Book Review Books

Book Review: Kafka on the Shore

Kafka on The Shore, written by Haruki Murakami and translated to English by Philip Gabriel. It tells the stories of Kafka, a young boy of 15 who runs away from home and an old man Nakata, who has an uncanny ability to talk to cats.

Kafka runs away from his father’s home and finds shelter in a private library in Takamatsu, run by Miss Saeki and the intelligent and more welcoming Oshima. There he spends his days reading the unabridged Richard Francis Burton translation of One Thousand and One Nights and the collected works of Natsume Sōseki until the police begin inquiring after him in connection with the murder of his father that he is not sure if he has committed or not. Oshima brings him to the forests of Kōchi Prefecture, where Kafka goes through an other-worldly experience and is ultimately healed.

Nakata’s story starts with military reports of a strange incident where multiple children, including Nakata, collapse in the woods. Nakata is the only one who came out of the incident without any memory and unable to read and write. Later on it is shown that due to his uncanny ability of being able to talk to cats, Nakata has found part-time work in his old age as a finder of lost cats. As his story progresses, Nakata kills a man named Johnnie Walker, a cat murderer. After that, he goes on the road for the first time in his life, unable even to read a map and without knowing where he will eventually end up. He befriends a truck driver named Hoshino, who takes him on as a passenger in his truck and soon becomes very attached to the old man and both head for Takamatsu, an unknown force driving him there.

Kafka on the Shore mixes magical realism, mystery and sexuality and with a young boy and an old man at the centre of the story, it piques the interest from the very beginning. As the stories of Kafka and Nakata unfold, it is clear that at some point their lives will intertwine. Kafka’s father is murdered and though Kafka is miles away, he finds himself soaked in blood when he wakes up and Nakata too has killed a man called Johnnie Walker. The mystery of Kafka’s father’s murder follows them both throughout.

I started the book with some apprehension as it is somewhat large but as the pages turned the story kept me hooked. There is just the correct blend of mystery and magic in the book. What happens when the line between conscious and subconscious dissolves? Kafka on the Shore answers this question through the characters. This was my second Murakami book and I loved this one too. A must read for everyone.

My rating: 4.8/5

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Book Review: The Hollow

What is the first thought that comes to the mind of a famous detective as he walks in for a luncheon and finds that a man is dying of a gun shot wound and someone is standing next to him with a gun?

Agatha Christie is a name that needs no introduction. She is arguably one of the best crime writers of all time and Hercule Poirot a formidable detective. A group of relatives and close friends have gathered to spend a weekend together at The Hollow and one of them is killed just when Hercule Poirot arrives for a lunch party at the house of the Angkatells. The wife stands over the dead body with a gun in her hands and everything seems simple enough about the case until it isn’t.

There are many twists in the plot and police’s and Poirot’s suspicion moves from one member of the party to another. Some family secrets are revealed during the investigation and everytime Poirot seems to be getting close to the answer, the facts bring a dead-end. The simplicity of scene of the murder confuses Poirot and this simple murder creates the biggest twist in the story.

Agatha Christie’s characters are as always perfect and meant to be there. She creates the perfect suspects and all of them have a motive for murder. Hercule Poirot is as always dynamic in his presence but this time he doesn’t have much investigation to carry out. Compared to her other works with Poirot at the helm, this has lesser presence of him and most of the story revolved around the Angkatells and their guests at The Hollow. The Hollow is more of a victim’s and suspects’ story rather than a story of Poirot’s investigative prowess. But, it is a good and enjoyable murder mystery.

My rating: 4.1/5

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Book Review: The Desolations of Devil’s Acre

“How many people would spend their lives among shades and ghosts, were they able? Every parent who’d lost a child, every lover who’d lost a mate: If they had the choice, wouldn’t most do the same? We’re all riddled with holes, and there were days when I would’ve done anything to patch mine, if just for a while. I was glad I didn’t have a choice. Gladder still that I didn’t have the powers of an ymbryne. The temptation to misuse them would’ve been overwhelming.”

The Desolations of Devil’s Acre: final part of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It all comes down to the final battle between the biggest evil Caul and the peculiar children in this sixth and final instalment of the series. There is no need for me to say that I had been waiting with eager excitement for this book to release.

The Desolations of Devil’s Acre starts where The Conference of the Birds ended; with the world going black for Jacob and Noor. They both find themselves in the backyard of Jacob’s grandfather’s house and from there on another struggle to survive begins.

Caul is back and more powerful and dangerous than before. He has a vendetta against his sister, Elma or Miss Peregrine as she is widely known and wants to enslave all peculiar children to do his bidding. What ensues now is a struggle to survive and defeat Caul before he destroys everything the ymbrynes have been working hard to build and protect.

The novel is full of action and there is never a dull moment. Where The Conference of the Birds may have been a little slow in the beginning, this one starts with a fight with a wight (eyeless men who kill without remorse) and continue with one adventure after another. Time travelling right into the middle of 2nd World War is also aptly written. Ransom Riggs has done justice to the setting of the War and to the whole fantasy genre as a whole. And the photographs he uses add to the joy of reading this book. It renders a surreal quality to the story and the author’s idea of using the photos has been great.

My one complain: all the original peculiar children should have been part of more action. I guess I am a bit biased towards them but once you start a series with particular characters, they sort of grow on you and you want them everywhere. Other than that, I think it was perfect.

The fact that this was the last part of an amazing book series made me want to read the book as fast as I could and yet not want to ever end the series. I had read the 1st part back in 2016 and I am so glad I picked up Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to read. I know for sure that soon enough I will be re-reading the series from the beginning.

My rating: 4.9/5

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Book Review: The Confessions of Frannie Langton

The Confessions of Frannie Langton has affected me more than I thought it would. Frances Langton, our protagonist, a “mulatta” girl – as she is often referred to as – is charged with the murder of her master and mistress, George Benham and his wife Marguerite Benham. The story starts with the trial of Frannie who is being called The Mulatta Murderess by the press. She is writing her story on advice of her lawyer who has given her some papers, pen and ink to occupy herself while she is imprisoned.

Her story begins with her childhood, while she is a slave at “Paradise”, a Jamaican plantation where she is an reluctant assistant to Langton, who conducts horrific experiments on the slaves. He then gives her away to Benham in the hope of gaining some favour after his wife and her brother turn him out of Paradise.

As her new journey begins, with new kind of chores, Frances finds herself in love with her Madam and from hereon nothing is as simple as it should be. And, suddenly Frannie finds herself implicated for the murders of her master and mistress.

I never would have done what they say I’ve done, to Madame, because I loved her. Yet they say I must be put to death for it, and they want me to confess. But how can I confess what I don’t believe I’ve done?”

Frances Langton’s story starts with these lines and with this our author, Sara Collins has built a wonderful, moving and engrossing story of a slave who falls in love with her mistress. The fact that she doesn’t “believe” that she has killed them instead of saying that she “has not” killed them is in itself beginning of a most intriguing story.

Slavery, slave trade and macabre of all that used to happen in such estates as Paradise in the name of Science has been intricately woven with the life story of Frannie Langton. Sara Collins uses various shades of gothic novel in this period novel and she is not afraid to write about the grotesque.

Depression, drug addiction and homosexuality are also some of the taboo topics that this wonderful work talks about. The love and attraction between Frances and her Madame are not only central to the plot but is also a reflection upon the dreary nature of society of that time and even now.

In this fast moving novel, the journey we partake with Frannie through Paradise and then London to the gallows where she is being held during her trial, is a memorable one and kudos to the writer for writing such an awesome story. This is one intriguing work and I loved it a lot.

I will not declare the murderer or what the jury decide at the trial, and end with Frannie’s words –

“A man writes to separate himself from the common history. A woman writes to try to join it.”

My rating: 5/5

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Book Review: The Conference of the Birds

A prophecy, a girl who needs to be saved from an unknown danger and lots of action, the fifth book in the Peculiar Children Series, The Conference of the Birds is another riveting book.

Starting from where we left off in A Map of Days, we follow Jacob as he rescues Noor and takes her to Devil’s Acre with him. Finding herself for the first time in a place full of peculiars, she is overwhelmed and overjoyed at the same time. She meets the wards of Miss Peregrine and they accept her as one of their own.

What follows is a brainstorming session to find and understand the meaning of the prophecy which makes Noor so important for survival of the peculiars and how to get her to safety. At the same time, Jacob is sucked into the dissent between the peculiar clans of America even as the Ymbrynes try to sort it all and bring peace in Peculiar America.

Ransom Riggs creates another masterpiece and does justice to every character of his book. Jacob and Noor may have been in the spotlight but he ensures that every one of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children get their share of storyline. Also, Ransom Riggs gives a lot of focus on importance of friends and family. Even though Jacob acted impulsively and left Devil’s Acre to find Noor alone, his friends followed him to help, giving him a lesson that family always stands for one another even when they are angry at them. They also accept Noor as one on their own without any questions because she is Jacob’s friend.

The story is full of action and where A Map of Days had seemed a little slow to me, The Conference of the Birds moves ahead full throttle. Jacob, the only hollow-hunter left to help the peculiars, is again set on the task of finding a hollow and wights after they escape from their prison in Devil’s Acre. The discovery of a new Loop of what I would call “Dead People Walking” is wonderful and eerie. There is also the budding romance between Jacob and Noor as they find themselves coming closer amidst all the chaos.

The ending paves way for another sequel and I’m sure with the return of the ever powerful and super evil villain, Caul, the next book too will be full of action and adventure.

My rating: 4.9/5

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Book Review: A Map of Days

The fourth part of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, A Map of Days by Ransom Riggs does not disappoint. Having finished the first three parts back in early 2017, I came to know of this fourth instalment only last year. Since then, I have been meaning to read this but never actually managing to squeeze this in my never ending TBR pile. But this July, I finally managed to read the book and enjoyed it.

A Map of Days starts where Library of Souls left, the Peculiar Children appearing at Jacob’s door to save him from his parents who were about to commit him to asylum. The Peculiar Children are now ageing at a normal pace, just like normals and they wish to use this advantage to blend in with the others in today’s world.

What starts for Jacob with a commitment to help the children and the ymbrynes soon transforms into his desire to be a hollow – hunter like his grandfather. He now undertakes a mission to help another peculiar with some of his friends.

A Map of Days, like it’s previous three books is very interesting and full of unexpected twists. Ransom Riggs has continued the story in the same engrossing way and the pictures he uses add perfect surrealism to the story.

Transition between years as the children and Jacob move from one time zone to another is seamless and attention to details of a particular era is commendable. Emma & Jacob’s relationship is also worth mentioning. Though Jacob had loved his grandfather, Abe, ghost of dead grandfather as Emma’s lover is still haunting him & Emma as deep down Emma is still not over Abe.

Personally, I think the book could have moved at a faster pace. The attention to details is important here specially when you are “loop” travelling but it also slowed down the plot a little. A little more action would certainly have given the readers some more fun. But, other than that, I can find no fault in A Map of Days. It is a must read series for all.

Two of my favourite quotes from the book:

“All my life, normal people had mostly baffled me-the ridiculous ways they strove to impress one another, the mediocre goals that seemed to drive them, the banality of their dreams. The way people rejected anything that didn’t fit their narrow paradigm of acceptability, as if those who thought or acted or dressed or dreamed differently from them were a threat to their very existence.”

“it’s a lot of cheese.” “It’s the pinnacle of human achievement,” he declared seriously. “I thought Britain was an empire. But this—this—is world domination!”

My rating: 4.8/5

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Book review: Thirteen Reasons Why

You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life.” – Hannah Baker in Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. In the month of mental health awareness, I picked up this book. Having heard so much about the book, I was quite excited to read Thirteen Reasons Why. It’s about Hannah Baker, the girl who committed suicide and her tapes that she has left for some of her “friends”, 13 people who are in some way responsible for her final act.

The story begins with Clay receiving a shoe box full of tapes which he realises are from Hannah who has been dead for a few weeks now. In the tapes, she talks about all that happened to her and why she took such a drastic action.

The author, Jay Asher has built an amazing story with a continuity that forces one to turn to the next page to know what happened next. Hannah’s account along with Clayton’s narrative of the same time period makes this a very intriguing read.

Though you know what happens in the end, the story grips you because it’s not about what happens but about how it happens. The mental trauma that certain acts can have on others is depicted in a very real manner.

Hannah declares in the first cassette itself that she is making the tapes for people who were responsible for her suicide. From that moment on Clay is intrigued and worried because he liked her and can’t figure out when and how he hurt her so much.

First person narration of both Hannah’s and Clay’s stories is what makes this one a different and intriguing experience and really leaves a mark. I feel that this book is a must read.

My rating: 4.9/5

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Book Review: The Autumn of the Patriarch

The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel García Márquez. The story starts with the people of an unnamed Caribbean nation finding their tyrannical dictator withered and dead in his house, alone. The man who used to have people killed at his whim and children drowned without any remorse has died a humiliating mortal death.

The story goes on about the atrocities committed by the General and how he ruled over the people with an iron fist. In his own style, Gabriel García Márquez depict autocrats, autocracy and the conquest for power in general.

Most of his story-telling has been through the realms of magical realism and in The Autumn of the Patriarch too, he explores the world of deep politics in the same manner. He describes a tumultuous world being ruled over by greed, corruption, and abuse of power.

Márquez has not given a name or nation to the autocrat, thereby making him a universal entity and the country could be anywhere in the world and the situation could allude to any human being.

“…but he learned to live with those and all the miseries of glory as he discovered in the course of his uncountable years that a lie is more comfortable than doubt, more useful than love, more lasting than truth,…”

There are words like these that have made Márquez the wonderful story teller that he his and this is the reason people love his books.

The narration of Márquez is as always brilliant but the extremely long sentences are quite bothersome in the beginning. Sometimes, a sentence goes on for pages and the book certainly requires a high level of concentration. I grew quite restless at times while reading the book because at times it felt like nothing was moving forward, but then I made myself continue to read it and I’m quite glad I did so.

My rating: 3.9/5

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Book Review: Little Women

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is a book that I have been meaning to read for a long time. And finally, this March I picked up the book for March prompt of Reading With Muffy challenge. Little Women is about four sisters and one of the most trying years of their lives where they learn to love, share and face the trials and tribulations of life together.

The story begins with the girls preparing for Christmas without their father, who has gone to the war. The girls, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy are amiable young ladies with the oldest 17 years of age. They discuss their hopes and dreams with each other and their mother. In the course of the year that progresses, the four girls learn to love and cherish each other and their home even more as they learn more about life through the various experiences.

The eldest, Meg dreams of living a lavish, comfortable life like they used to before their father lost all his money; Jo is a headstrong girl who writes stories and is highly passionate; Beth is the quietest of all who takes care of all and has a passion for music; Anne is the youngest and the most pampered.

As is common in reading a story written more than one and a half century ago, many decisions of the characters may not make sense to the readers of the 21st century. But, what I found in this book is that nowhere is it preachy or confines ladies to the domestic world. Jo is the biggest example who makes her decisions and is not shy to earn money by selling her written work. Little Women is a beautifully written story and I’m glad I read it.

My rating: 4.8/5

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Book Review: The Kiss Quotient

This February I picked up a romance to read. I don’t dislike the genre and there have been a few good books that I have read. So this year, on the occasion of Valentine’s Day, I read The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang.

The story is about a successful career oriented girl, Stella who is awkward in social situations and a good looking guy, Michael who works as a part time hooker. She hires the guy to teach her certain skills that she doesn’t have and also to teach her how to date.

The premise of the story is fine and there are times when it’s even interesting for a few pages. But mostly I didn’t like it. The characters are not relatable. There is so little time spent with them and so much is spent on sex that it reads more like a M&B book. And I personally outgrew them in high school.

What Helen Hoang needed to do was spend some more time with the lead characters. A successful autistic heroine is a good start but all she does is stay lost in her work and think about sex. There is nothing else to her.

The Kiss Quotient did not leave a very content feeling for me. So yeah, I won’t recommend it to anyone.

My rating: 2.5/5