convince me entirely. There was no gripping-factor. I merely kept reading, because of the setting and the author’s writing. I have always wanted to read more books set in Scotland. This one with its descriptions and talk of royalty had me disappointed because of all the underutilized potential.

The characters do play their part sufficiently well, but not enough to have me swooning. My favourite character arc has to be that of King Bardaric, because of the understandably extreme tangents he goes through. I was often confused by the equation between Prince Aric and Albaric. At some point, I started thinking that theirs would be a romantic relationship. I just didn’t connect with anyone. And so, while I had a tolerable reading experience, I wouldn’t particularly recommend this book. It’s not horrible, but there are way too many better fantasy fiction for you to peruse.

Ratings – 3 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? An adventurous YA story set in Scotland that has tons of courtly drama and some supernatural elements too.

Thank you Tachyon Publications for giving me access to this eARC via Edelweiss in exchange of an honest review.