Six Years [Book Review]

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Rating: 1/5

Harlan Coben has been on my radar for quite some time now. I have heard a lot about his works and I was waiting for the moment to lay my hands on his works. His works seemed the perfect candidate for my reading preference. Last year, I watched the show The Five written by Coben and was blown by the script, the characters and the suspense. It’s one of the best shows I watched last year. Six Years was a random pick. I didn’t do any research to rank Coben’s best works. I saw this book at a book store and picked it up just for Coben. A work of advice- don’t follow this procedure.

Six Years has a very interesting plot. Jake, a professor, keeps his promise of staying away from his love Natalie for six years until he sees the obituary of Natalie’s husband. He remembers the moment he attended Natalie’s wedding and the promise she forced him to make to stay away from her and her life. Six Years. Six Years he kept his promise. But not a single day passed without him remembering her. When he realizes Natalie is alone now, he decides to pay her a visit. He tries to get in contact with her but is unable to find her. He contacts her sister who refuses to identify him. He contacts the church where they got married, but the church has no record of the wedding. He visits the café where he and Natalie used to spend all their time, but the attender refuses to recognize him. He searches for the retreat where Natalie stayed, but it doesn’t exist. Here is a point where as a reader I began to doubt if Natalie really existed or if the entire thing was a fragment of Jake’s imagination. The plot is set strongly here for past revelations and connecting the dots.

The book is very fast paced. There is lot of action, as in true action. But this affects the story. The story lacks depth. The emotions. I never felt for Jake. The character just didn’t connect. His love for Natalie was too shallow. His quest to find Natalie came out as some kind of a weird obsession rather than unconditional love. The story wavers between being an investigation and some spy game. I just couldn’t get all the facts in line because there was action all the time. I started to skip the action part searching for the story. We have hitmen sprawling around, questionable police officers, strange friends and acquaintances spread throughout the narration. There are many characters introduced and it takes time to understand who is who. The connection to the past is done nicely, the part where Jake realizes Natalie’s father taught in the same college of his, but the execution at the end- bringing all the loose ends together was extremely weak. When it is revealed that the entire happenings are related to some secret organization,- I was like what?! Give me something more believable please. The motto of the organization was forced and beyond my understanding. Natalie does make an appearance and her entire back story is too clichéd. The only portion that was interesting and attracted my attention was the story of Natalie’s father and how he is the source for all the happenings.

I don’t really have much to say about this more than that I expected a lot more. A very disappointing read, without any doubt. I am going to do some research and start fresh again on my adventure on Coben’s books.

NCIS New Orleans (2014-) [Review]

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Rating: 3.5/5

Seasons: 3rd ongoing

NCIS is one of the most successful shows on TV running for 14 seasons now. The show investigates crimes involving the naval community based in Washington. Banking on the success of NCIS, the makers introduced a spin off, NCIS Los Angeles. A team solving crimes in the city of Los Angeles. When that worked well too, another spin off rose. NCIS New Orleans based in the city of New Orleans. I was confused between picking Los Angeles and New Orleans. Jethro Gibbs was the reason I watched NCIS and I wanted someone like him to lead the show. I read through both the shows and found New Orleans better and more close to its parent show. The ratings were relatively lower, but the setting seemed to be different from the usual. I decided to give it a try, one or two episodes. I am up to date with all the episodes now.

There are huge number of crime procedural shows on TV now. What makes a good show stand apart from the others is the investigating team. The characters are very crucial. Even a dull case would be bearable and watchable if the characters are engaging enough. That’s what makes NCIS NOLA click to the most extent. Dwayne Pride is the Head of NCIS NOLA. Experienced and wise, he leads a relatively small team. He loves and admires the city, his city and works hard to protect her. He owns a small bar and plays piano from time to time. He loves to cook and the office of NCIS NOLA has a kitchen. Actually, the entire office is based on an abandoned warehouse. Pride lives in a room upstairs in the office after his separation and subsequent divorce with his wife, Linda. He has a teenage daughter who follows his footsteps in the field of music. Pride is very level headed. He isn’t bossy. He isn’t forceful with his suspects. He is a very smooth contender. Colleagues and friends call him “King”. In most of the crime shows, including NCIS, the primary lead has a very tragic background. Pride saves us from that. Actually there is no tragic past and history for any of the characters which makes the episodes and cases more entertaining and not emotionally draining.

Apart from Pride, we have his colleagues- Christopher Lasalle. Meredith Brody and Percy Sonja as fellow investigators. Dr Wade is the Medical Examinar and Sebastian is the forensic expert. There is also Triple P, who is the technical expert, who uses the illegal ways to track suspects down. This is the compact team of NCIS NOLA. There is so much ease and fun among them. There is mutual respect for each other and no one shies away from sharing their problems with Pride, who is like their personal counsellor too. The cases are mostly interesting and straight forward. The city of New Orleans adds a lot of color and vibrance to the episodes. It’s really clever of the writers to merge the culture of New Orleans into the show giving a very different vibe while watching it. I, for one, have grown an interesting taste for Jazz music after watching this show. The forensics and pathology connections to the crimes are very intriguing. Each department chips in to solve the crime.

So? Where does the show falter? It falters at what I mentioned as its strength. It’s characters. Surprising? Confusing? I was confused myself when I thought about what was lacking in the show. The characters, as much as they are interesting and entertaining, lacks depth. The show is on its 3rd season now and the characters have had absolutely no growth, probably the reason why Brody left after season 2. They haven’t been tested or explored. A series gets better and better through its seasons when the characters move forward in their life; in other words, I expect as a viewer to get to know more and more about the characters as the series progresses. That is where NCIS NOLA fails in my point of view. The series is very consistent in its graph. But having said that there is no improvement too from the time the show started. The cases are well drafted but personal touches to the cases always bring in more thrill and tension. The team has no friction of any sort, no heated arguments or difference of opinion. The ride is too smooth. I really wish the characters are explored more and more tension is brought to the storyline. Example would be the recent episode, “End of the line”, we had Dr Wade’s past coming back where she had made a mistake in her judgement wrongfully convicting a guy who comes back after his release. Now that brings in a thrill. The case is solid, but the characters’ personal touch brings the viewers closer to the show.

The banter among the team members is good but nothing like the ones in NCIS when DiNozzo was present. The action sequences are nicely shot. The chasing and shooting add a lot of pace to the story. The series is beginning to get enclosed in a tight shell; the structure of the episodes have become very methodical with no room for innovation. It’s time the show breaks the shackles and brings out something new.

All the actors do complete justice to their roles. Scott Bakula (Pride) and Lucas Black (Lasalle) are the stars of the show. The change of accent, dressing and attitude gives us a different sort of cops from the usual ones. But again, I don’t think their acting skills have been tested at all. I am expecting to see more serious cases involving their characters for them to portray their acting skills.

The show, in spite of its not so great ratings, is a very good crime procedural. We don’t have suited men with dark sunglasses running around. The show keeps New Orleans in the front and portrays the cases and the city with as much authenticity as possible. Being a NCIS fan, I thoroughly love this spin off, more so now as NCIS has lost its magic. Go for this show to enjoy the dynamic and musical background of New Orleans intertwined with well written cases.

The Big Four [Book Review]

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Rating: 1/5

Having read most of the best works of Agatha Christie, especially Hercule Poirot series, I decided to fill the missing gaps, the remaining books in the series. The Big Four is the fifth book in the Hercule Poirot series. With immense expectations, I began this journey along with Poirot and Hastings and this journey was a huge disappointment.

In almost every Poirot book I have read, it took me less than few minutes to get into the story. I am not saying that every book has to follow the same trend, but I felt The Big Four had an utterly confusing plot right from the beginning. As usual, we have Hastings as Poirot’s sidekick but with more page space. Hastings, after a brief break, decides to meet Poirot and continue being his partner. When he finds him in London, he realizes Poirot is getting ready for a business voyage. The sudden appearance of a completely confused man at their down and his meaningless rantings forces Poirot to postpone his trip and look into the matter. When the confused man repeatedly writes down the number 4, Poirot understands that the situation had something to do with the organization The Big Four. The Big Four includes an Italian woman, a Chinese man, a man of disguise and a businessman.

I couldn’t really understand the big picture of this plot. This book attempts to be something away from the usual Whodonuits. It’s more of a corporate espionage, national security kind of thing. Poirot and Hastings take on this unusual adventure, there are loads of action- Hastings is kidnapped, he even goes undercover, Poirot dies in a fire and then resurrects of course.  How much ever it was really interesting to read these action sequences, I didn’t really follow the plot. We have the fourth man of the Big Four camouflaging in various roles and the way they identify him is with the way he eats his bread?! Okay!! We have The Big Four getting the better of Poirot at many places, but Poirot’s comeback isn’t effective at all. The book was a patience tester which is very rare for an Agatha Christie work. The supporting characters aren’t interesting at all which adds to the boredom.

I really don’t have much to say about this book. It was the biggest disappointment especially it being a Poirot case. I am just going to forget I read this book.

Unforgotten (2015 – ) [Season 2 Review]

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Rating: 4/5

Number of episodes : 6

I had watched the first season of this show when it aired in 2015. My memory isn’t very great to review that season now but I remember the story being very gripping. There was a huge hype around the show as well, especially for its very tight knitted plot. I forgot about the show and didn’t really follow it up to know if there was a second season. I was really surprised when I found the show on its second season and was about to end too. Without a do, I watched all the 6 episodes and wasn’t disappointed the least.

Unforgotten primarily focuses on a cold case, an unclosed case which surfaces after decades. DCI Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker) and DI Sunil (Sunny) Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) play the lead detectives with a handful of junior detectives assisting them. The entire procedure is by the book. There are no hi-fi or sci-fi techniques used. It’s all leg work and phone work. Cassie and Sunny aren’t the glamourous or macho kind of leads we usually see in today’s crime shows. They are normal people, who go to work and have a family back home. Both in their mid or late 40s I suppose, they have a great working equation. Cassie is senior to Sunny, but that doesn’t really matter when they solve these cases. This detective duo has high respect for each other. Both the actors do complete justice to their characters though I do feel they can bring in more to their characters.

Coming to this season’s story- A suitcase containing the remains of a body is pulled up from a river. With no DNA evidence left, Cassie and Sunny identify the body to be David Walker using the watch found with the body. David Walker, a man in his 40s, went missing in 1991. Cassie and Sunny reach out to David’s then wife Tessa who herself is a cop. They realize Tessa wasn’t being completely honest about her deceased husband. Further investigations using the old case files lead the team to three suspects- Sarah (A teacher), Colin (A lawyer) and Marion (A Nurse). David is connected to any one of these suspects or all the three in some way but how? All the three suspects have a secret past which is unraveled slowly. A case of abuse immerges with David been abused badly in his childhood. Did the abuser come back to kill David? Why was David Walker killed?

*Spoilers- Skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know the whole story*

The first two episodes are completely spent in establishing the lives of all the suspects, letting the viewers understand the characters so that they can form their own theories. Sarah, a muslim teacher is a mother of three. She and her husband share a very strong and lovely bond. But the investigations reveal her past when she worked as a prostitute in her early days, the time she came in contact with David. This truth, when shared with her husband, shatters their relationship for a while. Did David abuse Sarah to the extent that she killed him? Colin, a lawyer, is married to Simon, and the couple are at the verge of adopting a little girl. When this case comes up, Colin is highly troubled. Before being a lawyer, he was a banker and a rape case was slammed on him resulting in him leaving the bank. Also, Colin and David were seen at a party together, all those years back, concluding they knew each other. Did David have a hand on Colin’s rape case? Did Colin kill him for that? Marion, a nurse, had always had a troubled relationship with her mother, sister and husband. The family had never been able to figure out the reason. During the time of David’s death, the detectives find out that David was at Marion’s house. What happened between Marion and David? Did Marion kill David? Sarah and Colin have strong alibis for David’s murder. Marion has no motive. Cassie and Sunny are perplexed unable to find the connection. That’s when it strikes Cassie. From a witness, she gets to know that Sarah was at a party with David and was always badly abused. Immediately, she digs into the past of Marion and Colin and that’s when she finds out, Marion was abused by her own father and Colin by his sports coach, both abusers dead, both committed suicide. Each of the three suspects has a strong alibi for the murder they would be suspected of. Sarah for David, Marion for her father and Colin for the sports coach. And hence, they committed each other’s murders. Marion- David. Colin- Marion’s father. Sarah- Colin’s coach. Sarah, Marion and Colin met at a rehabilitation center where got to know each other, where they planned their revenge. Now, Cassie and Sunny have to decide what to do with the truth. Should they stand by justice to the victims? Who is the victim here?

*No Spoilers from here on*

We also get to see short tracks on Cassie’s father and Sunny’s struggle in managing his teenage daughters. A short friction of ideas pop up between Cassie and Sunny too, which is usually very rare. It is wonderfully dealt by both. Apart from Cassie and Sunny, their entire team does an incredible job. It’s a perfect team work.

I always love watching miniseries. It’s a complete package. You get a very good story with amazing characters, with equal measures of all emotions. The last episode was my personal favorite. It was a perfect ending. A small disappointment was the first two episodes were a little too slow. There was barely any action then. Perhaps I felt it because I was binge-watching it.

There are no action scenes or racing car chase sequences in this show. It’s proper investigation and the cold case factor adds a lot of thrill and chill. Highly recommended for people who love stories that unravel slowly.

The Palace of Illusions [Book Review]

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Rating: 5/5

Mythological fiction has garnered immense popularity in the last decade or so. It’s really fascinating to read our very ancient epics with a more exciting narration. I for one has always been intrigued by this genre. Mythology is like a poem. Each one can have their own interpretation. Besides, it’s just not now, these mythologies have always had hundreds of versions according to the different states and culture. Everyone has a different perspective and that’s what makes reading these mythological fiction interesting. Among all the mythologies, Mahabharat perhaps has the most number of versions and it being a controversial epic by itself, adds a lot of spark to the narration. I have read Devdutt Patnaik’s Jaya and Anand Neelakantan’s Ajaya. While the former talks about the story as a whole, as it’s always narrated to us, the latter narrates the story from the Kauravas, specifically Duryodhan’s perspective. This book The Palace of Illusions tells the same Mahabharat from the eyes of Draupadi, aka Panchaali. I am amazed how it never gets boring to read the same story when it’s told from different point of views.

The author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has a very simple but effective style of writing. It was really easy to get into the mind of Draupadi, to live her life in this book. The book begins with Draupadi’s birth and childhood, and the prophecy that is born along with her, that she will change the course of history. She is burdened by the prophecy and is equally curious for answers. She yearns for her father’s love but his focus is always on his son, Dhrishtyudaman. She has a beautiful and a strong bond with her brother, which is her inspiration to live her otherwise jailed life. She protests against discrimination and wants to learn everything that her brother is taught. This part shows how women’s fight for her rights started so many ages back. She adores Krishna and looks forward to spending time with him. At a point, she even wonders her feelings for him.

When she meets a sage to know her future, Sage Vyasa warns her of three significant moments in her life which she needs to be careful about. He warns her to hold back her question in the first instance, hold back her laughter in the second, and hold back her curse in the final. We all know what happened. Draupadi failed to control her emotions on all the three occurrences leading to the success of her prophecy.

Draupadi grows up as any other normal girl. She has dreams and ambitions. She wants to be loved and cared. She wants to be married to the man of her dreams, live an exquisite life in an enchanting palace. There are some very beautiful chapters which focuses on Draupadi’s expectations from her life. When she sees Karna for the first time, she is floored by him. She realizes within that he is the one for her. But when the moment arises, when she has to defend her brother over Karna, she does it without any qualms. She feels guilty doing it, she feels horrible for insulting Karna in front of everyone, but she sees no other option. The entire book shows glimpses of Draupadi’s dilemma over her feelings for Karna. She could never let it go till the end. She, at a point, realizes it was disloyalty on her part to think of another man. But it is first love for her.

Expectations Vs Reality. Draupadi is so excited to learn that Arjun is the one who won her swayamvar. She knows all about Arjun and is very happy to marrying him. But when Kunti orders all her sons to marry Draupadi and when the Pandavas don’t retort, she is surprised and angry. She feels humiliated to be shared by five husbands, and who won’t be. She feels her husbands are spineless not to go against their mother. After the marriage “arrangements” are made, Draupadi’s next challenge is to impress Kunti. The Kunti-Draupadi relationship is like the ones they show on Indian TV, typical. May be, Kunti-Draupadi are the inspiration for the saas-bahu shows now, I don’t know. Nevertheless, I didn’t enjoy this part much.

The story then moves on to the most crucial moment in history. Draupadi always feels uneasy over her first husband’s, Yudhistir’s gambling habits. All the more nervous when Duryodhan invites them to Hastinapur. She senses something is wrong. When Yudhistir loses everything in the dice game, including his fortunes, kingdom, his brothers and then his wife, Draupadi’s strength is tested. She is dragged by her hair to the hall by Dushasan, and is humiliated terribly. Her agony increases when she sees her husbands standing as mute spectators. When her sari is being removed, she thinks about the one person who stood by her all the time- Krishna. Now is the point where I wondered how much thoughts about Krishna and Karna kept the lady going. She was never really happy with her husbands and was just obeying the rituals. When Krishna saves her, she curses the Kauravas. From then on, we see a very different Draupadi- a determined woman filled with vengeance.

I know I am probably recounting the actual story of Mahabharat here, but this book shows how much Draupadi influences all the situations and actions of this historical epic. She makes sure her husbands feel her anger and her pain all through the 13 years. She doesn’t want her husbands to forget her humiliation. She belittles them whenever possible, wherever possible. She makes sure the Pandavas get revenge on her behalf, acquires justice for the wrongdoings. The young innocent girl from Kampilya is transformed into a strong willed woman. She struggles to maintain her anger. She feels guilty for the curse as she cannot back down now. She could see the numerous lives that would be lost because of her and the war. She still ponders over her feelings for Karna and cannot stand him being angry with her. We see a wonderful overview of Draupadi, as a character, and her feelings towards Pandavas, Krishna, Karna and Kurukshetra.

The war is shown through her eyes. Her fear for her loved ones, her restlessness is wonderfully written by the author. I have always believed the fact and truth that Draupadi was instrumental in bringing about the war. This book beautifully narrates how important this war was for her and her dignity. This book has made me respect this character even more than before. Kudos to the author on that front.

The rest of the significant characters make their due appearances. I loved the part between Draupadi and Bheeshma and her confusion over understanding the stalwart. Draupadi’s dream palace- The Palace of Illusions- the entire track over the building of the palace and the subsequent incidents are very interestingly written.

Isn’t it interesting how the war was fought by the men but created by the women? Like they were the reasons? If Kunti had come out with the truth about Karna, would the war had ever happened? If Satyavati hadn’t blackmailed Shantanu, Bheeshma would have never taken the vow of celibacy for his father. If Draupadi hadn’t cursed and vowed for revenge, the war wouldn’t have initiated. I guess there are many more instances too.

I guess, it’s time for me to stop writing and recommend this wonderful book to you all. Do read it to have a very different insight of this historic epic.

The Girl in the Ice (Book Review)

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Rating: 5/5

This book was one of those which I started but never continued. Most of the times, those books come out as duds but not this one. I nearly cursed myself for not having read this one before when I had started. Nevertheless, I am glad I have now.

The Girl in the Ice is a pure crime investigation thriller. When Angela Douglas, a young girl from a rich family, is found brutally murdered and buried under ice, Detective Erika Foster is called on scene to lead. Erika returns from a break, after an encounter went wrong killing 5 of her own team including her husband. Plagued with guilt, Erika struggles to keep her emotions in control as she takes on this investigation. The crime scene is dotted with loads of forensic clues which questions a lot about Angela’s character. Erika faces restriction from questioning the Douglas family because of their grand connections with top level government. Jumping protocol, instinctive decisions and reckless sleuthing forces Marsh, Erika’s boss, to suspend her from the investigation. But with the help of her team, Erika continues her investigation leading her finally to the murderer. It’s really very difficult to say more about the story as that would fade the thrilling element of the book. So I wouldn’t go more into the details. All the supporting characters had different shades building suspicions in our minds.

Erika Foster, our protagonist, is a very interesting and strong character. I have always had my reservations reading woman detectives but this is the first one I thoroughly enjoyed. Erika’s pain and guilt are beautifully expressed by the author. I could easily connect to her. She is recuperating from the loss of her husband and wants to get her life back on track, but does she actually want to? That’s the dilemma she is in. She doesn’t have any motivating factor in life. Her work- she doesn’t trust herself anymore. She doubts her every action. She doesn’t have a proper place to live, doesn’t eat or sleep her well. Somehow, this state of Erika is almost similar to many other lead detectives we have on TV or books. A tragedy hit detective. Yet, Erika’s life and emotions are more authentic. I, as a reader, was definitely able to sympathize her and in a way wanted her to move on. Probably it’s because she is not an extraordinary detective. She is no Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes or Poirot. She is an on-field officer who follows the clues and finds where it leads. She is definitely the reason behind the success of this book.

Apart from the protagonist, there were some really great, endearing moments which added a lot of feelings to the story. First and foremost would be the relationship between Erika and her father-in-law, Edward. Probably there were just 3 or 4 conversations between them but that was sufficient for Erika to realize she does have someone to care for her. Edward is a sweet, caring man who in spite of losing his son understands Erika’s state of mind. I am hoping to see more of them in the other books. Second is the bonding between Erika and Kate (Detective Constable). Erika finds a friend in her and the concern and respect Kate has for Erika is very warming to read.

The procedures and protocols police need to follow, which ultimately hinders their progress is very real.

The Girl in the Ice is a complete package- both thrilling and emotional. It had been a long time I was completely satisfied with a crime thriller. Highly recommended.

The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared [Book Review]

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Rating: 1.5/5

Now who wouldn’t be intrigued by this title! I am a huge fan of this genre. Adventures of funny old men. I have read “A Man called Ove” and “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” and absolutely loved them. A beautiful story covered with clever sarcasm is a perfect treat for the readers. With the same expectation, I picked this book. I mean, look at the title. I get my 100 year old man and he is on an adventure!

The Hundred Year Old… is a Swedish book by Jonas Jonasson. It narrates the adventures of 100 year old Allan Karlsson, who escapes from the care home he lives in, on the day of his 100th birthday. He has decided to get out of the town, away from everybody. At the bus station, a young man asks Allan to look after his suitcase while he visits the restroom. Mischievous Allan steals the suitcase, gets on a bus and escapes. He meets Julius, a 70 year old, at Byringe, who helps him with his stay and food. On opening the suitcase, they find 50 million dollars! The young suitcase owner, a member of the Never Again gang, finds the old men but only to get locked in a freezer and die. From there, it’s the adventurous journey of Allan and Julius, along with Benny, the driver they employ, Beauty, the farmhouse owner where they gatecrash and her pets- a dog and an elephant. Yes. You read it right. An elephant. And to add, the elephant even kills a guy by sitting on him. Uhum!! On the other side, we have Inspector Aronsson who is on an effective chase of this adventure group. Is he able to nab them? Will the adventure group escape?

In a way, the book would have worked better if the story had stuck with just the above adventure. But that’s not the case. The book is narrated on a timeline. One follows the centenarian’s current adventure and other follows the entire life of Allan from his birth. That’s where the book faltered for me. Allan, our lead, isn’t a very interesting character. He is clever, intelligent and has great knowledge on bomb making. But this 100 year old Allan who is introduced to us never really impresses us. Hence I felt no curiosity to know more about him. Coming from a dysfunctional family, Allan prefers being alone. After staying in a mental health facility for a few years for bombing down his own house, he leaves his city to find a new life somewhere else. His bomb making skills lands him in a lot of trouble but later gets the needed acknowledgment. He works for various countries and governments in their wars. He travels from one country to another, escaping from dangerous clutches. It was interesting at the beginning, but as pages went by, I wanted to read more about the 100 year old Allan and not his 100 years of life. There are several characters who come and go in Allan’s life that it was very difficult to keep track off. We have him interact with then President Truman, Stalin, and he even defuses the assassination plan on Churchill. With the war background and lot of political history, I felt I wasn’t reading fiction.

I was pretty confused with the tone of the book. I can’t state it as funny or sarcastic, or it being serious. There are funny moments for sure, but I couldn’t relate to it as “funny funny”. It was too loud rather than subtle. There are way too many characters too. The book is a very long read too and I began skipping paragraphs at the end as I was desperate to finish the book. The book started off on a good note but went off track completely.

A huge disappointment!