3

14th Deadly Sin – James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

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This book was sent to me by the folks at Random House India in exchange of an honest review

Here is another collaborative effort by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro. I remember I had read an article/interview somewhere that explained who did what in these joint efforts but I am sorry to say I have absolutely forgotten anything about it. This book again follows the template of other James Patterson books of having literally 3-page long chapters and a lot of them and having more than one plot weaving through the story. Also, short staccato sentences. Its a bit like reading those read aloud books we had as children, only without the pictures and with adult content.

This is 14th in the series of books with the members of the Women’s Murder Club as the main protagonists. These are four women whose jobs in some way circle the subject of murder – Lindsay Boxer a Homicide detective, Claire, a medical examiner, Yuki, a lawyer in the DA’s office and Cindy a crime reporter for the San Francisco chronicle – and who are also great friends. The first plot in this book surrounds a group of thugs who have taken to dressing up as cops to rob stores. The only question is whether they are impostors or real cops gone rogue. The second plot involves a seemingly random murder committed on the birthday of one of the members of the Murder Club, until a chance comment sends Detective Lindsay Boxer on the trail of a possible serial killer.

As always the book is fast-paced and there is hardly time for one to come up for air before it is finished. Because it all happens so fast, there are times when I manged to get thoroughly confused about how or what clues led to the detectives finding the bad guys. Its a real fast read and would do well for a weekend reading. I think James Patterson books are ideal for college kids and professionals who have no time for long, drawn-out story lines and would prefer a quick and easy reading fix.

I have mixed feelings about James Patterson. I pick up his books because I know they will be easy reads and yet, by the end of each story, I am never really satisfied. I never manage to connect to any of the characters and the story seems to end all too soon. None of the books that I have read by him truly stand out in my mind as great works of fiction. It is amazing to me that an author is able to churn out books every six months and still have stories strong enough to captivate such a huge fan following. Whatever one may crib about, this is no mean feat and definitely worthy of one’s somewhat grudgy admiration. And it is also true that once I pick up his book, I never put it down until I have finished and that reading his novels can in no way be classified as a tedious task.

Will I read another James Patterson book? Most definitely. Do I absolutely loooooove them? No. They are okay. Will I pick up a James Patterson book if there is a choice of another author? Probably not.

4

Seahorse – Janice Pariat

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This book was sent to me by Random House India in exchange of an honest review

Over the last few weeks, I have tried over and over again to sit before my buzzing laptop and will the words and views swirling in my head following my encounter with the ‘Seahorse’ to flow out through my stubby fingers. And every time, I find myself just staring at the screen hoping a coherent sentence will leap up to the forefront of my brain in place of the jumbled kaleidoscope caterwauling there. Where to begin and how to do justice to myself and this book?

The story revolves around a young man, Nehemiah (or Nem) from East India (or as I like to think of him as someone from a hill town), first as a young student at that sacred alma mater of the great Indian bourgeoisie as most of us tend to think of ourselves at some point in our lives, then as an editor for an art magazine and years later as a fellowship student spending a year in London. The story keeps moving back and forth between these timelines mixing history with the present. He isn’t a hero or an extremely talented genius or  even incredibly successful, but an average student, a keen observer, easily influenced by strong personalities and a bit on the shy side. I kept thinking as I read his exploits that when Shakespeare said ‘All the world’s a stage….’ he must have meant some of us to act as spectators or witnesses to all the drama that is taking place all around us and that maybe Nem is one of those who were meant to chronicle it all. But maybe his show is one of those audience participation ones and so at times he finds himself thrust on the stage as a prop for the actors to deliver their punchlines or a particularly clever dialogue. He is eminently likable with the makings of a perfect non-judgmental, good listener friend.

Pariat’s writing is lyrical and the prose is almost poetic. There was an overwhelming sense of melancholia that seems to pervade the narrative almost from the first page itself. That feeling is heightened to pin-pricks of loss in ones eyes by the soundtrack that the author recommends as a background to your reading. I chose to listen to it later and as a background to finishing a painting and dreaming of home. The sense of loss that Nem seems to carry around with him at almost all times since his teens, first for Lenny and then for Nicolas, seems to swamp the reader in waves throughout the book, though it seems to get better towards the end. Unfortunately for me, perhaps the part that forms the core of the book, Nem’s introduction to and days in Nicolas’s bungalow, did not resonate with me at all. Was it perhaps because somehow that relationship felt false to me? He was after all a professor taking advantage of a vulnerable, grieving boy.

It also seems that Nem chooses to bestow his love on someone who is more of an idea than a real person, someone almost untouchable on normal human planes. So, while he seems to have taken the fact of Nicholas’s betrayal without much rancor, in awe of his intellectual prowess as always, as a reader I was not so forgiving. Nem moves through life at a his own slow pace, discovers joys and sorrows in his quiet way, makes friends with really talented and outgoing people and manages never to judge. As for Nem’s sexuality, he seems to not dwell on it at all. If it must happen, then so it shall be.

The author also manages to catch that deep-seated desire of the perfectly nice and normal, convent-educated, hot-shot Indian university students with a degree in English Literature aspiring to be ‘open and cool’ with the western concepts of what artists must ‘really’ be like – as in the case of Santanu. Only, there are times when the conventional Indian-grandma-reared conscience rears its ugly head and points out that maybe one is not ready to be as ‘cool’ as one believed one’s self to be.

Not having had a classical English/Art education in college, it was a little frustrating for me to come across references to classics or art history in the kind of discussions among the actors/protagonists that I have never had the pleasure to participate. That ability to see a work of art or a story and interpret its meaning in a completely new fashion always fascinates me. Those who have had this privilege always tend to look at/read a book in a decidedly unique way that seems to allude someone like me completely. At times it made me feel utterly inadequate as a reader of English literature, and at others I felt distinctly happy that I can read a book and just enjoy a story without the need to dissect it to its bare bones, leaving me with something new to discover at every reading.

But why ‘Seahorse’ I thought? Pariat refers to the tendency of a Seahorse pair to mate for a long time and a ritual that they share every morning. It is obvious that Nem thinks of himself as a seahorse mated to someone for life, but it was hard to discern whether his mate felt the same about him. A ritual also denotes somewhat conventional leanings and Nem’s relationship with Nicholas is hardly that. Will he forgive and forget and move back with Nicolas or finally move ahead with his life? The author ends her book perfectly I thought, leaving us to wonder and root for Nem nevertheless.

2

The Random House March Book-bag

The books for March arrived while I was on another tour with Hubby. As usual, I have already read both by the time I find the time to post this. It is a matter of getting hold of the Husband’s laptop since mine has become quite impossible for the last few weeks and what with him being really busy and being glued to his laptop, blogging has become very difficult. Add to that the summer heat and a top floor flat combined with power cuts and I am pretty much unable to do anything at all. Its as if the universe has conspired against me.

It rained last night and it still is. There is a cool wind blowing and the house is for the first time in weeks not boiling hot.

The books that I received this month (last month that is) were :

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1) 14th Deadly Sin – James Patterson

2) The Tusk that did the Damage – Tania James

Happy Reading!

2

Baking Cherry Tomato Topped Focaccia

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Whoever said baking is therapeutic was spot on in his/her assessment. There is nothing quite like the beautiful fragrance of a hot oven containing a cake or a bread or the satisfaction of watching the “rise” of yeast-infused flour. Technique is however, crucial to any baking endeavor. I have got the hang of cakes but cupcakes seem to elude me completely. Breads and buns are sometimes a hit and sometimes an almost miss.

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While looking for bread recipes, I stumbled across the Fabulous Baker Brothers show on TLC. Now I have seen, and still see, many cookery shows over the years on TLC like Nigella Feasts, Jamie Oliver, Donna Hay and Anthony Bourdain, but the Baker Brothers was the first one that seemed to produce three or four recipes in a row that I felt I could make for my Indian family. The American shows always use too much beef or always add chicken broth or ingredients which are just not available in Indian markets easily and hardly ever make any vegetarian food. Nigella and Jamie Oliver seem almost too haphazard in their bid to look ‘authentic’ and ‘close to nature’. As for the Baker Brothers, Tom is the baker while Henry is a butcher and chef. I thought Tom Herbert‘s recipes are all the kind that one can make in a home kitchen and the tips that he shares are really helpful. Somehow he is very reminiscent of Mrs. Patmore from Downton Abbey with his expansive, cherry and happy demeanor. Just what a baker should be.

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I found this recipe on their website Hobbs House Bakery and it worked out perfectly for me. It was easy to follow and even without any step-by-step pictures I understood every instruction clearly enough. The trick is the 15 minute kneading that he advises I think, making the bread really soft and delicious. The toppings can be varied according to your choice. Mine turned out a little too fat for a Focaccia and I didn’t have a proper baking tray, but it was absolutely yummy. Great for tea-time and even breakfast with butter and a mug of tea.

Also, he has a smashing recipe for burgers and sliders that would do any vegetarian household in India proud. I tried that too and everyone absolutely loved it.

So, bake a bread! It takes time but its so worth it.

14

Judging a Book by its Cover (No. 1) – Watercolor Series

I have long wanted to experiment with my love for books and the recent serious dive into watercolor painting by combining the two. As some of you might have deduced a while ago, I love beautiful book covers, always have. As I am not imaginative/passionate/artistic enough to make my own, I decided to choose book covers that I have loved since I was a child and consequently the books that go with them to paint a watercolor series of the best book covers of my favourite books.

The list was long and really pretty book covers became fewer and far between as I moved towards the title for grown ups. Nobody seems to care that adults may also like a book with a really nice cover.

Here is the first in the series that I hope to complete in the near future.

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Enid Blyton was a childhood favourite for many many years and I must confess that I read her name as ‘Gnid Blyton’ for a few of them. Those books were expensive for those times and convincing mom to let me buy one was always an uphill task. Why I didn’t just ask Dad? Well, because that wouldn’t have been cricket then. I did ask him at times when I was feeling really desperate and always chose those 3-in-1’s in the hopes of making them last longer. Also, I made him write on the flyleaf that he had gifted the book to me or else Mum would have the brilliant idea to gift it to someone else on their birthdays!!

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Six Cousins at Mistletoe Farm and its sequel were two of my favourite Enid Blyton books, both for the storylines and the beautiful covers from Armada Paperbacks , which were an offshoot of William Collins, Sons, now known as Harper Collins, of both the books that I managed to get. Would you believe that the book covers are unaccredited, meaning we don’t know whose work they were!

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These covers were a one time fluke (published in 1987) and finding them again is an impossible task. One of my books is torn and lost for all practical purposes, while the other one is safe in my brother’s keeping or so he informed me during one of his cryptic phone calls a few weeks ago.

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My lovable brother has taken over my collection of childhood books and refuses to part with them. I can’t really blame him, I didn’t share my books either and it is nice to see he gets something from me. We both read all the time, and especially when we are eating food which manages to annoy everybody around us. You can’t imagine how difficult it is for me to sit at the table and make small conversation just to be polite when guests come over. My brother doesn’t even try.

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Almost every book that I possess has a story attached to it, apart from the one between the covers. They may not be bestsellers (my stories that is) but I remember them every time I pick up a particular book and smile at the memory. I truly thank everyone who has ever indulged my love of books, from my mother who told me my first story, to Dad who smiled whenever he bought me a book, to my special friends who understood that books were my first love and to a husband who likes to crib about my reading but has managed to buy me a few hundred books since we got married. Thank you all.

As always, in the spirit of honesty, I am not very good with angles of the head and am atrocious with hands and those are pretty evident from the work. Maybe a little touching up is required, but I am still proud of the this one, flawed as it is.

7

Power Play – Danielle Steele

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Whenever I pick up a Danielle Steel I feel I have successfully transitioned to the ‘Auntie’ phase of my life. Growing up in the army, all aunties were forever reading her and Barbara Cartland and these two authors are always associated in my mind with smartly dressed, very articulate army wives or ‘Aunties’ as they were to us. I received this book a little later than the rest and was not expecting it at all. I picked it up to ‘flip’ through it and ended up finishing it the same day.

According to the Goodreads blurb

Fiona Carson has proven herself as CEO of a multibillion-dollar high-tech company – a successful woman in a man’s world. Devoted single mother, world-class strategist, and tough negotiator, Fiona has to keep a delicate balance every day.

Meanwhile, Marshall Weston basks in the fruits of his achievements. At his side is his wife Liz who has gladly sacrificed her own career to raise their three children. Smooth, shrewd and irreproachable, Marshall’s power only enhances his charisma – but he harbors secrets that could destroy his life at any moment.

Both must face their own demons, and the lives they lead come at a high price. But just how high a price are they willing to pay?

When I read the blurb, I naturally assumed that these two people will meet each other one day and find true love or something. As it turns out, I was wrong. The theme that the author explores in this book is how differently men and women react or cope with power and prestige in their lives, which I thought was a brilliant idea. After all, we see important men caught time and time again with their pants down while there are hardly any powerful women who can be accused of similar transgressions.

So, we follow Fiona Carson working hard on her high-powered job and managing her life and grown up kids as well, while fending off the sexist attitudes of her male co-workers. She seems happy and almost contended in her now single life, until she meets a man who refuses to be ignored.

Marshall Weston seems just as happy in his life with a wife who has chosen to put his career and their children before her own professional life, until we are introduced to the sordid secrets of his life. He feels a sense of entitlement to a lot of things in life and seems to be bewildered when he is caught out in his transgressions. His reactions at times like this are hilarious and like those of a righteous man who can’t believe why the universe is bent on punishing him. It is astonishing the heights of his selfishness and delusions about his importance in life.

Surprisingly enough, I thought the book made for good time pass, if you like contemporary fiction that is (and aren’t more partial towards crinolines and butlers in your stories like me). Both the characters are absolutely believable and finely etched in the book. Ashley seems much too docile for an artist but it is easy to judge people and situations from a safe distance. People may also feel Fiona is a bit colourless, but I think she is just right. It is possible to be successful and have principles and not be a bitch or even utterly glamorous. Marshall has absolutely no redeeming factors, but then that can be forgiven since he is after all a man. What was sickening was his ability to completely wipe out anything that made him uncomfortable from his conscience and move on or even his ability to continuously delude himself or even his sense of injury when anyone called him out for his behaviour. And yet, he has women falling for him all the time! It is true when they say that even for the most disgusting of men, there is a woman somewhere who loves him.

 

5

The Puppeteers of Palem – Sharath Komarraju

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This book was sent to me by the folks over at Westland Books in exchange of an honest review

I scare easily. Ever since I read my first Stephen King, Dreamcatchers (SHUDDER), I have been wary of reading any books that are even remotely related to ghosts. That’s not to say I have not read any. There are times in my life when I choose to scare myself silly just for the heck of it.

When I received The Puppeteers of Palem courtesy of Westland Books, I wasn’t really worried. I mean, of course, the cover is creepy and very reminiscent of a Hindi movie I saw as a kid which was full of voodoo and stuff, but that was years ago and I am a grown up now. The cover, I must say after reading the story, does complete justice to the book although the photoshopped parts are just a bit too obvious to me.

According to the Goodreads blurb

The village of Rudrakshapalem awakens and tells her tale.

Five friends return to the village of their childhood to find that nothing seems to have changed and at the same time everything has. Whose voice is it that called them back and whose hand is it that now hunts them down, one by one?

Palem’s grand old man, a Brahmin landlord, their childhood storyteller, makes one last ditch attempt to save his village from ruin at her hands. Will he succeed or will his past catch up with him and demand fair price?

Two boys, one blind and the other lame, skirt the village borders at the old Shivalayam, listening, staring. On their faces they wear smiles of contentment. They sleep well. They see happy dreams.

A TV reporter arrives to study the village, only to sink deeper into the mystery with each passing day. And hovering above all of these is the shadow of Lachi, who is believed to haunt the old Shivalayam on full moon nights. Some say she’s consumed by lust, others call it madness, but all catch the red glint in her eye and the icy calm in her voice as she croons a sad, lonely song. The one thing she hungers for, that will satisfy her soul, is the fire that will burn Palem down to ashes.

The village of Rudrakshapalem awakens and tells her tale. Listen closely. It will chill you to the bone.

Doesn’t sound creepy in the least does it? Hah! Well, what do you know!

The story moves back and forth over timelines across chapters adding to the feeling of uneasiness and disorientation that the author wants to weave around us. This is a ghost story set in a small village in South India and is as good and as chilling as any you heard when you were kids. The local setting ups the fear factor a few notches for the reader as one is bound to associate the iconography in the story to things they have seen growing up in small towns and villages all over the country. The only chapters that feel suitably sane are the ones that deal with the newspaper reports about the incidents occurring in the village. The assessments of village life and politics by the author are spot on as are his very astute observations of human nature. I completely believe the character of Avdhani can be found all over the world in some form or another.

The five friends who come back to the village grew up listening to stories at the knee of the Brahmin Avadhani, who was also the overlord of the village and a very respected elder. He had been telling stories to the village children for decades, including to the parents of the five protagonists before them. When the five receive summons from a now aged Avadhani to come back to the village, they all comply out of a sense of duty and respect towards the old man. Almost each character has some unresolved childhood issues and grievances that they have buried deep in their psyches. As the tension in the village escalates, so does the hidden malaise in the minds of the five friends.

Each of the five characters is described both as a child and then as an adult in the shifting timelines. While one or two of them are likable, some are not as is the case in any group. They are bound together by an adventure that they went on as children and the consequences of that action. There are a lot of mind games happening in the story (hence the puppeteers) and it takes the reader a long time to figure out who is doing the controlling and for what purpose, apart from the obvious one of course.

The prominent leitmotif of the story are the murder (flock) of crows that seem to inhabit the village in the present day. The crows do some very gory things right at the beginning of the book and I was suitably appalled and quite sure that the author was trying too hard to make them scary. That is, until I reached our holiday destination the next week and was greeted by a crow sitting on a chair right outside my room, eyeing me with it beady eyes and refusing to be at all intimidated by a human’s approach. It never got up or flew away even as I edged my way around the chair with my heart in my throat. Once inside my room, I convinced myself this was normal crow behaviour and I was still suffering from the after-effects of reading ‘The puppeteers of Palem’ and that it would serve no purpose to share my views with my family. Turns out I didn’t have to since my absolutely unimaginative mother managed to observe out loud the next day that the ‘crows here were so weird’. I couldn’t wait to be gone from that place after that.

 At times the story seems to meander and you are sure that the author has lost the thread, but he manages to pull it back to form an intricate pattern every time. Some may levy the charge of it being unnecessarily intricate causing the story to seem like a jumbled mess at times but I was alright with that. Mind you, not everyone would be. Maybe it was because I read a horror story after so many years that I loved it so much, but I doubt that. It is definitely a good book with crisp writing and editing and is suitably horrific to be read on moonless nights, when you are home alone.