The Girl on the Train

Category : A book that’s becoming a movie this year
Title : The Girl on the Train
Author : Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train is a psychological thriller written in a format that seems like journal entries. The main character Rachel takes the same train to London everyday and back and watches the houses by the track. She observes a couple on their deck everyday, starts to imagine the story of their lives and becomes rather obsessed with what she sees as a perfect marriage.

The girl on the trainAs the story unfolds, we find out about her own failed marriage and her alcoholism that are driving her into depression. She holds on to her image of the happy couple, endlessly obsessing over the little scraps of information she can gather about them each day as the train passes their house twice a day. The one day the lady she has been watching in the house by the track goes missing and the saga begins.

Rachel finds herself unable to stay away and becomes more and more entangled in the mystery. She believes she is involved in the disappearance of the woman and keeps trying to find out what happened, while battling her own demons at the same time. Her obsession with her ex-husband and his new wife lands her in trouble many times and she is desperately trying to stay afloat in the mess that is her life.

The Girl on the Train is a fast paced read, though pretty dark and gloomy at times. The writing style is fluid and keeps you hooked. There are three points of view through which we see the story unfold – that of Rachel herself, of Anna – the ex-husband’s wife, and the lady who has disappeared. The story is not strictly chronological, so that when the narrator changes, so does the time line and the reader must piece together a coherent thread from the somewhat unreliable ramblings of the three women. All the lead characters are unlikable and pretty messed up. Who is to be trusted? Who is telling the truth? How are they all connected? Did Rachel have a hand in the disappearance of the woman, in one of her alcohol induced black-outs?

I quite enjoyed the book, if one can ‘enjoy’ a depressing tale of deception, mainly because of the solid plot and narration, and also because of the way the characters are developed. As the story progresses, one must constantly re-evaluate one’s assumptions about the characters and that keeps one pretty involved. I must say that once or twice, I thought I knew who the culprit was, then I decided maybe I had the wrong person. However, I was right. All in all, if you like psychological thrillers that screw with your mind and make you look at everyone with suspicion, you’re going to love this one. I’m also looking forward to the movie now, in which Emily Blunt is playing Rachel.

Quick update on my progress with the reading challenge. I have finished reading two more books – an autobiography and a book I can finish in a day and am currently reading a book based on a fairy tale.

Career of Evil – Another kind of magic

Category : A murder mystery
Title : Career of Evil
Author : Robert Galbraith a.k.a J. K. Rowling

Murder mysteries are the best kind of books there are. If every book I read had a murder mystery, I’d be very happy. No, seriously! This is the genre I love the best – be it books or TV series or movies. Add to it a master narrator, and you simply can not go wrong. But J. K. Rowling? Really? Wasn’t she supposed to stick to children’s books? I mean, granted that Harry Potter was pure magic, no pun intended, but writing a murder mystery, and that too for adults, surely requires a different set of skills.

I can only say one thing. Do not make the mistake I made. Do not under-estimate J. K. Rowling. Ever. Even when she writes under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

To be honest, this preamble is not really for Career of Evil. This is actually the third book in the Cormoran Strike series. I had this reaction when I had picked up the first one – The Cuckoo’s Calling. A few chapters into that one, and I was completely hooked. I read that one greedily, and the next one – The Silkworm, and Career of Evil was no different.

Cormoran Strike is a private detective – a veteran of the British army, who has lost a leg while in service, a dishevelled looking giant of a man with a sharp and methodical investigative brain. Robin Ellacott is his brilliant and gutsy secretary-cum-partner who is helping him keep the business afloat. Career of Evil begins with Robin receiving a severed leg of a woman, neatly packaged and delivered by courier. Strike can think of at least three men from his past, capable of sending this grisly artefact. And thus begins a painstaking and dangerous hunt that threatens not only their detective agency, but also their very lives. The profile of a psychopathic serial killer slowly forms in the shadows but remains elusive as Strike and Robin try to determine if it is indeed one of the three men Strike suspects or someone entirely different.

The plot is simply brilliant. So are the main characters. The chemistry between Strike and Robin is built up beautifully. What is most surprising for someone who comes with pre-conceived notions about what to expect from J. K. Rowling is how mature the book is. Rowling does not flinch from a rather grim and gory subject, indeed the plot turns quite dark in places. This is a book for adult readers and the characters are grey and complex, the narrative entirely without any sugar-coating. It is a classic page-turner, she manages to get the reader very involved in Strike and Robin’s fates. I usually don’t pick up books without reading their reviews first, unless I’m so involved in the series that I simply need my next fix – this is one of those. I’m going to keep reading each one, so keep ’em coming, Ms. Rowling.

Verdict : Highly recommended. If you are a murder mystery fan, you can not afford to miss this series, but if you are new to Cormoran Strike, please start from The Cuckoo’s Calling. The stories are unrelated, but the character development is important too and while each one can be enjoyed as a stand alone, I feel readers will miss a certain something if they jump straight to the third one.

Next in line : A book that’s becoming a movie this year.

Where The Air Is Sweet

Category : Book with a blue cover
Title : Where The Air Is Sweet
Author : Tasneem Jamal

Where the air is sweet

Sometime last year, I was listening to my usual radio program – The Current on CBC on my way to work. With the backdrop of the currently on-going refugee crisis, the host was talking to authors who had written novels about immigrants and refugees. It was there that I heard Tasneem Jamal talk about her book Where The Air Is Sweet. I was quite impressed by how articulate the author was and how sensitively she spoke about her book and why it was important for her to tell this story of immigration, expulsion and seeking refuge and starting all over in a new land.

 

Being an immigrant myself, I’m always interested in reading about others who have moved away from a land they have always known and are trying to find their footing in an unknown place that may or may not be welcoming. Where The Air Is Sweet does not disappoint. It is the story of Raju, an Indian man who moves to Uganda in search of a better life. Continue reading

Bertie Plays the Blues, Makes Me Happy

Category: A book that’s guaranteed to bring you joy
Title: Bertie Play the Blues
Author: Alexander McCall Smith

Among the very first books that come to mind when I think what will definitely make me feel better and give me joy are the books in Alexander McCall Smith’s series ‘44 Scotland Street‘. Bertie Plays the Blues is the 7th title in the series and lives up to the promise of bringing much gladness to the reader’s heart.

The 44 Scotland Street series is the story of residents of that beautiful Scottish city, Edinburgh. I hesitate to call it a ‘story’, because it doesn’t follow classic plot lines with a start, a middle and an end. It is instead a narration of their days, a peek into their living rooms and kitchens and hearts and minds. McCall Smith first started writing this as an episodic serial novel, with a chapter published in The Scotsman newspaper every weekday. I can only imagine the eager anticipation with which the readers must have looked forward to their daily dose of Bertie, Domenica, Angus, Pat, Bruce and the lot.

And that’s the thing about these characters – they’re not heroes or villains. They are your everyday people, the kind of people you would run into on your morning walk or at the coffee shop, but with their unique personalities and idiosyncrasies, each of them just living their lives with as much (which in certain cases is not much) grace as they can muster. No great saga is unfolding – and therein lies the genius of the series. Continue reading

The Ghost Brush

Category: A book about a culture you are unfamiliar with
Title: The Ghost Brush
Author: Katherine Govier

It was a happy coincidence that I had already brought home ‘The Ghost Brush‘ from the library a couple of weeks before I stumbled across the reading challenge. It was the beautifully designed cover that had attracted me to it first. Japanese culture has always fascinated me and the synopsis of the book promised a bewitching look into 19th century Japan through the eyes of Oei, the daughter and apprentice of the legendary artist Hokusai. The Ghost Brush was a perfect read as a book about a culture I was unfamiliar with.

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It is a beautifully written book that takes the reader headlong into a tumultuous and colourful world of Japan’s Edo period. 8 year old Oei accompanies her father, the great painter Hokusai as he rubs shoulders with other artists, writers, prostitutes and common people. She sees a very adult world through a child’s eyes as she learns to paint under her father’s tutelage. Continue reading

New Year, New Challenge

Every year when the new year rolls by, people start making new years resolutions. Every year, I wonder if I have what it takes to undertake a reading challenge. Every year, I stop short of finding out, making some excuse or the other – ‘Of course I can do it, what’s to find out, just that this year is going to be a little busy. Maybe next year.’

Not this year. This year, I am going to find out.

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Popsugar posted this wonderful reading challenge that caught my eye. The categories are interesting and they will ensure I will read a wide variety of books. Many will pull me outside my comfort zone and make me read books I wouldn’t have picked up on my own. Some of them will even take a little bit of research to find a book that will fit the category. I’m already enjoying the process of picking and choosing and adding books to my to-read list.

Manjiri plans to take it up too. So wish us luck. And join us on this journey as we try to read through the 41 books that this challenge demands from us.

First up – ‘A book about a culture you’re unfamiliar with’.

 

Discovering the Essence of Independence: A Book List

When I was asked to create a book-list to be shared for Independence Day, I started thinking of what independence means to me. For me, being independent means, speaking with my own voice (loving who I am), choosing my own direction, being a part of a diverse world and contributing in my own distinct way.

The books that I am sharing with you today, all deal with these different facets of independence.

It is Good to be Me

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1. A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni

Age: 2-6 years

Poor chameleon has to change color wherever he goes, and feels that he has no color of his own. Later he meets a much wiser chameleon and understands that he remains the same in essentials, even though his outer surface keeps on changing colors. He finds inner peace. Continue reading