Category: Book Review

Finished reading Atomic Habits by James Clear.

I didn’t want to read another self-help book. But this one had been recommended to me for so many days, so many times that I had to read this once. Going in, I absolutely knew what to expect of the book. I got just that. It just was structured well enough to keep me going.

James Clear has got a nice framework in place — make good habits obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying. One can understand why that is important. He also presents it with enough examples and detailed description. I just wish it was shorter. A few chapters feel repetitive and only to be there to meet the page count goal. We could trim almost a third of the book and it would still be equally effective.

Anyway, the rating is for the simple way James presents the framework. There’s something to be learnt from this, for sure.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Book Review: The Mystery of the Blue Train

The Mystery of the Blue Train is a typical Poirot mystery, just not presented in her signature intriguing style. There are just too many shifts to the points of view of the supporting characters. The clues are perceivable, but they aren’t backed by any information that is revealed earlier. There were many moments when I knew what was being narrated was important, was a clue to something. But I could just not put my finger on why that was so. The resolution towards the end too did not feel very natural; it felt rushed, forced.

With the way the novel is structured, it felt as if Christie began writing this somewhere in the middle when Poirot is introduced, reached towards the end, and began to wonder how to tie the woven mystery up. All the side characters and their backstories were penned at that point and spread across the novel.

As a whole, the story just didn’t feel coherent. It wasn’t boring; I don’t think Christie can write a boring mystery. But it just wasn’t one of her finest works. I have heard even she has acknowledged this fact.

Book Review: Seriously… I’m Kidding

I picked up this book just as a filler — something I read in between when am in no mental state of anything serious. Or something that will make me think. Or will make me sad. So I had very little expectations going in. And the book met my expectations to the T. It wasn’t terrible. But I don’t think I will remember any part of it after even a month.

I have now given up on many memoirs” which are nothing more than essays on varied topic. I have realized that they simply don’t interest me. Especially humor ones. Fact that I could sit through and complete this book is in itself a surprise for me.

One thing that might have worked in favor somewhat is that I listened to this book rather than reading it. I think the experience must have been a tad better. Because ..uhmm.. Ellen. But the content just was too patchy overall. Some essays were brilliantly written. They talked about some nice little ideas. And with Ellen’s easy-on-ears style of narrating, they made me laugh. Some even made me think. Her journal entries while on beach or her thoughts on having (not?) kids, to note a couple, are damn funny.

Others, however, – and there many to be frank – were terrible. Her haikus or bucket lists were just horrible. I don’t even know why were there in the book. They weren’t funny. They had no reason. They were just .. there. Wish if the chapters that weren’t funny at least made me learn something about Ellen’s life. Nope. Didn’t do even that. Few had just 4-5 words. Not something I enjoy – sorry. Even when I have very low expectations.

All in all, this is a terrible memoir, okiesh essay collection, a breezy audiobook. You can listen through it completely over a long drive. You won’t miss a thing while you place and collect your order at a drive through. Don’t pause. Don’t replay. Just let it play on through your drive.

Content gets 2 stars. Ellen gets another star. However, I don’t think I will pick up another of her earlier books any time soon though. Or any of the essay/memoirs. I am done with this genre.

Book Review: Murder in the Mystery Suite

A mystery of murders during a Murder and Mayhem week”, amid some role-playing and fantasy crime solving”. Now that’s one juicy premise. Alas, a juicy premise is necessary, but never sufficient after all to make a compelling read.

A widower Jane Stewart works as a manager at her ageing great-aunt and -uncle’s storybook resort. Things go awry for her when during her planned Murder and Mayhem week, one of her guests is murdered and the book he had won as part of a scavenger hunt is missing. It is now Jane’s responsibility – not just as the resort manager, but as a guardian to the treasure the book was part of – to find the real-killer and the missing book.

This is such a simple plot that could very well have been penned into a riveting mystery. But it wasn’t. I was so close to give up on this books at one moment – actually that was right at the moment it stopped being a murder mystery and veered into at attempted thriller around a treasure trove. Plot is thin. Writing is barely passable. Mystery is poorly narrated. There just isn’t enough suspense and urgency to hold the reader’s attention. A straight forward story, narrated in an extremely amateurish manner.

A word on the writing first, I think the way the book started was pretty promising. Author Ellery Adams did have a nice plot at her hands. However, the way she chose to present it is so unlike a murder mystery typically is. I wasn’t involved enough to care for anyone who was dead because the characters just weren’t built well. Add to that, a reader was informed, told, that a person was murdered — never shown. For that matter, every thing that happens is told to the reader, not shown. And that’s where lies the biggest fault of the novel.

An inclination from the author to kick start a series by making this much bigger than a simple, cozy murder mystery didn’t help either. All it does is introduce a string of unnecessary subplots and a meandering ending that attempts to set ground for books to come.

A murder mystery needs a meaty plot, strong characters and succinct narration. Unfortunately, this books fails on all count for me. Jane, the protagonist, doubts at multiple points in the book if she is worthy to be the guardian of a family secret; wishes if she had just been a Resort Manager. I, as a reader, wished the same.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book Review: Origin by Dan Brown

A mystery thriller — what do I expect from a book that categorises itself as that? A deep, dark mystery to start with. Woven into a tight, intriguing plot. A protagonist as bemused as the reader about the main plot, but a lot smarter to overcome the clues and riddles en route. If it’s a Robert Langdon mystery, I am trained now to expect a bit less of the later. Of course, with abundance of information on art – the artists, the structures, the paintings – delivered as riddles relevant to the overarching plot.

Unfortunately, Origin fails on all counts for me. The mystery it intends to solve is too thin — the plot is stretched too long. It isn’t even a good Langdon story. All our polymath symbologist is made to do throughout is sit through the tiresome travelogues and some bootless scientific blabber. All in hope of an earth-shattering reveal — unfortunately even that fails to be one.

Langdon is flown to Bilbao, Spain by his old student Edmond Kirsch to witness his presentation with potentially far-reaching effects on the religions all around the world. And of course, humanity too. He has already unnerved a set of prominent religious figures by a special and exclusive preview of his discovery. Where do we come from? Where are we going?” The enigmatic billionaire futurist has the world’s eyes with a promise to answer these longstanding questions. But a brain-washed assassin throws the world into disarray by eliminating Kirsch. Only hope rests, then, on Professor Langdon and the bold & gorgeous sidekick, Ambra Vidal, to uncover their friend Edmond’s discovery.

There are a lot of subplots involving, of course the brainwashing of the assassin and his quest to stop the protagonist duo on run, the family feud in monarchy and the struggle of the Guardia Real on whom and what to trust. And then their is Edmond’s most prized invention, his own personal Jarvis – the AI assistant Winston.

In short, there is a lot going on here. But it is presented in a bloated form where nothing captures reader’s attention or gets his pulse rising. All plot twists are easy to see miles ahead. The chapter-end cliffhangers just tend to delay some trivial or glaring surprises. Same applies to the now-renowned Brown template of holding back from reader a specific information that character owns. I admit it might be a style of keeping readers intrigued. But when the substance is not meaty, one just feels cheated. And finally the ending is anticlimactic — feeble, obvious and noncommittal.

What about the knowledge sharing sessions of Langdon, you may ask? Yes, there are a lot. And I have been forthcoming in my dislike for the irrelevance of them. This is what I had said in my review of Inferno. Many a times, the novel reads as Brown’s travelogue of places during his research, just there to increase the page count.” That hasn’t been fixed in here too. Rather it has gone worse. In Inferno, at list the flabby travelogue were towards solving a clue. Here the sessions are just feckless, as Langdon wanders on, contemplating.

With Origin, Brown intended to take on a strong idea — about creation and destiny. About God’s existence. A deft rigidness while editing could well have turned this into terse, riveting story. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book Review: A Man Called Ove

Very few books make me root for the central character. Ove has me hooked.. am with him for a fun ride!” That was my update a third into the book. And boy, did this guy keep me hooked. I was with him as his past unfolded in front of me. I was with him as his present life was amended by some funny, some happy, some sad events. Above all, I was with him as this grumpy old sod grew into a grumpy, but caring, grandad.

Author, Fredrik Backman, allows the characters to grow and that is the biggest reason the book worked for me. There is no haste in revealing the past or bumping into Ove’s future. Every chapter, a short story in itself, unfolds more of Ove and the world around him. You see Ove as he is. You are slowly led to understand why he is the way he is, mostly via flashbacks. You are made to feel for the guy, made to root for him to not stay how he is. And when that happens, because you are already absorbed into Ove’s life, you are left contented.

Saying Ove is grumpy would be an understatement. He is on the edge always, ready to get worked up. He is disappointed in everyone around him. He feels no one is responsible enough to care for oneself – dependent on others for every little thing. He feels the world around has no respect for rules of the land, doesn’t matter they are chalked out by Ove himself. So he takes it upon himself to make sure people are constantly reminded of that. And that’s how he lives his life – a monotonous, misanthropic one . And as Ove is planning to end his troubles with his life, fate has just the opposite planned for him — to add just enough goodness in Ove’s life to thaw the bitterness.

The book maintains a wry sense of humor throughout. It made me laugh out loud at multiple instances. Especially, the way Ove’s frustrations in other people’s incompetence are worded is an absolute masterclass. The book also maintains a deep sad undertone. It does not ever let Ove’s sulkiness make you hate him.

So be it through his affection towards a young boy in love or forced, but welcome attachment from the lively new neighbor or the unspoken responsibility towards the old, and may be the only friend, Ove always shows just enough warmth to make him the most likable character in a long long time. Or in Sonja, Ove’s wife’s words, the strangest superhero I have ever heard about.

Go welcome this guy, and the gang, into your life. He will make you smile, guffaw, shed a tear and, above all, enlighten you towards life. A must read.

My Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Book Review: The Oath of the Vayuputras

Typical Trilogy. Starts well. Goes haywire. Falls flat.

Such a letdown by the finale. Last third of the book completely ruined the build-up — which itself wasn’t too great. But this could have been so much better if the author did not fall for the pressure to jack up the number of pages — the effort, to stretch the story unnecessarily, clearly shows.

It’s all about the impending war. Amish can write battles well. But he struggled to put the battles together into an interesting story. Towards the end it was just a drag. There was no thrill, there was no surprise, there was no story remaining. It was just an attempt to conclude the trilogy, a miserable attempt at best.

There are too many characters, each seeking a closure of his own – leading to too many unnecessary side stories. Further surprising is no character behaves the way you expect them to behave. Parvateshwar doesn’t. _Ganesh_doesn’t. Even Shiva doesn’t – the biggest issue.

Sigh. It is not easy to close mystery trilogies. And the frustration at not being clear on how to do so, for Shiva, shows from the plot that unravels — left me fuming.


Spoilers Ahead

A side note on the overall series, I am completely baffled by how the tile & summary of the novels set complete different expectations than what the actual plot delivers. It applies for all 3 — realised first with The Secret of Nagas”.

There was no secret of or from Nagas that was significant to earn a title. This one goes further ahead. At least in the second one, Nagas had significant role. Here, Vayuputras just have no f-ing role at all. It could very well have been some smart brahmin who owned the nuclear” weapon and it would not have mattered a whit. And Oath? Which f-ing oath are you talking about? Plot goes on irrespective of it exists or not. In fact, one Shiva gives Mithra, he so uncharacteristically breaks.

Sigh! Every word in summary is to hype up the mystery. Titles are completely baseless. Not the right precedent this.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book Review: Mort

A great fun read with extremely witty subplots is how I remember this book. But then I think about it a bit and it is not how I felt throughout.

It is extremely slow, occasionally (just) funny in the initial half. It does have that moment of laugh-out-loud humour in between — but slow nonetheless. So much so that I had lost the interest in between. It was as if jokes were written around characters (mostly caricatures) and thrown in. And the pages filled in describing the fantasy land and the surroundings were too much at times. But that is before the plot picks up and fun kicks in again.

The novel is sheer pleasure after that. I couldn’t put it down and wanted to know what happens next. Frankly, more than what happens, I was interested in how Terry Pratchett words it. I have realised that Pratchett is a master of witty fantasies. It was not that rare when I used to pause and admire how unnaturally a feeling (like fear, anger , etc.) can be described without sounding stupid. If there ever was a university of metaphors, Pratchett would surely be the founder of that. And he would still be teaching a course on thinking big — weird, but big.

So here I am confounded for the first time after reading a book. Do I like the book, the story or do I like the way it is often spun? And it turns out I find the book to be just OK. But then I would pick it up any day, go back to my highlighted passages and admire the mastery at work.

And just for this master Pratchett, I will pick up another of the Discworld novels soon and start taking notes.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thoughts on The Martian

This novel has left me with a lot of thoughts. First off, I am totally confused on what I really feel about this. It is one of the most difficult books I found to review. So I just won’t. I do not think I would be able to word my thoughts well. Well, they are confused.

So I would instead refer to one review that I completely concur with. Thomas has done a great job reviewing this at Goodreads. Here’s how he describes the style of prose in the novel, the survival” journey of Mark Watney.

Watney discovers a problem. Watney worries for a sentence or two. Watney comes up with a solution. Watney enacts the solution with minimal struggle. Watney celebrates. Rinse and repeat.

There, Thomas has described what goes on in 75% of the pages. Sigh! This guy Watney is an unbelievable genius. No trouble or challenge is big for him. He glides over every challenge as one would with a game of toys. Actually that’s exactly how Andy Weir, the author, writes this; as if he is Andy from Toy Story spinning an action-drama around Woody during his play time. Throw anything at him, he would have the smarts, the resources and the luck with him to soar out of it. And you know right that at the beginning of every log Watney writes.

There lies the novel’s biggest drawback. It just has one tone, the tone of success. And you can’t build a thriller if the reader is just not thrilled for the protagonist.

To sum up, this is what Thomas has to say.

My overall thoughts on The Martian center on its lack of introspection and repetitive descriptions of action, its disconcerting lack of characterization, and the drought of struggle each of the characters underwent. Watney faces a difficult situation, but I at no point in my entire reading thought he would suffer, based on his Pollyanna tone.

Completely agree. I do not think Andy Weir wanted to write a thriller about a Martian. He wanted to jot down his thoughts on what will it take scientifically for a guy to survive on Mars. And the novel is a breezy light log of these thoughts. You can skim through it without getting involved, like any science paper/theory you read.

All said, this is a nice fleet of thoughts, dreams of Andy Weir. The efforts that Andy Weir has put in that included extensive research into orbital mechanics, conditions on Mars, the history of manned spaceflight, and botany” for the novel shows. A one time read for sure just for that. Just don’t look for a thriller in this and you should be fine.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Review: Gone Girl

Dark, Psycho Thriller with neither Mystery nor Thrill.

I started reading this book wanting, assuming, it to be a suspenseful thriller. I was unaware it is more of a sociopathic, twisted whine-fest. Some can call it a character study, narrative of flawed minds. For me, though, it is all whining. Sick. Sorry!

First. You get thrilled only when you long for some character, root for the happenings surrounding their lives. Gone Girl presented none too me. None of the protagonists, neither Nick nor Amy, interested me. They are too twisted for me to care for them. There was a time I wanted them to just get rid of one another.

Second. Plot progresses at unbearable pace. Not slow. Unbearable”. It is either stagnant when author is flaunting her literary chops, narrating character study”. Or it progresses to next sub-plot or twist way too conveniently. Nothing is believable here. I could not connect to, sympathise with or even imagine any of the events. Slow, lazy unwinding, I don’t mind. This broken, staggered recital I have problem with.

And then there is the crazy middle and end. [spoiler] When you make me read ~250 pages of whining, only half way into the book, you better not tell me it was all setup. Nothing you read is true.[/spoiler] The end is dragged so much that I was just turning pages to make sure it ends. I just didn’t care how. There is no buildup, there is no climax. It just ends abruptly. Not left open, but left carelessly unresolved.

Sigh. Anyway one can say I should not have read this after all, it is not for me. This dissection of human psyche, especially the twisted one, is not to my taste. All I recall is I have never kept looking at the percentage-read mark so profusely ever. And that’s where Gone Girl failed me.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars