Harley Quinn: Mad Love

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There’s actually a great backstory to the eccentric nature of one of DC’s most beloved characters, Harley Quinn. In Harley Quinn: Mad Love, Paul Dini and Pat Cadigan take us through the formative years of Harleen Quinzel’s life. From the very onset of her childhood, she develops a sense of aversion to authority figures and those who are said to be the “good guys”. How that mentality leads her, as a doctor of psychiatry (years later), to falling in love with Gotham City’s most heinous criminal is what you’ll discover when you read this fascinating fictional novel.

When I heard about this book that solely focuses on Harley Quinn’s story, my excitement knew no bounds. I was keen to know how such a quirky personality came to be. And so, it was an absolute delight to learn of these crucial phases in her life. I especially enjoyed reading the (first couple of) chapters that are about the 7-year-old Harleen; she is portrayed to be feisty and courageous. Although I’d thought that a substantial chunk of the novel would be about Harley and Joker, together as a couple, that’s not the case and we only get to that part after the halfway mark.

Harley’s character arc definitely goes through some highs and lows; at one point, she’d be dauntless and strong, sometimes, she’d be gullible and prey to the Joker’s vices. What I particularly liked about this book is that it reflects the practice of hero worship which is very common in today’s world. People tend to idolize and place others on a pedestal, lauding them for the supposed “good” they do. Harley’s refusal to believe that Batman is selfless in his attempts to right all wrongs stems from her belief that not all heroes are inherently good.

Themes of mental illness, good vs. evil and trauma are explored in this book. I had fun reading it, but I’m sure that a DC fan or those who are interested in superhero – supervillain fiction would enjoy this novel a lot more. It is action packed towards the end and altogether, very intriguing.

★ ★ ★.5

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

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The Queen’s Last Salute

Writing historical fictions about characters from Indian history is never an easy feat. It is like treading on thin ice. While the liberty to creatively bridge the gap between the known and the unknown rests with the author, chances are that they are bound to offend someone with their interpretation of these historical occurrences. Moupia Basu’s The Queen’s Last Salute is one such novel that takes you through the inner workings of the Bundlekhand region of India during the nineteenth century. One of the most interesting dynamics at play in this book is how it highlights the power equations between the Indians, Mughals and Britishers during that time.

While the title suggests that it focuses on the life and times of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, it actually tells us the story of some individuals who were monumental to her time on the throne. For the same reason, I was a little disappointed because I had been hoping to read a lot more about the Queen of Jhansi than we actually get to read. Nevertheless, the author has managed to neatly tie all of the characters’ stories together to form one fast paced, intriguing novel.

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Chandraki, who is Rani Lakshmibai’s companion, comes across as the protagonist of the novel. We follow her journey into enemy territory as she sets out to the kingdom of Orchha to look for a loved one. I found her to be an unreliable main character as her actions and thoughts would keep oscillating between two extremes. Even her dalliance with Jaywant lost steam soon after it began. Towards the end of this book, another character steps into the role of her love interest – that felt really unnecessary and lacked conviction.

As far as historical fictions go, what I did appreciate about this book is the simple language it has been written in, which makes it easy to get swept up in this world that Moupia Basu describes. There’s no use of needless descriptions and flowery words. The manner of storytelling was very captivating. The chapters are short, which is something I like. In the beginning, I kept wondering why we are reading so much about Riyaz Khan, Chandraki and the Queen of Orchha, but it all makes sense post-climax. The turning point in the novel is something I had suspected, but that didn’t deter me from enjoying reading the book.

Amidst all the dramatics and political clashes, you get a glimpse of a society that has still not come to terms with the fact that women can wield swords and ride horses. So their treatment of such deviance from norms helped acquaint us with the regressive mindsets. On the whole, it was worth reading cause it had this quality of being unputdownable, but looking at it critically, there were just some aspects of the novel that could have been worked on, like certain character developments and plot points.

★ ★ ★

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

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!

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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.

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.

Book Review — Cold Truth by Nikhil Pradhan

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Sakshi Prakash is a 10-year-old girl who goes missing from East Delhi. While the police are making zilch efforts to uncover the mystery behind her disappearance, a journalist follows the trails left behind by other such possible child kidnappings, and ends up unveiling an international conspiracy that’ll take the world by storm. Written in an epistolary format, Cold Truth packs a punch with its emphasis on corruption and the possibilities of the unknown.


While I’m always ready to devour a good mystery novel, it soon became apparent that Cold Truth was not what it looked like. It’s not a basic suspense fiction. The search for Sakshi spirals out and we come to realize how other cases, governments and agencies are involved in covering up certain life-altering mistakes. Amidst themes of conspiracy, experiments and the pursuit of truth, the plot execution has been managed splendidly. I would give brownie points to the author for thinking of such an intriguing plot.

As for the writing style and language, I’d say this book is apt for intermediate readers. Conveyed through chats, newspaper articles, voice transcripts, official documents and other different elements, the story is pieced together by the journalist’s narration. There are portions where the writing makes use of some medical jargon, but apart from that, the style is quite straightforward. If you’re not used to reading many jaw-dropping books, you should prepare yourself for the insane amounts of gaping-mouth scenarios that are inevitable once you begin reading this novel of Nikhil Pradhan’s. It is simply mind-blowing!

One issue I have with the book is that at times, I felt that the narrative would digress from the focal point of the scene/the chapter. The unnecessary bits could’ve been done away with. But on the whole, it is a spellbinding tome of 200 odd pages, which I finished in a sitting. This is one of those books (right up my alley!) that I’m not going to forget anytime soon. So highly recommend it!

Rating – 4.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? An unputdownable thriller that not only explores certain serious themes but also has a peculiar ending.

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

Book Review — A Girl, A Stolen Camera and A Borrowed Bike by Nikhil Singh Shaurya

Nikhil Singh Shaurya’s debut novella, A Girl, A Stolen Camera and A Borrowed Bike tells the story of Sonali who, upon stumbling across some photos captured by an unknown man, realizes that traveling is her true calling. She jumps at the chance to leave her mundane life behind, and dons the skin of a wanderer, moving from place to place without any planning in advance. As her journeys allow her to view life from renewed perspectives, she gets closer to learning about the man whose passion and creative output altered her life so drastically.

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This book would’ve had so much more of an impact if it hadn’t been this short. With just around 80 pages, I felt that the potential of the theme was at a disadvantage. It was really interesting to read about Sonali’s sojourns, but I wished that the author had elaborated on the events to give us a satisfactory understanding of the story. There’s a section in one of the pages where Sonali lists out all the new experiences she’s had ever since she embarked on this journey – I would’ve LOVED to read about those in detail.

The writing style is simple and innately Indian. There aren’t a lot of complicated words used. However, the editing of this book wasn’t up to the mark and that, sort of disrupted my reading experience. I wasn’t a fan of any of the characters or their decision making capabilities. Sonali herself doesn’t make for a very reliable protagonist. We’re introduced to atleast 3-4 male characters, all of whom take on the role of being her love interests.  On the whole, it was an okay read. There were quite a few aspects of the book that I didn’t really like. If you’ve read it and enjoyed it, let me know your thoughts?

Rating – 2 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A rushed, brief account of a woman who finds meaning in life through her extensive travels.

Thank you Nikhil Singh Shaurya for sending me a copy of your book in exchange of an honest review.

Book Review — Chanakya by Ashok K. Banker

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STORY: Ashok K. Banker in the first installment of his historical fiction series, the Chanakya trilogy, introduces us to the legendary figure as a young boy of 7 years age, also called Vishnu Gupta. Far from his home, in the city of Pataliputra, there’s a minister (Maha-Amatya Kartikeya) who rules by brute force and evokes great terror in the minds of the citizens. When Vishnu and his family head to Pataliputra for a congregation, his life gets bound in the chains of wanting to protect his family and doing the right thing.

 

REVIEW: I’ve always been intrigued by Indian historical fictions related to characters from the epics. And this one was such a wonderful read! I finished reading it in one day. The plot presents certain broad themes of battle between good and evil, importance of knowledge, tradition, monarchy etc. But the narrative that fills in the blanks is so refreshing because it draws a profile of an individual we’ve come to see as a  master-thinker, a guide to Bindusara and Chandragupta Maurya. So to read about Chanakya as a 7 year old was so fulfilling.

He has been portrayed as a boy who was extremely intellectual and had great powers of logic, understanding, far superior than the gurus and adults of that time. At times the maturity he displays can stupefy you; after all how often do you find children or even teenagers nowadays with such clarity of thought. The pace of the novel is fast and gripping. There are a few Sanskrit terms used here and there, but they enrich your reading experience all the more. The language used in this novel is quite suitable for intermediate readers. If you are not very well versed in English, you might want to keep a dictionary at hand. That said, you must read Chanakya by Ashok K. Banker. It is a splendid read, one that I highly recommend! I simply CANNOT wait for the second book in this trilogy.

RATING: 4.25 out of 5 stars

WHAT DO YOU GET OUT OF IT: An engaging tale of how Chanakya’s intelligence held him in high stead and brought him face to face with corrupt leaders.

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

Book Review — Jasmine Days by Benyamin

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Jasmine Days tells the story of Sameera as she gets accustomed to living in a Middle Eastern city with her father and relatives. This shift away from home and her new job as an RJ brings her closer to assimilating with people of different backgrounds. Her friendships take on new definition when the city gets torn apart by religious conflicts. In this contemporary fiction, the author draws up a raw and gritty picture of the effects of communal tension and violence.

 

This novel surpassed my expectations and grew on me rather quickly with its unusual style of narrative and the subject matter it dealt with. Politics and religion are not themes that make for an easy read, but Jasmine Days has the power to keep you hooked to its pages. The apprehensions of being an outsider, the inevitable culture shock and the patriarchal notions concerning gender roles are all aspects of the plot seen through Sameera’s perspective. The style of writing in this translated work is crisp and not flowery. Many disjointed events and instances are strung together to form the overall story. There are no chapters, only subheadings within broad sections.

In a way of recounting incidents that gave rise to the growing rivalry between communities, the novel draws your attention towards the Arab Spring. Themes of corruption, religious intolerance, women’s rights and protest culture are explored in this novel. It also addresses the topic of media transparency during conflicts; how people in power become gatekeepers of news. There are a lot of characters in this novel, only a couple of which take precedence over the others. Sameera has firm opinions about what’s right or wrong, she enjoys music and has never really considered what her religious identity might mean on a larger scale. Jasmine Days brings out the jarring truth about revolts; how innocent people have to bear the brunt of the actions of a few. I CANNOT STRESS THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS BOOK ENOUGH. Highly recommend reading it!!

What do you get out of it? A moving story about individuals caught in an uprising, not knowing if they are safe within their own homes.

Ratings – 4.25 out of 5 stars

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