Book Review — A Murder on Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

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Sujata Massey’s historical fiction, A Murder on Malabar Hill takes us through pre-Independence India, positing Parveen Mistry as the first female solicitor in 1920’s Bombay. Working at her father’s law firm, Mistry Law, Perveen dives neck deep into the family matters of the Farid widows, who having lost their husband, Mr. Omar Farid know not what’s in store for them, financially and socially. But when secrets begin to threaten the foundation of this family, Perveen realizes that she will have to get to the root of the murder that occurs in Malabar Hill in order to protect the interests of the women and their children.

WOWOWOWOW. This is such a fast paced and wonderful read! It surpasses your expectations for a normal detective fiction, with its inclusion of cultural emblems and addressing of social issues. For what’s inherently typecasted as a murder mystery, there’s a second story that runs parallel to the main plot. That is of Perveen and a man she falls in love with. And for the longest time I wondered why it had been included, but soon you come to understand that the flashback chapters which are set in 1916-17 help give depth to Perveen’s character in a way you don’t, initially, see coming. This novel has been well written and saying that Sujata Massey has a brilliant grasp over the language would be an understatement in light of how masterfully she has given life to the book.

I didn’t find the mystery predictable and so I really enjoyed the long drawn process of discovering clues, unearthing suspects etc. The author does take her time in establishing the case, but it’s all worth the wait. There were many a times I got furious, because we are made privy to how women were treated in early 1900s. Themes of female seclusion, male dependence, domestic abuse are dealt with by the story and you can’t help but get angry at how easy it is for people to oppress women. Especially when Perveen’s desire to study law was met with such sexist criticism from her male classmates and professors. I was glad that Perveen’s parents were the supportive, understanding kind. One of things I loved about A Murder on Malabar Hill is that we are introduced to Parsi culture as well as personal laws. This helps shape our opinion about 1920s India. The suspense will keep you at the edge of your seat throughout. All in all, I really liked this book and I would recommend it to everyone who enjoys fiction.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A bewildering mystery and an inspirational female protagonist who stands for women’s rights at a time when they were considered inferior.

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

Book Review — You Can’t Go Home Again by Sarvat Hasin

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You Can’t Go Home Again by Sarvat Hasin is a collection of interrelated stories that is bound to haunt you with its fluid narrative and ambiguous endings. Mostly set in Pakistan, it explores a thread of friendship and mysticism in the lives of a group of Pakistani men and women. Within the span of its 164 pages, it delves into the insecurities and desires of its diverse characters, painting an alluring picture with reality and surrealism.

When I read the synopsis, I knew I had to read the book! It spoke of a kind of mystery within a high school setting and promised stories of friends over the course of their lives. The first two stories, Dark Room and And You, the Sun were my absolute favourites. The sense of a mystery was palpable and kept you eagerly awaiting the end. But I soon realized that none of the conclusions were going to leave me at peace. They were the kind of ambiguous endings that teased you and refused to let you forget the story. One other thing that quickly piqued my interest is that one of the stories is in second person. The dialogues aren’t in quotation and so they fuse with the narration to form an intriguing style of story telling.

Sarvat Hasin’s writing style is graceful, peppered by cultural references (some of which I couldn’t grasp). It is not all that wordy and doesn’t follow a chronological structure of narration. You’ll be reading about instances in the lives of Shireen, Naila, Karim, Rehan, Sabah and Maliha from different timelines. Some of the stories were a bit lackluster and didn’t captivate me. So I found myself getting distracted. Although this book is a short read, the author brings out essential traits in all the characters, allowing you to form an opinion about them. Another brownie point for their characterization is that they are not burdened by stereotypes or cliches; are entirely realistic and relatable. Themes of witches, kidnapping, sexuality can be found in the book. Overall, I really enjoyed some of the stories, whereas some others were a little bland. I’m just very impressed with the way it’s written.

Ratings – 3 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A set of stories featuring young Pakistani individuals as they grapple with the direction their lives are taking.

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

Book Review — Aqson Level 1 by Sreejib

Aqson Level 1 is an action packed Indian fantasy fiction that has so many layers to it, it’s a complete feast! God and Lucifer have started a new game, the goal of which is to make their weapon the Prime Minister of India. They launch their angels onto the battlefield to defeat one another and take control of all the weapons that Nature has endowed them with. Toya Mahapatra and her friends were only getting by with their college when an unforeseen incident pulls them into the student politics scene in Kolkata. They soon realize just how influential they have become on a national level. What they fail to realize is that governing humans is but a game to God & Lucifer; unfortunately for them, they’re neck deep in the mess.

FINALLY! An Indian fantasy fiction that has been done right. When I heard about this book, I was extremely enthused at the idea of a fantasy plot being based in India. But this book just blew my expectations away. There’s so much going for it:

  • For gamers – The surface level plot being a video game with maps, rules, opponents, weapons etc. 
  • For fantasy lovers – Mythology, elemental magic, angels.
  • For politically inclined – elections, youth politics, strategising. 

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All of the above are masterfully woven into the multiple plot points that constitute the book. There’s so much more I could list, but I will leave it to you to discover. The author’s writing style is very descriptive, focusing on minute details to give you the complete picture. I liked the fact that some of the speech occurs in Bengali (there’s translation too! so don’t worry about that.) and cultural motifs have been generously sprinkled throughout the novel. In addition to being of fantasy genre, it is also laced with a certain kind of thrill and humor that makes it all the more enjoyable. There were so many mesmerizing moments where I couldn’t believe how intricate and genius the plot points were!! The world building is mind blowing. On the other hand, there were small instances that could have been more convincing. That’s something I felt could have been improved.

Speaking about characters, I downright detested Ollie a.k.a Niyol. He’s a sexist and wouldn’t stop ordering Toya around. The only time I felt remotely proud of him was during a debate (you’ll see what I’m talking about). I was also confused at times by Toya’s personality; she’d have these random outbursts. Arpita and Goenka are the two characters I liked. Arpita is dauntless, open-minded and considerate. Nevertheless, the bond that Toya, Goenka, AJ, Ollie, Rahul and Arpita share is heartwarming to say the least. They are all super protective of each other and find a sense of belonging in their tight knit group, even when things aren’t going right. I would have liked some more scenes with God and Lucifer, the little taste we get in the prologue is just not enough. Overall, I liked this book so so so much. I would recommend it to all of you fiction readers. Just give this one a try, you’ll be left speechless.

Is there a next book? Someone please tell me there’s a second book. I NEED IT ASAP.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A very unique outlook on mythology, astral travel and a refreshing glimpse of what youth could contribute to politics.

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

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. 

Book Review — Austenistan [edited by Laaleen Sukhera]

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Austenistan is a compilation of seven short stories that, in true Jane Austen fashion, comment on the nature of society and revolve around the lives of modern women. Based in different cities of Pakistan, these stories are as immersed in Pakistani culture as they are tweaked to accommodate the whims of 21st century folks.

I had such great expectations of this book, particularly because it was inspired by Jane Austen’s writings with the promise to feature Pakistani culture. Unfortunately, I didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped. Now, the writing style (of the different writers) is colloquial and easy to get accustomed to, which was an interesting change from Austen’s very ornate and wordy style. Most of the stories had some element of a wedding celebration or a party, the vibes of which were aptly conveyed through the use of imageries and cultural references. You’ll also find empowered women refusing to bow down to society’s ridiculous expectations. Clichés like insta-love, brooding men and marriage-fixing-aunties notwithstanding, I really liked reading about how different female protagonists reacted in different circumstances.

My problem was with certain characters and value systems that overshadowed even the simplest of stories. In Begum Saira Returns, Saira’s plight is heartrending! She is bullied by society for being open-minded. BUT THEN, the turn of events at the end is bewildering. How is it okay to let go of your morals, especially when doing so could hurt a loved one? Many of the stories emphasize superficial standards, when it comes to arranging a marriage or fixing a date, by placing those with a better outward appearance, money and stature at a pedestal. In Austen’s writings, these aspects could be justified because the time was such. But the same is not an overarching truth of today. Certain parts of the stories do get predictable after a point, but because they’re cutesy romances it’s not really bothersome. My favourite has to be The Autumn Ball by Gayathri Warnsuriya. The disconnect between a couple is heartbreakingly sketched in that story. All in all, the book had it’s good and bad aspects. I enjoyed reading most of the stories. It’s just a couple of them that irked me.

Ratings – 3 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A few entertaining stories which attempt to reflect prevalent ideals about marriage, womanhood and society.

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

Book Review — Until The Last Dog Dies by Robbert Guffey

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Robbert Guffey dives right into the field of stand up comedy with his science fiction novel, Until The Last Dog Dies, speculating a future devoid of humour. A virus has infected people’s ability to register or respond to humor, thereby threatening Elliot and his friends’ profession.

The premise of this novel is a fantastic one! I couldn’t have been more excited to read it. But sadly, I didn’t finish it. The initial couple of chapters weren’t gripping at all and try as I might, I couldn’t bring myself to push through till the very end. There were some scenes strung together that didn’t make sense to me and Elliot’s character didn’t help make matters better. All throughout the chapters, his thought process is all over the place and so the narrative digresses multiple times in a confusing manner. The writing style of the author is pretty articulate and does not heavily rely on dialogue. Apart from the writing style, the plot was something I really looked forward to. But when you are unable to connect with any of the characters in a book, it becomes a little difficult to keep reading.

Perhaps if you do finish reading it, you could let me know your thoughts about the book. But I tried a couple of times to get a grip on it and failed.

Rating –  1 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? Honestly, other than coming to terms with what it’s like to be a stand up comedian, I can’t highlight any plus-points within the chunk of the book that I read.

Thank you Ingram Publisher Services and Edelweiss for an e-galley in exchange for a review.