The Kind Worth Killing [Book Review]

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Rating: 4/5

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Psychological thrillers have increasingly become very popular in the last few years. With Gone Girl turning into a massive hit, there has been a heavy rush of books set in the same genre. I am probably one of those who couldn’t complete Gone Girl in spite of being enthralled by the suspense. I ended up watching the movie to know the ending. Anyway, The Kind Worth Killing is almost very similar to Gone Girl. It’s a revenge saga and every chapter gives account of the happenings from each character’s perspective and as a reader, we need to deduce which one of them is narrating the truth, start reading between the lines and understand that each one of them is leaving out certain details which would entrap them. I really enjoyed reading this book though at the end I felt like, “What a sad and devious story! Sadistic!”

Ted Severson meets Lily, a complete stranger to him, at the airport and begins talking to her about his personal life over drinks. He confesses that his wife was having an affair and how he craves to see her dead. Lily, out of the blue, offers to help him carry out the murder! Insane, right? We then get to know the background life of Lily, how she had always led a lonely life and how she had already committed murders to save herself, how she felt happy after every murder! Ted and Lily meet few more times to discuss their plans. What happens next? Does Ted and Lily succeed in killing Miranda, Ted’s wife? Above that, do they get away with the murder?

As with any thriller, the success lies with the impact of the turning points and how it takes the readers off guard. There were quite a good amount of those moments in this book which makes it really exciting and engaging. Though after a point, I admit it became a routine, predicatable. The author has definitely given a very air tight story. I loved how Lily’s mind worked and how she always made sure all the loose ends are tied. Miranda’s character was a surprise and I am sure who have read the book would understand what I mean. The book doesn’t give a pleasant feeling at the end though. It’s not a pleasant read. There is a lot of wickedness in every character and you realize you don’t like any of the characters in the book. You don’t feel sad and have any sort of sympathy for anyone. May be, that’s what psychological thrillers are all about?

The author has done a very good job in building suspense throughout the book. As a reader, I understood the psychology of every character and the reasons behind their actions. The murky rainy weather added a lot of character to the story. The fact that Lily and Miranda have crossed paths in the past and how that had sowed the intent of revenge was clever work. Having read a good amount of psychological thrillers, I realize I don’t really enjoy them much. But for the ones who love reading this genre, this book is definitely a very entertaining one.

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The Feast of Roses [Book Review]

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Rating: 5/5

Year: 2007

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I remember having history lessons on Mughal Empire when I was in school and I used to be so fascinated by the grandeur life of the Kings and Queens, the magnificent architecture and the stories behind their establishments. The Mughal Raj is always looked at as a time when India flourished in trade and economy. The same era was also very popular for its love stories- I mean Taj Mahal! Can any sign of love beat this beautiful monument? My point is- the Mughal era instigates a certain amount of interest in everyone’s mind. I am no different. Look at the amount of movies made based on the Mughal kings. It’s really difficult to read the essayed account of the Mughal period, it’s too theoretical. That’s when my friend suggested me The Twentieth Wife- the first book in the Taj Trilogy. I absolutely loved The Twentieth Wife. It amazingly blended facts and fiction to give a perfectly entertaining and engaging book. The Twentieth Wife follows the life of a young and ambitious girl, Mehrunissa- her aspirations and plights and how she eventually becomes Nur Jahan, Jahangir’s wife, Jahangir’s 20th wife.

The Feast of Roses continues Mehrunissa’s life, her life as a Queen, as Nur Jahan. Commonly, when talked about Mughal Queens, the first name to pop in our minds is Mumtaz Mahal- mainly because of Taj Mahal, right? It’s surprising to see how much Nur Jahan had contributed to the development of the empire. She wasn’t a puppet queen. She was more of a King; her decisions were Jahangir’s decisions. She was a headstrong, powerful and practical woman, who understood the nuances of politics to the tee. She was always ready with her next move, calculating the moves of her enemies perfectly. Reading Mehrunissa was a delight! She wasn’t hasty. She knew she had to move through the ladder slowly, without offending her husband, the King. Her biggest strength was her husband. Jahangir’s love and support for Mehrunissa is commendable. He never discriminated her. In spite of the fact that Mehrunissa couldn’t bear him a child, his love for her never decreased or ceased. One sad point was the meager amount of time Mehrunissa could spend with her daughter, Ladli, from her first husband. I loved reading the interactions between them.

Who will succeed Jahangir? That’s the basic plot of this book. With Mehrunissa unable to produce a child, Jahangir is forced to look at his other sons. Khusrau, his first, blinded as punishment for revolving against him before, is a weak contender. Parviz, a drunkard, is never in the competition. Shahryar is very young. That leaves with Khurram, young and dynamic man, who later wins the title Shah Jahan. Mehrunissa’s goal is to win Khurram’s support. It’s important because, at the death of her husband, she would be left alone and she would need the support of the next king for survival. Thus begin the battle of wits and valor. Mehrunissa, by marrying her niece Arjumand (Mumtaz Mahal) to Khurram, believed Khurram would be grateful to her for that. But she never expected Arjumand would silently turn Khurram away from her. There are many more instances like when Mehrunissa commands Khurram to marry Ladli, and he refuses. I felt really bad for Ladli. She was just a coin in the game, a game she never wanted to participate in.

I found little interest in the English-Portuguese-Mughal treaty part. Even though, that sowed a lot of discomfort in relationships within the family, somehow, it wasn’t engaging enough. I was surprised at the significant role Mehrunissa’s brother, Abul Hassan played in getting Khurram crowned as the next ruler. Hoshiyar Khan, Mehurnissa’s aid eunuch, stood out at the end as someone who didn’t betray his mistress till the end. I wonder how he did that? He worked for the previous queens too, but stayed true to Mehrunissa, supporting and guiding her at all times. On thinking, Khurram never won the throne on his own. He wasn’t nominated by the King or the Queen either. He just attained it because the rest were killed. Now that’s not a good start for a king, is it?

The narration was brilliantly paced. You never realise that you are running through years within a few pages. The description of the Mughal cities and their architecture was beautifully worded. I never wanted to skip any of the descriptions as it was so captivating. I wonder why Jahangir and Nur Jahan are never talked much as compared to Shah Jahan and Mumtaz. It seems like Jahangir did a lot more to the empire than Shah Jahan. Guess, it’s thanks to Taj Mahal!

I am eagerly waiting to read the next part of this series- The Shadow Princess. If you want to read and get transported to the Mughal age, this series is THE ONE!

Go for it!

Top of the Lake (2013) [TV Series Review]

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Rating: 2/5

Number of episodes: 6

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Mounting expectation and then huge disappointment! That’s how Top of the Lake was. Recently, Season 2 of this series, which I am yet to watch, was aired and has gathered very great reviews. I, being someone who goes by the order, decided to watch Season 1 first before moving to Season 2. Now I am not sure if I will watch Season 2.

Top of the Lake has been a show on my watchlist for very long. I never got around watching it until now. It’s one of those shows which is painted in gloominess, both in setting and emotions. There has been a lot of shows which are based on child abuse. This show is one among them. I wouldn’t say the writers were insensitive or did injustice to the theme, but somewhere I felt, they completely lost track of the story.

In a small town in New Zealand, Tui Mitcham, a 12 year old girl, tries to kill herself by drowning but is rescued. On medical examination, it is discovered that she is pregnant. Detective Robin Griffin, a specialist in cases involving children, is called for help. She along with Detective Sergeant Al Parker tries to get to the bottom of the case. Matt Mitcham, Tui’s father, the head henchman of the town, tries to deal with the case on his own. He has several ugly disputes with GJ, a spiritual woman leader leading a group of troubled woman, over a land they occupy. When Robin questions Tui if she would tell who is behind the pregnancy, Tui refuses to answer directly. Matters get worse, when Tui disappears- runs away. Robin now has to find the abuser as well as find Tui before something happens to her.

This is a very disturbing plot, no doubt. The screenplay is very slow, and hence the story moves at a snail’s pace. I don’t really mind slow stories, but when the story moves away from the plot, focusing on other characters which don’t really make a difference to the story? That’s when the attention begins to waver. Robin Griffin is the lead of the show. For the first two episodes, she was effective- good with her intuition, head straight with her fellow male officers and all. She has a troubled past (no surprise there!), something similar to Tui and that’s where the narration shifts. The story tries to connect Robin and Tui’s story. Robin subsequently comes across as whining and complaining, self piteous, and her on and off relationship with Tom (Tui’s step brother) gets very irritating and takes the story away.

Looking from a different perspective, my view of the show, my complain that it strayed away from the plot is just because I read the plot online beforehand. Hence, I had a set expectation which might have driven me to the disappointing conclusion about the show. Even with a beautiful scenic setting, a dark hovering theme and a good performance from the cast, the final Sidney Sheldon type of ending overshadows all the good things for me. Al’s attraction towards Robin was sudden and on the face. Matt Mitcham’s outbursts were either overdone or overacted. I never understood the purpose of GJ and her troops. May be just to bring some weirdness? I feel quiet doubtful why I didn’t like the show much while the same show had garnered so many positive reviews, nominations and awards? Could it be because of binge watching it? Guess, that’s an entirely different story.

On the whole, Top of the Lake isn’t a very bad show. It’s creepy, weird and gloomy. It did get my attention for the first few episodes. Probably the in-between ones- Episode 4 and 5 weren’t that great and engaging and hence the loss of interest. You can watch this show for its magnificent setting and at times very exciting scenes, but yes, there are much better shows to spend your time on!

 

Little Boy Blue (2017) [TV Series Review]

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Rating: 4/5

Number of episodes: 4

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Have you ever felt a nagging sadness, a frustrating anger while watching a show? Little Boy Blue makes you feel that. This show forces you to feel the pain and frustration the Jones family goes through. To be honest, I never really went through the plot of the show before I started watching it. I thought the show was about a little boy and may be his struggles in school or sports. But no!

This show is based on actual events which happened in 2007. This shocked me even more. Rhys Jones, a 11 year old boy, full of life, is shot dead brutally during his football practice. Detective Dave Kelly is assigned the case, to investigate the shooting and bring the killer to justice. With CCTV footage and information collected from the neighbors, it’s found that a gang lead by Mercer is responsible for the shooting. It was really astonishing to see how much evidence has to be gathered, how much work has to be put to make the case tight, get the statements right, the alibis recorded so that, at court, the suspects don’t get away. Dave gets help from one of Mercer’s associates who turns an approver.  In this way, the killers are finally brought to justice.

But, the show is just not about the case. It’s about what everyone involved goes through. Looking at Steve and Melanie Jones, the pain they go through at the loss of their son, is heartbreaking. Melanie is open with her feelings while Steve silently takes it. At the end, their common loss breaks their relationship, temporarily. Sinead Keenan as Melanie was mind blowing. Dave Kelly, the detective in-charge, feels the pressure mounting from all sides to solve the case. Sometimes, I think we forget that the police officers involved also feel the agony especially when they interact with the family of the deceased. It’s really tough especially when it is a kid who is killed. Everyone in the neighborhood played their part well. We have the guilt ridden Claire, who knows her son is involved, who wants to save her son, yet want to help gain justice for the Jones.

The scenes where the entire city comes in to mourn Rhys was fantastic. Let me confess, I feel very disturbed writing this review mainly because the usual adjectives of Interesting, fabulous, amazing, wonderful…seems very inappropriate to describe this show. Don’t get me wrong. It is all of those adjectives, but it is more of frustration and suffering. I know many might not prefer to watch shows which are depressing- why to depress ourselves more, right? But, in a way, it opens our eyes to what is happening in the society and how many families are left in mourning for the rest of their lives due to violent and uncouth acts like this.

The writing and screenplay were really crisp. There were no unnecessary drama. All the actors were fabulous. The background score really moved me at many places.

Must watch!

The Importance of being Earnest [Play Review]

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Rating: 5/5

Year: 1895

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It has been only in recent times I have started exploring various genres and just not crime fiction. I have also developed a growing interest in consuming Classics. Traveling through Shakespeare and Dickens, I recently landed on Wilde. Before I read this work of Oscar Wilde, all I knew about his work was some popular quotes. However, this play – The Importance of being Earnest made me realize why there is a huge following for this brilliant author.

Reading a play might be easy and interesting but writing one? I consider it very difficult. In a novel, the author gets to set the scene taking all the time, describing even the smallest of the things in the scene by its size, quality and color. But in a play, that’s not possible (Unless presented on screen). The author gets very few lines to set the scene, those few words should be so effective to enable the reader the visualize the scene. I believe being able to visualize the story is the key to the success of every literary work. If you are able to use fewer words to achieve the same, the work is undoubtedly going to be a remarkable one.

This play – The Importance of being Earnest strikes at the very early with its tagline. ‘A Trivial Comedy for Serious People’. There are three acts in the play. The first act introduces most of the characters. Ernest, friend of Algernon Moncrieff, is a fine young man who is in love with Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen, who plans to propose to her the very same day. Algernon demands an explanation from Ernest when he finds Ernest’s cigarette case with the inscription, ‘From little Cecily, with her fondest love to Uncle Jack’. Ernest confesses that he leads a double life- John or Jack Worthing in the country, where he takes care of his ward Cecily, to whom Ernest is her Uncle’s brother and Ernest in the London city. Algernon then confesses to his own double identity, the name of his alter being Bunbury. Jack later proposes to Gwendolen, who accepts and admits that she loves him mainly because his name is Ernest. Algernon acquires the address where Cecily lives, and impersonates as Ernest, her Uncle’s brother. Cecily immediately falls in love with Algernon primarily because his name is Ernest! Follow me? Both the ladies love Ernest and Ernest doesn’t exist at all. Now this confusion is the plot of the story. What follows is confusions, misunderstandings and misidentities. The whole getting ready to be christened again was so funny. The ending was really unpredictable, a route which I never expected the author to take.

As a whole, I completely enjoyed reading the story. But when I sit down to dissect and look into the characters in detail- I feel a strange amusement. As long as this story is considered to be a comedy, something of a satirical nature, it could be accepted as fine. But the female characters in the story- Gwendolen and Cecily – the reasons for their love being just the name is a mere joke. Don’t get me wrong here. I understand the story is based on this- the confusion with the name and the ladies’ obsession with the name Ernest. Yet, I couldn’t stop wondering if someone could have been so naive?! Somewhere, this fact of the story troubled me at the end. The women did raise questions on how both the men lied about their identities, but they were so quick to accept their explanation?! May be I am taking this story a little too seriously than needed. May be!

Ultimately, this play is an easy, quick and an entertaining read. Very pleasant and enjoyable. Very clever and witty of the author.

Don’t miss it!

The Murder at the Vicarage [Book Review]

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Rating: 4/5

Year: 1930

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I have no qualms in admitting that I am a hardcore Agatha Christie, specially a huge Hercule Poirot fan. One of my main reading goals is to complete reading every Agatha Christie work and I am slowly working my way through it too. One of the mind blocks I am facing is to enter the Miss Marple series of the author. I faced huge disappointment reading The Caribbean Mystery, as the lead detective Miss Marple was neither as clever nor as interesting as Poirot. I had heard a lot of good things about this book, The Murder at the Vicarage. Since I had replenished all the Agatha Christie books I had on my shelf, I picked this one up. I wasn’t disappointed.

The Murder at the Vicarage, like all Christie’s books, has a murder, a list of suspects, clues and timelines, and Miss Marple successfully solving it with her deduction and theories. The premise was no different or extremely interesting when compared to the author’s best works. Yet, this book works because of its setting and few of the characters.

Colonel Lucius Prothoroe, a strict disciplinarian, not liked by many in the town, slightly hearing impaired, is found dead it the study of the Vicar- Leonard Clement. A list of suspects is immediately drawn.

1. Lawrence Redding- a young artist having an affair with Mrs Prothoroe.

2. Mrs Prothoroe- wife of Colonel Prothoroe, wanting to break from the shackles of her husband.

3. Lettice Prothoroe- daughter of the Colonel Prothoroe, a sad young girl wanting to lead a life of her own without her father’s interference

4. Mrs Lestrange – new in the neighbourhood, a strange woman with a secret history unknown to anyone

5. An outsider

Clement meets an agitated and confused Redding on his way to his study before he finds the dead Colonel. Even before he could lay his doubts on Redding, Redding himself surrenders to the police for committing the murder, only that he couldn’t have killed the Colonel. Dr Haydock’s findings and Redding’s own movements and alibi prove he couldn’t have committed the crime. Then who did it? Why did Redding surrender himself?

If you had seen the premise, there is no Miss Marple around. In a way, Miss Marple’s presence in the book is too few and that might be one of the reasons why this book worked for me. Most of the investigation is carried out by the Vicar Clement, Inspector Slack and Redding himself. Miss Marple, who is a part of the neighborhood, offers her theories and observations in between. We have statements gathered from everyone in the neighborhood to fix the timeline of both the deceased and all the suspects. We know someone is lying, and as a reader I was conducting my own investigation with all the clues presented. The character psychology was established so well I was trying to get into each one’s head, to measure each one’s need to see the Colonel dead. The victory for the author was I couldn’t get into her head. I could feel Clement’s frustration when the statements and the actual happenings don’t add up. Having read so many works of Christie’s, adding to that the numerous other crime fictions, I had a list of options for the culprit and the reasons for the murder. The actual ending did manage to be one of them making me feel a little proud but that doesn’t take away the intelligence of the author.

I loved how every character did have a motive to kill the Colonel. It’s a matter of weighing every motive. There was a point where I even suspected the Vicar, (Can’t forget The Murder of Roger Ackroyd). The plan maps of the Vicarage and the neighborhood helped in visualizing the physical premise of the story. The only problem I had with this book was Miss Marple. Alright, I accept Jane Marple can’t be another Hercule Poirot but I expected a little bit of more extraordinaire from her, just to make her stand out from normal human beings. I felt this book could have been a fantastic standalone if they had made Clement solve the entire case. It would have made no difference. I am not sure if I would pick another Miss Marple anytime soon. But that’s just the character.

The case and the book as a whole was excellent. Enjoyed reading Agatha Christie after a long time.

 

 

Designated Survivor [2016-]

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Rating: 4.5/5

A lot of interest has been generated around political thrillers after the immense success of House of Cards. It’s not like political thrillers are new to the television arena. There have been several shows like West Wing and Spooks which have dealt with diverse political conditions, national crisis and security issues with equal amount of fact and dramatized fiction. House of Cards just rekindled that interest, gave it a little nudge. I haven’t watched House of Cards but I do intent to watch it. I am just weary of how much I need to catch up. That would require binge watching at the highest level. When I searched for similar shows in this genre, the first popular result and the show which I am about to review was – Designated Survivor.

Who is a Designated Survivor? According to the show, a Designated Survivor is someone who is in line to become the President of the United States of America in case of the demise of the sitting President and all his cabinet ministers. Now that situation seems highly unlikely, isn’t? Yet, when the Capitol building is tragically bombed killing the President and the cabinet ministers, Tom Kirkman- the Designated Survivor, becomes the next President. Now Kirkman, or for that matter anyone in his position, could have never anticipated such a turnaround. He is a very simple and modest man, a Professor in Architecture, the Secretary of Housing and Development- and who was just fired from his position the very same morning. Immediately taking oath after the bombing, Kirkman faces the mountain task of bringing some stability to the currently nonexistent government. With absolutely no political experience, Kirkman struggles to keep his mind focused and put a strong demeanor forward. He receives advice from several fronts but isn’t certain whom to trust and whom not to. Media makes things worse as they correctly doubt the capability of Kirkman as President. How does Kirkman make a stance for himself and how he restores the country back to normalcy while he faces problems from different fronts- cyber crime, terrorism, foreign relations and mainly the investigation into the Capitol bombing is the plot of the show.

The Capitol Bombing investigation storyline runs throughout the season with other problems being mostly episodic. I think that was a very clever move. Agent Hannah Wells is assigned with the investigative task and she uncovers several disconnected pieces which she tries to piece it into one. 90% of the time, this storyline captured my attention. The rest- it was too forced. The number of times Wells gets abducted or gets injured/into trouble is numerous. And her working alone most of the time just got a little irritating. The entire track of Vice President Mackliesh was nicely written. Just at the time when I felt it was being dragged, the track was brought to an end which was smart.

Another part which I loved about the show was bringing Ex-President Cornelius Moss into the picture. Not only did Moss bring with him a vast load of experience, he understood the humongous task Kirkman was facing and offered valuable advice at the right time. He didn’t overstep the line. Rightly, Kirkman appointed him as the Secretary of State and all the scenes involving both of them beautifully showed how much thinking goes behind every decision and how many factors have to be considered to avoid repercussions.

The support staff- Emily, Aaron and Seth- depicted how much of the ground work is carried out by them, making things easy for the President. Without them, the President would just be disabled. It’s good they didn’t drag the Emily-Aaron relationship. I loved the scenes between Seth and Moss. They were a huge comic relief.

The role of media and their power was strongly represented in the show. The government has to decide when and how much the public needs to know. But many a times, the media gets a step forward, due to leaks within the office, and gets secure details into the open, forcing the government to either clarify or deny those information.

Running a government isn’t easy and the President is as much a human being as everyone else. This show beautifully portrays that. There were various instances when Kirkman just couldn’t stop himself being emotional especially when he had to his soldiers into war or when Wells got abducted. He felt responsible for those lives. Also- the changes his position brings into his family- his wife and two children and the adaptations they have to make- just only shows the amount of sacrifices one has to make for the country- not just the President but everyone working along, and not just the President of the USA but every other country.

Coming back to the various tracks- I really wish they had completely ended the Capitol Bombing investigation in the finale, especially when they had identified the traitor in the White House (That track was very good). Taking the same track into the next season too would just only drag the storyline and restrict for further creative tracks.

The writing was tight for the most part. Little drags here and there- but it really held my attention most of the time. The entire atmosphere of the White House was set effectively. The actors did their parts really well- but none of them completely stood out. Kiefer Sutherland was very good as Kirkman- but the majesty and charisma for the stature of a President was missing. May be that’s because he is still on the learning curve and would gain more confidence in due course.

Designated Survivor is an excellent watch especially for those who love political thrillers and conspiracy theories. It’s just one season down and hence very easy to catch up too.