Strange, creative and a little eerie, NAOKO by Keigo Higashino keeps you guessing, literally!


NaokoNaoko by Keigo Higashino

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What an absolutely odd and strange story. A little silly, a little tragic, a little dark, a little haunting and in the end a little ruthless – but overall creative and completely unpredictable.

More than two thirds into the book, I was still wondering where the plot was going and what conclusion the story was moving to, so in that way it really is mysterious and kept me guessing up to the very literal end. Perplexed is what I felt going through most of the book. I guess that is why they gave it the Japan Mystery Writers Award.

I’m a Higashino fan, I’ve enjoyed all his other books, and loved two especially (Journey Under the Midnight Sun and Malice – both of which are brilliant in their own right). He really is a master story teller.

This one, though, is not a quick read (the reason I give it 3 stars and not 4).

It moves slowly, but pulls you in wanting to understand where things are going and what is going to happen in the seemingly mundane lives of the Sugita family of three. But really, what a strange story it was, until of course it all became clear, near the very end.

After 3 years of having it on my shelf, I’m glad I have finally read it.

The mystery is finally finally over 🙂

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If you have nothing else to read NEED TO KNOW by Karen Cleveland is passable


Need to KnowNeed to Know by Karen Cleveland

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I heard this book recommended on the Just the Right Book Podcast: Episode 61 and it sounded really interesting and promising. But it falls quite far from that description and review.

I would call this a page turner yes, a good book to read when you’re travelling
OR
if you don’t have anything else at hand
OR
if you’re looking to break your reading slump.

Reminds me of the Twilight series, not great but keeps you hooked till the end.

Entertainer – can totally see this being turned into a film.

I didn’t connect with the protagonist at all, story and characters not memorable, and I really wish Vivian’s character learnt to be less naive because CIA analysts like her would be the nightmare of the American intelligence machinery.

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When a crime novel goes kaput on you – Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi


Black Water LiliesBlack Water Lilies by Michel Bussi

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

To shuffle things up a bit, I decided to move from Indian regional novels to a French crime novel in translation, written by the most popular crime writer in France, and what a disappointing venture it was! I don’t remember the last time I gave a book two stars, but there was nothing redeeming about this one.
I finished it anyway, only to see where the story was going, and only to find that the eventual “twist” was almost annoying, instead of what may have been a charmingly wow moment for many – going by the ratings.

Three things that I think completely failed this one for me (FYI – there’s a spoiler in the third point):

1. The translation / writing – I’ve always wondered how a translation is judged good or poorly done, and I think this book is where I understood that. I just couldn’t find the flow in the narration. I don’t know which to blame, there’s no way to tell. So it’s Either that, or the writing.

2. All those French names! – this was probably more frustrating than the writing / narration. The book is set in Giverny, a quaint French town famous for its inhabitant, the impressionist painter Claude Monet – and there are innumerable references to its buildings, roads, streams and gardens. I understand that the author was trying to create an ambience but it was tiring to read all these French names which have to be three word phrases instead of a single word name.
I couldn’t keep them straight and after a point just glossed over the text. In the end, the over referencing didn’t lead anywhere, it wasn’t important to the plot.

3. The plot (**spoiler**) – So when I realised the “twist” in the story, my first reaction was irritation at all the hard work I’d put in to get to that point, to understand where all of it was going. And you know what, nothing happens. Everything is a flashback! Done in a way that it intertwines with the present, and you can’t tell the memories apart from the present day reality.
After 3/4th of the book, or maybe more, the plot is still building up, reaching that breaking point when you know that sweet pleasure will come and all the loose ends will tie up – and poof! One of the most deflating endings is served up, And happily ever after if you please!

I feel like the author made a mid-story decision to change it all up and took a completely new direction. I also think The story could have been pared down, edited. There was just too much atmospheric description and too little plot. All those Monet painting references came to nothing in the end, except now I know who Monet is and where Giverny is :-/

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A Review and A Comment on the GoodReads Choice Awards System


Into the WaterInto the Water by Paula Hawkins

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This year I decided to read the top three voted novels on the 2017 Good Reads Choice Awards to see which one of the 3 was the winner for me, and Into the Water was the first one I read in the Mystery/Thriller category. But a the bigger mystery it seems is how it won the award for the year’s best mystery / thriller at all!
Riding on the popularity wave of her first book, The Girl on the Train, this book was much awaited and obviously promoted as the next amazing thing from Paula Hawkins, and received a lot of attention from readers who liked the first one.

But one look at the average rating (3.53 by over 92,000 reviewers) will show you that its nothing special. I got caught up by the fact that it was voted the best mystery / thriller in 2017 by readers and without checking its reviews decided to listen to the audio book. Approximately 20% in, I was heading to its review page to see what I was missing and why I wasn’t enjoying it at all. When I saw the 3.53 number – I was so put off, but also not surprised.

I decided to finish the book anyway, mostly because it was audio and did not eat into my actual reading time. The story is so dark and gloomy and dreary and pointless – its not fun to read at all! The thrill and pace of an engaging and engrossing mystery is completely missing. So all I would say is, Skip It.

A view on the GoodReads Choice Awards

As most readers know, the GR Awards are based completely on the votes readers give to a book, whether they have read it or not. While this is a great initiative, it leaves room for misrepresentation. This is because even though you haven’t read the shortlisted titles, the system allows you to put in your vote anyway – and you end up voting either because of how popular that book seems to be or because you read something else by the author that you liked. I know this because I’ve done it too!

Now, if you look at the number of votes for the winning title, Into The Water, versus the number of people who have read it – it is just 52%. The close second, Origin by Dan Brown, has a share of 82% votes against the total number that have read it and an average rating of 3.84. This alone shows that the backing of the actual readers on the winning title was super low.

I know that the GoodReads Choice Awards are meant to be a popularity vote – but if they can think of a way to avoid this kind of polarised misrepresentation, then the results (and deserving winners) would be so much more authentic – like everything else this site has managed to keep all these years.

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Best of 2017: Fiction


On the 2nd last day of 2017, I am much too excited about getting together my reading lists, plans and challenges for 2018, than about the fiction I read in 2017. The most frustrating bit about this whole reading business is not being able to read enough; I can never stop bombarding myself with book lists from Twitter, Feedly, the Guardian, Goodreads and what not – and there is always just too much to read but too little time and too slow a reading speed to do it with!

I guess this is probably the most bitter-sweet of all frustrations in the world and like Ann Patchett said,

Its always better to have too much to read than not enough

So I will try and hold back the ranting for a bit 😛 and celebrate the good stuff I was actually able to read in two-oh-one-seven!

Oscar Wilde

I embarrassingly admit that it was in 2017 that I finally discovered Oscar Wilde, and it was probably the best thing to have happened in all the good things that happened this year. And what fun it was to read all three plays aloud and dramatically – funny, witty, layered and oh that punchiness that comes with the refined language and dialogue! So artful, so satisfying.

The Importance of Being Earnest is the first one I read and it is my favourite, though An Ideal Husband and Lady Windermere’s Fan are super too. After having read the plays I craved for more and found a couple of film versions, which are apparently pretty popular. I watched these two – and I must say, I was NOT IMPRESSED – at all!.

Neither of these are even half as good as the written play. So, if you’ve seen the movies but haven’t read the plays, I would highly highly recommend you read the plays and enjoy how brilliant they really are!

Madhavi by Bhisham Sahni

madhabi_hbAnother brilliant play I read this year, in Hindi, was Madhavi. Written by renowned writer, playwright and actor Bhisham Sahni, Madhavi is the story of one woman’s sacrifices in the face of the duties that all the men in her life must fulfil.

The play is based on the story of Madhavi, King Yayati’s daughter from Mahabharata and brings out the notions of how male pride and honour often, if not always, supersede female sacrifices – that go unrecognised and unconsidered, obscure in the pride and vanity that each man feels – even though, without her, they could never have fulfilled their duties.

Read my full review on GoodReads.

Unravelling Oliver and Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent

I really really enjoyed reading both these books by Liz Nugent and read them back to back. Unravelling Oliver was her first book (so brilliant!) and won the Irish Crime Fiction Book of the Year Award in 2014. It has also been translated into 7 languages. Lying in Wait is also pretty brilliant.

Both stories are based on a foundation of human depravity and auto-centric conniving characters. I like that every chapter is narrated by a character, moving the story forward, revealing differing perspectives and conclusions on the same event. This is especially interesting when one of the characters fails to understand the depths of another character’s deceit or duplicity.
Both stories begin with powerful hooks and after the first sentence, you can forget about doing anything else for the rest of the day. Isn’t that the best kind of thing ever! here are the opening lines of both these books:

‘I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.’ – Unravelling Oliver

‘My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.’ – Lying in Wait

The reveal is so gradual that the event itself becomes less important. It is the reasons that led to the event that become much more interesting. There is something satisfying about the author’s unrestrained depiction of her low-life characters. Just go get them!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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I closed the year with this sweet, warm, funny, touching, witty book. By the end of if, I just wanted to give Eleanor a few hugs and tell her, she really was completely fine 🙂

Another great debut – I don’t know how people are so good at writing their first book, but who’s complaining eh!

If you’re looking for a meaningful, funny, easy to read and uplifting book, then I highly recommend this one. I waited nearly 6 months to get a copy and when I finally did, it was absolutely worth it.

Read my full review here.

And that wraps up the Best of 2017: Fiction edition! I’ve really enjoyed thinking about all of these books again and I really hope you will give some of these a shot.

Officially looking on to 2018 now, and all the amazing, stunning, astounding, astonishing, awe-inspiring, stupendous, staggering, extraordinary and incredible books that I will get to read!

Happy New Year!!! And see you in 2018!!! 

😀 😀 😀

Book Review: You Will Know Me by Megan Abbot


You Will Know MeYou Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars
Heard this book mentioned on the “What Should I Read Next” podcast a couple of times and decided to give it a go, even though its Goodreads average ratings were pretty low.

Set in a typical American suburban town, this is the story of a family seemingly perfect and yet at edge; and how one incident unravels their flaws and dysfunctional reality. It reminded me in some ways of Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, which I loved, though it is nothing like this book. The common theme is that both books explore how we think we know our husband or wife, sibling or child very well, and yet there are times when they reveal their true selves and make us question what we really think we know about who they are and also who we really are.

Interesting storyline around gymnastics, the punishing schedules and commitment it demands and what that can do to a family. Overall, I think readers who have more in common with the American suburban life context will relate to and enjoy it much more. But the writing is good.

A quote I think sums up the essence of the book,


“No one had taught her that the things you want, you never get them. And if you do, they’re not what what you thought they’d be. But you still do anything to keep them. Because you’d wanted them for so long.”

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Book Review – Behind Closed Doors by BA Paris


Behind Closed DoorsBehind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The danger with reading something that comes with such high praise is that you set yourself up for disappointment.

Crime fiction / psychological thrillers are my antidote, my cure for a reading slump, something that consumes my mind in the most deliciously twisted way, that I come out of satisfied and happy – marveling at the author’s ingenuity, intelligence or creativity; their timing; their ability to bring out the worst in human nature in the most believable way.

Probably, for many readers, this book delivered that. But for me, even though I was hooked to see what happened next, a large chunk of the story got very tiresome and there were many moments of impatience where I just wanted them to get on with it. The story tries hard but lacks depth. The villain is portrayed far too evil to be believable.

So even though I found myself reading it in every free minute I had, I also wanted to get done with it a.s.a.p. to be able to move on to something more meaningful – so its been a bit confusing to understand whether I liked it or not.

I can however say for sure that I did not “enjoy” it. I did not come away with a feeling of being on a roller coaster ride that was over too soon, or with an overwhelming feeling to make my friends read it 🙂

I think I’ve been #muchtoocritical on this one. But it is how it is.

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Book Review: Unraveling Oliver / Lying in Wait – Liz Nugent


Unravelling OliverUnravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can’t remember where I read about Liz Nugent’s novels, but I don’t think it was on any of the popular / conventional thriller lists. So I am very glad I came across them.

I read both her books, “Lying in Wait” and “Unraveling Oliver” back to back and this is almost like a joint review of them. Both books base their stories on a foundation of human depravity and auto-centric conniving characters. I like that every chapter is narrated by a character, moving the story forward, revealing differing perspectives and conclusions on the same event. This is especially interesting when one of the characters fails to understand / discover the depths of another character’s deceit or duplicity.

The story begins with a powerful hook and you cannot help yourself but read on, because the reveal is so gradual – the event itself becomes less important, its the reasons that lead to the event that become much more interesting. There is something satisfying about the author’s unrestrained depiction of her low-life characters.

This is not a ‘whodunnit’, but more of a ‘whydunnit’ – and that is what makes it psychologically thrilling.

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Book Review: The Short Drop by Matthew FitzSimmons


5/5 STARS!!!!!!!

27239265Well…. that was pretty intense, exciting and enjoyable!
Gibson Vaughn is like the American equivalent of Cormoran Strike – in a refreshing, believable and non-super hero kind of way; and this first book builds a great back story for him. This is not a James Bond / Mitch Rapp equivalent and I’m so grateful to Matthew FitzSimmons for keeping it real. I am definitely looking forward to the release of the next one in October this year.

The story hooks you from the very first page and keeps the tempo up throughout. There is something about surveillance videos of missing persons that just keeps you glued and I’m sharing no more than that. Though I was able to guess the plot before the big reveal, that didn’t spoil it for me, it was still super interesting till the end.

Usually, in this genre, the lead character is either unbelievably ‘uber cool’ or so ‘flawed’ that it doesn’t seem real anymore and I find it hard to relate to. But I liked all the characterizations in this book. They are well balanced, and don’t fall into the usual cliched territory. The other thing that sets this one apart is that while the book is so fast paced, its not a shallow story and makes one care for its characters. It will stick in the mind for a while.

I think this story is perfect for American TV or at least a movie, though I think 2 hours wouldn’t do justice to all the plot lines.

Read it!!

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Book Review – The Killings at Badger’s Drift by Caroline Graham


4/5 STARS

The Killings at Badgers DriftA classic mystery thriller that takes you back to those quaint English villages, where time seems to move slowly, everyone knows everyone, and everybody has something to hide. Yet, while the story seems to be set in a conservative time, it brings out a most sinister and twisted plot and a range of characters, all of whom seem to have a motive to kill.

The writing is so different from how books are written today, refined in a way that you cannot rush through the book, and definitely something that can build your vocabulary. Reminded me a little bit of Agatha Christie’s Poirot stories where you are always guessing till the end and this one definitely keeps the final revelation hanging to the last.

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