Deal of Death by Sonia Chatterjee: Book Review

Title: Deal of Death

Author: Sonia Chatterjee

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime, Detective

Deal of Death is an exciting mystery with a an intricate plot and an unconventional detective solving this whodunit.

Review

Raya Ray resigns from her hi flying marketing job when she encounters a personal tragedy. Moving cities and changing occupations, she starts her own detective agency. Battling the ennui of mundane cases of cheating spouses and missing pets, she decides to step out of Kolkata to help her housemaid’s sister who lives in faraway Munshiganj.

For Raya, it starts as a case to trace a missing newborn from a hospital but leads to being a labyrinth of lies and deceit that goes back generations. Evil thrives in this seemingly simple town and by the time Raya is close to solving the case, she discovers that things are not as they seem and people are not who they pretend to be.

What works well

This is exciting detective fiction, fast paced and well plotted with a refreshingly different setting and a well etched out protagonist.

Raya Ray, the corporate hi flier turned detective, battling her grief, concerned with body issues, helpful, trusting, deducing, relying on observation and instinct, is the well sketched protagonist that gets the reader attention and loyalty.

The setting is the quaint Munshiganj on the banks of the river Annapurna and a twin ghat of Diwanganj. It looks like a peaceful, sleepy town but there is plenty of royal intrigue woven into the town’s history. There is also the curious temple and the mosque flanking the sides of the Nawab’s tomb. The photos included in the book bring alive the place for the reader.

The plot is intricate. Like any mystery, there is a crime and there are unexpected perpetrators, yet the backstory and how events came to pass is novel.

This is an impressive debut book and the author, Sonia Chatterjee finished writing it in a record six days.

On the other hand

The protagonist is well etched out but sometimes she is plain lucky. She gets a lot of information too easily and too fast. Also, Raya seems to know too many things without a real knowledge of the events themselves.

The plot is well built but the execution seems rushed. Towards the end there is a lot of information, which also keeps shifting because of the different povs.

There are too many characters towards the end of the book. It would help if these characters are introduced early on.

Some things need to be figured out clearly in the plot. The events and incidents are sometimes not believable.

A few characters are sketchy. Adding physical characteristics would help a little bit of context and relatability.

Chapter length does not seen uniform, which is a little jarring. Some chapters are very short, just a few paragraphs and they seem hurriedly done just to give information to the reader. The formatting needs to be looked into. Some chapters don’t even start from a different page. The chapter names too seem a little random. There are days 1-4 and then we move on to day 8.

Some scenes would flow better if there is more of description and ‘showing’ the reader rather than ‘telling’.

Also, giving meanings of words, like jhalmuri, tonga in brackets affects the flow of the story. It would help if they are put as footnotes.

About the Author

An ex-banker and a self- confessed bibliophile, Sonia inherited her love of the written word from her Professor father. As a tribute to her late mother and a gift to her son on his second birthday, Sonia started blogging from September 2017. Married to a Doctor, Sonia is crazy about four things in life – books, food, travel and her uber-cute toddler. She currently works hard to realize her dream of becoming a best-selling author while secretly wishing harder for twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Her work can be found at soniasmusings.com. She blogs about food, travel, movies, parenting, personal journeys and social issues.

Verdict

A fast paced detective story with an endearing MC and an intriguing setting. This debut book hits the right notes in the crime fiction.

Download the book here.

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Eighty Hours To Save Karen by Sitharaam Jayakumar: Book Review

Title: Eighty Hours to Save Karen

Author: Sitharaam Jayakumar

Genre: Crime fiction, Thriller

Eighty Hours to Save Karen is a racy, engaging thriller that keeps the reader hooked and spooked till the last page.

Review

Retired Air Commodore, Matthew Williams lives in a remote hill village with his only surviving family member, his little granddaughter, Karen. When Karen is struck by a mysterious ailment under very suspicious circumstances, Matthew takes it upon himself to get to the root of her problem. It seems that there are forces beyond the natural that have a hand in unfortunate incidents; not only Karen’s illness but also a doctor’s death.

What works well

The title of the story sets the tone of urgency for the reader. The cover art is very apt for the book.

The characters are very well etched and are brought to life by an extensive backstory and an impressive attention to detail. The protagonist, the mature war veteran-turned-detective to save his granddaughter is very convincing.

The plotline is very credible and the setting of the little village is created well.

There is a good balance between the backstory and the action in the present so that the pacing stays fast. The tight narration ensures that the reader can finish the book in a single sitting.

The spook factor is high; there are plenty of thrilling moments sprinkled in the book. There are blood covered mysterious objects, cats tapping on windows in the middle of the night, unexplained accidents and many more. Yet, there is no morbid blood and gore.

On the other hand…

I kept waiting to understand the relevance of the no. of hours mentioned in the title to the book. It was only when the book was over that I realised that it probably refered to the entire timeline of the book.

I also could not get a clear picture of Karen from the book. It would have been good if her age and appearance had been mentioned so that she could be brought ‘alive’ in the reader’s mind.

I really enjoyed the traveling of the MC from the village to the state capital Shimla and then to Mumbai. But it rankled that a remote village in Himachal had shopkeepers selling ice, where it is probably cold the year round. Also, a retired Inspector living in a villa in Mumbai sounded far fetched.

The story moved very well but somehow I felt that Matthew held the cards too close to his chest. The case was cracked through his research on the internet. I wished the part about scientific research and cult leaders was expanded further for the story to have more nuances.

About the Author

Sitharaam Jayakumar is an Information Technology professional. He is a passionate reader of books on both fiction and non-fiction. He takes a keen interest in sports, especially cricket and tennis. In addition, he is also interested in politics and music. He loves to write about anything that catches his fancy in everyday life. His repertoire includes articles on social issues, crime, women’s empowerment, fiction and several other topics. He is a
published poet.

Verdict

Pick this fast paced crime thriller that turns spooky and psychological in turns. Very entertaining.

Download the book here.

The Contemplation of a Joker by Manas Mukul: Book Review

Title: The Contemplation of a Joker

Author: Manas Mukul

Genre: Short Stories

The Contemplation of a Joker is a collection of 12 tales, with the overarching theme of love and loss. It touches on the various facets in relationships, about the coming together and the moving apart.

Review

The book starts off well with ‘Made for Each Other‘, a story that spans an entire lifetime. There is a deep pathos in love. I could also relate very well to the cultural background of this one and it stayed my favourite through the reading.

Most precious gift of God‘ is a lovely little tale of sibling love. There are others that are impressive, ‘Somebody that I Used to Know, ‘The Shortest Story of my Life‘ and ‘The Absence of her Fragrance‘, among others.

There are stories which have more rounded characters, ‘The First 100 kisses‘ and ‘With Love, from Russia‘.

The writing style of the book is very good. The language is easy to understand; it is colloquial and contemporary which gives the book a kind of lightness and relatability.

Most characters are drawn well, are likeable and the reader can root for them.

The stories are written with a lot of passion and emotion. There is much detail which draws the reader in.

However, I found a sameness in the theme, throughout the book. Also, the stories seem like the retelling of incidents. In many places, they feel half finished, with either the beginning or the middle missing.

The cover art is good, colourful, drawing the reader’s attention and the style elements put it into sync with the title. But the book fails to come up to the explanation of the word ‘Joker’ in the title.

About the Author

Mukul always liked stories but he loves telling them even more. He believes things are better said than kept behind curtains; that emotions are meaningful with expressions, and
so are thoughts which are of no use till they have words to support them.

You can connect with him on his blog-The Contemplation of a Joker.

You can write to him at mukul.manas@gmail.com

Social media links:

Twitter: @manasmukul
Instagram
Facebook

Verdict

Love stories with a twist. For the ones who have loved deeply and the ones who dream of a deep love.

Download the book for free(for a limited period) from the Blogchatter website.

To You

Image courtesy doxzoo.com

Dear D,

You would be surprised to hear from me. No, you would be puzzled. You would look down to the unfamiliar name at the end of the letter, frown, search your memory and come up with nothing. Who is this from, you would wonder. But, your memory would fail you.

I first saw you in a crowd, that year of the extraordinarily hot summer, wearing blue, your coiffed hair losing strands in the heat. People around me whispered, pointing you out, for obviously, even then you were a head turner. I wondered why and pulled myself away to enter the rectangular, dark room, with the cobbled floor and took a seat next to the wall lined with little jars holding condiments, herbs, pickles.

The lady holding her pans and measuring spoons would appear at just the right time every day to teach us to put together simple ingredients to rustle up a gourmet meal. I was then struggling to master the craft, in fact trying any craft that would help me earn my livelihood and you, on the other hand, looked the pampered daughter of a rich scion.

I did not really want to talk to you, I was content to feel your presence. I thought of your soft flesh as I carved the juicy, soft mangoes to extract the pulp. The slow and precise slicing of vegetables made me aware of your long nails that flashed exotic colours every day. Your nails were sharper than my knives for they could tear apart hearts. I could see you in the milk vessels as the milk formed a thin layer of fat slowly on the surface accentuating the white colour. I smelt you in the fresh herbs that we tore with our hands, not daring to bring the blades near them.

I sat, listening to the teacher’s polite, cultured voice, imagining instead yours, talking to me, asking about me, my life in the dingy, one room with thin walls that could not mute the next door whisperings and the sound of scrambling mice.

The day, I was asked to come up to the cooking platform, I shook inside for even though I was getting good at the stirring and the cooking, the cold surface of the cooking stove made me think of you. For many minutes, I bent my head and concentrated on cooking the perfect sauce. When it was about to be done, I dared look up to steal a glance in your direction. I expected, feared, prayed for an admiring glance but you were busy talking… That felt like a rejection and I froze for long seconds till the sauce boiled over and the sizzle brought me back to what I was doing. Silently, I mopped up the mess, feeling like a failure.

Did you look at me then? Do you remember me now? Do you know that after that day, I stopped coming to the class? I redoubled my efforts at mastering the culinary skills in my one room house. I went on to have a successful career, yes, it would be successful in your eyes, it got me money and recognition. Sometimes, I felt empty but I considered I was making you proud.

I saw you the other day, no, saw your picture in the glossy that was on the shiny table at the dentist’s waiting room. Your eyes looked sad, the corners of your mouth downturned and you seemed to have spilled some wine down the front of your designer gown. People around seemed to be laughing at you, rather than with you. Does beauty fade so fast?

I had to write to you and tell you that I dream of you still. That I am here waiting to make the perfect meal, to feed your appetite.

Yours,
S

Twelve Tales of Christmas by Cathleen Townsend: Book Review

Title: Twelve Tales of Christmas

Author: Cathleen Townsend

Genre: Short stories, Fiction

Synopsis

Christmas isn’t always Jingle Bells and “Ho, ho, ho.” In these Twelve Tales of Christmas, even Santa has to deal with unexpected German shepherds and reindeer who suddenly want to learn the tango. A dryad works feverishly with a teenage boy to save her tree, now in a stand in his living room, and everyone begs Death to hold off for just one more day.

And no one knows what to do with the fire-breathing dragon. He’s not going on the Christmas card list anytime soon.

Come enter worlds of beauty and dread. Join a house hob as he raises his cup of eggnog high, and enjoy yuletide yarns delicious enough to tempt even St. Nick.

Review

The stories in this collection, meant to be a Chritmas vacation read are delightful, surprising and thankfully all positive because no one wants to feel sad in this season. Every story made me smile. Some for the kindness, others for the love. These tales are magical, more than literally so. The language is lovely. The stories touch your heart in unexpected ways. You feel love, empathy, kindness, hope and joy, which is quite a lot for this short and sweet read.

The language is precise, sharp, witty and the stories present different flavours. Christmas makes up the theme and the spirit of the stories but the settings and the protagonists have a lot of variety.

Short and longer stories are mixed together judiciously. There are short bursts of positivity interspersed with longer, deeper ones. The shorter ones usually leave you with a mood and the longer ones with the feel of the characters. At places, the characterisation is surprising and refreshing like Mori and the irritable dragon in the last and the longest story. The narrative voice is very mature and I loved the language. Each story threw up lovely words at me that evoked new feelings.

I really could not decide which were my most favourite stories. Each one seemed better than the last. ‘The Gift’ portrays the mind of an elderly woman so well that the reader is as delighted as the protagonist. I wished ‘Chritmas Tango’ was longer. And ‘Snowflake’ is both poignant and beautiful. These stories tantalise and because they are short, the reader to forced to think up what happens later. ‘Department Store Santa’ shows a world that is hard up. Everyone has troubles but it is possible to forget them in little lovely moments. I loved the sensitivity of ‘The Angel in the Tree’. ‘Dragon Yule’ is a wonderful fantasy read.

This collection is easy enough for a quick read and rich enough to savour. Read it as your mood demands.

Buy this fantastic book here.

Autumn by Ali Smith: Book Review

Title: Autumn
Author: Ali Smith
Genre: Fiction

Autumn is a very contemporary novel, set in the post Brexit Britain, exploring the themes of feminism, of memories and the fragility of life.

Elisabeth Demand, who could actually have been ‘de Monde’, is a junior lecturer in the history of art, having accepted art as a vocation early on. This is because of the charming and supportive neighbour she had as a child, the ‘arty art’, Daniel Glutch.

Through her growing up years, the 80 yr old Daniel, who has been a songwriter, keeps Elisabeth company, spending time with her and having long conversations about art and life. She loses touch with him for a decade or so but eventually tracks him down to an old age care facility where he lays sleeping and dying.

‘Autumn’ is about that season in our lives, the long winding down of lives lived brilliantly. Light and breezy on the surface, it reaches deep down into our hearts when it explores memories, moments and fragile relationships that are out of the ambit of the normal, accepted norms.

Review
Ali Smith is a Scottish writer whose book Autumn is considered the first post Brexit novel, touching upon the deep divide that UK saw over the referendum to withdraw from the EU.
It is an understated commentary, of the political situation in Britain. It also explores the themes of feminism through the fiesty British pop artist, Pauline Boty who is a thread that links Elisabeth and Daniel inextricably.

On the surface, the characters conform to societal norms but on a closer look they are all pushing their boundaries through their understanding of what’s right and how they want to live their lives. Wendy, Elisabeth’s mother courts arrest because she hates the fence and explores a same sex relationship late in her life. Elisabeth, the witty and the intelligent one, a ‘diificult’ child, has an undercurrent of understanding of the bleakness that surrounds her, affecting her directly and indirectly.

Autumn is a very much, of-our-times book, light, easy and seemingly mundane till we catch the brilliance of bold, unadulterated colours and forms/non forms and of images of images themselves. Art turns pop through an exploration of Pauline Boty’s work. Daniel is smitten and in turn, so is Elisabeth and those colours run right through the seeming shutting down of Daniel’s life.

The dialogue in the book is different. It is a free indirect discourse that brings us the feelings of the characters and yet keeps a distance from them.

What works well
In spite of the profound themes that are just beneath the surface, the book is very light, easy to read and contemporary. It has action inspersed with memories and musings and at no point does the gentle pace slacken so that we are led from one page to another regularly if not breathlessly.
The language is very evocative at places, especially when the paintings are described.

Pauline Boty, long gone is still a prominent character. She is there not only for art but richens the book in refering obliquely to the development of the world on her lines, modelled on her life. If she is a blast of colour, so are the other women, in their own ways.

What does not work so well
The voices of the different characters, especially the women, are all the same, nearly. Elisabeth is very witty, very intelligent and by the end of her book so is her mother who transforms from a selfish and neglecting mother to a caring and knowledgeable one. Her monologue of being sick of every thing just does not sound like her, the way her character has developed upto that point. Zoe, her mother’s fantasy star is much the same, witty, intelligent, discerning, just to a different degree. All the women seem to have been cast out of the same mould.

The child Elisabeth, at ten, is extremely clear. Her clarity of speech is disconcerting. Even at eight, her smarter self keeps peeping out from her little girl facade. Hannah, Daniel’s sister at twelve is like that too. Very witty, very smart, extremely well read and perspicacious.

I really wished some of the events in the book were followed through. We never find out about Hannah and how she died at a young age. We don’t know how it is that Daniel knows Pauline nor do we find out the cause of the rift between Elisabeth and Daniel that leads to their losing contact.

Verdict

Autumn explores the fragility and the brilliance of lives, of bold individual choices and the boundaries set on them by states and political systems. The book is an explosion of colour; vibrant and pulsing with life.
I am definitely waiting for the next three books in this series, named after the seasons.

This review is a part of collaborative book reviews that I am doing with fellow blogger, Bloggeray. Read his insightful review here.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid: Book Review

Title: Exit West
Author: Mohsin Hamid
Genre: Fiction

Exit West is a story of love and loss, set against the backdrop of war and migration.

It starts in an unnamed city, presumably somewhere in the middle East and talks of the growing unrest there. The city is bursting with refugees and militants are gaining ground. It is in this time of impending turmoil that Saeed and Nadia find each other and try to grow their acquaintance tentatively.

Nadia is surprisingly independent, fierce and sure whereas Saeed is gentle and reticent. Soon, the war reaches them and Saeed’s mother is killed. This precipitates a situation in which Nadia moves to Saeed’s place. However, it is clear that they cannot stay in their city or country for long and try to move out to another place, safer and with more opportunities.

Exit West is the story of the migration of the pair, Saeed and Nadia and of countless others, across countries and continents so that the face of the earth is ever changing.

Review

The novel starts in an unnamed city and as people go about their normal lives, the warring and increasingly unsafe city is kept at an arm’s length, out of their private worlds. Indeed, we don’t get a real feel of the city at all and this may have been done deliberately so that this city could be anyplace the reader can imagine.

The city is under seige and we learn of the difficulties that the ordinary citizen faces. It was quietly reminiscent of Ayn Rand’s book, ‘We the living’, that explores war and desperation.

“…that is the way of things, with cities as with life, for one moment we are pottering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does.”

One recurring motif in Exit West is blackness, the rectangular blackness that may mean to be doors that are mysterious and leading to equally mysterious destinations. These doors bring a touch of magic realism to an otherwise very realistic representation of the starkness of life in a war torn city. The technique is surprising and yet it does not stand out like a sore thumb.

Exit West touches on the cyclical nature of the world and of life.

What works well

Exit West has a different feel to it when you read the words and the sentences. Mohsin Hamid seems to be saying things in one breath so that he can set it all down before any of his thoughts get lost. The long sentences, oh, the multiple clauses and the rambling on, so that one sentence becomes a complete paragraph and a page. I found this way of writing and explaining and going off on a tangent, even within a sentence very liberating, so that all the thoughts that one can have for a particular thing are put in one place, separated in their breathlessness by mere commas.

The love story of the main characters, if their relationship could be called so, has a typical arc of infatuation, attachment and then indifference which may or may not melt into anger or bitterness. The romance is not fairy tale, as in our times. In this way, it mirrors relations everywhere and the way the characters are etched, clear enough but not very unique, so that they can represent many other young people of their country and elsewhere gives it an air of universality.

The writing is purposeful. Mohsin Hamid is a man with a clear story in his mind and he moves with clarity.

What does not work so well

The first half of the book, namely the coming-together and getting-to-know-each-other part and managing life in times of war is interesting. The little details are touching, like the lemon tree or the dyers in the millitant occupied neighborhood or the changing face of the city, the chequers of city that are held by opposing sides in a war. But the second half becomes more of a commentary on our times, on migration and the hopelessness of it all and the challenges that are faced by both the fleeing and the places where they land. I felt a little lost in this part of the book when I moved across continents with the people.

Verdict

A sensitive portrayal of love, war and migration. Read it for a commentary on our times and the unique narrative structure.

I am doing the book reviews of 2017 Man Booker nominated books with fellow blogger Bloggeray. Read Bloggeray’s wonderfully incisive review of the book here.