In a Dark Dark Wood

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Rating: 4/5

In a dark dark wood by Ruth Ware is a compelling psychological thriller filled with nerve chilling moments and continuous suspense. The debut novel sets the background perfectly and engages the reader remarkably well.

A crime writer, Leonara Shaw is invited to attend her estranged friend’s hen party. Surprised at being invited and after a lot of contemplation, Nora decides to attend the party more out of curiosity. The gathering includes a gay and married playwright Tom, Nora’s close friend Nina, Melanie- a young and new mother, Flo- a strange and over sensitive organiser and Clare- the girl of the moment. Happening at a desolate and secluded house in the woods with no network whatsoever, what intends to be a fun-filled party ends in a murder. Who killed whom? Was murder the actual agenda behind the party? The book answers these questions and much more.

The book is full of surprises. First, the copy- it is a relatively huge book, not in terms of pages, but the dimensions. The font size is nice and big and makes reading really comfortable. There are loads of twists and turns scattered all over the tale. The narration also swings from the past to the present sensationally leaving the readers crave for the past when in the present and vice versa. The location of the party- the house and the woods are described picturesquely. I could see myself standing in the woods and witnessing all the events.

Whenever it’s a murder mystery, the reader is expected to journey together with the characters and find who has the right motive to kill. The same happens here which is a compliment. Though Nora is the narrator, she isn’t devoid of suspicion either. A successful thriller is one which keeps the reader guessing, forcing them to change their theories at the end of every chapter. In a dark dark wood strikes magnificently in this area. It arrests the readers with its gripping narrative.

I have to add, personally, I was not completely convinced with the ending, I mean the motive. I was expecting something more riveting, like a complete 360 degree twist, something out of the blue hitting squarely on the face, something completely unexpected. May be I was expecting too much. But that’s just me.

Final word- In a dark dark wood is a simple story with an exciting narration. It’s hard to keep the book down.

I Let You Go

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Rating: 4/5

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh is a brilliant psychological thriller with myriad of emotions weaved into an astounding narrative.

Five year old Jacob is killed in a car accident with the driver not stopping at the scene. DI Ray Stevens and his team put all their efforts to bring justice to the boy and his mother. Ridden with guilt, she leaves the town without a trace. One year passes without success and everyone involved decides to move on when finally a breakthrough makes way. The wavering grief and a quivering guilt surfaces again and the past is back to haunt everyone. Is the driver caught? Do the little boy and his mother get justice?

The author efficiently transfers the reader’s emotion towards the lead character- disgust to sympathy to disgust to pity to pride. When I picked up the book, I assumed it to be a straight forward crime thriller. I was surprised to see how the story slowly moved into a different genre. It’s difficult to write anything about the story as it would be a giveaway. Every little character is so important to the story. Every minute detail makes a point at the end.

Jenna Gray comes out as a great inspiration. Her character is beautifully etched. A character full of emotions, the author portrays the internal battle of the emotions magnificently.  I could see every incident being driven by an emotion- either fear or anxiety or even relief. I have seen great books falter just because of the ending. In the hope of ending a book in style, many a times, the book leaves a bad taste at the end even though the story till then is brilliant. A fear definitely seeped in when I neared the end of this book. I was happy and relieved that the author successfully ended this marvellous book. Somehow the author’s note at the end was very apt.

Go for it!

Before I Go To Sleep

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Rating: 4/5

After reading a lot of procedural mysteries, this book “Before I go to sleep” by S.J. Watson, was a refreshing change. Not only did this book offer chilling moments, but the book managed to keep me hooked till the end.

Christine, a 47 year old woman, suffers from amnesia. She remembers herself when she was in her 20s and finds it hard to accept the fact that she has aged by over a decade. Every day is a new day for her. Every morning, she has to be reminded of who she is, whom she is living with, and what caused her this disease. Her memory sustains just for a day. She lives with her husband, Ben, who loves her unconditionally and does everything to support her in this condition of hers.

A fine day, her doctor, Dr. Nash, gives her a journal which she had been maintaining for weeks, which he had borrowed to read, a journal whose existence Christine has no recollection of. Christine sits down to read the journal to understand what happened each day over the past few weeks, where every day she had had glimpses of her past flashing in her memory, which she had written down meticulously. What Christine finds out from the journal, what happened to her in the past, and who caused it- covers the plot of the book.

The book is beautifully divided into three parts which helps in understanding the transition of past, memories and present effectively. The author’s vivid writing effortlessly connected me to the plight of the protagonist, experiencing and dreading the condition of amnesia. The supporting characters are brilliantly written evoking continuous doubt if any one of those is hiding their true colours.  The story in itself is kept simple with minimum turning points and characters; each memory remembered by Christine plays a valid role throughout. A point is reached during the reading where the journey of Christine becomes a little repetitive- yet, the author somehow ties the knot amazingly well at the end making every page in the book significant. The success of the book is the empathy derived by Christine. It made me really care for her and I wanted her to reach the finishing line safely.

A very nicely and wisely written book. Looking forward to the author’s other works.

After the Crash

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Rating: 3.5/5

An extraordinary story with a compelling narrative most of the time, After the Crash is a very tempting thriller with a satisfying end. Translated from French, this novel by Michel Bussi is intermittently predictable yet exceptionally gripping. Being a French novel, the character names and places are in French which is a little difficult to remember.

Detective Credule Grand Duc is assigned the task of investigating an airplane crash which leaves 168 dead out of the 169 passengers. The sole survivor is a 3 months old baby girl. Who is she? Two families- Vitrals and de Carvilles, claim the baby is theirs but there is no identity or clue to say which family the baby belongs to. Grand Duc sets on a mission to find what happened and it takes him 18 years to find the absolute truth.

After the Crash left me with a mixed feeling. As much as I absolutely loved the concept behind the novel, somewhere I was a little disappointed with the execution. There were good number of twists and turns throughout the book, but the rest of the parts kind of became a little repetitive that I tended to skip a few lines in between to get to the point. The pace could have been better. Into few chapters, I easily had a handful of solutions to the mystery and I was sure it has to be one of them and I wasn’t wrong.

Grand Duc isn’t an exceptional detective; at the same time it’s not necessary for all detectives to be extraordinary. He is hard working. He doesn’t have path breaking moves or phenomenal style of investigation. His style is straight forward and methodical. I didn’t feel any admiration or sympathy for him at any point of time over his strenuous leg work; probably that’s what the author wanted. Of course, it was great to see his persistence, to continue looking for an answer for 18 years and finally succeeding, but at what cost?

The author does a great job in showing the state of all the characters. All everyone wants is for the baby to have a happy and comfortable life and everyone strives for that and goes to any length to procure the baby and make them part of their family.

The two most affected people in this story are Marc Vitral and Malvina de Carville- Marc being Lylie’s (the baby girl) brother and Malvina being her sister. Marc gets hold of Grand Duc’s diary and follows the path to the truth with Malvina accompanying him reluctantly. Marc is who shines at the end of this adventurous ride.

On the downside, the font in the edition I read was so small that it was too difficult to read through.

After the Crash is definitely an above average read. It scores highly on the concept and characterisation. With little patience, this book would definitely score.

Ghachar Ghochar

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Rating: 2.5/5

The title of this book is more than enough to grab the attention of a reader. “Ghachar Ghochar!!” What a name! With positive reviews and feedback filling in, and the book being a very small one, it didn’t take me much time to get my hand on the kindle copy and complete it in one sitting.

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag is a story of a joint family- Father, mother, two children and the father’s younger brother, staying in a very small house and living out of the meagre earnings of the father. Yet, there are bounds of happiness the family finds in the smallest of the things. Every happiness is shared equally, every sorrow is felt equally and every problem is fought by everyone with equal passion. A financial crisis encourages the family to start their own business- Sona Masala. With the business working well, the family’s financial conditions improve gradually and from a small house, they shift to a spacious bungalow. With this change occurs lot of other changes within the relationships, the power balance changes, lifestyle turns luxury, and it’s not the same old happy joint family any more.

The story is narrated by the son who, unable to handle the pressure at home, finds solace at a coffee shop talking to a waiter. The book doesn’t focus on the family or the characters in depth, but the concept of joint family system and how money and luxury drown the moments of pure happiness.

The original is written in Kannada and has been translated by Srinath Perur effectively.

The slight disappointment was the open ending.

This book is a very simple read which definitely transfers you back to the golden days before technology and other luxury started ruling our lives. The domestic problems, the effortless breaking of today’s marriages, money turning the next generation numb towards work- every relevant issue of today is cleverly narrated. Read it. Relish it. Ruminate it.

A Man called Ove

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Rating: 3.5/5

A Man called Ove is an emotional ride into the life of Ove, a 59 year old man. The author easily grabs the interest of the reader in the first chapter itself where Ove goes to purchase an iPad and gets mad because he thinks the salesman is tricking him by not providing the keyboard along! A Man called Ove is filled with similar funny events and it’s not difficult to love Ove and his reactions.

A Man called Ove works because of Ove. Ove is irritating, old-fashioned, almost hates everyone and everything which isn’t according to his wishes, expects perfection and cleanliness, follows a fixed routine and reprimands anyone and everyone who comes in his way. He keeps check of everything in the locality and is very particular about “No driving in residential area!” It’s been 6 months he lost his wife and the only objective in his life is to end his life, to commit suicide. Every day, he tries a new method and every time he is constrained unintentionally by some situation. The entry of new neighbours pushes Ove to the edge, but gradually he begins finding meaning to his life again in their company.

A Man called Ove is heart warming. As much as we love Ove’s muttering under his breath, we feel for his state. He never expected a life without his wife and her sudden (but expected) death wasn’t something he could come to terms with. The entry of Parvaneh, the pregnant woman next door and her family keeps Ove busy as he disagrees to every move of theirs. Ove and Parvaneh’s exchanges are hilarious and he needs a lady like Parvaneh to give him competition. While most of them fears Ove, she is the only one to stand up to him, order him and force him to do something which he wouldn’t have ever dreamed off. For example, she forces him to start petting a cat when he actually hates cats. The portions where Ove shows his compassionate side is so overwhelming, especially with Parvaneh’s daughters. The story also shows the value of neighbours and establishing a good neighbourhood.

In real life, a man like Ove may not be liked by everyone. At the same time, people like them should be given time to understand the reasons behind their principles.

As a book, the author Fredrik Backman fills the story with entertaining metaphors which makes the reading very enjoyable. The book doesn’t offer twists and turns. It’s a simple story on the life of Ove. Go for it!

P.S: For a crime reader, this book wasn’t exciting and hence I have given an above average rating. I am sure the ratings would be higher for the other genre readers.

The Book Thief

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Rating: 5/5

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a spectacular story of a young little girl who moves to her foster home soon after the death of her younger brother. Plagued by visions of her brother’s death, the book revolves around the evocative life of Liesel Meminger and the handful of people who means the world to her. Liesel finds solace in reading and books, and later writing too, and shapes stealing books as her strong hobby. The book is set in Germany during the World War and gives an insight about how the war affected the common people, who didn’t want anything but a normal and a peaceful life. The men were forced to take part in the war leaving behind their family, with no guarantee of seeing them again.

The author soars by having “Death” narrate the entire story. Having Death as the narrator sends an initial restlessness, a shiver, but quickly enough, Death becomes an interesting character, even gathering my sympathy at times, for having to take someone’s life knowing the person could have a long life ahead. Sometimes, Death even becomes a hero when putting someone’s misery and agony to rest by taking their life. Death comes across the diary Liesel had written and narrates her life, from her eyes.

Liesel is a nine year old girl who grows up to 15 years in the story. She could be a young girl, but her life brings a queer inspiration. Having seen her brother die in front of her eyes, realising her mother left her because she couldn’t take care of her, adjusting to her new home and new parents, identifying her interest in reading books and pursuing it in spite of several hurdles, Liesel Meminger is a beautiful character- courageous, loving, ambitious, persistent, heart-warmingly innocent and empathetic. It’s very difficult not to like Liesel. She is such a sweet heart and your heart goes out to her. Her quick little questions find difficult answering- but only one person could answer that or say takes time to clarify her inner turmoil. Her foster father- her father- her friend, Hans Hubberman.

Hans Hubberman is easily our next Atticus Finch. He is the perfect father who doesn’t force his ideologies on his kids, give them the space to understand life in their own way. He isn’t a perfect man- has his own weaknesses, but that’s what makes him a human. He is the first person Liesel bonds with, strongly. He understands Liesel and her nightmares. The portions where he sits with her during the night (which continues for years), consoling and cajoling her, training her to read with his limited knowledge, gifting her books for her birthday despite his financial crunch, teaching her ways of life- he is Liesel’s hero. He is a man of word and goes to every extent to keep it. For me, the book is principally Liesel and Hans’ bonding, and how that helps Liesel to grow independent.

Apart from Hans, every other character has their own beautiful part to play in Liesel’s life. The Mayor’s wife, who assists Liesel’s thievery indirectly, shows how someone who isn’t close to you can yet play an important role in your life. Max, the Jewish fugitive, plays a significant part too. Liesel probably connects with him mostly as she perhaps saw her own life in his. Rudy, her friend or boyfriend, is such a fun character. From him impersonating Jesse Owens and running in the ground coaling himself in black, to playing a part in the World War, the book effortlessly portrays how the War quickens a child’s growth. A boy becomes a man even before 15 years. Rudy and Liesel are partners in crime and undertake many operations together, which entertain the readers and bring a smile.

For a reader like me who always preferred crime and mystery, The Book Thief was surprising engaging and endearing. The incidents mentioned and the deep meaning behind it leads one to think a lot about life, and how life is short. Life is dynamic- as one gains something, they lose something as well. One shouldn’t always wait for the right time. The right time might never come, so cease the moment.

The Book Thief is a highly recommended book. A perfect 5/5.