The Girl Before You

downloadAuthor : Nicola Raynor

Pub . Date : 22 Aug , 2019

Publisher : HarperCollins Publishers Australia

Plot summary :

Alice catches a glimpse of a red-haired girl on a train who has a startling resemblance to one of the exes of her politician-turned-TV-presenter husband George Bell . This ex – Ruth Walker , had disappeared following the University’s memorial ball . It was widely believed at that time that she could have drowned as her dressed had been found washed up on the South Beach .

But , the recent sightings of the red-haired girl and the surfacing of some college memories makes Alice doubt if George knows more about what happened to Ruth Walker all those years ago .

My thoughts about the book

The book title is very similar to the debut of J P Delaney . The narrative straddles two timelines , past and present and the stories of three people :  Alice – George’s wife , Naomi – Ruth’s sister and Kat – Ruth’s frenemy from the college days . Rayner’s writing was engaging despite covering the regular subjects of a mystery-from-the-college-days type story-line – flashbacks into the college lives of the central characters .

The college days run into too great detail in the trio’s flashbacks and it almost always covers the following territories – shagging , pub visits & more shagging . I distinctly remember that they were only two places in the entire book where the author touched upon Kat’s visit to the library and Kat taking up her exams . Of course , academic stuff would not have even minimal engagement quotient with the readers but Rayner’s writing made it look like there’s more wine , parties & shagging than academics in universities . Whatever academic references are thrown in , I guess , they are there to make it seem like an ” all-rounded ” coverage of the life with the campus . Maybe , cutting off a chunk of the party-scenes and references to yet another shag episode between two people could have made this book a pacier read .

My only peeve  was that the editor should have pared out a good 70 pages worth of content to actually pack a stronger punch with the really good ending .  The reader has to navigate the torrent of this distracting stuff to get to the ‘ THE ENDING WHICH WILL LEAVE YOU GASPING ‘ – so the Observer critic says . Yes , the ending was really very good and you would have never guessed it . But , probably , navigating a torrent of distracting stuff did it for me – I did not get shocked / gasp but I am quite satisfied with how the pieces of the puzzle finally fell in place .

There was one particular instance where the credibility quotient takes a serious dip ( atleast for me ) –  Can anyone imagine two heavily pregnant women wandering the streets of a small University town , ” looking ” for a woman , they are not sure if she actually exists ? Even , if they are convinced there is such a lady , is there not a possibility that she might have relocated / died ? Why would they not leave the hunt to the police ?  Maybe it’s only my imagination that refuses to stretch itself .

Despite a not-so-great editing , some instances which require the reader to stretch their imaginations ( strictly my take ) , it is still a great suspense read with a riveting plot-line and a great finishing , if you choose to overlook the above mentioned points .  Maybe , sometimes , you should leave too-much-lookout-for-logic by the wayside ,  to enjoy a book .

Rating : 3 . 5 / 5

My thanks to the publisher for the e – ARC in exchange for an honest review . You can checkout the review for J P Delaney’s debut here . Until the next review then .

Girl From The Tree House (Women of Our Time Book #1 ) – Book Review

download (1)

Author : Gudrun Frerichs

Publisher : BooksGoSocial

Pub. Date : 30 May 2019

Plot Summary :

For Elizabeth , self is not I , it’s we . From a very early age , Elizabeth has suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder . She doesn’t like her own name and prefers to be referred to as Elise ( the default alter ) – Elizabeth has disappeared long ago and exists only on paper . Then there is Lillie – the hard-headed & quick-thinking 18 year old who refers to herself as the resident crisis-manager of the ” tree- house” , Ama – ” the camp-mother ” & Sky – the wise person of the council – the core alters who are the narrators for Elizabeth ‘s life story as a DID person .

The tree- house is the imaginary ” house ” where Elise’s alters convene and discuss about the tough situations and decide what needs to be done and who is the best person to take over the body at that particular instant . There are almost 50 people camping in the tree-house . We also have Luke –  the ‘ man -of -the-house ‘ , Phoenix – the tribe’s grandfather , Amadeus who will land a few punches before asking any questions  & a bunch of child alters like Mike , Tobias , Maddie . Everybody lives together as a joint family and each one of them ( down to the youngest alter ) has a role to play in the tree-house .

It has taken a long time but the core alter personalities have devised the system of working harmoniously and to play up on each other ‘ s strengths . It has still not become easy with some of the younger alters getting easily triggered but the older ones take care that they won’t hijack the body when they are in one of their moods .

When Horace Reid dies , it looks like freedom for them . But when they are faced with the threat of being institutionalized , the alters jump into action and elope to New Zealand’s South Island to their maternal aunt’s house . But , too late , the tribe discovers that coming to their aunt’s house has triggered some horrendous memories for few alters . When they are accused in a murder , they are on the run again . It looks like the monsters from their past have had them on their radar all the time .

Can they trust Scott – the neighbor who goes out of the way to help them ? Can they actually trust one another ?

My review :

Crime fiction writers have always had a field day with a DID protagonist . They are always in the thick of a web of lies , deceit and conspiracies but completely clueless damsels in distress . In my previous reads , there has always been an understanding therapist who helps them to get to know the other alters ‘ secret and eventually facilitate the alters ‘ integration with the host . But here , the protagonist ‘ s alters seem to be able to look out for Elise ( the default alter ) themselves . They often remind each other about Miss Marple ‘s comments during their therapy sessions with her ( their nickname for their therapist ) but they don’t seem to miss the therapy couch to get to know each other – they have their black book where they write letters / short notices to the others when one of them gets the ‘body-time ‘ . Perhaps Gudrun is showing how normally can a person with DID  can function in a regular scenario . It seems somewhat ideal but not entirely impossible .

Another thing which I had come to understand from my earlier reads is that ” integration of the parts ” means that the person is  cured of DID. A quick research showed that Gudrun might be more honest about the integration subject than several other authors . Lillie observes , ” I don’t know if there exists such a thing as integration . I suspect it’s a myth spread by a bunch of zealous clinicians , who still haven’t paid off their mortgages and need income . “

There is the ‘ mother – figure alter ‘ , ‘ the wise-person-in-the-crowd alter ‘ , ‘the hard-headed & unsentimental alter ‘ , ‘ the lost-little-one child alter ‘ which I identified from my previous read . But its the personality and the little details of the characters that actually make these characters stand out from several others . For example , Casper can speak Finnish & Lizette  French (!!) . Lilly is German while the others are Kiwis (!!!) . These details can come only from somebody who has a deep understanding about  DID .

There are several observations from the alters in the same tune – ” For the first time , someone treated me like a normal woman and not a mental basket case “ ( And that’s a pleasant surprise . I am forever grateful for this huge gesture )

” As soon as you end up with a mental health label , you are a second-class citizen “

All these only indicate the sad state of how mental-illness is still a taboo even today .

It is labelled as a psychological thriller . While it can be psychological ,  as it explores the mind-workings of a DID person , there is too little thriller element in the book .  There is some dark-humor & witticisms  from Lillie , the explaining – DID ‘ s – aspects from Sky , the baffled ‘ help!-I-don’t -understand-what’s-going-on ‘ tone of Elise that this book is , more of an exploration of life as a multiple than a crime novel . It was , however , a riveting read . Highly recommended from me…

Rating : 4 / 5

My thanks to the publisher for the e – ARC in exchange for an honest review . Until the next review then….

Everything Under – Book review

downloadI have finished Everything Under by Daisy Johnson which I recently managed to check out at a second hand book-store at an insanely low price because the lady at the store did not see the Shortlisted The Man Booker Prize 2018 logo emblazoned in the cover . You ‘ ll never know when you will hit the jackpot with book-shopping in second hand book shops . So , onto the book review without any further detours –

Plot summary :

Gretel is a lexicographer who has always been fascinated with words .  During her early childhood , she and her mother , Sarah , lived on a canal boat and words like sheesh time , harpiedoodle , effing were once part of her vocabulary . She didn’t realize her mother had given her a set of words which she had made up herself and nobody else ( except for themselves ) was using them . Sarah had abandoned her when she was sixteen after which she was in and out of different foster homes until she was old enough to leave .

Now , sixteen years later , she is reunited with Sarah and there are several questions , about the past , which are egging her to revisit her foggy memories of the days in the canal boat .  There is : Marcus who came to stay with them the last winter on the boat ,  their private language , the Bonak , the canal – thief . In the end , Gretel has no choice but to revisit those memories .

My thoughts on the book :

This modern day retelling of the Oedipus myth is set in the fen-land landscape .  Sarah is the fen-land Jocasta and ‘ Marcus ‘ ( who turns out to be Margot in disguise ) is the fen-land Oedipus . Now , why do I stress on the landscape ? Simply because , the river landscape peopled with canal-boats ‘ inhabitants and the people in the houses near the river with their lifestyle quite different from regular people , lends the narrative a flavor of its own .

The narrative switches between Gretel’s hunt for her mother , the present and Marcus ‘ story ( in which Gretel tries to imaginatively piece together how Marcus might have turned up on their boat after running away from home ) with only the chapters titled as The Hunt , The Cottage and the River for help with the timeline . The author has trusted the reader to figure out the narrative style & voices without jumping in to help by way of timestamps and stuff like that – I appreciate it very much . ( There have been few books where the author stepped in with narrator’s names / timeline and the plot became too predictable halfway through the book . )

The fact that Johnson has come up with her own words for the mother-daughter duo’s private language is simply mind-blowing . The writing  leans slightly towards hysterical realism , in that , her vignettes convey enough to capture the moment with the important  little details without being too elaborative . The mild hysterical realism  ( what an oxymoron !! ) serves to keep the narrative crisp .  Here is a sample –

The rental car was red and the hospital seemed to be mostly a long corridor . I walked past entrances to the gynecology , respiratory health , private . It smelled of soup warmed up in the staff microwave , burned toast , bleach . [..] “

There are a few passages which I relished , few which I reflected on – in all , the language of this book is at times beautiful / interesting and very engaging  .

” The places we are born come back to us . They disguise themselves as words , memory loss , nightmares . [..] “

” [..] the past did not die just because we wanted it to . The past signed to us : clicks and cracks in the night , misspelled words , the jargon of adverts , the bodies that attracted us or did not , the sounds that reminded us of this and that . The past was not a thread trailing behind us but an anchor . [..]”

” [..] if all our choices are remnants of all the choices we made before . As if decisions were shards from the bombs of our previous actions . “

Rating : 5 / 5

I would definitely urge you to pick up this book if you have not picked it up yet – the rating should say it all .

Is book-blogging-minus-book-reviews ruining book-blogging ?

imagesThe other day I read a book blogger’s musings about the very discouraging reader engagement for book reviews in contrast to non-review content which seems to have become almost a must-have to bring readers to your book blog in the first place . Otherwise , the book blogger might as well write in his / her  personal diary – forget about reader engagement with the content , the post does not get any clicks .

As several other book bloggers have pointed out repeatedly , today book blogs minus book reviews have become a trend . If they do have reviews , they are the some 5 or 6 lines about a book – the mini-reviews . Almost every review reads like the one before : ” It was unputdownable…” , ” I stopped in my tracks when I finally came to the big reveal – you would’ve have never seen it coming… ” . There are too many adjectives and adverbs in these mini-reviews  : ( almost ) nothing original but still there just to enforce upon the readers the intensity of the reviewer’s reactions , I think .

Mini reviews are somewhat okay but there is one book-blogging fad which I have not taken to ( & will never ) : the book-tags . I have never gotten the idea behind book tags . Somebody please enlighten me about putting out a list of books / writing about bookish elements which fit a particular tagline . You may identify your fandom tribe and can have gush about your favorite series all over again . That’s how far book-tags go for me . I haven’t picked up a single book yet after reading book tags .

In today’s blogosphere , with too many wannabe-writers / hobbyists competing with each other for the readers’ engagement with their content , it’s only natural that many book bloggers are turning to the easy-content-with-high-reader-engagement to bring in the numbers . I myself have put 2 compilation posts in this blog and vouch for it being a blog-saver : The blog was languishing and I was not reading much to review it here . At-least these recommendations posts let people know that I haven’t shut shop . Now , after 3 months of my first ever reading – slump , I am back .

But , I regretted each time I put out some filler content like that .

I don’t see mini-reviews / book tags / listicles ( basically , several of the recent fads in book-blogging culture ) as being of much value ( forget about the literary value ) to the readers . Sure , people may pick up books from your list but I believe that nothing can take the place of a proper book review – a review which dissects the various aspects of the book : the themes , the characterization , the plot , the storytelling . The in – depth reviews offer the reader / would-be reader an idea about what to look for in the book and encourage them to read better . The mini – reviews / book recommendation posts most often read like those blurbs written by the book’s promotion team – the blogger’s ultimate goal is to pique the reader’s interest . Still better , if they make them pick up that book . But , is it the purpose of blogging about books ? Aren’t the book bloggers supposed to be facilitating better reading of books by having discussions around the books they have read / full-fledged reviews about their reads ?

I believe that nothing can take the place of a proper book review – a review which dissects the various aspects of the book : the themes , the characterization , the plot , the storytelling . The in – depth reviews offer the reader / would-be reader an idea about what to look for in the book and encourage them to read better .

But , is making the readers pick up the book after reading your mini-reviews , the sole purpose of blogging about books ? Aren’t the book bloggers supposed to be facilitating better reading of books by having discussions around the books they have read / full-fledged reviews about their reads ?

As important influencers among the reading tribe , I think that every book blogger should ensure that their blogs carry more literary content than fad / filler content . As an analogy , while we are concerned about the quality of reporting these days with more of click-bait headlines ( basically all celeb stuff and all other fluff ) rather than THE IMPORTANT STUFF that make it to our online news-feed , let us also get concerned about the content our book blogs carry . Because , in this digital age of short attention-span / need for eye-ball grabbing stuff like GIF s to actually entice the readers into clicking the link to your post / availability of encyclopedic proportions of information on every random topic , giving the readers all this fad stuff would only further contribute to the growth this culture of mindless consumption of anything they read .

I think it is the time for the book-bloggers to remedy this mindless consumption by putting out content that would open the readers’ eyes to the various aspects of the book being reviewed and help them to identify these aspects in their own current reads . And , it won’t hurt the reader to read some proper reviews without all the distracting fluff like GIF s , memes . When readers get to read more quality content like good discussion posts / book reviews online , they would demand quality content every time , in turn making us book-bloggers  read better . Currently , our production of all these fluffy content has shaped their book-blogs’ experience , in turn forcing us to keep churning out more of this useless content and it definitely wouldn’t do for us to hold the reader accountable for the content we post on our blogs .

I think it’s high time that book bloggers had a good look at their content and ” fads ” they are encouraging .

As an analogy , while we are concerned about the quality of reporting these days  , with more of click-bait headlines ( basically all celeb stuff and all other fluff ) rather than THE IMPORTANT STUFF that make it to our online news-feed , let us also get concerned about the content our book blogs carry .

In this digital age of short attention-span / need for eye-ball grabbing stuff like GIF s to actually entice the readers into clicking the link to your post / availability of encyclopedic proportions of information on every random topic , giving the readers all this fad stuff would only further contribute to the growth this culture of mindless consumption .

Let me know your thoughts about this post in the comments section below . I would like to hear about what do you feel about the trend of book-blogging- minus-book-reviews? Are you taking to it well or are you like me ? Also share your thoughts on the book blogging elements I have termed as fads or fluff-content…

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The Mother – in – Law – Book review

download (1)  I chanced upon The Mother-in-law by Sally Hepworth as one of the must-read beach reads of  2019 . The title flipped some switch inside my head and I remembered that I had it on my Kindle . I had got it from Net Galley . But after reading books with hackneyed plots ( like about an impostor nanny with Munchhausen syndrome who is also a writer ) , I was wary about  trying out any Net-galley offering . But , thankfully , it turned out to be a pretty  satisfying read .

Plot summary :

A staunch advocate for women refugees , a prominent member of the community hailing from one of the wealthiest families & not to forget the lady’s elegance , Lucy had been properly intimidated by Diana Goodwin – her prospective mother-in-law during their first meeting . When Lucy did get married to Diana’s son eventually , she looked forward to gelling with her better and reverse Diana’s opinion of her being only a fine girl . She wanted to impress Diana properly like Diana had impressed her .

Lucy tried , very hard , during the early days of her marriage , to win over Diana but eventually gave up . But , then , she didn’t know Diana back then . Diana had an innate reserve that nobody had quite managed to navigate past  – even her children . Diana would offer sympathy , solid advice or would simply listen but she would never extend financial support . It seems that things haven’t changed much in the Goodwin household even after all these years…..

And , now , Diana is dead . While her suicide note suggests that she had taken this step because of her cancer , the autopsy does not find any cancer . But it does find traces of poison in her system and signs of suffocation .

Now that the police are looking for motivations for Diana’s homicide , there seem to be several reasonable ones . And there are several questions too -Why was Diana’s will changed at the eleventh hour to disinherit both of her children, and their spouses? And what does it mean that Lucy isn’t exactly sad Diana’s gone ? Why would Diana lie about the cancer ?

Of course , there are interesting secrets and it seems everybody knows something about Diana’s death which they are not letting out…

My thoughts on the book :

The premise of ” after x’s death ” is not a new one but the choice of the MIL – DIL relationship as the focal point for the narrative of the family’s dynamics is new . Both are very engaging  & often witty and their voices are done well .  Through Diana’s and Lucy’s narratives , we come to understand their relationship in a way which they never would , because we get an uncensored view into their mind workings . The host of secondary characters have also come out well .

I have a few things which did not sit well with me though….

For one thing , there were too many sub-texts / afterthoughts within the parentheses ,  which I felt , cramped the free flow of the narrative . Another thing which I thought was very unnecessary is the time-stamping throughout the book . . The voices of both Diana and Lucy are very distinct and the reader can easily get to know who is speaking and of which time-frame the narrator is speaking about . I think the readers today have been exposed quite well to alternating time-frame narrations and multiple POVs that they don’t require much help from the author by way of PAST and PRESENT time stamps along with the narrator’s name at the start of every chapter .

I want to ask the writer just one thing – Why don’t you trust the readers to work out these little things by themselves ? If the voices of your characters are distinct , then you don’t have anything to worry about ( Sally H can be happy as her characters ‘ voices  are really done well . She just needs to have some faith in her readers and herself ) .

The big reveal , though , was a bit underwhelming . Perhaps , not putting up his / her name as the narrator at the top of the page would have been better . It was not difficult to put together the circumstances and the name at the top of the page but the ” twist ” was not very convincing .

On the whole , Sally H. kept me turning the pages until the not-so-twisted end ( and for few above-mentioned hiccups ) and for that , I have to thank her .  It would not do to forget the publisher , St . Martin’s press  here – A big thank you to whoever approved the e – ARC on time .

Rating : 3 . 5 / 5

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The Memory Keeper’s Daughter : Kim Edwards

Norah Henry , Dr David Henry’s wife remarks  “Our world will never be the same.” before they start to the hospital for Norah’s first delivery during a blizzard . Little did she or Henry think about how much weight those words carry : Norah delivers twins unprecedentedly – a boy and a girl . While the boy is a healthy infant , the girl has Down’s syndrome . David secretly entrusts the baby to the care of a nurse while informing Norah that the child has died during birth .  Norah would not come to know about her daughter’s existence until 25 years later – but the secret which had weighed down David like ” a stone around his neck ” as he himself puts it has torn the family apart .

I Know Everything – Book review **

Amanda Brock , psychiatrist Randall Brock’s wife dies in what seems to be a freak car accident .  Investigator Susan Adler is forced to take a second look at Amanda’s  case when the Medical Examiner’s office finds evidence pointing to murder .

When Brock thinks he knows everything about Amanda , he receives a visit from a stranger who lets him onto two of Amanda’s secrets – secrets which make him realize that he had not known his wife well .  The stranger also implies that Amanda was murdered and he knows more about Amanda’s death . In exchange for revealing Amanda’s secrets and information about her death to him , Randall must reveal his secrets to the stranger .
Randall too has his own secrets – things from his traumatic past which he thought he had buried all together . Having those secrets out in the open meant the end of everything he had rebuilt – his career , his life , his reputation . As this visitor lets him know that he knows too much about him and implicates Randall further with his every visit in Susan’s eyes about his involvement in Amanda ‘s death ,  Randall starts unraveling from the pressure of it all . Eventually he begins questioning his own sanity as evidence against him mounts…..

It is up to Susan now to find out who is Amanda ‘s  killer – Is it always the husband ?