Review: Espresso Tales

Espresso Tales- Alexander McCall Smith
Espresso Tales- Alexander McCall Smith

The second book in the 44 Scotland Street series, Espresso Tales is a slice of life take on the various inhabitants of 44 Scotland Street. There was a huge mix-up when I picked up the book. Somehow the name McCall Smith and the cover jacket gave me the impression that this was a detective story (probably my confused subconscious picking it up on account of Smith being the writer of The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency) and without reading the blurb, I added this one to my haul.

This was the first one I began to read and I think for a good 50 pages I kept wondering where and when the suspense, any untoward incident would begin. It wasn’t that the book was boring, in fact far from that, but then I was waiting for something to happen- a murder, an accident, a kidnapping, an attack from aliens, anything. This is all my mistake, I know. I should have read the cover before jumping headlong into it. Well, then my bulb did come to life and I hid my misguided disappointment. Since then it has been a stroll in the amusement park cum botanical garden.

Smith infuses a dose of energy, a dash of spice to every philosophy his characters espouse and every narrative they take up.  The various perspectives that he balances with his deft writing, make you feel as if these are not just inhabitants of a faraway land, but your very neighbors seen through a keen eye and portrayed with a colorful imagination. The humor in the pages is witty and quick on its toes, giving you a loud laugh on sight and escaping quietly into the folds of its narrative. He doesn’t speak for his characters, but makes his character’s actions and words speak for themselves.

Given that I picked up the book with wrong assumptions, I’m still very buoyed by its cheerful attitude. This is an excellent book to take on a journey, for a day out on the beach, or just to curl up with on a bleak rainy day and be devoured with some strong coffee (espresso, perhaps) and some scones, if you could.

Read the complete review here.

Review: A Quiver Full of Arrows

A Quiver Full of Arrows- Jeffrey Archer
A Quiver Full of Arrows- Jeffrey Archer

Acclaimed author of Kane & Abel, The Prodigal Daughter and As the Crow Flies among others, Archer brings us A Quiver Full of Arrows- a motley collection of twelve stories that take the reader from London to China, from New York to Nigeria meeting bickering lovers, old fools and driven men and women.

Be it the story of The Chinese Statue which was lost in a gamble by Sir Alexandar or the incident with Septimus Horatio Cornwallis, who accuses a fellow passenger of stealing his possessions; each story ends up so unexpectedly, one has to revisit the pages to gather our wits about.

My most favorite piece in the book, the reason why I lament the loss of the book so badly to date, is a story called Old Love. It’s about William Hatchard and Phillipa, two English Literature undergraduates who are the best in their class and bitter rivals. Their rivalry reaches its peak when they both decide to compete in the Charles Oldham Prize. Phillipa’s father dies suddenly and William, without realizing why, decides to drive her up for the funeral and stays by her side for support.

What follows make it one of the most moving stories told in the book. I’ll not say that I never cry when I read certain books, but this story certainly makes a record of some sort.

Archer brings his masterful writing and admirable storytelling skills to each piece, forming tightly composed jigsaws, creating kaleidoscopes of personalities and places.

You can find the complete review here.

Review: A Maiden’s Grave

A Maiden's Grave-Jeffrey Deaver
A Maiden's Grave-Jeffrey Deaver

“Eight gray birds, sitting in dark.

Cold wind blows, it isn’t kind.”

Eight school kids and their teachers are kidnapped by three escaped convicts and are taken hostage in a slaughterhouse in rural Kansas. The FBI is trying to negotiate their release with their abductors. Seems like a run of the mill hostage thriller? It would be. Had it not been for the eight school kids and their teacher to be deaf.

The prime criminal is Lou Handy, savage and brutal who threatens to kill a girl every hour if his demands are not meant. Arthur Potter, the FBI’s top negotiator, tries his best over the time frame of around 18 hours to get the hostages out safely. The cat and mouse game is as thrilling as it can get.

The routine hostage-release drama is convoluted and twisted by Deaver to bring out subtle nuances of relationships that develop between the hostage, the kidnapper and the rescuer. The hearing impairment of the hostages lends a subtext to the story overall and Deaver sprinkles illuminating factoids across the pages that bring out the scope of the drama in a more vivid manner.

When I read the book, I found it to be disturbing in some ways. But the twists and turns never ceased to shock. Deaver weaves a thriller so complex and tight, it is amazing to find a love story blooming amidst all the thorns.

Read the complete review here.

Review: The Wedding

The Wedding- Nicholas Sparks
The Wedding- Nicholas Sparks

Nicholas Sparks is the new Danielle Steel. He writes books for women who are still chasing their big starry eyed love story from the time they watched Casablanca as a kid. It’s always about love, love and some more of it.

Sparks begins the novel with our here Wilson Lewis lamenting the loss of romance in his marriage. This seems bit difficult to digest- a man mourning that romance is out of his married life of 30 solid years is akin to a 10 year old kid worrying about key revenue areas. So, he’s not stereotyping you say? Oh well, great! So he’s showing us a man who’s sensitive and cares or rather begins to be so after 30 years of marriage and that is a great thing. But then why are his actions typical of a love-struck teenager?

Throughout the book, you see Wilson planning and musing and going over his past trying to find out where he went wrong. And as you go through his journey, you’d think he’s just being too hard on himself. And you’d especially go mad when you find that all this moaning about lost romance has arisen from the fact that he forgot one anniversary. Men around the globe forget anniversaries every year, and this man beats himself up like that for forgetting one. And yet they are complaining of no love?

On the other hand is the lady in question, Jane. There’s not much shown to her character, except for being described through a constant wry expression which apparently belies deep sadness within.  But that’s about it. Yeah, she cries a lot when hubby dear forgets anniversary. But then again, does crying mean all love is lost?

Sparks claims his books are moving love stories, and that’s the most honest and logically right thing you’d hear from him. In this powerfully moving tale of love lost, you will have to move from your reading spot to the garbage can to dump the book away after you’re done.

Dig the complete review here.

Review: The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters

The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters
The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters- Elisabeth Robinson

This is one of the best epistolary novels I’ve read in quite some time. Composed entirely of letters from our protagonist to others, it is an engaging, emotional and heart warming read.

Olivia Hunt, a struggling film producer covers a year of highs and lows and her letters, full of tiny details show us how her life and of those around her is going. While struggling to produce a film version of Don Quixote, she has to cope with her sister’s leukemia and not to mention relationship troubles.

The novel touches a cord somewhere. It’s not a very complex read, rather straightforward and peppered with a sprinkling of humor. But it brings out the dynamics of relationships very well. Not all of us are very attached to our families, but we are still there for them as they are for us. And that is what the novel is all about. You might not like doing things for them, but you still do, with all that you have and when you do, you know you did the right thing.

Review: The Undomestic Goddess

The Undomestic Goddess- Sophie Kinsella
The Undomestic Goddess- Sophie Kinsella

Star author of Confessions of a Shopaholic returns to her domain of chick-lit with this standalone offering in the form of a comedy of errors and life’s many frivolous swings.

Samantha Sweeting, a 29 year old workaholic, slaving away her life to become a partner at the prestigious law firm Carter Pink realizes to her horror that she has made a mistake as giant as the London Eye and in a state of disarray and delusion flees the city. She lands up at the doorstep of the Geigers who mistake her for a housekeeper they had been looking for and take her in. Completely lost and almost out of her mind, Samantha takes up the job in order to find a place to crash for a night.

People who like the genre and are fans of the Shopaholic series will welcome this with welcome warms and even applaud for the somewhat gutsy and smart Samantha Sweeting.

The complete review can be found here.

Review: Girl with a Pearl Earring

Girl with a Pearl Earring- Tracy Chevalier
Girl with a Pearl Earring- Tracy Chevalier

It’s a pity that whenever people hear this title they think of Scarlett Johansson. Having not seen the movie version of this novel by Tracy Chevalier, I cannot speak much about Ms. Johansson’s performance of Griet. But having read the book, I can speak for Griet, the protagonist in this historical novel about Johannes Vermeer’s famous painting by the same name.

Tracy Chevalier takes one of the masterworks of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer and weaves a tale of intrigue and passion around her characters. The novel tells the story of Griet, a young girl from a poor family who’s sent to work with the Vermeer family to support her family when her father loses his eyesight.

Chevalier has described young Griet’s struggles with her own feelings and incapability to face them, her own maturing body and mind with striking accuracy and poetic rhythm. She brings out the various feelings- of jealousy and anger from Catherine, of passion and restraint from Vermeer, of desire and stubbornness from Griet and of Maria Thins’ wisdom and exhaustion at old age, in a subtle form, letting the reader sink into the experiences she creates through their various interactions. There are many underlying currents of drama and anticipation which would have been overdone by any other writer, but Chevalier deftly steers the story from being an overcharged melodrama into something that is deep, strong and heaving with emotions, like the vast ocean that looks calm on the surface with only a few waves breaking at shore to let out the disturbances deep within.

The complete review can be found here.

Review: Roo Kickkick and the Big Bad Blimp

Roo KickKick and the Big Bad Blimp
Roo KickKick and the Big Bad Blimp- Ryan Gattis

This is one of the most twisted, unconventional novels I have ever come across.  The book covers the lives of the residents of Barguss, a small town in Western America. One of the characters is Roo Kickkick who gets beaten up by a bad guy and the bad guy and his friend meet their nasty end in an incident involving a runaway blimp. Hollywood finds this story good for a movie and thus you have the title of the book, and the movie being made in the book. Interesting, innit?

Narrated by an omniscient set of twins, the story runs at a breakneck speed, pausing for thrilling obstacles that only heighten the sense of this comic caper.

The story has amusing characters, with even weirder names that takes the craziness level of the book a notch higher; Like Thorpe Thorpe  and Thed Teldut who had an electric/acoustic band called Autistik/Artistik, which was originally named 6T by Thed and stood for Tee Tee Ta Tee Two Too or the Gee Street Girls of the popular local joint that called Taco Coleslaw Hamburger Hot Dog Apple. With a slew of such people and incidents, Gattis launches an avalanche of zaniness in his debut novel.

For anyone who likes a quick quirky read, this book is highly recommended.

Full review here.

Review: Armageddon- The Musical

Armageddon The Musical
Armageddon The Musical- Robert Rankin

Earthers: Rex Mundi, the hero unaware, Gloria Mundi, his not-very-nice-but-incredibly-attractive sister, Rambo Bloodaxe & Deathblade Eric, Elvis Presley with Barry the Time Sprout residing in his head.

Phnaargs: Mungo Madoc, main guy behind the TV show The Earthers, Fergus Shaman-the guy/Phnaarg of the Time Sprout, Jovis Jspht, Jason Morgawr.

The Almighties: Dalai Dan, the 153rd reincarnation of the Lama of that ilk, Christeen the only Daughter of God, and the Big Nose himself.

Year: Back and forth over 1958 and 2050.

The book is agog wit pop-culture references, some that come to surface only on a second or third reading. And you will definitely want to have a second reading. Things you are bound to do after every three pages include the following:

> Experience a genuine LOL moment.

> Chuckle/snigger at understanding a metaphor you thought you weren’t smart enough to catch

> Stare into space wondering hows, whats, hows of the twists and turns

> Marvel at the sharp wit and incredible imagination of Mr. Rankin

> And lastly, you’ll be going back once in a while to check that you are keeping pace with our heroes and villians.

For all its obscurity and missing from the “lists”, it is one of the best kept secret works of this genre. Go dig it out, strap on your safety belts and enjoy the ride.

Favorite Quote: If it’s God’s will, who gets the money? – Tony O’Blimey – From the Suburban Book Of Dead

Complete review to be found here.

Review: Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson)

Angus Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging
Angus Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging- Louise Rennison

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson by Louise Rennison is your Bridget Jones Diary for the teenage girl. It’s a collection of random musings and ramblings of our teenage heroine Georgia who has a wildcat called Angus for a pet, a sister called Libby who loves wetting her bedstead religiously and a mother who seems too friendly with the handsome interior decorator while her father’s away in New Zealand. Georgia and her “Ace Gang” are your slightly sobered down Teenage Drama Queens, though it’s not for lack of trying. Their sole aim is to get a boyfriend and have a party at the coolest club in the town.

What saves this book from being a complete letdown is Rennison’s writing. A comedienne, her talent at tickling the funny bone shows. She makes the sorry old tales of a hormone filled teenager sound much more hilarious than they can possibly have the scope to be. You’ll be tut-tutting and shaking your head with exasperation and chuckling or smothering your laughs alternatively throughout the course of 160 pages. Though aimed as an YA novel, adults can also pick up this book and ask themselves if that is how they behaved when they were “young adults” aka teenagers and have a good laught about it.

Read it for Ms. Rennison’s noteworthy attempt to make a Bridget out of our teenage Georgie. I guess there are sequels in the making or are already there in the Young Adult novel-verse. But more of that, after you get through this journal of snarky confessions.

You can find the complete review here.