PENUMBRA by Bhaskar Chattopadhyay

Natural cynic that I am, when I read on a book cover a comment like “Make sure you have three clear hours when you pick this book up, because you won’t stop reading till you’ve finished it”, I’m ashamed to say that my first reaction is to mutter, “Yeah right” or something to that effect.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

“Penumbra” is totally un-put-down-able and I have just spent the last 2 hours, when I should’ve been writing an overdue article, absolutely devouring the book.

And, for the record, totally not guessing whodunit.

So, yes, indeed.  Make sure you have a nice clear afternoon, and settle down and enjoy a cracking murder mystery.

The book is set initially in Calcutta, and then in rural West Bengal, in an almost Agatha Christie-like setting.

A house party gathered for a celebration.

A murder.

Everyone trapped in the house together, isolated by a storm of almost Biblical proportions that brings down the phone lines, cause the power to flicker, makes the roads undrive-able…

At one point in the book I got too clever by half and thought I’d figured it all out.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.  Again.

I hadn’t a clue, right until the very end.

(And don’t worry, there are no plot-spoilers here.  Wouldn’t do that to you.)

The novel is told in the first person, through the mouth of Prakash Roy, a freelance journalist – and that, possibly, is the only v-e-r-y slight quibble I have with the author.  Prakash’s being a journalist is mentioned throughout the book, but he doesn’t seem to have much investigative get-up-and-go, and is content, rather, to serve as the foil to other people’s deductions.

But it doesn’t detract from him as a character at all  –  which is why I said it was a mere quibble.

Good read.

Good plot.

Thoroughly recommended.

If you would like to buy the book –  and it’s a great read – it couldn’t be easier.

Just click on one of the links below, & you’ll be on your way.

I was sent this book to review by the publishers, Fingerprint!

How to kill a billionaire by Rajesh Talwar

Before we start –  cards on the table time.

I was sent “How to kill a billionaire” by Juggernaut, to test and review their new app for reading on your smartphone.  Click here to read my review in my other blog.

But boy oh boy, did ever I make a good choice when I picked this title out from a list Juggernaut kindly gave me to chose from (ouch – that’s a pretty ugly sentence).

“How to kill a billionaire” is an absolute cracker of a read, and I loved it from start to finish – I didn’t work one whole afternoon, ignoring my computer and a pile of editing, in order to finish this gripping book.

And what a clever book it is too.  You are told the facts of the crime almost at the outset, but it is the unravelling of the where’s and why’s and how’s that grips you.

I am (I like to flatter myself) by and large a nice person, so there won’t be any spoilers here.  Pukka.

But since the blurb says, upfront “When a billionaire’s son goes missing after a young girl commits suicide…”, you know from the outset that it’s going to be a book about dissecting a crime and its repercussions.  And that is as far as I’m going to go, otherwise I really will spoil the book for you.

The setting is “Thirty Thousand Courts” in Delhi, and it took me a page or two (e-page, I suppose one should call them) to twig.

Thirty Thousand Courts = Tis Hazari.  (Yeah, I’m quick like that.)

The descriptions of the cramped, squalid offices where so much of Delhi’s legal work is done are excellent and I learned some legal odds and ends along the way :

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Did not know cross examination was so crucial.

Mr. Talwar writes well and cleverly, and through the voice of his main protagonist, we get a glimpse of life in the cramped, seedy, corrupt-but-functioning world of Thirty Thousand Courts:

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I also learned a little more about Indian food –  how have I never eaten a “fain”, in all my years in India?

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As the story unfolds, over tea and “fain” and sometimes kebabs and whisky, the lawyer talks to Lord Patel – and to we, the reader – explaining what happened, and no, don’t worry, I am not going to tell you & spoil what is a truly great read.

100% recommended for both Indian and overseas readers.  Since Lord Patel, to whom the narrator directs his story, is a foreign based Indian, who has supposedly lost touch with some of the ground realities of living in India, the narrator often explains things to him – a boon for readers who may not know India intimately.

Click here to read an interesting Q&A with the author.

To read this gripping novel, first download the Juggernaut app onto your smartphone if you don’t already have it, then download the book.

VINEGAR GIRL by Anne Tyler

Gosh.

To think I’d never read an Anne Tyler novel until now.

What an omission.

We chose “Vinegar Girl” to read in our Delhi book club this month, and what a nice read it is, too.

Hmm…”nice”.  Not a very literary word, agreed.

What a fun book.  Is that a little better?

“Vinegar Girl” is a contemporary re-working of “The Taming of the Shrew” with the main character called –  yes, indeed – Kate.

Kate Battista.

To spare you from a listing here of all the clever word-play & references to Shakespeare, just let me tell you that the 21st century Baltimore names are affectionate nods in the direction of their historical counterparts.

It is a long time since a novel has made me laugh out loud, and that’s always such a lovely feeling, and “Vinegar Girl” is, indeed, a fun, clever, witty read.

Kate is prickly, a bit galumphing, and resigned to her uneventful life as a teaching assistant in a pre-school.  She has her moments though –  I love the scene where she tells a class of four year olds that pasta smells like wet dog:

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I won’t plot-spoil, but Pyotr Shcherbakov is a cracker of a character from the second we meet him :

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Pyotr’s language, both his use thereof and his pronunciation, is a delightful leit motiv running through the book:

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He constantly quotes proverbs from his country, much to Kate’s exasperation:

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Pyotr absorbs language greedily, especially idioms, and in one scene when everyone else eats burgers, he orders a complicated chichi meal :

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A clever, fun read.

If I have one reservation, it is the Epilogue.  A wee bit too twee.  But that really is a small reservation

Do yourself a favour and read “Vinegar Girl” –  and if you want to order it right now, couldn’t be easier – just click on the link below:

“How it works” THE HUSBAND – a Ladybird Book

For Christmas, I was given 2 of the brilliant Ladybird books for grown ups –  here’s one of the reviews – and so it was with great pleasure that I accepted a friend’s thoughtful gift for my husband when I was in London recently.

Though, actually, having read this handy manual “How it works The Husband” it is probably more useful for me, The Wife.

The mission statement of these grown up Ladybird books is worth revisiting – probably because, as grown ups, we have all completely forgotten reading this the first time round:

“This delightful book is the latest in the series of Ladybird books which have been specially planned to help grown-ups with the world about them.

The large clear script, the careful choice of words, the frequent repetition and the thoughtful matching of text with pictures all enable grown-ups to think they have taught themselves to cope. The subject of the book will greatly appeal to grown-ups.”

Couldn’t agree more.

And now let’s see what I have learned about how husbands work.

Well, I’ve learned this.

Nah, actually, knew it already…

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Ah yes.  All that reading about Real Things…

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I absolutely love the wholesome images in these grown up Ladybird books, that remind me SO much of my childhood reading, but now combined with the off-the-wall captions.

Like this gem:

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Love the pom-pom-poming older husband.  #justsaying.

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This extract, below, sums up perfectly the brilliant combo of images and oh-so-simple words and sentences, the hallmark of Ladybird books.

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You need this book, now don’t you?

Righty-ho, here we go –  order it right now (before you forget)

THE SECRET SERVANT by DANIEL SILVA

My current politico-thriller writer of choice is Daniel Silva, creator of the Gabriel Allon series, which I have been rattling through at a cracking pace.  The only trouble with a gripping series such as Mr. Silva’s books is that once started, you don’t pause for breath, nor (in my case) for time to review them.

And so I have stopped reading for just long enough to share with you my thoughts on “The Secret Servant”, the 7th novel in this exciting series.

Yup. Indeed.  6 books read, back to back, without pausing long enough to review them.  Guilty as charged.

What an interesting man Gabriel Allon is.  A spy and and assassin for the Israeli secret service,  Gabriel is Jewish without being overtly religious.  He is Israeli, but a polyglot, at home in much of Europe.  A talented art restorer, he is forever haunted by his own personal horrific backstory (don’t worry, no plot spoilers).

In other words, an interesting, complex figure, but one who still manages to keep a veil of secrecy around him.  We, the reader, instinctively like Gabriel.  We root for him, we worry about him, but yet we do not fully “know” him.

Gabriel’s foe in many of the books is extreme Islam, and there is little point being politically correct or beating about the bush. What Gabriel and the Israeli secret service face seems to be a pretty fair representation of much of what is currently wrecking our world.  Bombs aimed at innocent people, racking up the collateral damage that the hardline extremists we meet, seem to consider of no value whatsoever.  Lives are expendable.

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It’s not that the world of Gabriel Allon and the decent, likeable towering figure of Ari Shamron unfairly represents the growing conflict between Judeo-Christianity and militant Islam.  These books are not Israeli propaganda  It isn’t like that at all.  And yet…so many of the plots and terror threats that Gabriel has solved in the books thus far, involve the sort of terror threats that the world today increasingly faces.  And “The Secret Servant” was written in 2007, for goodness sake. So much horror has happened since.  Almost scarily prescient.

Mr. Silva’s books could never be described as light or humorous or frothy.  His stories are of terror and plots and spies and danger, of death and fear.

And yet, I found this excellent novel “blacker” and gloomier than some of its predecessors.  As we travel the road of counter-terrorism in the edgy company of the upright Gabriel, a killer with a very firm conscience and a deep awareness of the rights and wrongs of this world, we sense his growing weariness and occasional disenchantment.  He is heading towards middle-age, he has faced dangers and torture far too many times, and he knows that his life will always be at risk.  He has tackled so many terrorist outfits head-on that he has enemies galore.

Thus it is that the international terror plot that he must unravel and destroy in “The Secret Servant” reveals a frightening world of alienation and radicalisation, of European-born and educated Muslims who hate with a passion and are ready to kill and die for their beliefs.  This picture of Europe being radicalised from within is a deeply disturbing one:

IMG_9421And, I repeat, this book was published in 2007…

Like all its predecessors in this series, “The Secret Servant” is a gripping, often times gory and frightening, and, I must be frank, a disturbing picture of an alienated world.  The old continent has never looked more vulnerable.

This is a page-turner with a long-lasting message.

Highly recommended.

Now you’ve read this review, please go ahead and buy the book. Couldn’t be easier. Just click on one of the links below: 

THE LADYBIRD BOOK OF MINDFULNESS

This was another Christmas present from my clever sister, who clearly knows her older sibling oh-so-well.  After tackling midlife crisis, I now have a brilliant Ladybird book to guide me through the tricky waters of mindfulness:

“Mindfulness is the skill of thinking you are doing something when you are doing nothing.”

(Ouch, Jane, is there a hidden message here?)

Love the skewering of our middle-aged pretensions:

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I also love (& humour me here, folks) the sheer Englishness of these books.

The dotty text, the wholesome illustrations, the deliberate throw-back to our childhood books, the tweaking of our nostalgia – oh the whole thing is too clever and such light-hearted fun.

Meet my favourite mindful character…

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If you wish – mindfully of course – to buy this book, couldn’t be easier.

Just click on the link below.

THE LADYBIRD BOOK OF THE MID-LIFE CRISIS

What a brilliant Christmas present The Ladybird Book of The Mid-Life Crisis is, and one that shows how well my sister knows me 🙂

I laughed out loud reading this utterly brilliant spoof on the classic Ladybird Books, books published by Penguin Ladybird Books themselves.

In other words, this is authorised taking the mickey.

I don’t think I’ve looked at a Ladybird book in – what – 20 odd years, since my now adult children devoured them in their primary school days, pretty much the way I did as a child.  As a family, we all grew up on the wholesome Ladybird books.

Read the publisher’s mission statement :

“This delightful book is the latest in the series of Ladybird books which have been specially planned to help grown-ups with the world about them.

The large clear script, the careful choice of words, the frequent repetition and the thoughtful matching of text with pictures all enable grown-ups to think they have taught themselves to cope. The subject of the book will greatly appeal to grown-ups.”

What is so fab about these new grown-up books is that they look and feel exactly the same as the originals.  Only the content is, well, somewhat different.

Take the first page, for example :

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The cast of sad middle-aged folk in the book is hilarious, none more so than Nick:

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Great fun.

Funny trip down memory lane.

And if you were not lucky, as I was, to get one of these for Xmas, go on, be grown up about it and buy yourself one!

Just click on the link below:

And if you’ll excuse me, now I’m off to do some adult colouring, like Sally.

The bestseller she wrote by Ravi Subramanian

This is now the third book by Mr. Subramanian that I have reviewed, courtesy of the wonderful folk at Blogadda. As befits a former banker, banking plays a definite role in Mr. Subramanian’s novel, as it did in his earlier books, The Bankster and God is a Gamer, but this time banking is more the backdrop, the corporate setting for the complex, gripping tale.  The corridors of corporate power are just part of the world of Mumbai-based middle-aged banker Aditya, who is also a hugely successful novelist.  This likeable, affable man transitions from corporate honcho to rockstar status writer with ease and remarkable humility, and with his loving nuclear family acting as his sounding board, Aditya truly does seem to have it all.

Until he gets entangled with a young woman.  The story of Aditya falling for Shreya is hardly the first time that a pretty woman has derailed the marriage of a middle-aged man, dazzled by the attention paid to him by a younger woman.

In the case of Shreya, however, the dominant figure in this novel, it is not just a question of a beautiful young girl ensnaring a middle-aged man, for Shreya is the complete package – super bright, slim, attractive, a business school graduate and a budding writer to boot.  From the moment we meet her, we realize that Shreya is also outspoken and determined to get her own way.

We the readers are, from the outset, more aware of what seems to be the dark side of Shreya’s ambitions and I know I, for one, kept willing Aditya not to be so trusting and loving, wanting him to see what this manipulative young woman was up to.  I don’t want to spoil the plot in any way, but trust me that the build up of the relationship between Aditya and Shreya is cleverly crafted by the talented Mr. Subramanian.  We are aware that Aditya is heading into ever deeper and more dangerous waters, but he seems maddeningly oblivious.  Enough clues are shown to us, whereas Aditya seems blind to them.  Lovely as Aditya is –  and he truly a nice, totally likable, empathetic man – I kept wanting to shake him by the shoulders and say “Wake up, man.  Just look at what she is doing!”.  But of course you can’t do that to a character in a book, so you read on, hoping and praying that Aditya avoids the pitfalls looming in front of him…and that’s as far as I’m going, otherwise I’ll be labelled a plot-spoiler.

The writing is crisp and to the point, though there are a few sloppy editing errors – mainly wrong spacing after commas, that kind of visually irritating thing.  A writer of Mr. Subramanian’s stature deserves better from his editor.

The plot is cleverly crafted with not one but several last minute twists in the tale, that keep your attention right to the very last pages.  The author has used last minute twists to great effects in his earlier novels, so I was sort of expecting one, but this one was totally unexpected.

I loved the insights into the world of publishing, which brought to life the process that takes place after the words are written.  I also loved the author’s trademark clever use of technology in the plot –  and if it’s not revealing too much (hope not!) if ever there was case for being vigilant about what you say or don’t say on your mobile phone…

Recommended.

If you would like to buy this book now –  and it’s a good read, trust me! –  then just click here :

I am reviewing ‘The Bestseller She Wrote’ by Ravi Subramanian as a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Love Jaipur by Fiona Caulfield

Whoever said that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover has obviously never read any of Fiona Caulfield’s travel guides.

They are simply stunning.

And that’s before you even start to read them.

Just the look and the feel of Ms Caulfield’s gorgeously produced guide book are enough to make you fall in love with Jaipur, and that’s before you follow her, as she wanders through the city, sharing her insider knowledge on shopping and eating and drinking and exploring and yet more shopping…

Enveloped in a lovely case, the book has a retro feel to it, and yes, a luxurious aura.

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Ms Caulfield writes about Jaipur with huge affection and shares her special places generously, wearing her knowledge lightly.  She sounds like a fun person to go exploring with.  Food, drink, shopping, hotels –  all are tackled efficiently, in separate sections, with lots of her personal tips and advice thrown in for good measure.  The book never for a second reads like an advertorial.

Even though we used the first edition of the book, published in 2010, all the shops and places we visited were exactly as she described them, and she is remembered with a certain amount of esteem and respect.

For those people who want to move beyond the bland and the predictable and who also want to get out into the city and explore –  this is your book.

Recommended.  (Indeed my book is looking a tad exhausted, after a hectic 3 days in Jaipur last week).

If you feel like buying “Love Jaipur” right now, then it couldn’t be easier.  Just click on the link below.

FIXING YOUR FEET by John Vonhof

Before I start, let me tell you that running has changed my life.  In so, so many ways.

Such as?
Well, one of them being that winning a book called “Fixing your feet’ in a competition organised by a local Delhi running group made me as pleased as punch.  Because now I could look up blackened toenails and pronation and how to treat blisters…oh sorry, is this too much information?!

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Since starting running 2 years ago, my feet have become of major importance to me, if that doesn’t sound silly –  a blister or a sore toe means no running.  End of story.  Miserable day….all you runners out there know the feeling.

So I cosset my feet now way more than I ever did my pre-running days.

And, of course, my feet look terrible, compared to pre-running days.   All those blackened toe nails.

This book is, therefore, a perfect reference book.  I have dipped in and out of the relevant chapters, and will keep it handy for any future aches and pains.

The book is published in the US by Wilderness Press and costs $18.95.  It was originally published in 1997 and has been reprinted many times over the years.

Should you wish to order it now, you can do so now by clicking on one of the links below.  Couldn’t be easier.