23 October 2016

Short Notes - Part I

Here comes the post on pending activity: A high-level note on each of the books I read in the last few months

1. Girl with a Pearl Earring - Tracy Chevalier

I had not tried historical fiction mainly on the assumption that they are tedious and are written in complex, old English (like all those Victorian novels). The story blurb of Girl with a Pearl Earring was so intriguing that I decided to give it a try and promptly borrowed it from the library. 

I was not disappointed. The theme of the book is based on the famous painting of the same name by Johannes Vermeer. The story is narrated from the model’s point of view – a maid who worked in Vermeer’s house – about how the whole painting came into existence. It delves into the delicate and budding relationship between Griet (the maid) and Vermeer (the master) during her stay in his house. It is never once boring. Griet comes across as a silent, strong girl with a natural flair and curiosity towards art and colours. She also has strong moral values and is troubled by the ambiguous and changing nature of her relationship with Vermeer, others in the household, and her own family. The writing is so fluid and masterful that I didn’t realise how quickly I ate up the pages. 

This one is worth my shelf space at home, so I am planning to buy a copy for myself. 

2. Bloodhounds - Peter Lovesey
Peter Lovesey’s book was an impulsive selection. I had never heard of the author, nor did anyone recommend the book to me. When I googled his name, I was surprised to find he was a prolific writer and British. (I have become interested in British novels of late) 

Bloodhounds blurb says this: 'Darling, if ever I've met a group of potential murderers anywhere, it's the Bloodhounds.' Thus says one of the members of the Bloodhounds of Bath, a society that meets in a crypt to discuss crime novels. But to their latest recruit, they seem just a gaggle of dotty misfits, until one of them reveals that he is in possession of an immensely valuable stamp, recently stolen from the Postal Museum. Then theft is overtaken by murder when the corpse of one of the Bloodhounds is found in a locked houseboat, with the only key in the possession of a man with a perfect alibi. Burly Peter Diamond finds himself embroiled in a mystery evoking the classic crime puzzles of John Dickson Carr.

Bloodhounds is an efficient detective novel, if I can call it that. It ticks off various requirements of a good detective novel (taut writing, decent plot with good twists, memorable characters and a conclusion that keeps you guessing till the end). Worth one’s time if one is in the mood for reading a mystery/thriller.

3. Diamond Dust - Peter Lovesey
This was the second story (two-in-one novels) in Peter Lovesey’s book.

Blurb says this: A detective learns to suppress his feelings when a verdict is announced, and Peter Diamond reveals no joy when Jake Carpenter is sentenced to life imprisonment for murder. But the next day, when a woman is shot dead in the Royal Victoria Park, Diamond's self-control dissolves in an instant. The dead woman is his own wife. Barred from taking part in the investigation, Diamond begins a parallel one of his own - with very different results to those of his erstwhile colleagues.

Again, this book was a good read – I could never guess the culprit – with a satisfying end. I wish my library stocked more of Peter Lovesey. I would have loved to read others as well.

4. Daddy's Gone a Hunting - Mary Higgins Clark
Another suspense/thriller novel, Daddy’s Gone a Hunting has a very interesting plot.  

The story exposes a dark secret from a family’s past that threatens the lives of two sisters, Kate and Hannah Connelly, when the family-owned furniture firm in Long Island City, founded by their grandfather and famous for its fine reproductions of antiques, explodes into flames in the middle of the night, leveling the buildings to the ground, including the museum where priceless antiques have been on permanent display for years.
Although I enjoyed the book, something was amiss. I was underwhelmed by the writing. I must confess I was suffering from high expectations, since I had read so much about Mary Higgins Clark and her prominence as a mystery/crime writer. I cannot really pin it on anything specific but there was something lacking in the writing – a tad too long, a bit too descriptive – that was showing up constantly throughout the book.

I guess I chose one of the lesser ones from her repertoire. I am planning to read another book of hers to see if it is me or the writing.

28 September 2016

Pending Posts

Though I read many more books after the Kannada novella, I am yet to jot down my thoughts regarding them.
It hasn't been easy, I have been busy with many other things in life. Now it would be even more difficult to write about those books, considering the time lapsed. I plan to do it. Sooner or later. May be I can just provide a small note on each of them, so that I am not discouraged.
Meanwhile, I have been doing a steady progress - It's 24 books now - and I am very happy about it although I should have crossed this milestone at least three months ago. For the first time, I am hopeful that I might be able to reach my reading goals this year. I am proud that I have begun to read non-fiction as well and enjoying it thoroughly.
Let me keep a mini goal of finishing my tiny notes on all the pending books by this Sunday. Hopefully that would help me in breaking this jinx in writing.

UPDATE: The above goal was not achieved. :(

09 June 2016

Kannada Books: Bettada Jeeva by Shivarama Karanth

This is honestly a re-read. But the first time I read this book, I was just a teenager, highly impressionable, so I wasn't sure I even remembered the parts correctly and, if I was right about being impressed by the book.
Contrary to my earlier, somewhat faulty belief, this is a very small book. But I was relieved to find out that I wasn't wrong at all, in assessing this book. I absolutely loved the book, all over again.

The story is about a young wanderer who happens to lose his way during one of his travels and lands up in a farmer's house on the foothills of Kumaradhara mountains. The story revolves, slowly, around the life and times of the old couple living there, and their yearning for their lost son who abandoned them for a city life.  This place is not fictitious. The experiences to a large extent is also based out of the then young author's travels.

To me this holds a very very special place because I always felt this book had the capacity to transport us to the 1930's (the period when it was written) and to the wild foothills and to the small villages that barely can be called villages with three or four families settled looking after their paddy fields, areca-nut plantations. The human emotions captured across the story are relevant even today.

I would like to call this as one of my comfort books in Kannada. (The English one being 'The Adventures of Sally by P.G. Wodehouse)

06 June 2016

Library Books - Blue Dahlia and When We Were Orphans

Blue Dahlia - Nora Roberts
I had never read books by Nora Roberts before this one. Whenever I went to book fairs, sales or bookshops, I would see a lot of books from Nora Roberts. Shelves and shelves dedicated to her books. I was curious, although I am no reader of romance novels, I wanted to try and see how these are. Blue Dahlia was a step towards this.
The story is about three women, at three stages of their lives, coming together to find love, family and companionship. A garden/nursery uniting them all in this quest.
I would not say I disliked the book. The writing is pretty decent. However, the story line is quite boring and didn't really capture my interest. A lot of attention has been paid to research on the plants, flowers, and the processes that goes in a nursery but then, it cannot be the main frame of a story. It may interest a garden enthusist, but others will find the descriptions and the exuberance of the characters towards the garden quite boring and puzzling in that order.
One thing that bores me in a romance novel is how the sexual tension between the hero and the heroine are crafted. After a point, it gets terribly boring. It could be my personal issue with the story, and others may actually enjoy all that description about sex.

When We Were Orphans - Kazuo Ishiguro
A book that disappointed and bored me no end. I had earlier read The Remains of the Day by the same author and had found it to be tender and evocative. But this one just meanders on and on and on. So much so that I just could not push myself to finish the book.

Library Books - Authors Maeve Binchy and Terry Pratchett

This post should have come long ago. I have lazed around and not done my part.
Also, my reading speed has gone down way below my desired mark.

This Year It Will Be Different - A short story collection by Maeve Binchy.
This was a surprise read. I had no clue it was a short story collection. However, the stories turned out to be pretty good. Quite soft and mushy - many of them were, but  very well written. Many of them were centered around holidays (Christmas and holidays and family ties) and the romantic in me enjoyed them quite a bit. It should be note that these are like a packet of sweets. One cannot have all of them at one go.

The Dark Side of The Sun - Terry Pratchett
I had long long ago read books from Terry Pratchett and I had enjoyed them so much that I did not think twice before I picked this book. However. This was a bit too much of science fictiony for me. I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would. On the other hand, the second book was far better. The story revolves around Dom Sabalos, the future chairman of a planet 'Widdershins' who survives attempts of assassination and starts his journey finding more about 'Jokers' (a mysterious, highly evolved species who probably are equal to Gods or could be, Gods)

Strata - Terry Pratchett
Strata was far better in terms of humour, story line and made me want to read till the end.
The protagonist is Kin Arad is a senior official in the 'Company' that creates new planets and sells to various civilizations across the galaxy, enabling resettlement of species. She finds out someone has been creating fake currencies of the company, which are absolutely 'genuine' and she also learns of existence of a flat earth. She travels with two unlikely companions (Silver, a she-bear of the species Shand, and Marco, a highly paranoid and aggressive frog like creature from the species Kung)  to investigate.
The book is extremely engaging, funny and flows smoothly.

15 February 2016

Library Books - Coraline and Sharp Objects

Two books that I thoroughly enjoyed from the Library this time were - Coraline by Neil Gaiman and Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.

Coraline is a children's book - a horror story for the kids - a delight to read. The book is about a eleven year old girl Coraline who opens a door to a closed wall in her house and discovers a parallel world where there is another set of parents, identical to hers, who want to keep her with them forever, by whatever possible means.
To be able to tell a horror story that doesn't completely psych out a child is not at all easy. This book succeeds in doing so. Apparently, Neil Gaiman began this story for his older child and ended up completing for his younger one. This was my first Gaiman book and I am greatly looking forward to reading more books from him. The story manages to create that creepy feeling without sounding childish. He has achieved that impossible balance.
A must read for all adults as well and writers and budding writers, and well, just about everyone.

Sharp Objects is a dark, disturbing book. Some parts are so disturbing that it feels completely unreal and makes it easy on the reader to go ahead with the book. A reporter who reluctantly returns to her home town to cover the death of two children, is forced to confront her past and her current family members and the secrets that are connected to them. The protagonist is a sad, moody woman, yet, one starts empathizing with her as the story moves ahead. The ending is too obviously clever, but the story is told so well, that it doesn't really matter how it all ends.
It is a good book - but one needs to have a strong stomach to digest certain violence depicted in the book. 

07 February 2016

Differing perspectives

Two books - tackling with the same topic - Immigrants to a wealthy nation (UK) with two different point of views.

It was a coincidence indeed that I ended up reading these two back to back. The first one was 'The Other Hand' by Chris Cleave, and the other was 'A short history of Tractors in Ukrainian' by Marina Lewycka. 

The Other Hand was very sombre and had a serious tone to it, where the protagonist was the illegal immigrant narrating her extraordinary journey from Nigeria to UK under abnormal circumstances. Parts of it were deeply disturbing and kept me that way for many days after reading the book. Sometimes when we read books that talk about human tragedy and the other humans who are responsible for it, it feels too overwhelming to be believable. Our lives in contrast, look so safe, stable that it appears almost ridiculous. 

A Short History.. on the other hand is narrated by an Ukrainian British woman whose father, post the death of his wife, is besotted by a much younger Ukrainian woman and wants to marry her. The younger woman, obviously, is taking advantage of this whole situation to immigrate to UK and lead the glamorous life of the West. The narration is not too heavy, and there are quite a bit funny parts in there, especially the conversations between the two worried daughters. What was not funny was the torture and the loneliness the old man goes through. It was sad, and highly reflective of older population in such highly individualistic societies. 

I liked both the books, though the first one is more serious and probably better written.