Monday, April 29, 2013

Service of all the dead - Colin Dexter

I did not know why the hell i picked up this book. I am never picking up another book of his unless i really want to make an effort to forget everything in life.
The plot is confusing, the characterization crazy to say the least and the writing very trying. I almost got my readers block back thanks to this weird book. Do not waste your time reading it. I am so disappointed. :(

A stranger is watching - Mary Higgins Clark

Mary Higgins Clark is another pop corn read for me and I was lucky enough to pick a bunch of her books at a discount sale. :)

This book deals with a topic i have never been able to make up my mind about - Capital punishment. As a man faces death penalty for a crime he did not commit, the actual murderer is plotting another horrible death in the same family where he wrecked havoc a few years ago. Steve lost his wife Nina 2 years ago to a very angry killer and is only now ready to welcome a new love in to his love. The object of his attention though does not see eye to eye with him on the topic of capital punishment and on the day he is about to profess his love to her, she is whisked away with his 6 year old kid by a mad man who wants money from Steve to spare their lives.

In a race against time, the FBI and Steve try to save 3 lives and catch the kidnapper before its too late. An interesting thriller, well written but not too awesome. The kidnapper's characterization was a little shallow and i did not really like the main characters too much to fall in love with the book too. A decent read on a lazy afternoon without too much of mental strain. :)

The Sunday Philosophy Club - Alexander McCall Smith

England has always been one of those countries i have admired. I guess it stems from my admiration for the British English and the various authors who taught me the language when i was a kid. After the beautiful experience with Botswana in the No 1 Ladies Detective agency series, I was expecting something similar with the Sunday Philosophy club and i was pleasantly surprised to find something in a slightly different vein here.
The philosophy is a lot more obvious here and somehow i did not really like the nosy Isabel Dalhousie and her moral obligation to look into the death of a young man who while falling down had looked into her eyes. Her co-dependent relationship with her house keeper, the strained interesting relationship with her niece and the funny relationship with her niece's ex are a nice read but not too captivating. The plot is also watery and it is just the occasional philosophical monologues which kept me captivated. Unfortunately, i have not had anyone to discuss the morality of obesity or lying with as whenever i begin the topic, i seem to automatically lose the audience i would have otherwise had.
The ending was a real let down and i was a little disappointed with the book. Still, i would rate it a 3/5 for the occasional gems and for the simple fact that it got m thinking about a lot of things i have been safely ignoring in life. I am going to read this series to figure out if i like it more/dislike it as it progresses.

The Kalahari Typing School for Men - Alexander McCall Smith

The fourth book in the No 1 Ladies Detective agency series featuring Precious Ramotswe. This book can possibly be my favorite in terms of themes explored.

Precious has competition in the form of an Ex-CIA male detective who wants to rule Botswana. Her ever dependable assistant detective is struggling to make ends meet and decides to launch a typing school to earn a little something. Love blossoms in the most unlikely place and she is left reeling from it. The children who had been adopted from the orphanage bring their share of problems and it was a nice experience to watch all issues get resolved.

The books are a lot more predictable now that i have got the hang of it but i still like reading them. The empowered female characters make me love the series and the beautiful portrayal of a country i want to visit is just icing on the cake.

Irrespective of color, caste or country a lot of our issues revolve around such similar themes. If we paused for a few minutes from our perennial microscopic judging and looked at things at a higher level, maybe, just maybe the world would be a better place to live in.

Morality for Beautiful Girls - Alexander McCall Smith

Book 3 of the No.1 Ladies detective agency. Though it does loop back to the previous books, it is not necessary to have read the same. In this book, Precious's fiance is depressed with life and she does not know how to care for him. The way depression is described as a disease and her love and concern is touching, but thats about it and the author does not revisit it in too much detail.

The extremely efficient assistant detective takes up running the fiance's business and i had to admire the way the author made her take up the world of men so easily. I mean, the attitude was condescending in a few places of course but showing that the car and the type writer are just machines was admirable. The mystery that Precious solves of the government man was interesting and surprising. The issue of family ties and the strains in a relationship when a new person comes into a closely knit family was well portrayed. The titular mystery of course was way too hilarious to be true. The apprentices in the workshop had a slightly larger role than before and i had some fun at their expense.

Overall, it was a decent read in line with the first two books. It is my new pop corn fiction. The questions and the subtle themes the author poses through the book give the pop corn a nice flavor and makes me want to have more of it.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Tears of a giraffe - Alexander McCall Smith

This book picks up right where the first one ended. Precious is happily engaged and by a strange twist of fate inherits two children.Before i go further with the review let me first state that this part rankled me for though she might be kind and understanding, I really don't understand how a woman can really be ok with a man thrusting two children on her without consulting her. I am all for adoption but I am all for equality and partnership in life too.

The secretary gets promoted while solving a crime whose resolution I did not like, the mystery of the white boys death being cleared up was a tad too magical too - a little like that of the teachers son in the first book. The incident with the maid was too ridiculous but then people bear grudges for reasons sillier so I was only saddened that it fizzled out so easily.

The detections are not predictable you have to give Mr.Smith that - but the reader is not completely astounded by the revelation either. Precious can never be Miss Marple not that I liked her as much as Poirot but there is something about her and this entire plot which makes me want to read more books in this series. I love the feel of Botswana and the little nuggets of possibly patronising information I get about the country in this series. Someday when I go to see it for myself I will hopefully be able to condemn or congratulate the author.

The no 1 ladies' detective agency - Alexander McCall Smith

I love mysteries and I am a sucker for strong female characters as I usually don't see enough of them in books. :D.

This book was my second tryst with Mr.Smith and his first book in this series. This ones about a lady detective in rural Botswana and I really liked her. She is gutsy, interesting, charming, patriotic and more than anything a survivor. Africa has been a country which has fascinated me and the best part about this book was my being able to read about it in a quiet everyday fashion. The book deals with a lot of themes - infidelity, loyalty, patriotism, domestic violence and of course equality.

Precious, the female protagonist sets up her detective agency with the inheritance left for her by her father. She has different clients and also the attention of the local mechanic and she sets about trying to make the world a better place.

There are way too many plots and sub plots but I liked the way it came together and the easy read the book was. There is precious little but precious and thats one of the weak links in the book. Not the best book I've read but definitely worth a read.

Snuff - Terry Pratchett

Considering my Pratchett craze, I was more than happy to grab a paper back and read his new work. I was a little disappointed by the time I finished it. I've always liked Vimes and the fact that he was human has been the one thing that's made me adore his characterisation. Unfortunately he has been portrayed to be almost super human in this book and I couldn't somehow commend it.
The plot follows the Vimes family go on what they hope is a nice vacation to the Ramkins country estate. Vimes is completely oblivious to the class distinctions and manages to ruffle a few feathers unwittingly. His copper instincts tell him there is something off about the place and he investigates the same with a very watered down and really boring version of carrot in the rural settings. Carrot, Angua, Colon and Nobby make a very small appearance leaving the reader wanting more. Goblins are the focus in this book and sadly I was disappointed. After the finesse of handling discrimination in Thud, I expected more from Pratchett in this version.

The characterisation of Vimes is really weak. Young Sam is adorable in places but a little too much of a kid in most parts. Sybil with her characteristic wifely qualities is interesting but not for too long. Wilkins the butler was my favourite in this book and that was only because of dearth of other characters. :(

Pratchett's good but really not as good as he used to be. I really hope he recovers in the dodger and gives me something to root for.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Dan Arielys inspiring TED talk

As I contemplate over the innumerable things that are busy confusing me, this speech just made me sit up and applaud. Some of the thoughts he has written about in articles/books but hearing him deliver it was awesome. As I look at the many people around me, I choose to be more aware of how to make their lives marginally better through some things we all know but keep forgetting. Awesome speech Mr.Ariely - some day I hope to run into you. 

http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_ariely_what_makes_us_feel_good_about_our_work.html


The eleventh commandment - Jeffrey Archer

After being let down by the best kept secret, it was with some amount of doubt that I picked this one to read. Thankfully, Archer managed to put my doubts to rest and I had a very enjoyable time reading the book. I would not call it his best work but I am surprised that I have missed reading it for so long.

The plot follows the life and times of Colin - one of the CIA's best kept secrets. He plays a huge role in changing the course of international politics and despite his devotion to the country, he does not know how much he has been deceived by his boss who is all set to use him as a scape goat to save herself. Helen Dexter, the ruthless CIA director who just looks upon the presidents as a change in scenery is surprised when the current first man of the USA fails to take a liberal view of her interfering silently in international affairs. While she is being investigated, she decides to sacrifice Colin and if and how he manages to save himself forms for an interesting read.

As again, the book succeeded and failed at a lot of levels. Though I liked the pace,I could not really love the characters much. Colin was not someone I wanted to root for as I could not begin to understand him. Helen, Maggie, Tara and Joan who could have been a bit more interesting were relegated to the sidelines and I wished to have gotten more time to spend with them. The loyalty that Colin inspired was unexplainable and though I wished I had friends like that, I wasn't all too envious of his life and everything about it.

A decent well paced read I'm glad I devoted my sat noon to. 4/5

Friday, April 12, 2013

Best kept secret - Jeffrey Archer

I read Archer first when in school and was damn impressed. Then I found Forsyth and I did not really revisit him that much. I chanced upon this in a sale and decided to try the book.
The plot initially seemed more like a recap of the first two books in the series and later like a prequel for the many to come. The book failed for me because I couldn't relate to the characters. Not even one of the many illustrious folks or the vindictive ones. I loved his Kane and Abel at school and I'm sure I'd enjoy it now too but this one was a let down.

It was interesting enough for me to finish it though neither the family of confused, forgiving, loving and powerful individuals nor the rich, bored, vindictive ones stayed n screen long enough for me. It wasn't rambling but it could have been much shorter. If he'd wanted to draw it out, he could have made the interactions and lives a lot more colourful and for lack of a better word alive. I felt like I was reading random newspaper articles stuck together in a family scrap book for anyone to make sense of. A narration without too much emotion. 3 of 5 simply cos I could finish it without dozing off.

The Inimitable Jeeves - P.G.Wodehouse

I love Wodehouse. He always manages to put a smile on my face. This one had enough of Bertie and Jeeves for me to laugh until i cried every ten pages. Add to it romantic and sentimental Bingo, the scary Aunt Agatha, the nutty twins and all the wonderful angels, the book was fun. Wodehouse is he king of humour and I am glad I picked this one out to add to my collection.

When I get down to it, the plots predictable, Jeeves and Bertie's ego clashes ridiculous at times and the men too dumb to be true and the women way too cliched. But tats what makes Wodehouse so awesome. I can enjoy the British humour without worrying about what might happen to whom. A good read on a bright nice day. No cloud would mark it.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ponder?

Sometimes I think it's time to think
Think if the race is worth it in the first place
Think if you still want to keep running
Think if you like the coach you are saddled with
Think if who you are is no longer being defined by you
Think and not do anything but that
I know that such a time ought to come.

I see it watching me
From right around the corner.
I look at all the tiny little ties
And I wonder if strong enough they are to bind
Strong enough to last the test of time
Strong enough to help me overcome adversity
Knowing what I do I doubt
Knowing what I do I hope
Maybe it ain't the right thing after all...

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Death in the stocks - Georgette Heyer

I guess I'm going through this phase of discovering new authors. I'd heard of GH as a historical fiction author so had never really gotten around to reading the books as that's one genre I don't read usually. When I saw this book in time out, I decided to give it a try and I was glad.

This is a murder mystery which follows an eccentric family whose head, the eldest brother is found dead in the stocks of the village he frequents in the weekends. His half siblings, a corrupt junior and his former romantic liaisons are under the police scanner. The stakes are high and everyone stands to gain something be it easy money or a rich inheritance or face saving or best of all revenge. As the cops try to zero in on the criminal, the author portrays the eccentricities of the family beautifully. I loved Tony and Kenneth though they were a bit tiring at times.

The book cannot be compared to a Poirot mystery in terms of the characterization or to an Forsyth in terms of the pace and the nail biting but it was still a decent read. I think I'll try the rest of the books next. Not favorite author material but a definite decent read.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Manuscript found in Accra

Paulo Coehlo has been one of my favourite writers. I have read and liked most of his books. Alchemist was never in the list though. I read the preface and bought the book expecting a story but was sadly greeted by a collection of lectures. There was an over dose of philosophical nuggets and I guess I was not looking forward to so much of outright preaching. I prefer making my own inferences and think through a book. I should not have finished it in one sitting.

This one I am going to read some parts later on when I want someone to tell me things. For now I would just say that i did not savour it so much.

For the rest of you out there - if you want some interesting nuggets of wisdom on varying topics collected in one place and if you like making notes as you read and you like to ponder over things, you will enjoy this book. Coehlo does repeat a few things he has spoken of in his previous books but when you get down to it, if you remove the specifics of incidents, the learnings on love, sacrifice, joy, sorrow, disappointment etc don't change too much with time or place.

Friday - a wasted Saturday

I like watching movies on Saturday mornings and decided to watch this as I hadn't watched anything in Malayalam for a long time. I was so irritated to say the least with the movie experience. The movie begins well with a few distantly infer related story lines but after sometime you get tired of waiting for something to happen.
The movie has all the typical emotional exploiters - an about to be married girl, her struggling grand father, an expectant but barren mother, a mother who has just given birth to a healthy kid, a lovey dovey couple a poor auto driver, a righteous policeman. Not one of them struck a chord with me. The film has its moments of course considering the number of characters in it but it was a movie made to exploit emotions not to make you feel anything. I had to finish it because I started it but I would advice against watching it.
Not worth an afternoon or a morning as the attempt is not too successful.

The dog who came in from the cold - Alexander McCall Smith

This is the first book of his I had read and I was not familiar with the characters. This is one of those books with multiple story lines connected by a theme, the theme in this case being the fact that all the characters live in Corduroy mansions or are related to characters living there in some way.

We have William an ageing wine connoisseur/loving dog owner who is caught in the middle of possibly the most adventurous thing that has happened to him and is unsure about his next move. Then there is Caroline who has fallen almost in love and is wondering if her feelings are returned. Her room mate Dee who is always hard on cash has a brilliant idea for a product and is struggling to find a backer. There are also a couple of publishers - Barbara and Rupert. Barbara has found love and Rupert is still angry with her for having taken over a flat which he thought was rightfully his. These characters and some more like Terence are an interesting watch.

There are way too many plots and all are funny. Unfortunately though sometimes its difficult to keep track for the exact same reason. I read somewhere that each chapter in this book was published in a newspaper first - so I guess the breadth of characters is forgivable for that reason.

I enjoyed the book a lot though I had to read it over a week. It was a decent read and has inspired me to try more books of his.