Aloha From Hell Sandman Slim #3 – Richard Kadry

Okay so this is officially my new favorite book. I cant believe how much i have forgotten about this series as i am reading it again.

Quick Recap – Sandman Slim aka James Stark is the new hot thing in LA, lived in Hell (literally) sruvived and is now back on Earth. In the previous books, he took on the agents of both Heaven and Hell, yes angels and demons (no mere mortals would do), reconnected and connected with old and new, avenged the murder of his girlfriend (sort of) and killed an entire army of zombies / drifters single handedly.

Stark is on a break from all the mayhem. “Nothing worth killing for. I’m no cop. The SubRosa has their own Mod Squat to deal with the small stuff” Being a Nephilium – Half human half angel, there is a war going on in his head between his two sides, reflecting in his actions and decisions. He is instigated into joining an exorcism on a boy who has been possessed by a demon, only to discover its no demon at all but Mason from Hell, who has stolen Alice (previous gf) from Heaven and has challenged Stark to find her in three days. “It’s so quiet and peaceful here I’m getting bored with breathing. Maybe we’ll get lucky and the world will go to hell again. Fingers crossed.”

Sandman seeks help from a ‘road rage deity’ to find a unobserved path into Hell (to circumvent Mason’s watch over known roads to hell) and has to kill himself to get in. “Dying is’nt the worst thing in the world, but dying because you are stupid is.” The goodbyes are awwww sweet. He lands near Eden, and believe it or not burns down the whole garden, just because (badass!)

Sandman Slim is on his way back to Hell and who knows if he is going to be back or not. Hell is hell. There is chaos, violence and unanticipated changes from Stark’s last visit down the rabbit hole. He is captured and loses an arm in the arena. He encounters God, or one-fifth part of God who then directs him to the asylum where Alice is and then on to Tartarus. Stark breaks into and out of Tartarus, which apparently has never been done before (of course). “Dante got it wrong when he put the ‘Abandon all Hope’ sign at the entrance of Hell. This (Tartarus) is where all hope dies, even for monsters)”

Once Lucifer, now Samael (since fallen angel is back in heaven) generals have been liberated and turned against Mason, war ensues. Stark’s trump is his patchy alliance with Kissi (“when you’re an Abomination, you can’t trust Hell, and Heaven hates you, so you don’t always get to choose who you dance with at the prom”), which turns the war in favor and gets all Kissi killed (two bird one stone, etc). Stark killed by Mason splits into two of himself. The angel and the human who is then saved by the angel LOL now we have two of Stark!

Mason gets killed and Stark becomes, guess….the new King of Hell – oh yeah, he is the brand new Lucifer! Angel Stark goes back to Earth, Alice goes back to Heaven with Samael and Stark is now getting ready to rule the hell

The third book in the series is by far my favorite. Its full of wit, sarcasm (refer conversation between Stark and God) and letting go’s.

Hail the new boss! looking forward to the fourth book in the series 🙂 i wonder what all will this new Lucifer get upto!

“I survived the arena and Mason down here, and i survived Wells, Aelita, and the Golden Vigil up there. I still have two legs, two eyes, an arm and something pretty close to an arm. I’m back in Pandemonium, so i bet Kasabian can see me. Maybe i’ll learn semaphore Morse code so i can send messages to Candy. And i wouldn’t mind killing Aelita. She goes right at the top of my Infernal to-do list. Yeah. Thi

Storm Front Dresden Files #1 – Jim Butcher

Everytime i read this series, its like the first time. Even though i know what’s coming, it’s still fun to read and rediscover.

Harry Dresdon is a wizard and available for hire as per the yellow pages. It made me check mine here in Singapore to see if there was any listings for wizard, but alas, none! Why do these magic people seem so keen on hiding all the magic stuff from us the normals…sigh! This is the first urban fantasy series i had read years ago and if i ever write a book, it will be this genre for sure.

“Science, the largest religion of the twentieth century, had become somewhat tarnished by images of exploding shuttles, crack babies, and a generation of complacent Americans who had allowed the television to raise their children”

There are multiple characters in the book – some normal and some magical. Murphy, the police contact of Dresden and sort of a friend is normal, Morgan, an agent of ‘the council’ is annoying and way too self righteous, Susan is a journalist chasing magic news and Mac is a quiet character – wow didnt know a quiet character could say so much. Then there is Mister the cat, Bob the skull and magical encyclopedia and Dresden’s clients. There are ofcourse the villians the protagonist has to fight (otherwise where would we be!)

Dresden is hired by police to consult on a murder investigation, where two people died because their heart burst out of their body and also hired by a woman to find her lost husband. While following the leads for both respective cases Dresden encounters the crime lord (somewhat like Yakuza or Triad head) Johnny Marcone and things go boom from there on. A demon manages to break through his house and completely destroy his date, and the ultimate power hungry Victor Sells is out to kill Dresden by making his heart bust out of his body.

“So, i concluded. It was up to me. Alone,. It was a sobering thought.”

Dresden lies to his only somewhat friend Murphy (who didnt take it well) to keep her safe and landed up at the den of inquity alone, hurt, tired and wihtout any of his toys, except a locket from his mother. ” The five pointed star within the circle was the ancient sign of white wizardry, the only remembrance of my mother”

Once the action is over and the evil has been laid to rest, Harry is ready for his death, when he sees Morgan and this interaction i think was the most funny part in the entire book “How perfectly typical, to survive everything the bad guys could do, and get taken down by the people for whose cause i had been fighting”

Its fun to read this series because its a bit of everything, a touch of reality, with a dose of absurd, and a mega helping of magical beings to give it flavor. As a reader, i always find myself getting upset on behalf of Dresdon as no matter how hard he tries to prove his being on the side of good – he remains broke, and he remains under suspicion.

Harry – just know you have friends, in the form of readers who are rooting for you.

Kill The Dead Sandman Slim #2 – Richard Kadry

WOW two books of the series in two days – they sure are addictive.

Quick recap – our antihero protagnist is a half angel, Nephilium, also knows as James / Stark / Sandman Slim, who has spent eleven years in Hell (literally) and come back from the dead to avenge on the magic circle that betrayed him and murdered his girlfriend. He ends up with four of the six in the circle dead, one (Mason) in Hell and last Kasabian a head brought from the hell to be the mouth piece of Lucifer (yeap THAT Lucifer)

Second book in the series starts with Stark working as an independent consultant between the forces of good (Vigil) and evil (Lucifer) by running paranormal jobs for whoever pays him. He is killing vampires, stealing from the ones he killed for side hustle and providing consultation on supernatural murders. “The way I look at it, me stealing from the dead is like regular people pocketing Post-its on their way out of office”. Lucifer’s retainer does help him pay the bills. Well the boss is in town (L) and wants Stark to act as the bodyguard during his time on earth.

Body guarding the King of Hell was never going to be easy, especially when Stark stumbles upon the mystery surrounding zombies, which are starting to infiltrate L.A. I didnt know there could be so many types of zombies! There are four – Zombies / Drifters / Zeds and Zots – the regular zombies like the ones in Kdrama Kingdom, Lacunas – some brain function but stink, Savants / Saperes – “Savant is a Lacuna that can call for pizza delivery” and Death Born – zombies whose souls have been removed at birth. Whoa! keep up people

The chase ensues, where Stark is finding the who, why, what of zombies – as hoardes of them have been let out on the streets of L.A. with neither agents of Heaven or Hell too keen on lending a helping hand. “The universe is the meat grinder and we’re just pork in designer shoes, keeping busy so we can pretend we’re not all headed for the sausage factory.” A bite from zombie renders the human part of Stark dead leaving him entirely angel or half angel.

The struggle between the human and non-human Stark (or as per the book Stark and not Stark) is very well depicted and reflects in the decisions. Stark is also trying to move on in life – with Alice, though dead but very much alive in his thoughts and dreams, the guilt is riding high. The brief expose of “who the father is?” and dice landing somewhere between Lucifer and Uriel is interesting. Sad though is Heaven or Hell, Angels or Demons, politics is all pervasive hands down and its all about power plays.

No one dies, not the good guys, i mean and Stark now has an open challenge from Mason, which means the choice is to find Mason before being found. Like Lucifer said “When i’m gone, Hell will need a new Lucifer……….There are only two candidates with the power and knowledge to take over: you (Stark) and Mason, One of you will live and lead. The other will die.” Now the question is will Stark accept the new job offer to be the Crown Prince of Hell or not.

Sandman Slim, #1 – Richard Kadrey

On break from work for a few months (loving unemployment so far) and I have decided to use this time productively, i.e. read my old (and new of course) favourites and write reviews.

This book is as Dark as Dark gets – maybe not “Irreversible” movie dark but it has its moments.

James Stark, who does not like being called ‘Jimmy’ or even ‘James’ has literally come back from the dead. In a magical ritual he was pushed into ‘Hell” or what he refers to as ‘Downtown’ at nineteen and now he is thirty. All he owns is a few pieces / artifacts from hell that have come with him and the clothes he presumably ‘died’ in. His magical coin ‘Veritas’ leads him to one of the six from the circle of friends.

“Its Kasabian, one of my friends from the old magic cried. One of the six on my list”

Leader of this circle is Mason, his sidekick / enforcer Parker, two ladies, a weak guy who killed himself wracked with guilt soon after and the loser turned into a Frost man running a video store. Stark’s girlfriend Alice has been murdered by Parker (directed by Mason) and Stark is out for blood – of all of them.

I loved reading the whole Stark chopping off Kasabian’s head and depositing it in cupboard (since he needs information and does not want to let K die just yet). As the story unfolds, we see shades and layers of grey – the pain, the agony, the grief and the humanity, which refuses to die out. He cuts off the head but doesn’t let Kasabian die and as confessed towards the end – he just couldn’t. He starts by a) revisiting his old apartment and finding an old friend maintaining it for him, then b) the place of his betrayal – which is now a land plot, and c) trying to find where his girlfriend maybe buried.

On one side we see Stark adjusting or trying or not trying to earth, we see the ‘monster who killed the monsters’ in hell and on the other side we see him still at nineteen mentally (girls), and what he has missed – what is blackberry, how do I ‘get’ internet and of course all the clothes he burns through at an astonishing rate.

Stark finds trouble or trouble finds him. As he discovers that in exchange for his journey to the hell, the circle of six except one suicide and one video store guy, four got powers beyond imagination. M & P (Mason & Parker team – almost sounds like a law firm) abducts Kasabian (wait can you abduct a severed head and a body – not dead), kill the two out of the six – the two women – one running the highest class bordello and the other teenage idol and proving yet again how psychotic they both are.

While focused on his quarry, Stark attracts the attention of two groups – one “SubRosa – are the people regular people aren’t supposed to know about. Its not that we don’t like you; its that you have a habit of burning us at the stake when you notice us” – in other words the magical community and the second ofcourse the national security. National Security guy (who of course is cocky) is the first to refer to Stark as ‘Sandman Slim’ – a pseudonym he earned in Hell. We are yet to discover if there is a deeper meaning behind the name.

The way the structure of the book is laid out is so simple and yet so complicated. There is of course Heaven, Hell and Earth. Angels, Demons and Mortals “We’re the punching bags in their family psychodrama” Hellions, except Lucifer are unable to travel to Earth unless they have the key that opens thirteen doors (which is one of the artifact Stark has). Angels try to recruit Stark with the whole redemption and sinner and in service to God marketing spiel, which did not take.. Its pretty astonishing – from the beginning Stark said he will kill everyone in the magic circle and go back to hell – as if he is convinced he belongs there – not on earth and definitely not in heaven (self worth issues!). Author introduces us to a new ‘species?’ Kissi (pronounced KEESHEE) who are the creatures of chaos.

The book answers so many questions and yet opens so many possibilities. Its a fantastic depiction of LA as a place, as a society and culture. “THERE’S ONLY ONE problem with L.A. It exists.” The writing is rich and the wit is sharp. Characters evolve realistically – no one is too good or too bad (except perhaps M&P) they all are multifaceted and human with individual quirks.

Stark aka Sandman Slim has saved the world twice over by the end of this book – once by dealing a strong blow to the Kissi – we dont know if they have been entirely eradicated byt for now the threat is contained, and second by maybe defeating Mason by handing him over to Hellions in Hell (Parker has of course been killed).

The first book ends on a cryptic note with Lucifer leaving Kasabian’s head wtih Sandman Slim as his ‘mouth piece’. Allright, i am going to read the second book now, see you soon with the second part.

Dragon(E) Baby Gone – Robert Gainey

I got this book recommendation off of Twitter directly from the author 🙂 Yes people! it helps to follow #writerslift on twitter and even more so to ask for book recommendations. You end up finding these little jewels, which you for sure would miss out on otherwise.

When it’s a book full of magic, evil wizards, slimy but helpful demons along with a couple of dragon eggs thrown in, the fact that the main protagonist (poor girl) is just plain normal human, doesn’t even slow you down. This book is action packed, fast paced and twists enough to keep you on your toes through all of 160 pages of it.

I wish there was a rule to not start a book (any book) in sewers – I was having coffee when I started reading, you know and lets just say some of those pages though interesting are not exactly a book-to-read-while-eating-or-drinking kind of material. Anyway, action begins with our strong female lead chasing up a drop off deal between two criminal factions in a sewer. As is the norm in any office, not enough information is provided whilst assigning the project and not enough or at least relevant tools either.

We come across human gang and creatures (fire elementals from Plane of Fire – an alternate reality) with chase involving bullets and fire and sewage slinging. Once the case is retrieved, Diane Morris (our strong female lead and FBI agent) discovers that though one stolen egg has been found, the second from the clutch needs to be retrieved and both replaced before the Big Momma Z ergo the who-shall-not-be-named dragon wakes up and finds them missing.

Agent Morris also has her own personal encyclopedia in the form of a cat “Jericho” who is a TV addict, champion at racking up credit card bills by impersonating Morris’s voice, for food, of course. Rest of the shopping can always be done via internet (LOL)

To enable her mission, Agent Morris is sent to a super secret facility to gain help from a “probably” demon and ends up contracting him for life under, hopefully, specific clauses and gaining a partner. Of course, the eggs are retrieved and replaced and benevolence of Dragon M gained at the end with multiple injuries and a ‘good job’ pat from the boss

I am not telling you the rest of the story – got to read the book for yourself hahaha. The plot is predictable but interesting to keep you engaged. There are a lot of details – for example about ‘probably’ demon, the Agent herself, the department etc, which I am hoping the author is planning to cover in the upcoming books. The writing is a combination of witty and sarcastic and character build up is intriguing. Just one observation, there are a lot of details thrown in with not much context – not sure if that is deliberate. For example there is reference to Merlin and Sigrid but not much to go on from there.

Its a fascinating world Agent Morris is operating in and I wish I could borrow her cat for a bit!

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” Anna Karenina

I read this book through the night, slept a few hours and woke up happy. Considering the countless number of books written and read on war, leading to war, during the war and post war, my expectations were moderate. This book did me a world of good, especially during a low period in my life. It reminded me that while death might be the reality, I still need to get on with the business of living, so there is not a moment to lose, or to regret.

The book has a whole lot of motley caste living in Chilbury village – an overbearing, patriarchal, brutal father with a cowering mother and two beautiful daughters, normal in every way, except they have just lost their eldest son / brother to a war submarine explosion. Brigadier needs a son to keep the wealth in the family, fortunately his wife is pregnant. The book opens at the funeral and choir is at the centre of it all.

We go through the book via a series of letters written between friends, acquaintances and sometimes banal correspondence, as well as daily diary notations. Chilbury is left mostly with women and old men to fend for themselves, with men gone off to the war or killed during the war. Choir without men is unimaginable but a choirmistress, a force of nature brings it together and convinces the ladies to continue singing, to relieve the stress, the pain and boredom of the war all around.

“Sometimes the magic of life is beyond thought. Its the sparkle of intuition, of bringing your own personal energy into your music”

The story progresses as the choir leads to amazing performances and stands out by winning a competition at a church with candles abound, what with war blackouts and no organ available due to lack of electricity. Choir goes on to perform in various villages to help uplift the spirit of people suffering through bombed existence, loss of loved ones and lack of, well, everything. Though the book is not just about the choir but the lives of the choir group. How the group sticks together to support each other, creates a sense of community for those left behind and grieves together for the ones lost forever, by remembering them and celebrating their lives.

Without giving away too much, the story unfolds with a baby swapping scandal, unwed pregnancy, billeting woes and children losing their parents. Some things remain the same, war or no war, greed knows no bounds, gold diggers continue on their path and sometimes life takes strange turns and coming of age is both heartbreaking and painful.

I am glad I read this book and at this moment, too. “Realising that you’re going to die actually makes life better as its only then that you decide to live the life you really want to live, not the one everyone else wants you to live. And to thoroughly enjoy every minute”

Thank you for the reminder dear author!

The Kaiser’s Web – Steve Berry

What an outstanding book!

If you are a historical fiction enthusiast with penchant to follow current day politics, this book is an absolute treat.

“If history has taught us nothing else, we have learned that we must defend ourselves against extremism…..from the beginning”

Author has done a marvellous job of linking past with the present and subtly pointing out how the history might end up repeating itself….almost. The poignancy of the issue surrounding human nature on compartmentalising the past and yet replicating the same behaviour in the modern world scenario is simply too conspicuous to ignore. The play of emotions be it via Nazi’s leading to holocaust or issues surrounding immigration which are at the root of discord all over the world, still remain the same and still remain available for manipulation.

“The masses have little time to think.And how incredible is the willingness of modern man to believe.”

Steve Berry is one of my favourite authors for the historical fiction genre and his books are delight simply because they shine with the amount of research and effort put into them. Of course, the book is fiction, however the walk across World War II is as true as possible and the consequences are always a scenario away from “could have been”

The book revolves around German politics and specifically Chancellorship, which is in trouble due to hidden information being brought to light to mis-lead into a web woven by an entirely narcissistic and overconfident character. The question in play is regarding the genetics of the two contenders for chancellorship, their link to Hitler and his associates and eventual impact on people and perhaps world as a whole. If you are familiar with the books, Cotton Malone and Cassiopeia don’t disappoint with their insight and ability to stay step ahead in the game.

“The game was the same everywhere, Only the players changed, not the rules, not the stakes, not the risks – only the players”

The current chancellor receives information, which steers her towards further research, where Malone and Cassiopeia enter. On their quest to find the truth, hunter becomes the hunted and the information leads to Hitler’s bounty and the unaware benefactors, which threatens to change the elections outcome. Help comes from unpredictable quarters and quest deepens when parentage comes into question. Discoveries lead to an interesting conclusion, which you will need to find for yourself while reading and you will, possibly like me will be left chewing on your nails until the very end.

There is much said and written about the World War II, the history of it, the victims, aftermath, participants and the eventual fallout. This book brings forward the war from the perspective of Germany and Germans, after all who wants to be on the losing side with the entire world watching and judging. Yes Germany has recovered and yes Germany is atoning for the sins of their forefathers but how does ir feel and is it the same feeling across all?

No one will know the truth of who died and who lived or rather escaped – Is Hitler truly dead? Did any of his closest aides survive? Did Eva Braun manage to flee? We will never know. This book is a spin off based on authors imagination and a compulsive read for the readers.

“”As arrogant pedantic fools often do, he thought himself the smartest and the cleverest”

Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up – Alexandra Potter

“Dont worry about getting older, worry about becoming dull”

Well, as a forty something myself, I was quite curious to see how other similar aged species thinks, behaves and even writes about this stage in life. Though, written in a light tone, this book has incredible depth. The things that will sound funny, will have most profound meaning behind them. Just because people smile and laugh, you don’t see the pain and sadness hidden behind their eyes.

I loved reading it and relating it to some of my own life experiences. There are people we perceive as ‘happy’ or ‘successful’ and may even feel envious towards but no one can live other person lives. We see the facade that has been put out for the world, what we don’t see is the mess in the background. Sometimes the book did get a bit preachy and sounded almost like a motivational quote my parents insist on sharing on whatsapp, but the good parts are really great.

Just because you are forty and it seems like you have achieved all the goals you had set out for yourself when you were in your twenties or just out of college, does not mean that you are done and that is it. Life still goes on and in its usual ways still insists on throwing curve balls your way, every once in a while to keep things interesting and alive. It’s scary, it’s hard and there are no right or wrong answers, but I guess with good friends, good wine and a sense of humour you can get through most of it alive and relatively happy. “Embrace your sense of humour, don’t ever take yourself too seriously, every day is another chance to laugh instead of cry, and when nothing is certain, everything is a hell of a lot less scary when you make fun of it”

I like the part where author writes about happiness. We are told to be happy but no one can be happy all the time. “We’re encouraged to be our true, authentic selves, but being told to feel happy when you’re just not feeling, only encourages us to be exact opposite. Life can be wonderful but I can also be scary and hard. We should be free to feel sad or gloomy or just downright bloody miserable, without feeling like there’s something wrong with us”

The book is about a “Forty-something” (obviously) who feels like a failure sans job, sans engagement and sans the perfect planned life. She feels envious of friends who seem so put together and ends up finding work as an obituary writer – which is freelance and barely gets her through. The struggle of a single person to (happily) participate in married friends discussions is super relatable. Well, no one enjoys talking about babies and nannies and what not all the time! She finds camaraderie with a eighty year old. It’s almost like a book about coming of an age, just at a different juncture in life. Its beautiful, sometimes heartbreaking but mostly happy and one that will make you smile.

She starts a podcast, I think as a catharsis and ends up becoming inspirational for women struggling with similar anxieties. Old friends and new friends come together in support, love finds its way into her life and life seems somewhat back on track. Happiness attracts happiness – to be loved, you have to first fall in love with your self (of course not in a narcissistic way).

If you are looking for a happy and optimistic read – this is definitely the one for you.

“Remove the filters and the hashtags and the motivational messages and we’re all just as scared and confused as the next person”

Becoming Duchess Goldblatt – Anonymous

“The only way to be reliably sure the hero gets the girl at the end of the story is to be both the hero and the girl yourself”

The delight at encountering a super fun and super positive book is beyond description. I came across this gem while I was voting on goodreads for the best books of 2020. I think i have a hangover from this book – its making me smile or laugh or think ever since I finished reading it.

Ofcourse I went on twitter to check the Duchess Goldblatt account and read the posts and the interactions, while reading the book – after all the writer is anonymous! The account does exist and has been active and loved for several years now.

This book dear readers, is a navigational memoir of a very kind and loving soul, whose life has been peppered with moments of loss and moments of joy. It leads you to understand what led to the creation of the account, how theraputic it was for the creater / author, how distinctly different the personas of the person holding the account vs the character they create was – at least to the mind of the author.

The book goes back and forth between how author views the character Duchess Goldblatt in comparison to self as well as what specific events in authors life led to development of this fictional character. It almost seems to fill some gaps author feels in their life or personality. It’s endearing at times and heart breaking at others, but at no point does it turn boring.

The snippets from the twitter accounts post are funny, sarcastic and sometime melancholic, all at the same time.

Now that I am following the Duchess or “her grace” as well, I believe it might just be a start of a beautiful friendship.

“Writers can be a lot of fun at parties, but word to the wise: Keep an eye on your good memories. They’ll strip them down for parts”

“I found a box of old hours at the back of the fridge. I don’t even know how long it had been there. Summer hours. Smelled like roses.”

The Midnight Library – Matt Haig

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams,” Thoreau had said. “Live the life you’ve imagine.”

As an author, Matt Haig’s books hit close to home. His characters portray a depth close to reality, embodying both failure and negativity, which is not entirely unknown to most of us. He reminds the readers that life is a combination of reasons – reasons to regret and yet reasons to celebrate. Focusing on any one of these aspects can easily derail the balance and cause anguish.

As Guardian review rightly said – The midnight library is a celebration of life’s possibilities. Though light in tone and easy to read, it packs an impactful punch. It could lead you towards that metaphorical light that had been evading you these past few months.

“she wished there was nothing but doors ahead of her, which she could walk through one by one, leaving everything behind”

Dejection. Desolation. Depression.

Most of us are familiar with these feelings, either as an integral part of living or a small part of our self hidden deep in a corner of our psyche. The question is – are we able to identify them as such and overcome them.

Nora Seed, 35 year old talented swimmer – who gave up swimming to hide from attention instead of going on to be the Olympic winner, outstanding musician – gave up the dream team instead of going on to be the rock star, philosophy graduate – instead of being the glaciologist that could have led for her to contribute in saving the world in a meaningful way, is going through the roughest day of her life

Nora’s cat dies, she loses a job that she has held on to though its way below her skill set, lost touch with her best (and only) friend and is on a “ignore” list of her brother.

Hitting rock bottom puts her in touch with a midnight library existing somewhere between life and death, which gives her a chance to explore all those lives she could have had, if and only if, she had taken a different decision at some critical points in her life.

This book explores the many lives Nora could have lived, if she had decided to pick a dream, either hers or that of an important person in her life and lived it. These possible, un-lived lives of Nora, also provide an insight into the balance universe creates around the decisions we make and the chances we decide to take. If she had decided to move to Australia with her best friend, it could also mean a life grieving the death of that very friend, lost to a car accident soon after.

Nora decides to pick her own “root life” in the end, the very one she had been meaning to end. Though poignant in some ways, the books ending is a cliche. Nora survives her suicide attempt, stronger with her will to live and to make changes leading to happiness. Being a fiction, as the book is, suddenly in the next one day everything starts turning in her favour.

In real life, going from a despondency to optimism may take longer than the book, but it does happen. It happens when we start finding the reasons to be happy. It happens when we decide to accept life as it comes and yet live to the fullest in spite of it.

“there was no way of living that can immunise you against sadness. And that sadness is intrinsically part of the fabric of happiness. You can’t have one without the other. Of course, they come in different degrees and quantities. But there is no life where you cab be in a state of sheer happiness for ever. And imagining there is just breeds more unhappiness in the life you’re in.”

Sold on a Monday – Kristina McMorris

“Two children on a porch were being offered for sale. Like cattle at market.”

Looking for my weekend read, i came across this book on kindle. Title of the book, i might have browsed past, but the cover page tugged at my heart – with a small little boy sitting with a small suitcase at his feet, waiting to be sold.

“It started with a picture.” Ellis a journalist at a local newspaper took a picture of two boys next to a placard, offering them for sale, had no idea how his life would change.

The picture brought to attention by a secretary at the newspaper, earning Ellis a chance to write a meaningful article, is lost to a mishap. “Sold on Monday” could also mean, the Monday when Ellis sold out on his conscience by recreating a similar pic, with different children to advance his career.

“Sometimes he wondered what else he’d sold on that Monday. His principles? His integrity?”

Article generated wide interest amongst the media houses and apart from generating gifts and offers to support the family, also enabled job opportunities for Ellis with higher pay. At a national newspaper, Ellis uses some unsavory means – like befriending a mafia cult to gather information about other criminals and politicians to stay in the game.

However, the book is the story of the two children who posed for Ellis’s make-believe picture, who ultimately ended up being sold directly as a result of interest generated by his picture. Ellis in his quest to sooth his conscience decides to follow-up on the family and ensure that all is well and children are happy.

This book is Ellis’s quest to find the children, discover the depravity of human souls, unravel the emotions and struggle of a mother who gave away her children and people who adopt  or rather buy children, only to keep them chained and use them as farm hands at the youngest possible age. It is the story of a journalist who could have gone to seed but lived up to the values inculcated in him by the virtue of his upbringing.

This book, as any that deals with child abuse is hard on the emotions of a reader. Characters are fairly complex, and well evolved over the book. There is no saint for sure – a journalist who fabricated the picture to give gravitas to his article, is also the one to put his career on hold and rescue the children from grave danger; a secretary and a single mother striving for a better career and a better life for her son, is also the one who prioritizes these victimized children as a result of mis-guided guilt; a rich banker with a psychotic wife, suffering in silence the loss of his only child, is also the one to go buy a daughter for his wife and place the boy in a orphangae for convenience; a mother who when diagnosed with a life threatening disease, takes the drastic step of selling her own children and suffers in silence, when the diagnoses if proven false, believing in her heart that her children are better off with those who are able to provide and care for them.

“Adults, we’re all so busy griping about our tough breaks, and kids like them, their lives change in a split second and you hardly hear a peep. Not about the big things anyway.”

Author has shared the picture that inspired this book. Four children sitting on the front steps, with a woman behind hiding her face. Authors question of “why take money for children” if all parents want is to find a better home for them and how the thought of separating siblings does not even cross the minds of adults will make your head hurt. The question we ask is – What would drive parents to sell their own kids? But an equally important question is – what makes other people buy kids and take them away from their families? Why is it not a crime?

“Photography is the art of observation. It has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

Dear Mrs. Bird – A.J.Pearce

After reading “Less” by Andrew Sean Greer (this years Pulitzer prize winner), i needed something light, funny and entirely optimistic. Prize winning books are deep but too dark and do take a lot of energy to get through sometimes.

“Dear Mrs Bird” though set in war zone London, is the first book i have come across, which in spite of the war setting, has an exuberance that leaves you happy and optimistic.

“…and then I’d managed to get hold of an onion, which was very good news for a stew.” All books focus on deprivation during the war and heartbreak, but this book is about the life as it went on – despite the war. Miss Emmeline Lake, like any other young adult is keen to become a “lady war correspondent” and with starry eyes contemplates her application for a Junior at a well-known newspaper – dreaming about her travels into war zones and active effort to bringing the enemy down.

Her positive spirit does not let her fail, when she discovers that the job is for a woman’s weekly as a typist and she finds herself sifting through letters received from people who are looking for someone to help them with their entirely mundane, day-to-day problems. She feels a connect with some of them – they are lonely and looking for friends. Mrs Bird is a sort of phenomenon at this weekly magazine and someone to be feared. Her list of “Unacceptables” will leave you wondering about what might then be acceptable at all. Mrs Bird does not believe in responding to the queries of ‘young and frivolous’ and is rather scathing and direct in her responses – pointing out quite categorically when people themselves are to be blamed for their problems.

What starts as a one-off impertinence on part of Emmeline, becomes central to the plot of this book. Emmaline takes it on herself to respond to some of these heartbroken, lonely souls – some via letters and some slipped into the magazine innocuously – after all when was the last time Mrs Bird even read the published version to note this minor anomaly.

This book is a story of friendship – Emmeline with her childhood best friend and her room-mate Bunty, of love – Bunty’s with her finance and Emmeline’s with Charlie; It’s a book of an entirely rebellious young girl who is ambitious, independent and yet kind and empathetic; of survival during war and of keeping up the spirit despite the bombs falling around and dear ones dying either at battle front or at home, due to Luftwaffe’s efforts.

Emmeline’s misconduct is discovered when a girl of seventeen runs away with a Polish soldier at her advise and parents blame Mrs Bird. As in every happy book, she finds a saviour in Mr Collins and her best friend and the book ends on a victorious note.

It’s not a frivolous book, but entirely poignant. ” There was something about planning a wedding that felt like one in the eye for Hitler. He could send over as many Luftwaffe planes as he liked, but he couldn’t stop people being in love and everyone getting excited.” People picking up pieces after losing all that is precious to them and yet making a life with what remains.

The Banker’s Wife – Cristina Alger

Optics, Annabel reminds herself sternly. It’s all optics.”

This one line perfectly lays down the plot. When i think about Bankers, it brings the image of well dressed, culturally aware and snooty men and this book, validates the image to the core.

Annabel, our protagonist, is an art connoisseur and a banker’s wife, who finds herself in Geneva, chasing the money-making dreams of her banker husband from New York. The lonely wife, with no working visa, finds herself devastated with the news of her husband’s plane crash. Then starts the unraveling of the secret life he had been living, while protecting her from the truth.

No readers, the husband does not have string of mistresses or girlfriend on the side (though occasional hints of it may make you wonder), but he is deep into the scam related to siphoning off funds for people into the offshore accounts. Swiss bank accounts have been both a source of fascination and mystery to plebeian like me, so when the book goes deep into the private banking world of Switzerland, how can you not strap yourself on to the seat and go for the ride?

The funds of world criminals, in this book the Syrian Assad family plays a pivotal role, intriguing (if any of its true) and disgusting (how can anyone support a tyrant for a few bobs) in equal measure. It’s a world so far removed from the world in which salaried people like me live, that as a reader i found myself lost into the dreams of millions, billions and trillions through this book.

The plot is fast paced and a lot of it predictable with reader separating out the good guys from the bad ones and waiting for the bad guys to reach justice. A bit ideological in the current world, or maybe its just my cynicism which made me feel a bit sarcastic towards the ending. There is not much blood and gore but press plays a strong and positive role. Part love story, part illegal monetary transactions and part politics keeps up the drama throughout. I may not want to ever date a banker or a politician after reading it, but happy to take the huge diamond ring any day.

Overall, an enjoyable read and a great weekend / beach book to bring along! happy reading.

Love and ruin – Paula McLain

“I was dying to write a character as glittering and sharp as Lady Brett from The Sun Also Rises, but since i couldn’t, I would settle for trying to be her.”

The love i feel for some of the characters across hundreds of books, could not have been articulated better. I asked for recommendation to read on twitter, and came across this rather interesting book. If you know enough about Ernest Hemingway – you would know that he was a great writer but a troubled man.

This book encompasses part of life between Martha Gellhorn and Hemingway. Is it the story of either of them – no, is it Gellhorn’s autobiography – again no. This is neither a dry epitome covering Gellhorn’s career as one of the most renowned war correspondent, nor is it totally about the love affair and her marriage to Hemingway. It is somewhat a mix. Book starts with a struggling Gellhorn, trying to find herself and her purpose in life, conflicted between rebelling and yet trying to please her father.

“It seemed imperative not only to be on the move, and feeling things, but also to be my own person, and to live my own life, and not anyone else’s.”

Her chance encounter with Hemingway and deepening of initially their friendship and then something more is mostly from Gellhorn’s perspective. We find occasional narratives with Hemingway’s voice, but it’s mostly Martha’s story and her interpretation of events around her.

Even though, the story revolves around the one great love of her life, the boldness, the independence and the need to be “her own person” shines bright in Martha’s character. Most of us are as lost as she felt, even in this post war world, but how many of us are brave enough to say it out aloud or acknowledge it, even to ourselves. Need to be in control is usually paramount in human beings and yet, Martha came out stronger for having admitted her lack of purpose. She found a purpose with her love for Ernest and seemed lost again when their initial ‘affair’ ended.

“Walking to my room, i felt loneliness and fear come wishing down from wherever they had been waiting. They draped themselves over me, snug and familiar. Filling my pockets and all the spaces inside and out until i though i might have to lean against the wall to stay upright. In moments, I’d been kicked out of love and was alone again. He was never yours, a voice in my head said. But what did that matter? I had lost him just the same.

This book is essentially about strengths of love and then the ruin, end of love brings about. It’s both the beauty and the beast. It shows various facets of human behaviour. Even though you love someone more than life itself, how losing your own individuality will make you chafe,irrespective. How envy and jealousy, maybe hidden, will show up unbidden, when as peers one person does better than the other. The last but not the least, irrespective of how the world might have advanced, the intrinsic thought that a woman should stay home and be the home maker has not died down yet.

I admire Gellhorn. She struggled her way through to be a first class writer – and her struggle was twice as difficult just by the virtue of her being a female wanting to be right in the middle of the war zone. She tried to stay home to be a wife, but her need to be an individual, won. She gave up some things because her need to make a difference was greater and then some things got taken away from her, because she didn’t fit the society mould of what a woman should be like.

“Listen, i wanted to say, when you fell in love with me you must also have been in love with my wings. Love them now. Love me. Love me, and let me go.”

The sweetness at the bottom of the pie: A Flavia De Luce Mystery – Alan Bradley

I don’t remember how i came across this series, but within a few pages i was hooked and by the end of the first book, i was in love. I love our eleven year old sleuth (by accident), who is irreverent and innocent all at the same time. Alan Bradley is my hero for creating this little genius detective. These books are funny, heart breaking, great plots all rolled into one.

Flavia lives in Buckshaw with her two older sisters – Ophelia (Feely) and Daphne (Daff), her father, fathers general dogsbody (Dogger) and housekeeper cum cook Mrs Mullet. Her mother, Harriet, who everyone seems to love died in an accident when she was one.

“Their combined age totalled thirty years. Thirty years! – against my eleven. It was not only unsporting, it was downright rotten. And it simply screamed out for revenge” perfectly defines the relationship between the three sisters. Flavia, a self taught genius chemistry geek is also perpetually in motion and boundlessly curious about everything – especially dead bodies. “My particular passion was poison” – oh yeah! our detective here is quite blood thirsty by nature and hates being treated like a child (more so than anything else)

Flavia’s first encounter with a dead body was downright funny “I wish i could say i was afraid, but i wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.” She find a dead body in the garden in early hours of the morning and takes umbrage when the police (probably rightfully so) asks her to stay inside and send out some tea.

With her curious mind, Flavia could not stop herself from asking questions, seeking out people and uncovering clues after clues towards the identity of the killer – who is closely related to her father and his school life. She, especially spurs into action when police takes her father into custody as a potential suspect for murder. Her sisters are wailing at home, and Flavia on her own initiative, lands at the prison, manages to negotiate a deal with the Inspector to let her visit her father. For the first time in her life, (as per her) father confides in his youngest daughter about some of the past and associations, which could be related to the event. “There was nothing else to do but to burst into tears. I hated to do it, but it was the only tool that i had with me.”

Between analysing the chemicals in her pristine, state of the art laboratory (inherited from ancestors) and analysing the past, we find Flavia making herself a general nuisance and always a step ahead of the police. In the end she manages to uncover the great mystery, at the cost of being abducted and left tied up in a dark pit.

The writing is rich and arresting, with the expressions and feelings laid bare for the reader to feel what characters are feeling. “I was Flavia. And i loved myself, even if no one else did.” At times, the confusions, the loneliness and need for affection is so raw in this girl, that it is heart breaking and then the next moment, she is on to something so convoluted that it would have you roaring with laughter. “If there is a thing i truly despise, it is being addressed as ‘dearie’. When i write my magnum opus, A Treatise Upon All Poisons, and come to ‘Cyanide’, i am going to put under ‘Uses’ the phrase: ‘Particularly efficacious in the cure of those who call one ‘Dearie’.”

Chemistry has never been my favourite subject, throughout my life and yet i managed to learn a few things from Flavia. I adored reading her cynicism, manipulation and innocence and cheered for her when she came out the winner.

 

 

 

The Word is Murder – Anthony Horowitz

“Mr. Tibbs is the reason everything happened, Tony. If it hadn’t been for him, Mrs Cowper might never have been killed. And nor would her son.”

This line pretty much describes the entire mystery in the book and trust me, even if i tell you that Mr. Tibbs is a cat, you still wouldn’t have a clue until the very end. That my dear fellow readers, is the beauty of Anthony Horowitz’s writing. Just as an aside, if i could, i would steal all his ideas. I love the innovative plots in his books – either he is an editor for a mystery book, thus setting a plot in a plot, or like in this one he is the writer following a detective around trying to weave a book around the real world.

“Diana Cowper had planned her funeral and she was going to need it. She was murdered six hours later that same day.”

With these opening lines, the author had me hooked – I don’t know anyone who would arrange their own funeral details, so this bit intrigued me – a lot – what kind of people do that?!? OCDs, lonely or crazy? Hawthorne, consultant detective on the case reaches out to an author, asking him to write a book about the actual murder investigation. Poor book author, who has only ever written or solved fictional murders, finds himself in the middle of an extremely frustrating and dangerous murder plot.

Abrasive detective and puzzled or rather intrigued author make an incredibly  entertaining duo. Author trying his amateur hand at investigation leaving the detective bristling and annoyed provides the reader with funny banter. There are many leads , as expected, towards the potential murderer along with a rather jealous police office to deal with. Imagine this – our dear author who is also a script writer is in a meeting with Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg (oh! how i would have loved to be proverbial fly on the wall in this fictional meeting) and the sleuth, cool as cucumber walks in, not only to interrupt them, but to remind the author that the funeral is more important than his meeting Hah!

Plot thickens as an old accident comes to light. Diana Cowper had run down two little boys by her car, because she forgot her glasses at the golf club and was let go with a slap on the wrist. Parents lost one boy and were left to deal with the second one, alive but with damaged brain. Talk about motive – this one seemed pretty solid to me, almost until the end. Then there is the daughter in law, with only nice things to say in every conversation, but even a blind person could see her struggling against a controlling mother in law and a selfish husband.

Like any other well written whodunnit, the most innocuous seeming character is the psychopath and mastermind behind the murders – oh yes! Diana Cowper is soon followed by her son into the heavenly abode. The reason is as crazy as you can expect – won’t tell you, so as not to spoil the surprise! There are moments of dark humour in the book, that are simply outstanding. All in all, an excellent book to carry with you to the beach. Kudos Anthony Horowitz and keep them coming.

Chandramani – Kimsuka Narsimhan

In my quest of finding new and international authors, this book was recommended to me by the author herself – who is a finance wizard and a reputed corporate mogul in her own right. Who wouldn’t be intrigued to read a ‘who-dunit’ written by a “not author by profession” – that in itself was mystery enough to pique my interest!

Dont miss the characters introduction at the beginning of the book dear reader – it is not only hilarious, but also sets the tone of what is to come our way. There are two main characters in the book – Ajmer – our detective and Manish – who had the temerity to get murdered. The interesting part is that though, we come across both characters on each page of this not such a long book, we are left to create a character sketch of both via other people’s analysis or thoughts about them. There is no direct “i think….” or “i did…” relating to any of them – that is what makes this book a double mystery to read.

The book is set in India and revolves around the upper echelon of the Indian society. Both the detective and the victim belong to old rich families and seem to have over-protective mothers. Ajmer is approached to resolve the mystery of Manish’s murder by his wife, Purvi, who has been betrayed from her fairy tale ending, since her prince turns out to be a frog in reality. “And it wasn’t long before Manish’s roving eye relived him of the tedium of monogamy.”

Ajmer’s investigation brings out the different facets of Manish’s personality – the good, the bad and the ugly. Servants devoted to the family as well as friends tad bit resentful of the old money, scorn lovers and estranged siblings. All in all, the author has done a wonderful job of keeping the readers on their toes, by just about hinting towards the mystery killer and keeping the chase interesting. While the readers are trying to figure out the mystery, they also start to form an image of who the victim really was but what keeps them intrigued is Ajmer – you will find yourself asking the question time and again “who the hell is he?” or rather “what the hell is he?”

There is rich history related to the fort, where the book is set. Characters are beautifully developed over conversations (polite interrogations) and various idiosyncrasies of Indian society are brought to light. Homosexuality being a taboo is wonderfully handled along with nosy mothers, who always know what is better for you, contemporary professional women who know what they want and double faced morality which still holds a high place in the society.

Well, i cant really tell you who the killer is, now can i! that would take away all the fun. Overall a commendable first effort by the author. Insider information – plan is to develop the character of Ajmer over series of books, so dont be dismayed, if you feel you resolved the murder mystery but didnt get a handle on the detective himself 🙂

Magpie Murders – Anthony Horowitz

“Story in a story” how cool is that, almost like buy a book and you get another one within it for free. It’s an absolutely ingenious writing style.

When I started reading the book, the first lines that caught my attention were ” But I’m not sure it actually matters what we read. Our lives continue along the straight lines that have been set out for us. Fiction merely allows us a glimpse of the alternative. Maybe that’s one of the reasons we enjoy it.” – these lines made me pause. I didn’t entirely agree with the statement that it doesn’t matter what we read – i found myself immediately shaking my head in contradiction. However, i found myself vehemently agreeing to the next few lines – i do find myself living alternate lives vicariously via the characters i read about and the ones that i like. I do find myself thinking sometimes what i would do in a particular situation that i come across in a book.

Anyway, we start the plot with an editor, who is just gathering up her wine and snacks to get cosy and read a book – the 9th book in the series by this author she does not personally like as a person but adores as an author. We find ourselves submerged in the world of Atticus Pund. A renowned detective, credited with multiple solved cases, fighting a fatal disease and yet determined to solve this one last case before he embraces death. The book that we read with our editor is a Sherlock Holmes alike and engaging, though predictable.

Engrossed in the story, the anticlimax arrives when the editor finds the last few pages missing, just before the mystery is about to be unveiled (how perfectly annoying)! The real plot (not sure which one is real by this time), starts with the quest to find the missing pages, only for our reader to realise the author died and the missing pages have truly gone missing. Frustrating!

Our reader turns herself into an amateur detective, using some of the techniques she learnt at the hands of well renowned fictional mystery writers and put them to practice. Her strong sixth sense serves her well and she is proven correct in thinking that the author was murdered and did not commit suicide. The book is creative and involves not just one but two mysteries to solve and its a while before the reader reads the missing pages and finds out the first “whodunnit”

“Emotions which are quickly lost in the noise and chaos of the city fester around the village square, driving people to psychosis and violence. It’s a gift of the whodunnit writer”

Both mysteries are interesting in their own way, set in different time and different circumstances. It’s hard to forget that they are fictional mysteries – good thing is my nails are still intact by the end of the book. Language is average, characters are normal and setting is predictable and murderers are entirely idiotic.

Below lines did resonate with me as a reader,

“You must know that feeling when it’s raining outside and heating’s on and you lose yourself, utterly, in a book. You read and you read and you feel the pages slipping through your fingers until suddenly there are fewer in your right hand than there are in your left and you want to slow down but you still hurtle on towards a conclusion you can hardly bear to discover. That is the particular power of the whodunnit which has, I think, a special place within the general panoply of literary fiction because, of all characters, the detective enjoys a particular, indeed a unique relationship with the reader.”

I felt the authors interpretation of how avid readers feel towards the books was the best part.

On Love – Alain De Botton

“However happy we may be with our partner, our love for them necessarily hinders us from pursuing alternatives. But why should this constrain us if we love them? Why should we feel this as a loss unless our love for them has already begun to wane? Because in resolving our need to love, we do not always succeed in resolving our need to long.”

This book was recommended to me by a friend and made for quite an interesting read on a rainy afternoon. Being a female, i am quite experienced in the feelings that i feel from the inception of a crush, to the turning of it into an affair, to love and then the anti-climax of a break up and stages involved in getting over it. The accompanied emotions with every change is intrinsic to my being. However, even though i may have questioned how a man thinks during these stages, i have never been able to “figure out”. Well, here it is – written by a man, albeit a more evolved one, the feelings from a male perspective during the trajectory of a love affair – end to end. How can it not be a great and educational read.

Man and woman met on a plane and by the time luggage arrives, man had fallen in love. Since the narrative is from man’s perspective, reader may for the time being assume one-sided anxiety at the beginning of this affair. As we accompany the male into the depth of these affairs, we discover that though the direction of thinking might be different, men and women essentially do think through all their actions and put themselves out at their best at the beginning. There are lies involved and agreement to liking or enjoying things they have no idea about.

Then comes the routine when the novelty of a new intimacy gradually subsides. “what is an experience? something that breaks a polite routine and for a brief period allowed us to witness things with teh heightened sensitivity afforded to us by novelty, danger, or beauty – and its not he basis of shared experiences that intimacy is given an opportunity to grow” When all the questions have been answered, pasts shared and jokes laughed at – what is needed to keep up the interest, the excitement.

This is when the habits which are annoying surface, small tiff’s start surfacing and arguments followed by feeling of discontentment and question about – “is this the one i was looking my whole life?” start arising. What is too much information? what opinions are best kept to self? Is it ok to say i hate the shoes or provide honest opinion when sought? It is especially thought provoking when the author finds himself hiding in a bookstore to avoid an encounter with an ex-girlfriend? “There is something appalling in the idea that a person for whom you would sacrifice anything today might in a few months cause you to cross a road or a bookshop to avoid.”

Wheel of time turns – what went up, has to come down. Now the reader is mentally prepared to see the affair come to an end, as the communication breaks down and the distance starts to creep in. One partner is detached and the other partner is holding on tight to something which is already fleeting. This part of the book is so extremely surreal that it was shocking. Some of the behaviour author described as “love terrorist” are so relatable – they will make the reader examine some of their past affairs and in detail – you will find yourself asking – did i behave like this? and the answer would be resounding ‘yes’ to your horror.

Woman falls in love with the best friend and dumps the man. Now our narrator goes through the denial, hope, anger, melancholy and thoughts of revenge. “It is as if the end of love is already contained in its beginning, the ingredients of love’s collapse eerily foreshadowed by those of its creation” Its heartening to see the man walking towards another woman to fall in love at the end – reassuring, that there is something to move on to.

“Love taught the analytic mind a certain humility, the lesson that however hard it struggled to reach immobile certainties (numbering its conclusions and embedding them in neat series), analysis could never be anything but flawed – and therefore never stray far from the ironic”

Language is absolutely enticing. Drama is a bit exaggerated, especially since from male perspective – but then i am no authority on male sentiments – so who knows!

The Angels Die – Yasmina Khadra

“Dreams are a poor man’s guardian, and its destruction. They take us by the hand, walk us through a thousand promises, then leave us whenever they want. Dreams are clever; dreams understand psychology; they accept our feelings just as we take an inveterate liar at his word, but when we entrust our hearts and minds to them, they give us the slip just when things are going badly, and we find ourselves with a void in our head and a hole in our chest – all we have left is eyes to weep.”

Mohammed Moulessehoul is an Algerian author, who took his wife’s name as his pseudonym to avoid military censorship on his books. His books are set in the very volatile middle east but are stories of love and friendship and relationship amidst the conflict and the chaos – which is what gives them colour and a unique character. He will let the religious and political turmoil active at peripheral level, which his characters are aware of, impacted by but it’s about their lives inspite of. In this book, we encounter the east and west conflict as a way of life in Algeria.

The Angels Die is set in a port city of Oran, in Algeria and is a story of life, of love, of regrets and honour. Turambo, our protagonist is ready for the guillotine and awaiting his execution, when his whole life of 27 years flashes before his eyes. This is his story, story of his poverty-stricken childhood, his disillusions, his desires, success that comes his way and how it goes away soon enough. Turambo, whose real name is Amayas (which we won’t know until the later part of the book) belongs to a devout Muslim family, who is struggling to make ends meet. In his young life, he has seen his war veteran father abandon his family, his mother working to make ends meet, he has learned all sorts of work to bring some money home at the end of the day.

“Luck is like youth. Everyone has his share. Some grab it on the wing, others let it slip through their fingers, and others are still waiting for it when its long past….what did i do with mine?

The story takes a more interesting turn once he reaches the city of Oran with his family. Here Turambo’s luck turns in his favour after the initial struggles. He is discovered and taken over as a boxing protegĂ© by a Gym owner. Hard work and sheer determination paves his way to success and we see him going on to become the North African champion. This is a story of a boy, who inspite of the money and the fame thrown his way, is looking for love. Its his need to be loved that ultimately leads to the change in his circumstances. He has just announced his intention to give up boxing, so that he could marry the woman he loved – because she refused to marry a boxer. Turambo’s decision is not taken well by his sponsor and his manager, who are dependent on him for their earnings. When he discovers that Irene has been murdered, he goes mental and finds himself in police custody accused of a murder he does not remember committing.

In the end we find that luck did a number on him, saving him from execution but rendering him in a vegetable state – thus leading to change in his sentence to life imprisonment. He recovers but is never the same. When he comes out at the age of fifty-two, the world has changed and he finds himself leading a meaningless, aimless life.

“Let no one talk of miracles; what’s a miracle in a hospital room with no light? I’ve drawn a line under my joys and made peace with my sorrows; I’m good and ready. When memory weighs on the present, replacing the daylight being born at our window every morning, it must mean that the clock has decided that our time has come. We learn then to close our eyes on the few reflexes we still have and be alone with ourselves; in other words, with someone who becomes elusive to us as we accustom ourselves to his silences, then to his distances, until the big sleep takes us away from the chaos of all things.”

It’s a very beautiful book. Swallows of Kabul, though still remains my favourite till date.