Top 5 Reads of 2020: Indian Authors

I usually don’t go the route of reading challenges but when I saw that I was woefully slow in reading for the past few months, I decided 2020 would be the year of loads of reading, especially Indian authors and translated works. But 2020 would forever be remembered as the year that upturned plans and for being unpredictable, so I didn’t read as much as I expected.

However here’s a list of the top 5 books I read this year so far, each memorable in its own way.

1. Kohinoor by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand


As the subtitle suggests, it is the story of the world’s most infamous diamond. It’s investigative journalism in a way that turns into a history of empires in the Indian subcontinent, fascinating, shocking and even gory in turns, uncovering events and character traits that are glossed over by history textbooks.

What I found most engaging was Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s flourishing empire that hinted at machinations and following certain social norms that I as a Sikh had not read about or had expected. We have a way of glorifying our generals and leaders but following the trail of the diamond Kohinoor, from the Maharaja to his son Duleep Singh who was defrauded of the diamond by the British is a fascinating account.

2. Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag, translated by Srinath Perur

My introduction to Kannada literature came from this excellent book that talks about families and economic circumstances on the surface but is a commentary on something much deeper and very profound. The book is a short read, relatable to nearly everyone by virtue of the economic struggles and familial values of a close knit family. If you look beyond the obvious, it is deeply unsettling in little ways, hinting at a degradation of moral values, indecision and apathy in the face of challenges and holding a moral ground.

Vincent, the waiter at the Coffee House, Chitra the social activist who arouses unease in the narrator, Anita, whose strong views and outright opinions the family is fearful of, bring forth the dilemma of the book. The narrator’s inability or reluctance to step in and correct things may hold a mirror to many of us.

3. Chosen Spirits by Samit Basu

Chosen Spirits is feted as it in the shortlist for JCB prize for literature. That’s not the only reason to read it. It’s a dystopian viewpoint of our society, set in near future so that it’s still recognisable in some ways having its roots in the present political and social scenario. Joey and Rudra tell us the story through their thoughts and their deeds and the things that they don’t do any longer for they just don’t help in ekeing out an existence.

What stood out for me was the uncertainty presented in the book; I had a feeling of being on shifting sand, new tech, new emotions, new ways of subterfuge and new ways of navigating the world. Chosen Spirits is a revolutionary look at how things might turn out for us with an uncanny projection of today’s situation into a volatile tomorrow.

4. Kintsugi by Anukrti Upadhyay

Craft and beauty of jewels and workmanship of artisans form the backdrop of the book that’s really about relationships and the rising of people from the ashes of failed expectations. Shattering and joining the shards of their former selves to transform into persons who negotiate life on their own terms, Kintsugi is delightful. It straddles two cultures and many layers of human emotions.

I immersed myself completely in the beauty of the places, the narrow shaded lanes of Jauhri Bazar in Jaipur to the baithaks and gaddis of jewellers to Kyoto’s ephemeral beauty and the hills and the traditional Onsen. I was mesmerized by the craftsmanship of jewels and gem setting and the elements of design. In all this were the different shades of love, from lust to unconventional relationships to expected expectations.

5. Along Came a Spyder by Apeksha Rao

Books for children and young adults is a different ballgame. You need to get the language and setting right for your ideal reader which this books does so admirably. Samira, at 17 just wants to follow the family profession of spying. The book is about her adventures and whether her spying is smooth and how she comes of age.

The best thing about the book is that it is relatable for teenagers with a great role model. Sassy, a little girl, head strong and wanting approval, Samira is all this and some more. Children and young adults who dream of adventure after reading the chase stories and mysteries of The Famous Five, Secret Seven, Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys would happily graduate to Samira’s dose of adventure and independent spirit.

Bonus Book:


The High Priestess Never Marries: Stories of Love and Consequence by Sharanya Manivannan.

This collection of short stories is a mix of nostalgia and intense emotion, love and its varying shades, longing and lust all presented through a bevy of women.

For me, the evocative writing is like coming home. I picked this collection to ease myself into her literary world, fearing I wouldn’t be able to get the nuances in ‘The Queen of Jasmine Country’, a highly acclaimed book. I am still reading the book, revisiting some stories and mulling over others.

Written for Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa campaign, it is the first in the series of 8 posts for the month.

Ringa Ringa Roses by Neil D’Silva: Book Review

Title: Ringa Ringa Roses

Author: Neil D’Silva

Genre: Horror

Ringa Ringa Roses is a collection of 3 stories bound together by the element of horror, each having children as protagonists.

Book Cover of Ringa Ringa Roses

The Stories

Children of the Walls has precocious Nitya at the heart of the story, fighting demons all alone. The Clay Mother has an eerie replacement for lonely Nikhil’s dead mother. Two-tail is set in an orphanage with a bevy of children and odd characters fighting a mysterious two tailed monster.

The title of the book is taken from an innocuous sounding nursery rhyme which has chilling origins. It’s very reminiscent of disease and at a time when the world is grappling with a pandemic, strikes terror in the reader’s heart. The rhyme makes its appearance in at least 2 stories and the fading melody stays with you for a long time.

Review

These stories are meant to horrify with the supernatural but in fact, the very real emotions associated with parental neglect and absence is the central theme of these stories. It is the children who save the day; adults don’t rise to their duty or responsibility. The children do seem mature beyond their years, displaying remarkably quick thinking and courage in the face of threat and fear.

I somehow couldn’t miss the fact that all the child protagonists had similar sounding names. All of them also displayed courage in challenging situations.

Nitya could handle the strange boy in her room who was always drawing on the walls that seemed to portend something and save herself from the black demon that had inhabited the wall of her room for ages. The wire mesh and the nails were the most chilling part of the story, strange enough to strike terror in your heart.

Nikhil could manage to take revenge on his mother’s honour and save her from the cruel family who were hell-bent on crushing her yet again, in another lifetime.

Nihar and Nupur, the brother and sister duo with secrets of their own, move to Little Paradise which has bigger secrets and surprises in store. It is Nihar who strikes the final blow to the monster and solves the entire mystery of children disappearing from the orphanage, every once in a while.

What Works Well

The descriptive passages are a treat. Children of the Walls has Nitya’s mother in the kitchen, hurriedly cooking. The scene where the pressure cooker goes out of control is so commonplace but described so magnificently. In The Clay Mother, the dining table and the ritual of eating together is the wonderful part, the food, the flavours, the smells and the patriarchal behavior leaving an indelible mark.

What Could Be Better

The plots seem convoluted at times, especially in Two-tail where the story gets curioser and curioser, leaving me to wonder if the idea was only to put in the element of horror completely and in all ways.

The dialogue in The Clay Mother seems to be in a vaccum, with no accompanying visuals to support the conversation.

Verdict

Read it for the joy of storytelling and the fact that stories are meant to entertain. The horror element is thrilling yet not macabre. The imaginative scenes are sketched well enough for adolescent readers to give it a read.

This book review is written as part of Blogchatter Book Review Program.

Through the Mist: A Collection of Stories

Through the Mist is a collection of five stories and each story showcases collaborative writing. Every story is written jointly by 5 authors.

The stories are in various genres. Here is a sneak peek into the stories.

Languish in Love is a love story with a twist. It is narrated by a poet who is searching for his long lost love. It meanders through bitter sweet memories till he is on the verge of finding his love.

A Middle Class Story is just that; the story of a middle class family, with typical middle class aspirations especially when it comes to marriage and looking for a life partner. It could be a commentary on social values but it is a good laugh riot.

The Lone Man portrays fear and loneliness from the loss of a partner which soon descends to chilling horror when John finds the mysterious book in the library he works at.

A Strange Life has Aarya, struggling to climb the corporate ladder and who finds herself slipping into an alternate reality when she encounters a strange dwarf who guides her to psychics.

Turn of the Tides is the story of the mightiest element of nature, the sea and of the men who are at the mercy of her power.

Read more about the Collaboration.

I am promoting Through the Mist as part of #BlogchatterProjects. Read the introduction to the Project.

Buy the Book from Amazon.

DareDreamers by Kartik Sharma and Ravi Sharma: Book Review

Title: DareDreamers: A Start-up of Super Heroes

Author: Kartik Sharma and Ravi ‘Nirmal’ Sharma

Genre: Fiction, Adventure

DareDreamers is a book about a venture that brings together a team of superheroes. It is a story of a corporate dream, that goes hand in hand with service to the society, keeping in line with high comittment and an even stronger adherence to ethics. At the same time, it is an exciting story of fantastic adventure and innovation.

Blurb

India’s first start-up of superheroes with a mission of saving lives is here to kick ass. Rasiq is riding the highs of life thanks to his successes as an investment banker. But his arrogance soon gets the better of him and he ends up losing everything he holds dear. Managing to salvage only his grit from the wreckage, Rasiq reboots his life and teams up with five uniquely talented superheroes to start a rescue venture DareDreamers. These superheroes Nick: a crazy inventor; Halka: an inhumanly strong man; Arjun: a champion shooter; Natasha: a Bollywood stunt-double; Dr. Vyom, a medical Sherlock Holmes; and, of course, Rasiq: the mastermind combine their unique talents to deliver spectacular rescue operations. Their skyrocketing success, however, comes at a price an enemy hell bent on tearing down their fame and reputation.Will DareDreamers defeat its wily adversary? Or will it become yet another failed start-up?Treachery, action and adventure come alive to make DareDreamers a page-turner.

Review

It is the story of Rasiq, the investment banker who throws away everything that he has worked hard for because he feels his dreams are being strangulated.

Enter his new avatar, the entrepreneur who has a novel idea to help save lives. Rasiq puts together a fabulous team of near superhuman individuals and therein begins a roller coaster ride of adventure and daredevilry that borders on the fantastic.

The situations and the incidents range from jaw dropping freakish to a laugh riot. It seemed to be a cross between the adventures of a Louis L’Amour protagonist and the hi tech Flash Gordon.

What works well

The writing style is excellent, the pacing never drops and there is plenty of romance and sentimentality to balance things out.

The characters are fleshed out very well. My favourite was Rasiq’s father with his jokes that were sometimes meant to fall flat. Rasiq’s team takes over from him in the second part of the book and the narration belongs to their exploits. I also liked other characters like Sandra and Ruchika who are sketched with intelligence and sensitivity.

The rest of the team in the DareDreamers are very relatable even though they mostly have extraordinary capabilities. Their dreams, aspirations and fears are presented in a way that they seem like the rest of us. The second part of the book rests on their shoulders and rightly so, because the start-up is about a team, not just about the leader.

The locations are also used very realistically. The beginning of the book captures the essence of the city of Mumbai, with the promenade of Marine Drive and the crowds on the roads. France is described not only through the places but also as an attitude, through the people who are there.

The book has been written jointly by the father-son duo and the storytelling and the dialogue is seamless. The story is paramount in the book and it has been developed extremely well.

Verdict

DareDreamers is a spicy, entertaining read that does not let you go till the last page.

Read it for the seamless storytelling of adventure.

Buy the book from Amazon.

This post is part of #MyFriendAlexa, an initiative by Blogchatter. I am taking my Alexa rank to the next level with Blogchatter.

The Life Lived by Preeti Negi: Book Review

Title: The Life Lived… Memories of an Ordinary

Author: Preeti Negi

Genre: Memoir

The Life Lived is a lovely memoir, a collage of memories from various stages of the author’s life. The simplicity and the candid emotions are touching and the incidents are very relatable.

Review

The Life Lived is a collection of true stories from the author’s life, arranged alphabetically through A-Z. These memories range from her childhood, spanning her adolescence, young adulthood and her recent past.

The stories are very interesting; some are quite unexpected and others made me think of similar things happening to me.

I fell in love with farmhouses and secret places in Attic Raiders. Birthday on My Own showcases a child’s vulnerability. Reading of Preeti’s friends, I almost started missing my own circle. There are mentions of sibling love and rivalry. I also enjoyed reading about the festivals and the celebrations.

The places are brought alive in the book, be it her hometown or her maternal grandparents’ farmhouse or her paternal grandparents’ house in the hills. There are places that she has traveled to. I really enjoyed reading about the Kedarnath Yatra in Om Namah Shivaya.

Questions that I Never Asked made me think of all the times I have been at that kind of crossroads. I also loved the Tiny Tales of the ‘Baby Lions’. The Youngest Memories made me cast around in my own mind for mine.

What Works Well

The cover art is very good and quite suited to the content of the book.

Preeti’s writing style is very clear and she has a knack of bringing situations and incidents to life for the reader. The emotions are so candid that I felt an instant connection with her memories. There is also a thread of hilarity in many of the situations which made me enjoy reading about the incidents.

The best part is that the book is a bunch of stories, that you need not read alphabetically or in a sequence (even though I did go chronologically). Read the first few chapters and you can ease into her life, the main people and the flavour of her childhood and adolescence.

By the time I finished reading the book, I felt that I had known Preeti for a long time, such was the relatability of the book.

About the Author

Preeti Negi belongs to the beautiful state of Uttaranchal, India. Born and brought up in a small town of Uttar Pradesh, she discovered her love for books at an early age. Her love for reading enhanced her day-dreaming habit and she eventually started weaving stories in her own virtual world.

She can be found occasionally tweeting @preetispanorama or visiting her page
on Facebook. You can definitely catch her at Preeti’s Panorama.

Verdict

A collection of memories, some sweet, some tangy, making up a life lived fully. Read this well written memoir to relive your own memories.

Buy The Life Lived…Memories of an Ordinary from Amazon.

Break Free the Leader Within by Ravish Mani: Book Review

Title: Break Free the Leader Within

Author: Ravish Mani

Genre: Self Help, Inspirational

Medium: Audiobook

Break Free the Leader Within is a clear and accessible approach to the qualities of leadership.

Review

The book uses the true incident of Shweta Singh, a Mumbai mother and her experiences while trying to address the needs of her left handed child. Wanting to procure pencil sharpeners that her child could use with ease, she got an early and responsible response from the leading stationery manufacturer of India, Hindustan Pencils Ltd.

The book talks about the qualities of effective leadership in the light of this incident, making it an easy and relatable listening experience.

The most important takeaway for me from this book is that everyone can be a leader and in any space and capability. Leaders are characterised by the way they think differently from others, from their intent, from being clear about their why and by being selfless and visionaries.

What works Well

The quality of the audio is very good. The voice is clear, pleasing and the narration seamless. At no point did I have to strain to hear what was being said, except at the beginning when the Indian names were pronounced with a definite anglicised accent. However, after a couple of mentions, I was good to go.

Also, this is a short audio book. In less than 20 minutes, you get a strong idea of the qualities of leaders and how they do things that separate them from the crowd. It’s a thought provoking book that you can listen to while on a walk or driving.

Listening to this audiobook was a wonderful start to my day. This is the first audiobook I have listened to (don’t look at me; I know I live under a rock) and the quality and the experience would definitely encourage me to go in for this medium to upgrade my knowledge. Personally, I am sold on the sheer convenience and the usefulness of audiobooks.

Verdict

Break Free the Leader Within has good, useful content and is a pleasing auditory experience.

Highly recommended.

About the Author

Ravish Mani is well-known in the blogosphere for his philosophical personality. His writings are inspirational and food for thought. He can be contacted through his website.

The Audiobook is available for download at the Blogchatter website.

Elmet by Fiona Mozley: Book Review

Title: Elmet

Author: Fiona Mozley

Genre: Fiction, Gothic Noir

Elmet, the debut novel of 29-year old Ph.D scholar Fiona Mozley, is a world in itself. It sweeps across a haunting and beautiful landscape and tells the story of an unlikely family and their strong bonding.

I chose to read Elmet because it seemed the lightest in the pile of books that had been shortlisted for the 2017 Booker. Considered a surprise inclusion for the Booker longlist, it managed to make it to the final 6. The book may be light, but it packs quite a punch in the way of language and world building.

Elmet starts with an epigraph from Ted Hughes photography and poetry book, ‘Remains of Elmet’. It introduces Elmet as a Celtic Kingdom and mentions that even as late as the seventeenth century, it was considered ‘badlands’, geographically secluded and sheltering fugitives.
Elmet covered an area in what is now northern England, referenced as far back as the early middle ages.

The author, Fiona Mozley is pursuing a doctorate level research in early mediaeval history so it is only expected that her debut work would incorporate her area of study along with her own experiences that show up as themes of possession and ownership in the book.

Historically, Elmet finds a mention in early Welsh poetry and the landscape in the book reminded me of the wonderful classic, ‘How green was my valley’ by Richard Llewellyn, that I had read years ago.

Review

Elmet starts with a run and a search across the country. It then backtracks into telling us the story of John, the fighter, usually on the other side of the law and his children, Cathy and her brother, Daniel, who is the narrator in the book.

John, the larger-than-life fighter, with a fearsome reputation brings his two children to the woods and builds a house for them all. They live on the fringes of the society, though the reason for that is never convincing. They are away from towns and away from people, fending for themselves. The children learn the skills that their father imparts. But, they run into trouble over the land that they occupy. A landlord intrudes upon their world and thus begins the fight to reclaim their home.

The family stays close through the tribulations and they fight for each other till the very end, even when all seems lost.

Elmet is more about the countryside and its beauty. It starts slow, casting a loving eye on the landscape. It is only after many many pages that the characters come into focus and we get a feel of their emotions and their perceptions. The pace stays languid and the conflict builds slow. Unexpectedly, in the last quarter, the book finds steam and chugs ahead.

What works well

Elmet is an unfamiliar setting of wild Yorkshire landscape, but the stranger it was, the more I sank into it, absorbing it all. I built their world in my head, seeing it clearly through narration.

The house that John builds with his own hands is described so lovingly.

“Waiting is what a true house is about. Making it ours, making it settle, pinning it and us to the seasons, to the months and to the years.”

I knew each crack in the walls of the house and the trees in the copse, even the one mutilated by the lamps at Christmas. They live near railway tracks, which are what Daniel follows as he goes for a search, through the book.

“We heard them often enough: the hum and ring of the passenger trains, the choke and gulp of the freight, passing by with their cargo tucked behind in painted metal tanks. They had timetables and intervals of their own, drawing growth rings around our house with each journey, ringing past us like prayer chimes.”

The central character, John is delineated very well and so is his daughter Cathy, who is his spitting image, in body and spirit. The child, Daniel, with his proclivity to Viviene and to learning and a warm home is drawn well. His longing for a motherly figure is touching. The scene where he spies on Viviene, her clothes and toilette, shows the guileless love and instinctive attraction to feminine things.

The physicality of the characters plays a strong role in marking them out. There is John, a veritable giant with calcified fingers and knuckles. Viviene has wide hips that Cathy hates, perhaps because it is an indication of what Cathy herself would become one day. As she enters her sixteenth year, Cathy becomes ungainly. She is not graceful any longer and the change in her physical appearance points to her volatile emotions. Daniel, living away from society and not having to conform to any rules for appearance and dress, has long hair, long nails, wearing midriff short tshirts, like a girl. It underlines his homely nature; he likes to keep a house comfortable.

The description of Elmet at the beginning, brought to my mind a place dark and forbidding. But the cover art is cheerful and uplifting.

What does not work so well

Elmet starts with a languid description and the setting is perfectly built. However the characters are brought on slowly and it is only after a while that we understand them and their emotions. The children are mere shadows in the beginning pages. It is when their grandmother dies and they keep a vigil, trusting no one but breaking down when their father arrives, is the place where the children acquire emotions and show vulnerability.

Many characters in the book are not explained at all. We never knew what troubles John so much or what is it that he should have told his children honestly. The children’s mother and her comings and goings, remains a mystery. At one point, Price is on the verge of talking more of her but Daniel changes his mind about asking about his mother and she stays relegated to the unknown. Viviene is another inexplicable character. A woman of the world, well traveled, with a wide knowledge of the sciences and the arts, she lives alone in the middle of nowhere. I could not make up my mind about her at all nor could I understand her disinterest and her motivations.

Many situations in the book are not seen through. The uprising of the serfs against their master had a promise that was never fulfilled. The theme of exploitation and class conflict stays underdeveloped.

The child Daniel, the narrator, grows up suddenly after his father’s desertion. This transition is a little abrupt. The 14 year old has a language that is beyond his years and his knowledge.

There is very little dialogue in the book. Elmet plods through a lot of description. And yet, inspite of everything, the few places when the characters do bare their souls, they bring forth truth which is incredibly beautiful.

Cathy says of her decisions and her actions,

“We all grow into our coffins, Danny. And I saw myself growing into mine.”

The action is gripping only towards the end. Till then, it looks like a meditation on the place and a little about the characters’ daily lives.

There are so many ways in which I felt shortchanged and yet Elmet is like life and like people; flawed but beautiful in its imperfection.

Verdict

This debut novel about an inaccessible world, familial loyalty and the impact of unfettered violence on lives is beautifully written.
Read it for the brilliant language and for the joy of experiencing another world.

I am doing the 2017 Man Booker shortlisted book reviews in collaboration with Bloggeray from Musingsite. Read his excellent review here.

Atonement: An Exquisite Panorama

The title ‘Atonement‘ and the back cover of the 2001 Ian McEwan book suggests an emotional journey, a wrenching coming-of-age tale, that starts from an incident and extends well beyond it in real life ramifications and in memory.

Widely regarded as one of Ian McEwan’s best works, it was shortlisted for the 2001 Booker Prize for fiction. In 2007, the book was adapted into a BAFTA and Academy Award-winning film of the same title.

A few pages into the book and I knew this was not going to be an ordinary, swift read. The language is lyrical so that to roll over the words quickly was to let go of mini impressions that make up the larger picture. There are tiny flickers of emotions that fit the pieces of the puzzle of how our minds perceive things.

Ian McEwan’s exquisite book starts in pre war England, when war is still far from public imagination. In an idyllic country house, the lives of the people living therein and visiting are about to change irrevocably through a short, nearly invisible incident; invisible and unnoticed by everyone except the budding 13 year old writer whose verdurous imagination leads her to think of things beyond her understanding.

Briony, the youngest in the household or nearly so, if we discount her cousins, the twins, and yet the pivotal figure whose (mis) understanding of the events that unfold before her lead her to act in ways that has a lasting impact on the people she loves. Years later, she comes to a complete realisation of her actions and her suppositions and sets out to put things right.

In Briony’s atonement, fate plays a part and the journey that begins in a country house pans across the second world war, bringing the horrors of the war to the reader, in stark contrast with the placid gardens of her house.

The story begins in England, in 1935. The events of one day in summer are set out. The cast comprises of Briony, the precocious 13 year old, who is on the threshold of adulthood and literary revelation, or so she feels. Her elder sister, Cecilia is home after graduation, soaking in the glorious summer heat and wondering what to do with her life. On the same estate is Robbie, recently graduated, like Cecilia and on the cusp of an exciting life ahead that is full of possibilities. Leon, the eldest son of the household is awaited eagerly by all that evening. He is to be accompanied by the business tycoon, Paul Marshall. To the household are added the unfortunate and confused nine year old twins and their scheming, attention-seeking older sister, Lola; escaping a broken home and sent to the country to find love and care. The father, Leon’s, Cecilia’s and Briony’s, is large in his absence and we come to know of him through his wife, Emily, who nurses her migraine and her thoughts in private; in darkened rooms, with a heightened sense of understanding and prescience.

The country house sees talent, love, passion, intrigue, resignation in equal measures in the span of a day. The day unfolds through different eyes. Every character is wrapped in his/her world, musing, wondering and the stream of consciousness narrative reminds me of ‘The Lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf. Briony, who till now has been penning down tales of love reunited, of valour and of an ideal world, stumbles upon the Stream of Consciousness way of narrative through her partial witnessing of the pivotal incidents of the day. The writer in her muses on this with a new set of eyes.

There is an undercurrent of joy in writing that Briony is aware of; she knows what stories do to her.

” ...writing stories not only involved secrecy, it also gave her all the pleasures of miniaturization. A world could be made in five pages and one that was more pleasing than a model farm. The childhood of a spoiler prince could be framed within half a page, a moonlit dash through sleepy villages was one rhythmically emphatic sentence, falling in love could be achieved in a single word-a glance. The pages of a recently finished story seemed to vibrate in her hand with all the life they contained.”

Briony is intense, with a depth of feeling that clarifies itself in her writings. She wonders,

Was everyone really as alive as she was?… everyones’s thoughts striving in equal importance and everyone’s claim in life as intense, and everyone thinking they were unique, when no one was. One could drown in irrelevance.

This thought process then is in some measure a portent of what is to come. Everyone is at the center of his/her universe, and yet on the whole they are like anyone else, everyone else and their lives, the entire arc of their struggle and redemption pale into insignificance or irrelevance in the bigger picture; when a measure of a life well lived is taken; when Briony in her old age is surrounded by family and the entire lifetimes are rattled off in a matter of sentences.

Part of the reason for Briony’s confusion on the fateful day is the inability to reconcile her feelings. She struggles with a ‘chaotic swarm of impressions’, the complexity of which convinces her that she is entering an ‘arena of adult emotion.’ Briony is a writer, first and foremost and she longs to set down the emotions on paper.

What she wanted was to be lost to the unfolding of an irresistible idea, to see the black thread spooling out from the end of her scratchy silver nib and coiling into words.”

We understand, then, as to what prompted Briony to act the way she did. Emily, Briony’s mother, has a depth of understanding in the workings of the human mind. Her stoicism and acceptance of her husband’s absence, literally and figuratively and her knowledge of old age, when he would return to her for a companionable life is striking. All the more striking is her very real weakness when it comes to Lola and her vulnerability. Emily is shrewd enough to see her sister Hermione in Lola and that prevents her from complete love and attention towards her sister’s children. Emily as a mother, for that is what she is now, is wondrous. She thinks of Leon’s ‘diminishing prospects’ with a sense of clarity. Of Cecilia, Emily is dismayed that she is disappointed with her academic performance. Emily muses that Cecilia

had no job or skill and still had a husband to find and motherhood to confront.”

Thinking about Briony, Emily regrets the

passing of an age of eloquence.

Already, Emily knows that her youngest is at the threshold of adulthood, struggling out of the mould of innocent, garrulous childhood. And yet, for all her understanding, Emily bows down to her prejudices when she is at the helm of decisions regarding the indictment of someone she has known for long years.

The fateful day full of unexpected events is spent, and for everyone involved, their lives change forever. The lull, the idyllic gives way to the ugly and the unexpected and soon the story moves to the battlefields of the second world war and to the weary trudge of the retreating British army through the French countryside. The horrors of the war as seen from a soldier’s eyes are presented; the disillusionment and the weariness that hides the vestiges of strength and courage. Death and terror, through Stuka attacks are so minutely described that I can visualise them to the last detail and feel the terror.

Superimposed on the war is love. War seems all encompassing; with wide swathes it takes in everything, destroying all in its wake. Love, private, ‘a lonely preoccupation’, flickers tentatively, feeding on memories and little stolen encounters, on words and on simple phrases that were uttered, on the dreams of a future and the urgency of love to uphold itself, high above the mundane. There is a tender pain of reunions, of things that might be and the wonder if the ideals of love would supercede the bleak realism of war and of life itself.

In the next part of the book, we come back to Briony’s viewpoint and her life choices. She has enrolled to be a nurse, to contribute to the war effort and to atone for her actions that fateful day when everything changed as per her thoughts and understanding. Her experiences with the sick and the dying are visceral and it shows another side of the war.

The book ends in present day England. The past is seen through Briony’s eyes, her relatives making up the carousel; the here-and-now described in delicate detail-the ordinary detail that makes up our lives; the near future, the projected and the expected turn of events described with a sense of resignation and stoicism to the wheel of existence. What captures us here are the stories within the story, the long awaited screening of Arabella, an allusion to other works of Briony and her masterpiece that has been written but that needs an opportune time for publication.

Atonement is a brilliant narrative of love, war, life. It is characterized by different hues and imagery that is both abstract and stark.

8 things that happen when you like to read a lot

Reading a lot of books is fun for me. I don’t belong to any book club, nor is there a reading group that meets and discusses books. I talk about the books I read, on my blog but not to show off, as in a social gathering. I don’t have book reading goals for the year or for the month. I read because I want to, because I love the activity. I don’t read to imbibe knowledge, though that is a side effect. I read because it is like breathing.

So, this listicle is dedicated to all my ‘breathing as in reading’ friends who know exactly what I am talking about when I talk of books.

A few things that I found out are:

1. It is possible to finish a thickish book in a few hours. The only thing is to do nothing else, stick to the book even through the daily chores. I personally don’t even look into my plate while eating, all my attention reserved only for my book.

2. Which reminds me of snacks that are a must for munching on for reading requires sustenance. Use only non oily, non dripy snacks that don’t spoil the pages of the books that you are reading. Oh yes, I still read the physical books as you all do.

3. Use the Pomodoro technique to up your productivity. It basically means to read for 25 minutes and look around the room/garden for 5 minutes to rest your eyes.

4. Reading borrowed books can be distracting especially when the owner has underlined a lot and put many notes in the margins. I remember reading a gem of a book but I could barely follow the story for I kept reading the notes and the various cryptic symbols that the book owner had put.

5. If there is a book you have not been able to read or feel reluctant to pick up, offer to lend it to your friend. It would be better if your friend takes up the offer for that would be the time that you would yearn to read that previously neglected book.

6. Dogeared pages and broken spines look attractive because it shows how much you love your books.

7. Bookshelves should have a magical quality of self expansion for the book piles grow exponentially with time.

8. No matter how many books you own and how much you regularly spend money on them; a bargain in a second hand book shop feels exhilarating.

Do share your books related snippets!

Deceived : A Book Review 



Title : Deceived 

Author : Heena Rathore P. 

Genre : Crime Thriller, Psychological Thriller 

Publisher : Citrus Publishers 
Disclaimer : I got an ARC of the book from the publishers. 

Summary 

Allison Stone, a young writer, wants to carve out an independent life for herself that has a semblance of normalcy. She is trying to recover from the trauma of a murdered mother and brother in her teen years. With her loyal German Shepherd by her side and a doting boyfriend she is moving in with, Allison wants to start over again and put the past behind her. 

Danny, the ambitious journalist, moves to the town of Dewar to investigate the killings of Allison’s family members and many other murders spanning over decades, that disturbingly seem to be falling into a pattern of serial killings. 

And all the while, Allison is trying to settle into a normal life, a psychopath has Allison in his sight, stalking her for a fate more horrendous than she has gone through. 

Review 

This suspenseful thriller explores the darkest of human emotions, the unpredictability of people and the depths that they can stoop to, propelled by their dark motivations. It underlines the fact that sometimes we don’t completely know the people we are close to. 

The characters in the book are diverse. There is a girl struggling to cope with the murders of her mother and her young brother. There is a journalist trying to chase a potential serial killer. These people have strong unforeseeable ties with a 13 year old girl who slaughtered her parents and a psychopath out to take revenge. The details of the lives of the protagonists and the the supporting characters adds flavour to the broth that is being stewed. 

I read this excellent crime thriller on a long train journey. As the landscape flew past, so did I turn the pages; so thrilling is the book. I had a wonderful time reading this debut novel even though at no point did it read like a first book. Heena is a master storyteller, narrating an arresting story spanning decades and families. 

She uses the contrasting PoVs to move the action forward. It is not a chronological telling of the horror that unfolds ; rather the story jumps back and forth and the pieces fall into place, as the action builds up. 

The book talks of the deviants of the society, the sociopaths and the psychopaths, here in the book, living in the woods or on the edge of the town. 

The killer is profiled rather well and his motivations are well researched and credible. 

The book is open ended and a few things are left unanswered although most of the threads are tied up neatly. 

What’s Good 

This is one book which is complete in the horror it induces and yet it has all the makings of a series. 

I do wish that the author decides to pick up the few threads that have been left dangling tantalizingly and write the next part. 

The book starts with a talk about psychopaths and sociopaths. This introduces the reader to what is to come. Michael’s journal entries take these forward by quoting notorious psychopaths and sociopaths. It adds an interesting angle to the story. 

The story unfolds through the Points of View of the characters and through a bunch of journal entries of the mysterious Michael. The quotes of various psychopaths lends a sinister feeling to the initial, normal, happy-in-love scenario. The characters seem to be having ordinary lives, but the horror is just beneath the surface, waiting to erupt. 

Most characters are well developed, a few with much clarity. Allison and Elizabeth are way different from the watch man at the law firm and yet they are all divested with an equal amount of detail. 

Heena’s writing style is very good. It has a great flow. The dialogues are pithy and move the story forward very well. The pacing of the story is excellent and the action builds up to the crescendo of the climax very well. 

The thrill factor of the book is good. Apart from the gruesome murders, there is an element of stalking and mysterious incidents around the protagonist, Allison that build up the suspense and the horror to a well thought out climax. 

What’s Not 

The book is well researched and the story is told extremely well but some characters and situations are a little fuzzy, like the mysterious voodoo practitioner or even Allison’s father, who otherwise is a pivotal character in the story. 

There is Phil, who is mentioned briefly but whom no one seems to want to trace after the double murders, in spite of the fact that he could hold the key to the mystery. 

There is a philandering wife and mother who seems to be having an affair just so that her murder can be explained away till the real murderer is unmasked and that too literally. 

In an attempt to leave a trail of false clues for the reader, a few situations and incidents are hatched that are not explained clearly through. 

Again, I feel these situations and characters can be well developed if there is a sequel. 

The setting of the book is the quiet town of Dewar, an unassuming place with an inefficient police force that has been unable to resolve or even follow the leads in the murders that happen with surprising regularity. This seems a little incredulous. 

Also, the introduction of Steve coming from outside to investigate the murders sounds a little far fetched. His attempts at investigative journalism look a little juvenile. He reaches conclusions without much reasoning and he naively assumes that confronting people who could be prime suspects would help him solve the murders. 

The book has a very contemporary feel. The characters are smart, going through the motions of their routines. There is just too much detail on who eats what and what meetings are lined up for the day. All this does not give a feel of the place, only of the lives of the characters. Though, to be fair, the woods at the edge of the town and the placid lake behind the mansion are excellent settings in their own right. 

There is something about the names of the characters that make the story slightly confusing. Although the characters are fleshed out well, there are pairs of names that are very similar sounding. There are Steve and Stephen, Ellie and Allie for Elizabeth and Allison, Danny and Donny, because of whom I sometimes stumbled a little in the story. 

Verdict 

A perfect psychological thriller, a compulsive page turner, a goose bump inducing racy read, Deceived is deservingly bone chilling. 

I rate this book four stars 🌠🌠🌠🌠