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. 

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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 — 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 — 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 — 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 — Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

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Imogen Sokoloff and Jule West Williams studied in the same high school. Now, years later Jule finds her and they kindle a friendship unlike any other. Jule is a wanderer, trying to come to terms with a past that refuses to let her be. And Imogen is fed up with everyone’s expectations of her. She has a tendency to take off when things get too difficult to handle. With each other, they find the confidence to lower the facade and give in to their true selves. Until one of them goes missing.

The first thing I will tell you about this book is to not read too much about it. Just let the story sweep you away, okay? When I flipped open the first page and the chapter was numbered “19”, I already knew that E. Lockhart had once again nailed it. Upon flipping through, I realized that the story was being told in reverse, with the most recent happening being covered by the first chapter. You may think that in a murder mystery, that sort of spoils the whole climax. But no, dear friend. Almost every chapter unravels some part of the mystery, and yet there’s so much more to be known that you are fully invested in the novel. From the first paragraph, E. Lockhart digs her narrative talons deep into your mind, refusing to let go till the very end (and in my case, even after that). Her writing style, as usual, is crisp and tantalizing. She is not one for long sentences. Especially when she can deliver a punch with fewer words than most.

The plot of the novel asserts just how complex and sensitive the human mind is. While the storyline is similar to something I’ve read before, it is the structure of the book and its characters that steal the show. Imogen reminds me of Alison from the Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard. She puts on this artificial persona to draw people in. And when she’s bored of them, she doesn’t give two hoots. Jule has so many layers that, as we delve deeper into the book, become more clear. We come to understand her mindset as being rooted from her experiences of the past. What we see of the other characters is from the perspective of Jule and Immie. You reach a point in the novel where you don’t know what to believe, which is something I really like in psychological thrillers. Genuine Fraud is fast paced and makes for a killer book that is going to leave you screaming. E. Lockhart has now become one of my auto-buy authors. I will simply devour anything she writes. If you haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, don’t waste time. Just please pick it up. I urge you.

Ratings – 5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A murder mystery that slowly backtracks over the astounding truths about family and friendship.

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

Book Review — The Woman Who Saw The Future by Amit Sharma

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Amit Sharma’s The Woman Who Saw The Future is a feast in its entirety. The plot delves into the lives of the Vaid family after they discover that their daughter, Sapna, has premonitions of impending doom. She gets nightmares about all sorts of disasters leading to people’s deaths around the world, whether they are terrorist attacks, accidents, killings etc. As time passes, the intensity and frequency of these visions increase to such an extent that it jeopardizes Sapna’s mental well being. In order to appease her frazzled mind, she agrees to do a reality show called Lucky People wherein she puts her powers to good use and saves thousands of people from imminent death. But as we all know, “with great power comes great responsibility”, and somewhere along the line, Sapna loses focus on the bigger picture. That marks the deterioration of a once innocent and frightened girl.

I want to give this book all the stars in the world. It blew me away, like winds on a dandelion farm. But it’s very disheartening that I can’t give it a full rating. So I’ll start off with the minor points that I didn’t really like. The writing style, although punchy and well articulated, had some repeated usage of word(s) that bothered me. For example, Sapna’s mother Kalpana uses the words “you know” way too often! Similarly, with Mehak, she says “Lord” as a way of exclamation too often. And it doesn’t really gel with what’s happening. So these two occurrences stood out like a sore thumb. Secondly, there are sections in the book where either Sapna or her mother or some other character recounts the various calamitous incidents that Sapna has helped prevent. Those sections weren’t seamlessly embedded in the narrative and felt a bit like they were being presented as bullet points. Finally, a couple of instances were a bit hard to believe.

Now, lets get to all the good stuff. And there’s a lot! So bear with me as I rave about how fantastic this book is. (This review is going to be a long one.) The plot is very unique, not because of the “premonitions” aspect, but because the author introduces a reality show as a plot point. This very fact allows us to glimpse how thirsty the society is to revere someone, to idolize a person and place them akin to God. And also, how fragile that belief is. The part that takes the crown is how this story unfolds. It is told from the perspective of atleast 9 characters; that’s something I’ve never encountered before. You’d think that it would get overwhelming, but it doesn’t. And even in those chapters, what every character divulges is carefully tailored so that bits of the story wonderfully unravel at a time. Moreover, the narration jumps back and forth between the past and the present, which adds more substance to the novel.

There’s barely any stereotyping or cliche. From a heartrending contemporary fiction with supernatural elements, this novel hurtles towards becoming a thriller. There’s a bit of sexual content and profanities used, nothing too extreme. One of the highlights of this novel, for me, has to be the characterization of Sapna. The arc is so impressive! You can’t help but be bewildered as you watch her turn from a stubborn, strong daughter to a scared, unsure girl and then a cold, pompous maniac. Believe me when I say that these aren’t just adjectives. These parts of her personality surface at different parts of the book. The ending couldn’t have been better. I just really wish that those tiny flaws had been smoothed out and I didn’t find anything problematic. Nevertheless, I’m certainly going to recommend this book to everyone. And hope that for the sake of such excellent plot execution, you can ignore the small issues.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? Tears. Joy. A package of a book that highlights the suffering of a family burdened by loss, reflects Indian society, brings out interesting supernatural elements and is ultimately a really good thriller.

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