Best Reads of 2020

It has been a concern to me that my reading capabilities actually diminished in 2020. While others have been gloating on how they had gained immense time during the pandemic to read, I hadn’t. And felt a little sad about it. I have read only 20 books in 2020. But then, I did a bit of embroidery too and that had eaten up quite a few hours. Overall, it is probably balanced, but I’d loved to have read more. The ones I loved are here:

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – By Stuart Turton

The first book I read in 2020 was amazingly hyped as one of the most interesting books of the previous year. Having won the Costa Book Awards 2018, it seemed endlessly intriguing. And I hadn’t been disappointed at all. There is quite a bit of convoluted plotting and organising the chapters according to the ‘lives.’ What amazed me was a few reviews that said they didn’t like the book because it was ‘too complicated.’ And here I am, looking around for more books like this! I loved the writing style – it had the elite 19th century touch, the characters that were as varied as chalk and cheese, and the surprise value in the plot. The only thing I didn’t like was the rushed climax. Nonetheless, this was one of the best and even better than Turton’s second book ‘The Devil And The Dark Water,’ which failed to be in this list. Detailed review here.

The Girl You Left Behind – By Jojo Moyes

Let’s admit that I love historical novels, especially ones with multiple timelines, also ones that dabble into art, more importantly, in world war art and their reclamation. Those are a lot of genres criss-crossed into a beautifully poignant novel – The Girl You Left Behind. The portrait of an extraordinary woman transcends decades and creates a powerful impact into another woman’s life from falling apart. There’s provenance that lead to dark secrets and unpleasant people, a fair bit of love and lots of grit and determination from all the women characters. It was a treat to read and I’ve found one of my favourite sub-sub-genre of historical-war-art-fiction. Detailed review here.

A Suitable Boy – By Vikram Seth

The talk of the town, the crème-de-la-crème of last year’s big budget blockbuster BBC-Netflix movie adaptation was my longest read of the year (obviously for it’s sheer volume of 1500+ pages). I love Vikram Seth. I have loved his poems and his delicately penned novel ‘An Equal Music.’ This was on my TBR since long and the fat book now lies in my bookshelf back in India. So, the Kindle version came to rescue and I wanted to read it before the tv series premiered. Not that it made any difference as I haven’t watched the series yet. I can only say that it takes some sensibility to grasp the equations between the characters and their relationships in this labyrinth of a book. It’s not easy and it’s lengthy – two factors deterrent for the current young generation to appreciate this beauty of a novel. I haven’t found many who have read it entirely, mostly because of lack of patience; the others have shelved it as they were bored by a few parts. And then, the tv/web series made it easier to DNF the voluminous book and just focus on the abridged, minified, dancing, colourful frames that you don’t have to visualise. It took me time too, since my attention span seems to falter these days, but it was worth. Detailed review coming soon.

Troubled Blood – By Robert Galbraith

It’s no longer a mystery that Robert Galbraith is J.K.Rowling’s pseudonym for the Cormoran Strike series. And I had written earlier about why I love this series. ‘Troubled Blood’ is #5 in the series and has evolved a lot from how it began. Strike and Robin have progressed in their lives in strange ways, mostly for the better, their cases have turned more complex, clients more eccentric, but the serial killer factor remains constant and is well portrayed in this novel. I should warn that if you’re looking for a racy thriller, this isn’t the one. Stretched over 40 years and quite a few characters, plots and sub-plots (including Strike and Robin’s personal lives), it’s a huge drama that unfolds in many acts. Yes, they do catch a serial killer but get into a lot of other things too. At times, I felt that Rowling has probably added too many elements in the soup – there are social issues, gender biases, domestic violence, generation gaps and a lot more. It turns a little overwhelming but if you love the main duo, you’ll love their stories as well. Detailed review coming soon.

Have you read any of these in 2020? Let me know your thoughts and we’ll share our views. Have a great 2021 and the decade ahead! 

The Dregs of Autumn

 

I love Autumn. Well, it is my most favourite season, especially when I’m in a country at the Northern Hemisphere. Autumn has never been more distinctly observed in my part of the world – India. In West Bengal, where I grew up, autumn mostly meant romanticising about clear blue skies with soft white clouds playing around, announcing the advent of Durga pujo. The colours of autumn have been evident to me only after visiting countries into the Northern Hemisphere – USA, Northern Ireland and now Belgium.

Today was a rare sunny day after weeks of rain and gloom. The winds are already rocking the leaves down and just before these coloured ones fade away onto the ground, we decided to make a little trip to the famous Park Tervuren in Brussels. It was breathtaking as we reached late and captured a bit of autumn to cherish until the next one. You will find red/orange/yellow/light green/ochre – basically a warm colour palette planted into nature that dissipate and make a comeback every year, without fail.

Here’s a photoblog of a few of them, hope you enjoy the photos. So long!

 

I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa

With the advent of this wonderful #MyFriendAlexa campaign, I hope to take my rank to a whole new level and in the process enjoy reading a lot of beautiful blogs. My reading hashtag is #ReadByPRB, and writing is #PRBWrit. Do follow and let’s connect on Twitter?

Why I Love The Cormoran Strike Series

 

I had first known about the Cormoran Strike series when the controversy broke out about J K Rowling writing under a man’s pseudonym, Robert Galbraith. I’m not sure if her social experiment of using the pseudonym worked. She wanted to see if readers go gaga over the novel written by an unknown author called Robert Galbraith. Since the name ‘Rowling’ has been associated with Harry Potter, she wanted to be accepted as a good crime writer, for adults. It’s not surprising that an author of such a popular stature as her would be insecure about being accepted as a crime writer. It happens to the best and arguably, she’s one of the best in last two decades. I guess, the fact about the pseudonym was leaked even before ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ (2013) could reach a lot of readers for the survey based on its quality. Post that, all hell broke loose and the book rode its success on the cause célèbre.

The first striking fact about this unusual detective called Cormoran Strike is his physical disability. There probably hasn’t been a popular detective in literature with a prosthetic leg, facing hundreds of hurdles everyday, trying to get over his girlfriend of sixteen years and setting up a detective agency with minimal capital. Strike was in the army and lost his leg in an explosion in Afghanistan. Strike is an odd bloke, originally from Cornwall, brought up sporadically in London and with almost no family. I like the way he handles life. He’s not perfect, barely scraping through, he’s not a successful happy-go-lucky-rich guy with amazing relationships. He’s candid about the fact that he has met his biological father only twice in life. He’s tender about his now-dead-mother, an addict and an irresponsible adult who couldn’t take proper care of his children. And yet, Strike doesn’t hate her. After all these years, still doesn’t hate when others would. He feels an indistinct tenderness for his mother, rarely though, in parts, mostly because he feels that she could have had a better life.

I love Strike, but I probably love his secretary-turned-business partner Robin Ellacott more. Robin is one of my favourite women in contemporary fiction. She seems vulnerable when the series began; engaged to her high school sweetheart and with a dark past that Strike didn’t know about. You almost tend to feel sorry for her when she joins Strike as a temporary office staff in the first novel. And yet, she’s not a weakling. I love the ways in which she redeems her life and rises from the ashes. From being an emotional wreck to liking her job and excelling at it, from threading together her relationships to finally standing up for herself against deceit – Robin has done it all and emerged as a very strong woman who can kick a few arses.

I have read the previous four books in the series and am now reading the latest ‘Troubled Blood’. Strike and Robin have come a long way since they had began their journey and there’s a promise of another stellar, layered and epically huge novel of 944 pages. I’m looking forward to read and find out the mystery behind the disappearance of Dr. Margot Bamborough in 1974 that Strike and Robin are investigating at present.

I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa

With the advent of this wonderful #MyFriendAlexa campaign, I hope to take my rank to a whole new level and in the process enjoy reading a lot of beautiful blogs. My reading hashtag is #ReadByPRB, and writing is #PRBWrit. Do follow and let’s connect on Twitter?

Book Review : Mr. Eashwar’s Daughter

Blurb: 

A modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic novel, Persuasion. Eight years ago, family pride and an obstinate father had forced Anamika Eashwar to let go of the love of her life. Now he’s back again, a decorated captain of the Indian Navy. Will life offer her a second chance?

Review: 

Honestly, I haven’t read Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion,’ the classic on which ‘Mr. Eashwar’s Daughter’ is based. Starting on a clean slate probably fared better for me since there wasn’t any scope of comparison or evaluation of the modern retelling. I’d rather share my two pence on ‘Mr. Eashwar’s Daughter,’ by the inimitable Debeshi Gooptu.

The story begins at the palatial but dilapidated Eashwar estate, with the landlord Wriddhish Eashwar struggling at his finances but too proud to admit his mistakes. Of his three daughters, Anamika is the most sensible and bright, a perfectly likeable Jane Austen heroine. She’s trying to hold the family together, silently, and prevent her patriarch from crumbling. With support only from her aunt, she takes a few steps, including a huge one of renting their estate in the hills and moving to an apartment in Calcutta. Fate takes her to Gurgaon and a chance meeting with her former love leads to further turmoils in her heart.

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Book Review : The Murder In The Rain

Blurb:

When 27-year-old Kush Singh’s domestic help Leena is accused of murdering her husband, the ill-tempered inspector wants to see her imprisoned. Struggling to cope with a fall-out with his wife, a distracted Inspector Singh aka KP turns a deaf ear to Leena’s pleas. A corpse in a gunny sack, a besotted lover, a bankrupt businessman, and a group of agitated employees add to the complications of this mysterious case. Will Singh be able to investigate objectively and get justice for the victim? Set in Mumbai, The Murder in the Rain is a fast-paced thriller introducing the erratic Inspector KP Singh.

Review: 

A grumpy but super intelligent police inspector, a corpse within a gunny sack in a pond, a twisted plot, illegitimate liaisons, high flying ambitions and a thriller set in Mumbai. How else to begin the festive season, if I may ask?

Moitrayee Bhaduri is an accomplished writer of the ‘Mili Ray’ series of detective books. I’ve read one of them, ‘Who Killed The Murderer?’ and had liked it much. This prompted me to pick up ‘The Murder In The Rain,’ first of a ten parts ebook series by Moitrayee, involving a new protagonist – Inspector K P Singh. I must mention that I loved Mili Ray as a detective because she was such a layered and mysterious character, nonetheless, the rare female detective in Indian fiction. While I was hoping to read more of Mili Ray books, here comes the new one, Inspector K P Singh. Why not read this series of ten mini thrillers and find out what K P Singh is all about, while I wait for more of Mili Ray stories.

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Road-Tripping During Durga Pujo

If you know a Bengali, most of them would vouch for the fact that they look forward to Durga Pujo every year. As we keep on harping, it is not entirely a religious occasion, but more of a cultural festival. In Bengal, people from every religion can visit the Durga Puja pandals and soak into the throbbing and gay ambience of the festival. There is food, adda, friends, family, cute love affairs that may or may not last long, and the sense of oneness with a huge crowd of people milling towards an inimitable goddess. Considering the promise of such fun and felicity, most of us feel awful when we can’t be at home for pujo.

I have been away from Calcutta for the last fourteen years. There have been multiple instances of a no-show during pujo and it has gradually become a norm that we spend this time elsewhere. I think our parents have accepted this by now and they wait for us to be back during longer holidays in Christmas. While they attend the Durga pujo closer to home, we have devised a better way to keep ourselves occupied. If we can’t be with our loved ones during pujo, then it’s better to go on a road trip!

“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey.” – Babs Hoffman

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Art Nouveau Architecture in Brussels

If you happen to live in Belgium, you can’t escape the Art Nouveau architecture all around the cities, most of it in Brussels though. The buildings are old, yet beautiful and intricate, to say the least. The Art Nouveau style has its roots in Brussels, started by two legendary architects – Paul Hankar and Victor Horta. Interestingly, both of them worked on a building each from 1890 and they were completed in 1893, simultaneously. The Art Nouveau wave lasted from 1890-1910 and was replaced by the modern and austere Art Deco. It sounds amazing that Brussels still retains more than 500 Art Nouveau style buildings, the one I live in might be among them too, it’s from 1900! The key features of Art Nouveau architecture were to deviate from traditional styles and build windows/doors/balconies/facades inspired from nature. You can see waves from the ocean, leaves and branches from trees, animal motifs and colourful facades with golden murals called Sgraffito.
We did a photo walk of a few such houses in Brussels. Do take a look at the photos if you’re interested, each of them has a story to tell.

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Sour Treats From The Bengali Kitchen

Someone asked me on Twitter recently, what is the difference between Chutney and Ombol in Bengali cuisine? Now, I haven’t faced a trickier question as of late, since the culinary vocabulary in Bengali is enormous and often consists of very subtle variations. To the best of my knowledge, Chutney is a sauce/condiment, savoured as a side to main courses and it might entirely sweet/salty/spicy; while an Ombol/Tawk is one of the key elements in a Bengali meal that is mandatory to consist of a sour ingredient (lime/tamarind or a sour fruit). I admit that a culinary historian/expert would be best suited to explain the differences between these, but all I can say is – Chutney is a very late entrant into the Bengali cuisine. It was all about Ombol in the earlier centuries with the idea that a mildly sweet-mostly sour item at the end of the menu would act as a digestive to regular meals.

Tomato Chutney
Photo Courtesy: Pratik Sengupta

The important point about Chutney/Ombol in Bengali cuisine is that, we don’t eat them as a side to other dishes, but it’s a wholesome food item in itself. A dessert would follow later than Ombol in any Bengali menu. Even in weddings these days, Chutney/Ombol has a great priority and in many families it takes a lot of time to decide on the menu as people have different favourites. I had a friend in college who dreamt once that she was being served various chutneys in huge steel containers at a wedding and they wouldn’t stop coming. My husband M is a Chutney/Ombol lover and often asks one variant or the other out of the blue on weekends. I’m a little inclined to the other side though, in a sense that I don’t dislike them, but I can’t ingest any sour food in large quantities. I prefer Chutneys as they are more on the sweet/salty/spicy side than sour Ombols. Here are a few different varieties of these sour treats from our huge cuisine that you can try easily at home.

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ALS ICH CAN (AS I CAN)

Temporary exhibition on Jan van Eyck at Kunshistoriches Museum, Vienna

I hadn’t heard of Jan van Eyck until I arrived in Belgium three years ago. Now when I think back, it seems a little embarrassing. Van Eyck is one of the best painters in the world, one of the legendary Flemish painters in Belgium, arguably the father of Northern (European) Renaissance art and presumably the first painter to have successfully implemented oil paint on canvas. He’s a part of the enormous legacy that Flemish painters have left behind in Belgium and in Europe, overall. I am, however, not ashamed to admit that I have been properly introduced to art after living in Europe. There’s art everywhere around – inside churches, outside on their façades, in the architecture, in sculptures strewn carelessly within parks, in fountains and little gates – it’s just indescribable. When you discover so much art around you, it inspires in ways that you didn’t know existed.

I can write pages about Van Eyck and his art, but I’d tell you how his inspired mine in a tiny way.

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Book Review : All The Bright Places

This review was published in The Buzz Magazine

Blurb View: 

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the ‘natural wonders’ of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself – a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. How far will Violet go to save the boy she has come to love?

Review:

Did you know somebody committed suicide every 40 seconds somewhere in the world?

In most cases, they don’t leave any clue that could lead to a reason for their actions. It may be love, it may not be; it may be failure, and extreme ones at that; it may be Monophobia (that’s an easy one – just seclude ‘mono’, pun intended). We are yet to judge if suicide is right or wrong, since it is relative. But the grief it leaves the loved ones with is irreplaceable. Now don’t let this deter you from reading further, we are indeed talking about a love story, though it’s much more than just that.

Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet under ‘extenuating circumstances,’ on the ledge of their sixth storey school bell tower. We’ll keep the ‘who-saved-whom’ for later, for you to read the book yourself. It just so happens that both of them meet at a time when their own lives were shrouded by the cloud of ‘extenuating circumstances.’ Violet had lost her sister to an accident, and Finch (as even I began to fondly refer him) was going through a lot of trauma. They met, and gradually started to peel the layers off each other. They embarked on a journey together, and their pit stops are beautifully designed to be etched in memory forever.

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