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! 

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Book Review : The Girl You Left Behind

Blurb: 

What happened to the girl you left behind?

France, 1916.

Sophie Lefevre must keep her family safe whilst her adored husband Edouard fights at the front. But when she is ordered to serve the German officers who descend on her hotel each evening, her home becomes a place of fierce tensions.

And from the moment the new Kommandant sets eyes on Sophie’s portrait – painted by Edouard – a dangerous obsession is born, which will lead Sophie to make a dark and terrible decision . . .

Almost a century later, and Sophie’s portrait hangs in the home of Liv Halston, a wedding gift from her young husband before he died. A chance encounter reveals the painting’s true worth, and its troubled history.

A history that is about to resurface and turn Liv’s life upside down all over again . . .

In The Girl You Left Behind two young women, separated by a century, are united in their determination to fight for what they love most – whatever the cost.

Review: 

I love art and fiction. But I’ve actually read only a handful of art fiction. There are a lot of criteria – if the story is entirely based on a piece of art or involves a historically known artist or if it’s a biography of an artist. Not delving so deep into categories, I perceived ‘The Girl You Left Behind’ as an art fiction since it involves a painting as the seed of the story. I had read the famous ‘Me Before You’ and the others in the series and was might impressed with the first one. I wanted to read some more by Moyes and picked this Historical. The premise of a Historical during WWI France is super interesting in its own merit; adding cherry to the cake is a post-impressionist French painting as the cynosure of all activities in a century.

Continue reading

Book Review : The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Blurb:

Tonight, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed … Again

It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed.


But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot.

The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath…

Review (*spoiler-free):

As it appears in the image, I read ‘The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ by Stuart Turton and not ‘The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ apparently. It seems that I read the British edition, hence the difference in titles. Nonetheless, it doesn’t matter much as long as Evelyn Hardcastle dies more than seven times! This is the author’s debut novel and it turned out to be a mighty impressive one, winning the Costa book awards in 2018! It took him more than two years to write the book and I think that’s pretty justified, given the complex plot and characters. You have to render your utmost attention while reading every chapter as they depict the same day over again but from eight different perspectives. 

The story is about solving Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder, in a mansion near to a forest in Britain, amidst a party, set around 1920s. As the blurb says, Aiden Bishop wakes up in the body of eight different guests and relives the same day over. His task is to find out who wants to murder Evelyn Hardcastle in lieu of his freedom from Blackheath, the mansion. There’s Aiden, the mysterious Anna, Evelyn and eight other hosts – a corsage of peculiar characters with secrets of their own. There’s love, murder, plots, lords, a potential marriage, a not-so-forgotten death and deceit. There’s also this fantastical phenomenon of time loop – reliving the same day, and body swapping (well, not exactly). It’s a whirlwind, really. 

Continue reading

Book Review : Who Killed The Murderer?

Blurb: 

When TV actress Shagun Seth mysteriously dies in a beauty parlour in Mumbai, her mother slams murder charges on Shagun’s banker husband Chetan Seth. Chetan’s family suspects that he is being framed and requests private detective Mili Ray to investigate. As Mili and her lawyer-associate Gatha start work, Chetan is released on bail. Soon after, Shagun’s mother is killed! Is Chetan responsible for these murders? Mili probes deeper and unravels shocking secrets buried beneath Shagun’s world of glitz that leave her baffled. An insecure boyfriend, an estranged husband, an opportunist colleague, a cunning TV producer – Shagun was surrounded by Haters. Even her twelve-year-old son didn’t want to see her alive. Why did everyone hate Shagun? While meandering through dysfunctional family upheavals and dark showbiz sagas, ex-super cop Mili Ray also struggles to tame her own internal demons. Will she be able to solve her second case as private detective or succumb to pressure and hang up her boots? “Who killed the murderer?” is a gripping psychological thriller that will hook you right from the first page.

Review:

Generally, murder mysteries are about one-two-three killings around the idea of whodunnit or whydunnit. In this story though, there’s a super clue in the title of the book and there are numerous murders. The protagonist, Shagun Mehra is murdered and later her mother and TV producer friend are killed too. Is there a serial killer on the loose? Or did Shagun’s husband Chetan Seth kill her and shut all evidences as suspected?

Who doesn’t love a well-plotted, juicy murder mystery that entails complex brainstorming and Moitrayee Bhaduri doesn’t disappoint. The story germinates in Shagun’s childhood, how a school trauma affects her entire life ahead and changes her as a person. Revealing more would be doling out spoilers, so I’ll refrain from that. But, as a reader, you should read the early chapters carefully for clues later. Shagun grows up to be an obnoxious person whom most people hate, including her son. It’s an extraordinary characterisation of a beautiful, successful woman living in an empty shell otherwise. Readers can guess why and how Shagun behaves, but the characters obviously don’t. And yet, positioned at this advantageous state, you can’t predict who murdered Shagun.

Continue reading

Book Review : Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Blurb: 

* Shortlisted for the National Book Award *
* One of the New York Times‘s 10 Best Books of 2017 *
* Selected for Emma Watson’s Our Shared Shelf book club *

Yeongdo, Korea 1911. In a small fishing village on the banks of the East Sea, a club-footed, cleft-lipped man marries a fifteen-year-old girl. The couple have one child, their beloved daughter Sunja. When Sunja falls pregnant by a married yakuza, the family face ruin. But then Isak, a Christian minister, offers her a chance of salvation: a new life in Japan as his wife.

Following a man she barely knows to a hostile country in which she has no friends, no home, and whose language she cannot speak, Sunja’s salvation is just the beginning of her story.

Through eight decades and four generations, Pachinko is an epic tale of family, identity, love, death and survival.

Review:

That last sentence in the blurb became one of the reasons I picked up Pachinko. That, and the other reason being – I wanted to read more about Korean immigrants in Japan after I had read Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro. The subjects are similar but the premises of these two books are vastly apart. Pachinko, literally, is a machine game like pinball which is associated ethnically with Koreans, though the game is hugely popular in Japan. In the initial years, most Japanese blamed the Korean immigrants (called Zainichi in a derogatory way) for introducing this gambling game to Japan. This book is about Pachinko, but it is more about a family and its endless struggles.

In a nutshell, the story begins in a small fishy island in Korea called Yeongdo, a little far from Busan. Hoonie, the man with a cleft lip and a limp and Yangjin give birth to Sunja, a not-so-beautiful but hardworking and stout girl. Sunja helps Yangjin run a boardinghouse after Hoonie’s death and things get rough when she gets pregnant with a married man. A pastor from the boardinghouse marries her and they move to Osaka. Sunja gives birth to Noa and later to Mozasu, living with her brother-in-law and his wife. The events and years that follow are long and tedious. After her husband’s death, Sunja takes up peddling Kimchi, working in a restaurant, surviving the second World War and facing her old lover Koh Hansu, who turns out to be a Yakuza. Does the odd father-son duo come to terms with each other? You will definitely have to read the book to know the entire story.

Continue reading

Book Review : About The Night

Blurb: 

On a hot summer day in 1947, on a grandstand overlooking Jerusalem, Elias and Lila fall deeply, irrevocably in love.

Tragically, they come from two different worlds. Elias is a Christian Arab living on the eastern side of the newly divided city, and Lila is a Jew living on the western side. A growing conflict between their cultures casts a heavy shadow over the region and their burgeoning relationship. Between them lie not only a wall of stone and barbed wire but also the bitter enmity of two nations at war.

Told in the voice of Elias as he looks back upon the long years of his life, About the Night is a timely story of how hope can nourish us, loss can devastate us, and love can carry us beyond the boundaries that hold human beings apart.

Review: 

Firstly, I had never imagined that I would ever read a book that was originally written in Hebrew! There’s a joke in Bangla that implies Hebrew is the most difficult language in the world. Nonetheless, this is a translation into English and doesn’t retain the complexities of Hebrew. I am pleasantly surprised that I discovered this beautiful book late, but all thanks to Amazon Prime Reads for promoting translation literature. There are some out of the world great books to be read in this series.

1947. The year that we Indians associate with our freedom and the struggle before and renaissance after. I, for one, had the least idea that much turmoil was happening in Jerusalem as well. Apart from a city amidst the Israel-Palestine conflict, Jerusalem was the city of birth of Jesus Christ to me. The tussle between Jews and Arabs which reached its pinnacle after the World War affected Jerusalem the most. About the Night begins with the conflict and the whirlwind that it creates for two lovers who meet by chance.

Continue reading