Well, there are books and there are great books. This one certainly falls in the later category. You want to know why, let me tell you without weighing you down with too many details. So here’s a review of Leigh Bardago’s fantasy novel, King of Scars in short.
A self-obsessed but charming king who hides a demon inside, literally. A demon that he must purge or face the prospect of losing his kingdom and crown. And he can’t afford to do that. This has been his selfish dream carefully nurtured since childhood. Meet, Nikolai Lantsov — the handsome glib talker.
The second protagonist and my favourite character. Nikolai’s commander of forces. Strong, captivating with the acerbic tongue — the one who can control the wind. Zoya. Also a someone who must overcome the darkness of her past to become what she truly is. A powerful Greisha who can become. Anything.
Are we not all things?
And then, there is the competent but emotional spy who is fighting the death of her beloved, Matthias whose body she must bury and more importantly let him go. She has been speaking to him since his mysterious death. Nina has recently got over her addiction of parem, a magical drug. Not to forget, that she can hear voices of the dead. A complex but a highly likable character.
There are several other characters like the morose but good-hearted Adrik, Hanne — the Fjerdian Grisha in hiding who lights up Nina’s dark world and makes her smile again and Isaac, the palace guard who is transformed to play Nikolai’s doppelganger — a role he plays well until love creeps in.
Bardago takes these enigmatic, charismatic and complex individuals and throws them in grand and adverse situations to carve out a story that takes your breath away. We even get a Saint for a villain with a hive of bees as her aide.
Their stories race and interlace to create a magical, thrilling, awe-inducing saga which unfolds in Grishaverse, an imaginary but immensely credible and enticing world.
There are carve balls at every corner. Clever plot twists that you don’t see coming. A subtle and held-back romance between Zoya and Nikolai. Hair-raising adventure in every chapter and not a single dull moment where you feel like discarding the book and opting for Netflix instead — a rare achievement for a writer.
Easily the best book I have read in a long, long time. I don’t think I will take things too far if I say, the best read since Rowling’sHarry Potter. This one is albeit meant for adult readers.
King of Scars is a rare concoction of awe-inspiring creativity, brilliant plot development and impeccable character arcs. Garnished with a lenient sprinkling of psychology, philosophy, Russian history and culture, mythology and more.
A masterclass for fantasy writers or writers of any genre.
The next book in the series is Rule of Wolves. It’s a duology and I am on it, already. Wait up for my review.
A tome of 500 plus pages, which begins in Yeongdo, Busan in 1910, the year Japan annexed Korea, Pachinko makes you ruminate with its opening sentence. I’ve quoted the sentence right at the top. I had to.
I read this sentence numerous times before progressing further. I came back and visited it time and again during the course of reading this poignant, heart-wrenching and calmly observant novel about Koreans in Japan -who never quite became Japanese.
Rarely do you find a historic novel which with its very first line captures the essence of what blazes through its pages. Reminding you each time, that an immigrant never really settles. Never finds a place that she can truly call home. Or, does she?
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, a Korean-American writer, is the story of immigrants who struggle with their identities and life. Even after becoming Japanese in every possible manner, and camouflaging their Korean roots, they live in fear. Haunted by the ghosts of their past and challenges of the present.
Pachinko is also a story of a woman named Suja. In fact, this is where the story begins. Suja was born to a cleft-lipped, limping Hoonie –a fisherman with a heart of gold and a soft-spoken and docile Yangjin.
Suja’s childish innocence is cut short when she falls for a gangster, Hansu and gets pregnant. To hide a child born out of wedlock, she marries a kind-hearted pastor, Isak, on her mother’s insistence and moves out of the coastal village, the only world she knows. Away from a man who has broken her heart.
In Osaka, where her new life unfolds, at the home of her brother-in-law, she finds out that the Koreans are treated poorly and lead a miserable existence. It is here in this home, Sunja finds her first friend in her sister-in-law, the childless Kyunghee. The bond between these two women forms the backbone of the story. Their sisterhood emboldens them to tide over life’s hardships. Particularly after Isak’s death, when Suja is widowed with two sons. And the women turn to selling kimchi on the road to make a living.
What Suja doesn’t realize or uncovers later, is that Hansu never disappeared from her life. He was always watching over her.
Suja’s two sons, Noa and Mozasu take the story forward. Noa, academically brilliant, ambitious and assured of his heritage is devastated when he learns of his true lineage. He is the son of a gangster. A yazuka who was sponsoring his education. A man he had worshipped until then. Guilt-ridden, he gives up his education and finds refuge in a small Japanese town as a bookkeeper and severes all ties with his family.
Years later, when his mother pays him a visit, he commits suicide.
Mozasu on the other hand, through his hard work, flourishes as the owner of Pachinko (gambling) parlors. His son, Solomon has to go through a web of deceit and heartbreak before finding his way and joining his father’s business.
There are several other minor characters who add depth and provide a closer an intimate look at the immigrant experience.
The character-driven novel comes to a befitting end when Suja on visiting her husband’s grave learns that her son, Noa had been visiting his father’s grave, while living as a Japanese with his family.
There was consolation. The people you loved, they were always there with you, she had learned.
Min Jin Lee
What I Loved:
Min Jin Lee employs a calm, at times distant, philosophical tone that works magic for this inter-generational drama.
A historical novel must be rich with research and yet never be overbearing and drown the reader with facts and figures.
Pachinko nails this fine balance.
Kudos to the author for researching a vital yet often ignored or forgotten part of Korean-Japanese history.
A brilliant cast of characters.
Each unique and different from the other enrich the plot.
I won’t forget Suja, Noa and Hansu for a long, long time.
I could feel them inhabiting my home, my world.
What I Hated:
Pachinko’s not a book that you will finish in one sitting.
If you’re looking for instant gratification, please give it a pass.
The pace acts against it.
Many might abandon this saga in between as nothing much happens in terms of plot twists.
But then, this is not a pacy thriller. It’s a work of literary fiction, which sheds light on an important chapter of history, which you as a discerning reader mustn’t miss.
They had an ordinary life, full of ordinary things – if love can ever be called that.
For the uninitiated, I mean those of you who have not been introduced to Leigh Bardugo’s fantasy world, this particular set (there are several others) has 3 books:
Shadow & Bone
Seige & Storm
Ruin & Rising
All 3 will be adapted to screen on Netflix. In fact, the first of the series, Shadow & Bone is already available for you to watch.
Bardugo’s books unfold in a world where there is magic, darkness, romance and violence — loads of it. Every book of the series is an adventurous ride with twists and turns at every corner. And filled with oodles of romance. Although, not once is the romance a distraction or a detour. Or, an attempt to spice up an otherwise boring plotline.
Come to think of it. The romance does spice up the plot. And the premise.
Let me start with the premise. And reserve my comments on the good and bad of the book, for the very end of the post.
The books are primarily set in the fictional land of Raavka.
There is a heroine who is a cartographer. An orphan who is unaware of her power. And her identity — she is a Grisha. A magical being who can summon light. Meet Alina Starkov.
Her rock is her childhood friend, an orphan too, Mal. A Tracker who can track and locate magical beings.
They are friends and become more subsequently.
Then, there is the Darkling. An immortal magician, the Black Hermit who can summon darkness. The creator of the Fold, a place also known as the Unsea, where his dark creatures or the Volcra hover and feed over those who dare to venture into it.
Alina’s powers are a foil to his dark magic. A possible way to destroying the Fold and restore peace in a war-ravaged land where the soldiers are given a sword and a uniform. And where even twelve-year-old boys are expected to join the army.
And then, there is the most interesting character of the entire series. Nikolai Lanstov. The “bastard” prince whose charm, beauty, courage and astuteness keep you hooked in Seige & Storm. In Ruin & Rising he is turned into a Volcra by the Darkling.
Oddly enough, I found the scenes between him, a Volcra and Alina in Ruin & Rising much more potent and powerful than all their encounters in Seige & Storm.
Anyway, back to Alina, the Sun Summoner and the three men in her life.
All three are hankering and competing for Alina’s affections. As a reader, you vouch for the Darkling (Alexander to Alina & his Mother only) and Nikolai to win her heart. But, with each book, the author only strengthens Mal’s suitor-ship.
Until Alina ends up with Mal. Although, he does pay for it with his life. Well, almost.
Nikolai loses her but, manages to become the king. His burning ambition is realized. And Raavka gets an able king. For the first time.
And Darkling, well, what do you think happens to him? He meets the fate of Voldemort or Ravana.
Does evil ever have a chance to win over good? Not in fiction, at least.
Here, too, the Darkling dies in Alina’s arms.
Who kills the Darkling?
Alina, of course. The naive girl he had helped with discovering and channelizing her powers. The one who thanks to him, catapulted into a Saint. The confounded soul who under his guidance was on her way to greatness. The enticing young woman he wished would become his eternal companion.
Of course, the Darkling is not without his flaws.
He is a man prone to violence. And drunk with power.
Killing the Darkling leaves Alina powerless. And Mal dead. With the help of the other Grishas, Mal is brought to life later on. Destroying the Fold, however, turns Alina into a mere mortal. An ordinary human. Her journey to greatness is cut short. But, for a larger and nobler cause.
Leigh Bardugo leaves us with Mal & Alina in the place where their stories began. The orphanage, which has now been revamped and spruced up with better living quarters and resources — with regular visits from Prince Nikolai himself.
Alina & Mal are happy and basking in their ordinariness. Although Alina continues to fight the demons of her past.
What I Loved:
The fantasy world.
It’s believable and gripping to say the least.
The detailing in creating the Grishaverse is a feast for the reader.
Well-rounded. Credible. Relatable. Charming.
If I were to choose one aspect of the book that stood out for me — it would be the character arcs and development.
Kudos to Bardugo for creating such different and powerful male characters.
And the side female characters, be it Zoya or Genya, they all stand out.
The plot twists and perfect pace.
I was never bored.
Dazedly and hurriedly, I turned the pages while the googlies kept coming.
The emphasis on love and hope and friendship over everything else.
Hope is tricky like water. Somehow it always finds a way in.
What I Hated:
Alina didn’t have to become ordinary to live an ordinary life.
There is nothing wrong with greatness.
Of all the male characters, Mal was the most unlikable and yet, he gets the girl.
This is a big letdown for the fans and readers.
Again, Leigh Bardugo’s penchant for glorifying the ordinary makes for a tepid finis to an otherwise captivating fantasy-romance series.
Writing is an isolated endeavor but the joy of sharing your stories with the world makes it tolerable and even worth sticking to. However, at times you bleed a tale that in hindsight you wish you didn’t have to share with anyone. Not even with the ones closest to you. This story is one of them. Here’s the blurb:
“Not all that’s nurtured blooms.”
In the sleepy town of Agartala, a honeymooning couple stumbles upon the dead body of a woman buried in their backyard.
The body is found to be that of a woman named Rituparna Bagdi. A popular English teacher who gave Mathematics tuitions to her senior students.
The principal of Rituparna’s school is shocked to hear of her demise. She had resigned only a month ago – rather abruptly through an email. And vanished without warning.
As Inspector Jui Roy investigates her first big case after being side-lined for years, she stumbles upon Rituparna’s diary. In her diary, the young, brilliant and popular school teacher mentions three men.
One, her ex-husband Mrinal Chatterjee. An alcoholic and fledgling actor who had a love-hate relationship with his wife.
Two, her colleague, the Mathematics teacher Virendra Jha who was losing a chunk of his tuitions to the new English teacher.
Three, Paul Jamatia, an eighteen-year-old, poor tribal student who is a Maths genius in the making.
While Inspector Roy and SI Das investigate the murder, the three men reveal why they loved, hated and wanted Rituparna.
Only one of them is a murderer.
But, the question is who and why?
With this book, we see the rise of Inspector Jui Roy and her partner in solving crime, SI Pritam Das.
In the video, I tell you why you must read this amazon bestselling crime thriller.
After the heartwarming response to my novella, Three Women & A Murder, my belief in writing psychological thrillers with a focus on the human mind and its trappings and not merely suspense mysteries/drama has been strengthened. So here’s another e-novella, which is about the befuddling murder of a housewife named Sukanya Swaminathan. It’s available on amazon kindle and is free on kindle unlimited.
The complete blurb:
Sukanya Swaminathan is dead. She committed suicide by jumping off from the terrace of her building, while her son slept in his room and her husband worked on a high priority project in his plush IT office.
It does seem like a case of suicide. Except for the fact that Sukanya’s face was burnt by acid.
As Inspector Raman and SI Nair investigate the death of a forty five year old housewife, they are befuddled by the complexity of the case.
Was Sukanya just another statistic? A depressed housewife jumping to her death. Or, did someone bump her off? And most importantly, what is Sukanya’s side of the story?
A rookie detective named Saurabh loses his fiancee Prerna on Karva Chauth. He discovers her lifeless body thrown out of the terrace of her posh bungalow in Delhi. Her family is distraught and the incompetent and corrupt Delhi police has no clue about the murderer. So now, he must find her killer along with his partner in crime and best buddy Keshav. Will they succeed in finding the killer who is lurking closer than they think?
This is the premise of Bhagat’s new novel, One Arranged Murder which is three hundred pages long.
One Arranged Murder is a quick read. You will flip through the pages. It will keep you hooked at least till the first 150 pages or so. Great humour. Overdose of drama as expected.
But at best, a pedestrian thriller, which should have been 100 pages shorter.
In the end, along with the great reveal comes a deluge of information ( with über and metro details of the killer) and a blunt revelation of motive, which is a drag and lacks the finesse of a Higashino — to put it mildly.
Also, the need to add humour in a thriller probably to play up the entertainment quotient ( from a screen adaptation perspective) and to please many takes the lustre away from what is supposed to be a murder mystery. It also comes across as shallow and insensitive at times. Honestly, disappointed as I don’t dislike Bhagat’s writing or his stories.
I do understand and empathise with the challenges of writing a thriller and there were no plot holes or chinks in the crime-solving. Although I wish that this book focused on friendship, relationships and the humour that’s born out of it, which is where it shines. Instead of forcefully turning it into a murder mystery/crime thriller.
What’s my rating on a scale of 1-5?
Do I recommend this book?
Um…Only if its Free on Kindle Unlimited. Or if you’re a fan of humorous, masala thrillers.
I opened the window and reached out my hand. I caught a snowflake. I watched it disappear, vanish from my fingertip. I smiled. And I went to catch another one.
The Silent Patient
I don’t read a book out of sympathy or empathy. I don’t read a book because someone’s a friend or a foe. I don’t read to brag or come across as an intellectual. Both of which I secretly detest. Well, no secret now…is it?
Often, I have discarded books purchased on amazon because I couldn’t get through the first chapter. Sometimes not even the first two pages. I am impatient. I am looking for a spark. A unique twist; an edge; a glittering thought or concept.
I don’t mind settling for an average story line — most romance novels have an average plot — so do many hyped and over-marketed thrillers and psychological thrillers (my preferred genres). I don’t read horror — although I want to dig into Stephen King sometime soon. My only fear is will he be a match to Edgar Allan Poe? A writer I deeply respect.
Anyway, when it comes to books what I can’t settle for or agree to is lazy writing. Lack lustre sub plots and characters. And of course, stealing of story ideas, character graphs and denouement.
After years of reading and pondering, I have now within me a well-installed crap-tracker. And it won’t tolerate stale nonsense that’s sold and churned out, every other day.
When I picked up The Silent Patient, a few of my friends and book reviewers told me that it’s an excellent read, raising my expectations even further. So a lot was at stake. In my mind. A lot had to be delivered. And boy was I stunned! My crap-tracker was duly slapped and silenced for a while.
Theo is damaged. Alicia is damaged too. The only difference between the two is that one is a patient, the other a doctor — a forensic psychiatrist.
Alicia shot her husband. Point blank with his gun. And then turned silent. Her silence is potent but confusing. No one knows if she actually committed the gruesome murder or if she is being framed for a crime she didn’t commit.
Theo who has been following the case and is a promising physiotherapist wants to find out why.
So he joins the Grove, a psychiatric unit which is about to be shut down to find out about the enigmatic and silent Alicia. A step viewed by his seniors and peers as career suicide.
Where the others have failed, Theo finds unique ways of getting through to Alicia. One of which is by allowing her to paint and interpreting her paintings. After all, Alicia is a renowned painter.
Through her paintings and by tracking her life and the people in it, Theo aims to save Alicia. But who will save Theo? A man who is not only fighting the ghastly demons of his past but is in reality a defeated husband yet to come to terms with his wife’s infidelity.
What happens to Alicia and Theo? Do they survive the darkness that has crippled them? More importantly, do they survive each other?
Using references of Greek tragedy, Alex Michaelides weaves a story which is gripping and stunningly original. Yes, it’s a psychological thriller. Yes, it’s domestic noir too. The trappings and mechanics of it are all too obvious.
But, but, and here’s why this book breaks new ground like Gone Girl, there is something inherently sophisticated about it. The crime; the motive; the resolution aims at unearthing the fathomless human mind. In all its complicity.
Unlike pulp thrillers which rely on the how and who of the crime; or numerous other psychological thrillers, which feed on the domestic undercurrents of a married couple to mount a story — The Silent Patient takes inspiration from the tried and tested, but ends up doing something starkly different and awe-inducing.
I am not going to give the story away. Suffices to say that the ending reminded me of Christie’sThe Murder of Roger Ackroyd. If you know your Christie, you must have figured it all out.
But then, it’s not the resolution that will startle you here, but the way it has been redefined and presented.
Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.
D H Lawrence
Begins D H Lawrence narrating a tale which upon its publication resulted in a lawsuit for its publisher Penguin — the judgement went in Penguin’s favour but that didn’t stop it from being banned in several countries for its pornographic and crude content. No wonder the banning and all the negative publicity resulted in the book’s huge success worldwide.
D H Lawrence was suffering from Tuberculosis when he wrote it. Although he wrote four versions of it. And his marriage with Frieda, a spirited woman who was having an affair with another man was in shambles. She had accused Lawrence of being impotent and a failure at satisfying her physical needs. Strangely, as Lawrence neared death and probably felt the acute lack of tenderness in his life, he thought of titling the novel as Tenderness.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover stands out for its detailed description of sex scenes; the almost romantic chronicling of love-making and the physical form and the use of unthinkable (in the 1920s) four-letter words. This book which became synonymous with D H Lawrence – despite his indubitable contribution to prose and verse earned him respect as a revolutionary and fearless writer and brickbats by many who considered him a sex-obsessed writer.
Now to the story. The story is quite simple, really. Clifford Chatterley who loves Constance marries her after honeymooning for a month in Europe. Later when he becomes an invalid (his lower body being paralyzed permanently) he settles with his wife in his father’s seat as the Baron in a forlorn home and with an insufficient income.
Constance, a country girl with soft blue eyes, curly brown hair and a womanly body is a thorough-bred provincial young woman who is accustomed to the ways of cosmopolitan provincialism. She and her sister Hilda are experienced in the ways of love and sex.
Clifford, a big man with broad shoulders despite being an invalid is of a happy temperament and is quite confident about himself and his marital relationship. Although he does turn sensitive, unsure and helpless at times owing to his physical handicap. He views physical intimacy as an adjunct or an accident and takes pride in the closeness he shares with Constance or Connie.
When they come to live in the lonely and large Wragby Hall, they feel cornered by the hostile colliers and villagers living nearby. Resentful at first, the Chatterley’s with time harden themselves to the hostility of the country people. Throwing light on the class divide, Lawrence writes:
Gulf impassable, and a quiet sort of resentment on either side. …A strange denial of the common pulse of humanity.
Clifford indulges in writing short stories and thinks highly of his writing talent. To bolster his ego and revel in the appreciation that is showered on him, he calls writers, critics and many other intellectuals to his residence. Connie participates in the beginning, but with time feels increasingly disconnected. This disconnection leads to a maddening restlessness that craves for physical intimacy. Wholeheartedly.
At this ripe moment, enters Mellors, the gamekeeper, an ex army man, in his late thirties, who despite being a gamekeeper seems to be different — like someone who has the potential to do better; whose manners are refined and who has experienced life. And Connie notices it.
Henceforth, begins an affair between Connie and Mellors which forms the central theme of this novel. Filled with exquisitely described physical scenes which ensnares the reader with its unwavering focus on the intensity and absurdity of love, Lawrence makes a winning case for the need for physicality in love. As Connie moves away from her husband, owing to her affair with Mellors, he finds solace in the companionship and care of Mrs Bolton, the caretaker who belongs to the country and is from lower strata.
What happens to Connie and Mellors? Do they find their silver lining? Read this erotic classic to find out.
Nailing the aspect of touch in human relationships. With love being no exception.
The chemistry between Lady Chatterley and Mellors.
Exploration of taboo subjects at that time. Extramarital relationships and sex.
Charlie is a teenager who is trying to navigate life, the best he can. He is a wallflower who has just lost his middle school best friend to suicide and his beloved aunt to an accident. He lives in the American suburb of Pittsburgh. And yes, he loves to communicate his deepest and darkest feelings through letters. He addresses his letters to a Dear Friend.
At school, his English teacher Bill sees what no one ever saw in Charlie. Potential. He assigns him books to read. Each book pushing him to explore and challenge himself a little more. Eventually Bill and Charlie become friends. Charlie confides in him about things he can’t disclose to anyone. Like his sister getting slapped by her boyfriend. She gets pregnant too by the same guy.
Although Bill likes Charlie, he is quite critical of him. At one point he tells Charlie, who has a habit of overthinking and internalizing his feelings that:
It’s just that sometimes people use thought to not participate in life.
With such ingenious and honest touches in dialogues and reflections, Chbosky who drew from his life and experiences to craft this epistolary novel makes this book a standout. For days after, I thought about how we use contemplation as a defense to stand back and observe. When all we should do is jump in there and get our hands and feet dirty. What fun is there in admiring the rain from a glassed room, when you can splash the water beneath your feet? Or raise your face towards heaven and feel the water touch and soothe your skin. Without thinking.
Then, later after you have finished reading the book, you realize that Charlie’s experiences, particularly his brush with sexual abuse have shaped him. And to get over what he had to endure as a child at the hands of his closest relative, Aunt Helen, whom he loved like no other, he chooses to live somewhere between realism, drug-induced daze and catatonia.
To make his life bearable and at times fun, he finds solace in mixed tapes and books. At school he befriends two kindred spirits, his seniors, the gay Patrick and his step-sister, Sam. Patrick is in the football team and is in love with Brad. Patrick’s unflinching love for Brad takes a toll on him when Brad on the insistence of his father and succumbing to peer pressure breaks up with him.
In despair, Patrick kisses his only friend Charlie. But, and this what I loved, Charlie forgives him because he sees that kiss as an extension of Patrick’s loneliness and his need for intimacy.
How mature and sensitive is that!
Also Charlie falls in love with the spirited and fun Sam, who after breaking up with her boyfriend and before leaving for college tries to bond with him. But, Charlie fails to respond to her physically as memories of sexual assault surface pushing him to a state of derealization.
Thankfully for him, he isn’t alone. He has his family and friends who help him with his recovery from drug use, mental health issues and heartbreak.
When he finally finds his way through the tunnel, he lets the wind hit his face. He doesn’t think. He just participates, crying and laughing at the same time.
And, he stops writing letters by bidding adieu to his imaginary friend:
…I’m not sure if I will have the time to write any more letters because I might be too busy trying to participate. So, if this does end up being my last letter, please believe that things are good with me, and even when they’re not, they will be soon enough. And I will believe the same about you.
The honest and simple narration, which tugs at your heartstrings.
Brilliant capturing of teenage dilemmas and troubles.
Lack of drama. Love, love, love it.
Choosing a wallflower as the central protagonist.
Using letters as a means to narrate a story. And making it work.
Coming of age, underdog story — common tropes but again, using those successfully.
The overthinking. We spend too much time in Charlie’s head.
The epistolary technique. Some may take time to sink their teeth in the book. Once they do, they are in for an unforgettable treat.
What’s my rating on a scale of 1-5?
Do I recommend this book?
A definite, yes. This is a ground-breaking book narrated rather daftly in the form of a letter.