Review: The First Billion (Christopher Reich)

More and more authors are using their expertise in their respective fields to create and write in sub-genres that they are comfortable with. Robin Cook, with his medical thrillers, is a famous example for this. The there's John Grisham, who uses his experience as a lawyer in writing legal thrillers. Christopher Reich is a former Swiss banker and uses his knowledge on the subject to write thrillers set in the corporate world.

In The First Billion, John Gavallan, the head of an investment firm is taking a Russian media company public. His firm is struggling, and this could be the deal that saves it, but there are rumours that something is wrong with the Russian company. His friend, whom he has sent to Russia to investigate, disappears, and he himself is suspected of murders. He discovers a much bigger conspiracy than he expected when he looks into what is happening.

I didn't like this book very much. The plot was not very convincing, and the twists were forced into the story. I didn't like the characters in the novel either, because there are too many gaps in their stories that are not filled in.

Considering the fact that this book deals with a company's public offer and that it was written by someone who can be expected to know a lot about the topic, this book was a major disappointment when it came to telling us about what happens in an IPO.

There is the FBI, the KGB, the Russian mafia, mass murderers, torture... everything is thrown into the story. The book gave me the impression that Reich was trying more to write a thriller, rather than focussing on the aspects of the story that he could write about with greater authority.

The good thing about the book is that it is fast paced, very much so towards the end, and to some extent this makes up for the poorly developed characters. But it's still not a book that I will recommend.

Rating: 3/10

Books: July 2008

With all the free time I had in July, I really should have finished a few more books, but even then nine isn't all that bad. And I've even finished posting about six of them, that's a record. :)

  1. The Testament (John Grisham) [7/10]
  2. The Manuscript (Eva Zeller) [7/10]
  3. Twelve Red Herrings (Jeffrey Archer) [7/10]
  4. The Chinese Assassin (Anthony Grey) [3/10]
  5. Confessions of an Ex-Girlfriend (Lynda Curnyn) [6/10]
  6. Dark Tower 1 - The Gunslinger (Stephen King) [6/10]
  7. The First Billion (Christopher Reich) [4/10]
  8. The Book of Evidence (John Banville) [8/10]
  9. The Adversary (A M Kabal) [7/10]

Stats: 9 books, 9 authors (6 new), 2858 pages.

BTT: Gold Medal Reading

With the Olympics games going on in Beijing, this week's Booking Through Thursday question is about sports.

Do you or have you ever read books about the Olympics? About sports in general? Fictional ones? Or non-fiction? Or both?

Do you consider yourself a sports fan? Because, of course, if you’re a rabid fan and read about sports constantly, there’s a logic there; if you hate sports and never read anything sports-related, that, too... but you don’t have to love sports to enjoy a good sports story.

The only sports related book I remember reading is John Grisham's novel, Bleachers (review) about a high school American football team. However, this book was more about the people in the team than the game itself.

I do consider myself a sports fan, although nobody would call me a rabid one. I follow cricket and the EPL and there are a lot of football related feeds in my feed reader, but that never really made me look for sports related books. I rarely read biographies or memoirs, and sports related fiction isn't very common. So I think my sports related reading will mostly be confined to football blogs and the sports page of the newspaper. ;-)

On to an unrelated topic now... my friend Varun has written a short story on his blog called The Foreseen. Please drop by his blog to read it if you have the time. :)

BTT: Endings

Last week's Booking Through Thursday question was about memorable first lines from books. This week's question is quite similar, but I find it a lot more difficult to answer this one.

What are your favourite final sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its last sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the last line?

A lot of people mentioned last week that they hardly ever notice opening sentences. I look for interesting opening sentences, which is why I made a long list of favourite opening sentences. (Btw, why hasn't anyone recognised that last one? And here I was, thinking it was too easy...)

This question, however, wouldn't make much sense unless we change "final sentences" to "endings". No author is going to worry too much about how the last sentence is going to sound; it's the beginning that might catch (or not) somebody's attention. But endings are still very important, in that sometimes people might end up hating an excellent book just because the ending was bad.

If I really had to mention a famous last line, I'd say nothing can beat "they lived happily ever after", although I don't remember any book that actually ended that way. Nor do I remember one that starts with "once upon a time..." even though you could call it one of the most famous opening sentences. ;-)

Anyway, coming to our question, I can't say I have ever radically changed my opinion about a book because of the ending. There are many books, where I was disappointed with the way things were wrapped up. Bel Canto (review) is a perfect example of that. The book was rather good, but the ending came as something of a shock. The epilogue of the book just didn't fit in with the rest of the story.

A similar case is the last Harry Potter book. I didn't exactly hate the epilogue, but the story was wrapped up well by the end of the final chapter and the epilogue looked rather out of place. But both cases, the endings didn't make me like the books any less.

As for really good endings, I loved the way Nicholas Sparks left room for hope at the end of A Walk to Remember by giving an ambiguous ending.

Frederick Forsyth is an author who writes some great endings. His book, The Devil's Alternative waits till the very last paragraph to reveal the biggest plot twist. Now that's how a book should end.

I couldn't think of any last sentences from books, except for the "all was well" from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Do you remember any last sentences from books? And could a good last sentence have the kind of impact a great opening sentence has?

Review: Dark Tower 1 - The Gunslinger (Stephen King)

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

Thus begins the first book of the series that Stephen King calls his magnus opus. And that one sentence almost completely describes the plot of the entire book. Except for occasional flashbacks, the story is mostly about the gunslinger pursuing a mysterious man in black.

The Gunslinger is a mixture of horror and fantasy and is set in an alternative world. Nothing much is said about this world except that it resembles the American Old West and it is described as "a world that has moved on". This book forms the first part of the Dark Tower series.

The title character is Roland Deschlain, the last surviving member in a long line of gunslingers. Stephen King has said that this character was largely inspired by the "Man With No Name", the character played by Clint Eastwood in the western films trilogy directed by Sergio Leone. He has also identified Robert Browning's poem, "Childe Roland and the Dark Tower" as the major inspiration for the Dark Tower series.

The plot of the novel looks disjointed at places, which is because many of the chapters used in the book were actually short stories published earlier by King. The details about Roland's character and his world that this book gives seems inadequate, given that it practically is the introduction to the series that runs into about 3700 pages.

The story moves along very slowly, which isn't a bad thing here really, because it gives us a chance to take in the world that King has created. It's always a pleasure to step into a world different from our own, especially when a skillful author creates it. Although the picture that King has painted of this world isn't complete, it still is good enough to not hinder our enjoyment of the book.

Roland's character is interesting and mysterious, but too complex to be instantly likeable. His motives are never fully explained and his determination to reach his goals, without regard to other people's lives didn't help me feel more sympathetic towards him either.

There aren't too many characters in the story, but one of them, a boy called Jake Chambers, belonged to our world, but went on to Roland's world after his death. He is the only link between the two worlds, but how he got there too isn't explained.

I liked the novel all right, but am not convinced if it was the right way to begin the series. At the end of the book, there are quite a few questions left unanswered. I expected this book to give more of an idea about what is to come in the sequels, but disappointingly, that isn't the case. But then, we can also argue that not revealing much about the series so early is a good way to ensure that the reader is eagerly awaiting the next part.

Rating. 6/10

Review: Confessions of an Ex-Girlfriend (Lynda Curnyn)

The ex-girlfriend is Emma Carter, a woman living in New York who has just broken up with her boyfriend. She works as an editor in a bridal magazine, so she is constantly surrounded by images of wedded bliss and that makes it that much harder for her to accept the fact that she is now an "ex-girlfriend".

Emma herself narrates the story of her life as she gets used to being single again in New York City. Every few pages there are confessions she makes about her lifestyle such as "Confession: I haven't spent Saturday night alone for two years." Her friends Alyssa and Jade try to help her out but they too are facing problems of their own.

The characters were funny and interesting to read about. The tone of the book was sarcastic and it was an easy book to read, but midway through the book I started feeling less enthusiastic about it than I had at first. Reading about three people complaining about their lives all the time starts getting irritating after a while. And it was so easy to guess exactly how the book ends that reading it felt like a waste.

Except for the humour (that too got boring after a while) I didn't like the book all that much after the first few chapters. Most guys won't like it much; it's a book primarily aimed at women who have been in Emma's position at some point. Chick-Lit is the word used to describe this genre. I'm in no hurry to pick up another book of the genre at the moment.

Rating. 5/10

BTT: Memorable First Lines

Here's this week's question on Booking Through Thursday. And thanks Deb, for using another one of my suggestions. :)

What are your favourite first sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its first sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the first line?

Many authors try to make a strong first impression for their book with the opening sentence. There are books with great opening sentences that end up disappointing, and some that begin in an ordinary way but are excellent books nonetheless. The opening sentence may not be an accurate indicator of how the rest of the book may be, but it definitely gives us our first impressions of the book.

Moby Dick is the book responsible for getting me interested in the first sentences of books. It had a short yet memorable opening sentence, something that you could always remember. After that I've always kept an eye out for impressive opening sentences and whether or not the book lived up to the standards set by those lines.

Two books I read recently -- The Gunslinger (review) and A Wrinkle in Time -- had memorable opening sentences, and after reading them I decided to post a list of memorable first lines sometime soon, so the timing of this BTT question couldn't be better. Here's a list of 10 of my favourite opening sentences:

  1. "Call me Ishmael!" (Moby Dick, Herman Melville)

    I put this line on top of the list because I started noticing interesting opening sentences after I read this book. Three short words, but words that will always come to my mind whenever I think of memorable first lines.

  2. "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen)

    This one is the reason why I added that last part to the question. I didn't like this book all that much, and I never really got around to reading another Austen book after that, but I couldn't ever forget this line.

  3. "At the age of seventeen, working as a delivery boy at Afremov's drugstore in Chicago was the perfect job, because it made it possible for me to steal enough sleeping pills to commit suicide." (The Other Side of Me, (review) Sidney Sheldon)

    Sidney Sheldon is the kind of author who gets you hooked to the story with the very first line. And he saved his best opening line for his autobiography.

  4. "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." (The Gunslinger, (review) Stephen King)

    I finished reading The Gunslinger a couple of days ago and I feel I'll always remember the book for this sentence, if only because it describes the entire plot of the book perfectly in 12 short words.

  5. "If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book." (A Series of Unfortunate Events 1 - The Bad Beginning, Daniel Handler)

    That's a clever way to get someone really interested in reading the book. Lemony Snicket keeps warning his readers not to read his books. So far the warnings have failed to discourage me from reading the series.

  6. "Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J K Rowling)

    Perfectly normal people... that's a great way to start a book about wizards.

  7. "Amerigo Bonasera sat in New York Criminal Court Number 3 and waited for justice; vengeance on the men who had so cruelly hurt his daughter, who had tried to dishonor her." (The Godfather, Mario Puzo)

    This book has more memorable lines than any other book I've ever read (maybe the Potter books might compete for that spot, but that's because I've read those too many times) and this opening line definitely deserves a place on this list.

  8. "Billions died in less than twenty-four hours." (Autumn, David Moody)

    We're taking billions here, not millions. I'm not sure if I would have been convinced to read the book if I hadn't come across that line first. I ended up liking the book.

  9. "All children, except one, grow up." (Peter and Wendy, J M Barrie)

    I was reminded of this line when I watched the movie Finding Neverland yesterday. I didn't like the book very much when I read it first, but after watching the movie about how the book came into existence, I'm prepared to give the book another chance.

  10. "It was a dark and stormy night." (A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle)

    This line first appeared in Edward Bulwer-Lytton's 1830 book, Paul Clifford and has become one of the most famous examples of overly flamboyant prose. Even a Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest was started to recognise the worst extremes of this style. Madleine L'Engle used the same opening line in an allusion to Bulwer-Lytton's novel.

When I made the list I missed one very memorable line. I don't want to leave it out, so I'll type it here and leave it to you to guess which book it is from. It a really easy one, so don't google it before leaving you answer in the comments. Don't cheat, you're not winning any prizes for something this easy. *grin*

"You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings."

I'm already a day late in posting this reply, so I've had the time to go through other replies to this question. The majority feel that the first line isn't all that important; that the rest of the book matters more. Are you among that majority? Or do you believe that the first sentence has an impact on how we remember the book?

Please do leave a comment on what you think of memorable opening sentences and if you have your own blog, use the name/URL option to link to it so that it's easier to visit your blog. :)

Review: The Chinese Assassin (Anthony Grey)

The Chinese Assassin is a spy thriller set in the early 1970s in the backdrop of the Cold War. The plot revolves around the death of the Chinese defence minister and the attempt of Soviet and American Secret Services to uncover the mystery after a Chinese defector contacts a well known sinologist offering him information about the incident.

The first few chapters are a mixture of first- and third person narratives with the description of the events leading to the death of the Chinese defence minister presented as a series of folios written by the defector. This alternates with the events of five years later, when the defector meets the British sinologist. The rest of the book deals with the activities of spies from three countries as they try to outmaneuver each other. At the same time there is a plan to assassinate the Chinese head of state, although this isn't explained clearly until the end of the book.

The reason I didn't like this book all that much was because it was difficult to follow the political aspects of the story. Usually when you read a spy thriller from the Cold War period, you have two clearly marked sides - it's always the Soviet Union and the eastern European countries against the US or UK. In this book, it's difficult to understand who is fighting whom, because China is involved and its relationship with the US and the Soviet Union isn't fully explained.

The book is your average spy thriller which could have been better if the author had give more details of the international political situation of that time. This shortcoming is especially disappointing coming from Anthony Grey who was a correspondent in Eastern Europe and China and therefore would know quite a bit about politics in China.

Rating. 3/10

Books: June 2008

Thanks to exams I couldn't read much in June, but still managed to finish three books. But I could review only one of the three books.
  1. Area 7 (Matthew Reilly) [6/10]
  2. Prince Caspian (The Chronicles of Narnia) (C S Lewis) [7/10]
  3. The High Flyer (Nicholas Shakespeare) [2/10]
This month I've finished reading four books and have reviewed three of those. The fourth review will be up soon, I only just finished reading it now. Hopefully I'll be able to post reviews on all the books I read this month.

Review: Twelve Red Herrings (Jeffrey Archer)

Twelve Red Herrings is a collection of twelve short stories by Jeffrey Archer. Each of the stories ends with a twist and hidden within each story is a red herring that Archer challenges his readers to uncover.

I liked the first story in the collection, Trial and Error which is almost like a murder mystery. Then there is Do Not Pass Go, a story of an escaped Iraqi whose plane ends up landing in his homeland. An Eye for an Eye was another story with an ingenious twist at the ending.

The most interesting story in the collection, however, was the story One Man's Meat in which Archer gives us a choice of four endings and we are allowed to choose which ending we want to read, or else read all endings in the correct order. This story shows us how a plot can end in so many different ways.

In short stories it is rather difficult to develop interesting characters because the story ends too quickly, but Archer almost always manages to create such characters with ease. I like his novels very much, and always find the plots twists entertaining. But I feel that his real genius shows up when he is writing short stories. Apart from O'Henry, there aren't many authors I would rate as highly as Archer when it comes to short stories.

I have read two other short story collections by Jeffrey Archer -- A Twist in the Tale and To Cut a Long Story Short -- and liked both of those better than Twelve Red Herrings. But this book is definitely worth reading if you like short stories.

Rating. 7/10.


Review on My Own Little Reading Room


Review: The Manuscript (Eva Zeller)

The Manuscript is a German novella, translated to English by Nadia Lawrence. It is the love story of Bea and Jacob, two people who lost their families during the Second World War.

While cleaning up the attic of the house she inherited from her grandparents, Bea finds a manuscript written by a woman who was with Bea's mother, Ruth, just before her (Ruth's) death. In the manuscript, she describes how she and Ruth, along with thousands of other German women, were captured by Russian soldiers and deported to labour camps in Siberia.

Jacob is a Berlin Jew, whose entire family was killed during the war. Bea and Jacob are both middle aged when they meet each other. In spite of being so fond of each other, they find it difficult to talk to each other about their past, which were so similar. It is during a trip to Russia that they finally manage to speak about their past - something that they had never spoken about to anyone.

This book, apart from being a love story, looks at the two sides of the war. The woman who wrote the manuscript doesn't know that the tortures she and the other German women were suffering was an act of vengeance for the destruction caused by the German army in Russia. She believes so much in the innocence of her country and its Fuhrer that at one point she refuses to believe that Hitler had committed suicide.

This is the very reason Bea is afraid to show the manuscript to Jacob, whose family was destroyed because of Hitler and his army. She is worried that he will be offended when he reads the manuscript of a woman who likes Hitler so much that she writes that she'd gladly have replaced the first 'L' in her surname Hiller to 'T'.

This novella is a good read and short enough to read in a single stretch. It's a beautifully told story, and is definitely worth a read.

Rating. 7/10


BTT: Doomsday

This week on Booking Through Thursday, we have a question that deals with a situation that would give nightmares to many book lovers...

What would you do if, all of a sudden, your favorite source of books was unavailable?

I always borrow books from the town library. The only reason I call it my favourite source of books is because it's the only source available in this town. There aren't any bookstores in town and if the library burns down I'd have to travel 50km to the neighbouring city if I wanted to get some books to read.

Okay, those of you who are who are rolling around laughing at my predicament, stop right now! Grr...!!! It's not funny being the only book blogger in the world who lives in a place that only has one lousy library (most of you guys probably have more books in your homes than that library) and not even one bookstore.

Anyhow, to continue with the post, I don't expect myself to spend three hours on the two way trip to the next city. (I'm too lazy for that.) I'll probably dig out the e-book DVDs that I have and settle down in front of the monitor to read one of the 25,000+ books in that collection. It sounds crazy, but then... we're talking about doomsday, right?

Review: The Testament (John Grisham)

Troy Phelan is an eccentric old man worth 11 billion dollars who is planning to commit suicide. His three ex-wives and 6 children have proved time and again that they do not deserve to inherit that kind of money and whenever they were given any money it was all wasted in a few days.

The title refers to the last will (or testament) that Troy prepares. In it, he leaves all his money to his illegitimate daughter Rachel Lane, who is now a missionary in the remote jungles of Brazil. The other heirs immediately go to court to get their share of the money.

Nate O'Riley, an alcoholic lawyer just out of rehab is sent by Troy's lawyers to find Rachel. His journey through the jungles to locate Rachel forms the major portion of the story.

The last two Grisham books I'd read were completely different from his usual legal dramas and I liked them very much. This book lies somewhere in between, there are plenty of lawyers around and there is some courtroom drama, but there also is some element of an adventure story. Alternate chapters deal with Nate's adventures in Brazil and the legal battle that rages on in Washington.

The plot was interesting, and the ending was quite unexpected. Grisham did a good job balancing the adventure story with the legal drama. The courtroom scenes too were well done -- especially Nate tearing apart the bad guys in the witness stand.

The story seemed to drag a little bit in the portion set in Brazil. For a book that spends such a long time describing the natural beauty of the Pantanal region of Brazil, very little is said about the culture of the natives living there.

I liked the character Nate O'Riley -- alcoholic, drug abuse, twice divorced, a bad father, tax evader -- in spite of all his flaws, he was likeable. As for the other characters, there isn't much to say... very little time is devoted to developing other characters.

Overall, it was a good book. A little bit slow at times, but the ending came as a surprise. It's worth a read if you like Grisham's legal thrillers.

Rating. 7/10.

BTT: Holiday Reading

Today's Booking Through Thursday question:

It’s a holiday weekend here in the U.S., so let’s keep today’s question simple – What are you reading? Anything special? Any particularly juicy summer reading?

I just finished reading John Grisham's book, The Testament. The library here allows me two books at a time and I've finished both so I have nothing else to read until I pick up the next two tomorrow.

I don't usually plan what I'm going to read, so I don't really know what books I'll be reading in the coming days. But now that I've got at least a month (maybe even three or four) with nothing to do but read, so I'll probably try to finish a couple of series I've started. I've read two of the Chronicles of Narnia books, so that will be the first priority. Then there's David Moody's Autumn horror series where I've read and enjoyed (and been terribly frightened) by the first book.

I've been thinking of re-reading all the books I own because I'll leaving to join my job soon and then I won't have much of a chance to read them again. This won't be too difficult because I only own twenty-odd books, and half of them are children's books. :-)

I've been thinking of writing a post asking for suggestions for reading and luckily I can work that into today's BTT question. This way I'll get even more suggestions. ;-) So what books would you suggest for me? Is there something you read recently that you really loved and think I should read?

PS. If you have your own blog, please use the name/url option in the comment form and link back to your blog. It's a lot easier for me to find your blog that way. :-)

Review: The High Flyer (Nicholas Shakespeare)

Thomas Wavery was once a high flying diplomat who was all set to be posted as the ambassador in Lisbon. It was a posting that he had always wanted, but an affair with a young woman dashes all his plans and now he's about to get divorced and is posted at Abyla, at the northern tip of Africa. Here he waits for a visit from his love as he spends the last few months of his career in Abyla with little enthusiasm for his job.

The book showed much promise in the first couple of chapters. Nicholas Shakespeare's description of Abyla got me interested in the book. But after that, it got hopelessly confusing with the author trying to tell the stories of every single character in detail. There are too many flashbacks without much of a hint of when the events took place. For most part the book was extremely gloomy and depressive and I couldn't really see the point of the story.

Anyway, I haven't got too much to say about the book. After the first few chapters I only read it half-heartedly, and so there isn't much I can write. I wouldn't recommend this book, but then again, it was way out of what I usually read, so I can't give a real opinion about it.

Rating. 2/10.

BTT: Defining a Reader

Today's question on Booking Through Thursday:

What, in your opinion, is the definition of a “reader.” A person who indiscriminately reads everything in sight? A person who reads BOOKS? A person who reads, period, no matter what it is? Or, more specific? Like the specific person who’s reading something you wrote?

Let me start with the assumption that I am a typical reader. What do I, or for that matter, any reader, read? Books, obviously. Textbooks (usually only on the day before exams.) ;-) Newspaper in the morning. Feed reader twice or thrice a day. News aggregator on the internet. And pretty much anything that I can read.

Now, how am I different from other people whom I'd call non-readers? I have friends who read everything on that list except for books and I don't call them readers. They read all those other things to know what's going on... they read for the knowledge that they get out of those sources. But I doubt if any of them reads the newspaper out of love for reading.

I think that's what separates readers from non-readers. That readers read not just for knowledge, they also read for pleasure. They don't look at reading as a chore that has to be done, but as something that they enjoy doing.

Books: May 2008

It's been a few days since I last posted here, and the list of books I read in May has remained in drafts for all these days. It's nearly July and here I am, posting about May. Thanks to my final semester exams, I haven't been able to read much this month, but I'm trying to catch up now that I'm finally free from college. :-)

  1. Vital Signs (Robin Cook) [2/10]

  2. One Night at the Call Center (Chetan Bhagat) [2/10]

  3. Prime Evil (Various Authors) [2/10]

  4. Sunset In St. Tropez (Danielle Steel) [3/10]

  5. Murder In Memoriam (Didier Daeninckx) [4/10]

  6. Honeymoon (James Patterson) [9/10]

  7. The Andromeda Strain (Michael Crichton) [8/10]

One Night at the Call Center was the one book I was looking forward to. I liked Chetan Bhagat's first book, Five Point Someone and I was hoping One Night... would be as funny and as realistic as that one. Unfortunately, the tone of the book was too racist for my taste with all the characters spewing out anti-Americanisms non-stop and even God joining in at one point. The book was neither funny nor realistic except perhaps for the description of lives of the call center employees.

Among the other books, I liked James Patterson's book, Honeymoon (my friend Aravind guest-posted the review) and Crichton's science fiction book The Andromeda Strain.

Stats. 7 books, 6 authors (1 new + 13 authors' short stories in Prime Evil), 2151 pages.

BTT: Trends

Booking Through Thursday.

Have your book-tastes changed over the years? More fiction? Less? Books that are darker and more serious? Lighter and more frivolous? Challenging? Easy? How-to books over novels? Mysteries over Romance?

I'm not really sure how to answer this question. I started reading when I was nine years old with Enid Blyton's mystery novels. Obviously, I'm not reading the same books I was reading back then, but I think the type of books I read hasn't changed much. My reading preference has always leaned overwhelmingly towards fiction with mysteries and thrillers being my favourite genres, and that hasn't changed over the years.

I used to re-read books very frequently earlier, but I don't do that very often now. Another thing that has changed is that I'm a lot more like to try new authors or genres these days than I would have done in the past. And, of course, the books I read have become longer, darker and more serious over the years and now I'm not really averse to trying books that I perceive as "difficult" or "challenging".

What about you? How have your book tastes changed over the years? Please do leave a comment or a link to your answer if you've already answered this question on your blog.

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (J K Rowling)

With Fantastic Beasts..., I have finished reading all the Rowling books published so far. (Well, I haven't read Tales of Beedle the Bard, but that isn't exactly a "published" book!). Yes, I meant Rowling as in J K Rowling, the genius who wrote the Harry Potter series. I'm always surprised by the fact that so many people who follow the Potter series are unaware of the fact that there are two companion books (three, if you count Beedle the Bard) to the series -- Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

At 60-odd pages, this book is very short. It was written by Rowling to benefit the charity organization, Comic Relief. (A portion of the cover price of each book sold goes directly to poor children in various places around the world.) Those well acquainted with the Potter series will remember that this is the title of the Care of Magical Creatures textbook at Hogwarts, written by Newt Scamander. This book purports to be Harry's copy of that textbook and uses Scamander's name as the pseudonym for Rowling.

The book describes the magical creatures in Harry's world, including many that we encountered in the main series. It starts off with a foreword by Albus Dumbledore, followed by a couple of short chapters defining magical beasts before going on to describe 75 magical beasts with Ministry of Magic classifications ranging from "boring" to "known wizard killer".

The best part of the book was the doodles by Harry and Ron reminding of different incidents that took place during the series. For example, there's one doodle next to a paragraph on the ban on experimental breeding that says nobody's told Hagrid about it, referring to the fact that he broke this law in Goblet of Fire by breeding Blast-Ended Skrewts. However, the significance of these doodles would be lost on anyone who hasn't read the series (at least up to the fourth book).

It would have been much better if the book had more illustrations or if it had even more details about the creatures. It's pretty hard to imagine all these creatures without having a clue as to what they look like. In spite of that, I enjoyed the book thoroughly and found a lot of interesting bits of information about creatures mentioned in the books. And I'm simply amazed by Rowling's ability to invent all this stuff.

Rating. 7/10

BTT: What is Reading?

Booking Through Thursday. (Suggested by Thisisnotabookclub.)

What is reading, anyway? Novels, comics, graphic novels, manga, e-books, audio books — which of these is reading these days? Are they all reading? Only some of them? What are your personal qualifications for something to be "reading" — why? If something isn’t reading, why not? Does it matter? Does it impact your desire to sample a source if you find out a premise you liked the sound of is in a format you don’t consider to be reading? Share your personal definition of reading, and how you came to have that stance.

Novels and ebooks are the formats that qualify as reading as far as I'm concerned. In case of comics, graphic novels and manga, I feel that the images play a greater part in the storytelling than the words themselves. Audio books certainly do not fall into the category of "reading" material. I mean, how can listening and reading be the same thing?

Novels, of course are the most important form of reading for me. And also the most comfortable. I guess nothing beats the feeling of holding a book in your hands.

A lot of people might disagree with me about classifying ebooks as reading. Staring at the computer screen for hours isn't nearly as good as curling up with a novel. But living in a place with a not-very-good library and not even one bookstore that sells novels means that I do sometimes have to resort to this format. If it hadn't been for Project Gutenberg, I'd never have been able to read so many books by H Rider Haggard or Jules Verne. Most of the classic books in the library look like they were bought at the time when the books were written. (I even came across a 75 year old copy of an H G Wells book once.) I'm much better off sitting in front of the monitor than trying to make sure the book I'm reading doesn't fall into pieces.

I might sound a bit opinionated here, shrugging off graphic novels, audio books and comics as not being reading material. No offence to people who love these formats. I've never read a graphic novel or listened to an audio book and I haven't read comics for some years now. Maybe I'll change my opinion once I've had an opportunity to sample these formats, but for now I won't say I've "read" a book if I've only "listened" to it.

I can't really give a proper definition for reading, but the most important conditions for something to qualify as reading is that it should use words to convey information and that the person "reading" it should be well... reading.

By my definition, then, a lot more things could be added to the list. Magazines, newspaper, Google Reader, blogs. I feel all these can be called reading too. What about you? Would you call this reading? What's your definition of reading?

Review: Honeymoon (James Patterson & Howard Roughan)

I discovered James Patterson from his book Lifeguard and became an instant fan of his. So, when I saw Honeymoon on the library book-shelf, I didn't hesitate.

This book, which Patterson writes with Howard Roughan has a fast moving storyline, and the fact that its a typical Patterson book with small chapters, makes it a page turner. It tells the story of Nora, a beautiful enigmatic woman with a tragic past and a dangerous present. Nora is beautiful, rich and successful, a combination that makes it hard for her to go unnoticed. Her back story, although filled with shocks, is too thin and her mother Olivia makes her appearance in the story to link her present with her past, and to add a little surprise of her own. After all, she's Nora's mother.

Nora calls it 'man management' as she maintains warm (or maybe hot) relationships with more than one man, and swiftly travels between the lives of these men, making the necessary adjustments. And this makes it difficult for the readers, certainly lesser individuals than Nora, to decide whether to love or hate this woman. And this exactly is the problem that James O'Hara has, as he investigates why terrible things happen to men associated with Nora Sinclair. Craig Reynolds is an insurance officer while Susan is O'Hara's boss in the FBI. To tell something more about their personalities would spoil the surprises and twists that await you as you read this incredible book.

To make matters more complicated, the storyline gets a little confusing and convoluted with a subplot involving the 'Tourist'. Nora would do anything to make money and O'Hara would do anything to stop her, but couldn't stop himself when Nora plays the psychological game with him. The undercover FBI agent virtually goes 'undercover' with her and seriously damage the 'hero' image thereby strengthening his 'human' image. Nora wins that part of the battle but loses in the end to O'hara. She should have known he's the hero... Ok, bad joke.

Throughout the book you'll find that things are not what they seem to be. Even the title of the book is a bit misleading. The ending of the book also seemed a little abrupt and flat, but satisfactory, with some unexpected twists. It wouldn't be my nomination for the 'Thriller of the Year' award but it is one of the better books I've read and is certainly a must read.

Rating. 8.5/10

In case you were wondering about the name, Nithin hasn't changed his name. My name is Aravind, and I'm a co-author on this blog, but you'll see me more often posting about football, and more specifically about my favorite club Chelsea FC on my blog, Living True Blue.

BTT: Books vs Movies

Another interesting question on Booking hrough Thursday, suggested by Superfastreader.

Books and films both tell stories, but what we want from a book can be different from what we want from a movie. Is this true for you? If so, what’s the difference between a book and a movie?

The best thing about books is that they give so much freedom to the readers to interpret the events and characters whichever way they want. Because so much is left to the imagination of the reader, we feel a lot more involved with the plot.

A movie adaptation, on the other hand, is other people's interpretation of the book -- the directors interpretation of the plot or the actors' interpretation of the characters. I often end up liking the movie adaptation even though I didn't like the book very much.

Take Pride and Prejudice, for instance. I didn't really like Austen's novel very much but enjoyed the 2005 movie. Sometimes the opposite is the case. You could call me a fan of both H G Wells and Steven Spielberg, but I hated Spielberg's interpretation of Wells' classic, The War of the Worlds. And on many occasions I have liked both the book and the movie even though the movie's plot was a little different from the book, like in Jurassic Park or The Bourne Identity.

For me, books and movies are two very different forms of storytelling, but what I'm looking for in both of them is the same -- that I be entertained for the duration for which I am reading the book or watching the movie.

Review: Sunset In St. Tropez (Danielle Steel)

I read my first Danielle Steel novel, Miracle, (review) a couple of months ago and surprised myself by liking it. No such luck with this book, though. I'm not writing a proper plot introduction here, but this description that I borrowed from the back cover of the book (and edited slightly) should be enough for the purposes of this review:

Spending New Year's eve together was a sacred tradition for Diana Morrison, her husband of 32 years, Eric, and their best friends, Pascale, John, Anne and Robert. The future looked rosy as the longtime friends sipped champagne and talked about traveling together to the South of France.

Just two weeks after New Year’s, tragedy strikes the heart of their close circle, as Robert Smith suffers a sudden, unexpected loss. Without hesitation, Diana and Eric, Pascale and John rally to his side, united in their support, love, and shared grief. Convinced that a change of scenery is just what Robert needs, they urge him to join them on the Riviera in August. But as they soon discover, the ramshackle old mansion they rented in St. Tropez--sight unseen--is far different from the exquisite villa and sun-drenched gardens touted in the brochure.

But the biggest surprise of all is the woman Robert invites to the villa as his guest--a lovely, much-younger and very beautiful film actress whom Diana and Pascale hate her on sight. But the men are dazzled. And amid the crumbling furniture and the glorious sunsets, the strained relationships and the acts of forgiveness, more surprises are in store for the villa’s occupants. With the last days of summer fast approaching, each couple finds themselves changing in unexpected ways, as old wounds are healed, new love discovered, and miracles unfold... all beneath the dazzling sun of St. Tropez.

There are such strong similarities between this book and Miracle that I just got tired of reading a book that sounds so much like another. Just look at how the two plots are built: man, aged around 60 -> woman, aged around 40 -> loss of a loved one -> caring friends -> a house by the sea -> ships/yachts -> romance -> live happily ever after.

The two books I just compared aren't exactly identical -- there are six main characters here instead of three, this one is set in France instead of California and there is a gorgeous actress here instead of a reclusive schoolteacher. Okay, I was being ironical about those differences... There can only be so many stories about a recently widowed older man falling for a younger woman as he comes to terms with his loss, but two such stories by the same author? NO WAY!

This book is readable but you can safely skip it, especially if you've already read Miracle. There are too many good books out there waiting to be read, and too little time to read two very similar books by an author who seems to be plagiarizing her own plot ideas.

Rating. 3/10

Review: Vital Signs (Robin Cook)

The prologue of this book was classic Robin Cook. As Cook described a bacterial infection that is taking place inside the body of one of his characters, I allowed myself to hope that finally I was reading another one of those great medical thrillers that once converted me into a Robin Cook fan. And after that... nothing. There was absolutely nothing that could make me say, "Yes, I'm still a Robin Cook fan!"

Dr. Marissa Blumenthal, who was first introduced in Outbreak, is now in her thirties, married and has a successful pediatrics practice in Boston. Marissa is unable to conceive and is therefore trying to conceive by In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). After she finds out that the cause of her infertility is shared by an unusually large number of women in the clinic, she gets supicious and starts investigating.

Robin Cook's ability to create interesting characters has always been limited, but after reading Outbreak, I would have rated Marissa Blumenthal as one of his better efforts. Which is why I am completely baffled by what he has done to this character. The Marissa in this book is shown to be so insensitive and reckless (qualities that I wouldn't attribute to the old Marissa) that I almost ended up hating her. The husband too was thrown into the plot with absolutely no hint of an introduction.

Except for a cameo for Cyrill Ducheck, none of the characters from the previous book return here. I can't understand why Cook used Marissa here if he didn't want her character to look anything like her old self. He would have been better off creating a new set of characters for this book.

Like I just said, one thing Cook will never be famous for is creating memorable characters, but here he seems to have put in too much effort, which is just as bad. In trying to create a "real" Aussie character in Tristan Williams, he uses so much Aussie slang that even Australians might find it hard to follow the lingo.

Another thing that Cook isn't really good at is writing in any setting outside hospitals or research centers. In this book, he takes us all over the world -- Australia, China, Hong Kong -- but these trips add almost nothing to the story. His research about the medical aspects of his books may be outstanding, but doesn't get close to convincing me about his knowledge about Chinese triads.

The ending too was terrible. It almost seems as if the author suddenly decided, "Hey, I've had enough of this. Lemme finish the story right here!" The loose ends weren't tied up properly and the ending was very abrupt. Overall, I would say that this was a poor effort from Robin Cook. He really should have focused more on the medical side of his story.

Rating. 2/10


I just crossed 50 posts in this blog. Wow! Congratulations, me! :-) And I posted my first review on this blog May 15th last year, which means it's twelve more days before this blog turns one year old!

Review: Bel Canto (Ann Patchett)

Bel Canto is about a hostage situation that develops in an unnamed South American country. The story of this book is based on the Japanese embassy hostage crisis of 1996 when militants took hundreds of diplomats, businessmen and government officials hostage during a party at the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima, Peru.

The vice president of the country is hosting a party on the birthday of Katsumi Hosokawa, an influential businessman from Japan. Towards the end of the party a group of militants enter the building to kidnap the President. The president, however, had decided not to attend the party and so the militants take the entire party hostage. Later they decide to keep only those hostages likely to receive large ransoms. Mr. Hosokawa's assistant and translator, Gen Watanabe, Roxanne and Mr. Hosokawa himself are among the people who remain in the house after the others have been released.

As the crisis drags on for months, bonds of friendship are formed all around, even to some extent between the hostages and their captors. Katsumi Hosokawa and Roxanne Coss fall in love with each other despite being unable to speak in each other's language. Gen also falls in love with a beautiful young terrorist, Carmen. The whole book is about the microcosm that the hostages and their captors together create in the house. There is almost no interference from the outside world during the months for which hostages are held captive and throughout the book, we hardly step outside the house.

At times, I found the story a little bit unbelievable especially the behaviour of the hostages. I would have expected them to be a lot more scared than they are shown to be. After the initial panic they settle down comfortably in the house pretty fast without much fear of their captors. I happen to know almost nothing about opera and music, so I did have some trouble understanding the passages about Roxanne's music. Except for that, the book was great to read.

For a book that maintained such a pleasant atmosphere all along, the ending came as a rude shock. Before I read the book, I'd seen quite a few book bloggers complaining about the ending and now I know why. It was too brutal and too inconsistent with the rest of the novel. But then, the entire story was a bit too good to be true. Something unpleasant was bound to happen.

Bel Canto is an operatic term meaning "beautiful song" and Patchett uses this theme very well to bring this whole group of people together. Interestingly, Patchett didn't know much about opera before she wrote this book and she had to read books about it and listen to opera so she could gain some understanding about it. This novel won both the Orange Prize and the PEN/Faulkner award in 2002.

Rating. 8/10


Review: Firefly's Book Blog
Review: Great White North
Review: My Year of Reading Seriously
Review: The Orange Prize Project
Review: Shh... I'm Reading

Books: April 2008


  1. A Painted House (John Grisham) [8/10]

  2. The Parsifal Mosaic (Robert Ludlum) [4/10]

  3. Ombria In Shadow (Patricia A McKillip) [2/10]

  4. Crooked House (Agatha Christie) [7/10]

  5. Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them (J K Rowling) [7/10]

A Painted House is the one books that stands out in that list. Grisham's proved once again that he's just as good (if not better) when he's not writing legal thrillers. I've really got to read more non-legal books from Grisham.

I liked Crooked House to some extent, but Christie's used her all too familiar murder method -- poison -- once again. It's getting irritating to see all those old men getting poisoned all the time, but the ending was pretty good. Fantastic Beasts... is strictly for Harry Potter fans, because much of the charm of the book lies in the doodles in the margins, and people who haven't read the Potter books wouldn't understand them.

Ombria In Shadow was the one I really didn't like. Even after finishing the book, I don't have a clue about what was happening. As for The Parsifal Mosaic, it's typical Ludlum stuff, all cloak-and-dagger. Disappointing.

My list for April looks like the one for the previous month -- 5 books by different authors and nothing that deserved a 10/10 rating. Now I'm behind in reviews by 9 books, so I'll have to skip maybe 4 or 5 of them. I really should try to keep up with the reviewing.

Stats: 5 books, 5 authors (1 new), 1936 pages, 5.6 avg rating.

BTT: Vocabulary

This is something I've always been curious about, which is why I suggested this question on Booking Through Thursday. Thanks Deb for posting this question. :)

I’ve always wondered what other people do when they come across a word/phrase that they’ve never heard before. I mean, do they jot it down on paper so they can look it up later, or do they stop reading to look it up on the dictionary/google it or do they just continue reading and forget about the word? (see links to other responses here.)

That question itself pretty much sums up the things I've tried to do when faced with a word I've never seen before. Right now I usually try to guess the meaning from context or just ignore it so I don't have to stop reading. It's so very distracting to have to put down whatever you're reading to find a dictionary or switch on the computer.

I used to keep a dictionary beside me while reading, but having to open an enormous dictionary to find a word while in the middle of a book is very annoying. Pocket dictionaries aren't of much use either because they often don't have words I'm looking for. On one occasion, I even tried jotting down the words on a piece of paper, but ended up with far too many words on the list to have any reasonable chance of remembering more than a very few of them.

Using the define: operator in google helps find the definitions of some unusual words, especially obscure ones or slang words that aren't easy to find. Wordnet dictionary is another good way to look up words because it defines words in clusters rather than individual words. That way I can read the definition along with synonyms which makes remembering the words easier. The problem with using either of these is that they require that the PC remain on all whenever I'm reading, but they're dead useful when I'm reading something on the computer.

Review: Bleachers (John Grisham)

Bleachers is about a high school football team (American football, of course). Eddie Rake, the legendary coach of the Messina High School football team is now dying. Rake was responsible for transforming the team into an unbeatable unit during his 34 year reign as coach. Neely Crenshaw, one of the best players to have played on the team, and his old teammates gather at the football stadium and talk about the days when they played on the Messina Spartans team as they wait for Rake's death.

The team's less than cordial relationship with the coach forms the central theme of the book. As they talk about their days on the team, most of the players are unable to make up their minds about whether they loved their coach or hated him. Eddie Rake never makes an appearance in the novel and yet Grisham paints his character vividly through the conversations of the players.

Some time ago, when I reviewed Grisham's book, The Brethren, I mentioned that he would be better off writing his usual courtroom dramas. However, now that I've read Bleachers, I have to take back my words. The whole book revolves the team's reminiscences and almost nothing else, yet it managed to keep me interested throughout. I liked this book and if Grisham keeps on writing books like this, I won't miss those legal thrillers all that much.
Rating: 7/10

Review: Miracle (Danielle Steel)

Three strangers, Quinn Thompson, Maggie Dartman and Jack Adams meet each other amid the destruction caused by a storm that hits northern California. Quinn, a retired businessman has recently been widowed and is still grieving the loss of his wife. Maggie recently lost her son and soon after that her marriage fell apart and is now divorced. Jack Adams is a carpenter who comes to repair Quinn and Maggie's homes after the devastation caused by the storm. This book is about how these three strangers go about building a relationship of love and friendship among the ruins around them.

I have never been a fan of romance novels, which is why I have avoided Danielle Steel novels so far. For some reason that I can't put my finger on, I've always expected not to like Steel's novels. I picked up this book just to try reading a DS novel which is why I didn't have very high expectations of the book. And the low expectations is perhaps why I ended up liking this book.

Steel does go overboard with describing Quinn's regret at not having paid enough attention to his wife when she was alive, and for such a short book (180 pages of large font text) a lot of space is reserved for this. But the relationships between Quinn, Maggie and Jack was handled very well and halfway through the book I started liking these characters. The ending did seem a bit awkward, but on the whole, the book wasn't all that bad.

I am still surprised at the fact that I liked this novel. I was expecting a badly written mushy romance, which is why novel might have seemed a little better than it actually is, but I'm definitely going to give DS novels another chance and this time I'll try to keep an open mind.

Rating: 6/10

Books: March 2008


  1. Bleachers (John Grisham) [7/10] (review)

  2. Bel Canto (Ann Patchett) [8/10]

  3. The Anastasia Syndrome and Other Stories (Mary Higgins Clark) [6/10]

  4. To Cut a Long Story Short (Jeffrey Archer) [9/10]

  5. Lucky Jim (Kingsley Amis) [1/10]


5 books

5 authors (3 new)

1455 pages (291 p/book)

6.25 avg rating


  1. Bel Canto (Ann Patchett)

  2. To Cut a Long Story Short (Jeffrey Archer)

Don't Recommend...

  1. Lucky Jim (Kingsley Amis)

The Year So Far

20 books

15 authors (7 new)

6813 pages

Six Word Memoir

Gautami from My Own Little Reading Room tagged me for this meme. It's been something like three weeks since I was tagged and I still haven't been able to come up with a six word memoir. These are the rules:

  1. Write your own six word memoir.

  2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like.

  3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere.

  4. Tag five more blogs with links.

  5. And don’t forget to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play!

I thought about this for a long time and still couldn't come up with anything. Summing up your life in six words is very, very difficult, especially if you're not really gifted with words.

Well, I had to post something, so I decided to cheat and borrow some famous quote. First, I thought of my all time favourite quotes about education, "Born intelligent. Then education ruined me!" and "Didn't let school interfere with education". But those are too well known. And not exactly true either. It would be too presumptuous of me to assume that I was born intelligent ;-) or that school did not actually play an active role in my education. Then I came across this line from an Alice Walker poem, "Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise". But then again, except when waiting for exam results I don't really follow that line. :D

So here I am, still thinking about what to write. Nearly two hours have passed since I started writing this post. I've tried typing those six words a few times and nothing really sounds right. And when it does sound right, I end up with too many words!

Okay, I finally got one:

I'd read memoirs rather than write!

There, I've done it. Whew! It does feel like cheating because it's not a real memoir, but I haven't got an alternative. There's no other way I can finish this meme today. As for the tagging part, I'll tag Aravind. (I really can't find five people to tag.) But everyone's welcome to do this meme if they haven't done it already. And please do leave a link if you've done the meme yourself. It's great to read some of those six word memoirs.

BTT: Literature

After a three week break because of exams, followed by problems with the computer, followed by a few days of illness, I'm finally back in the blogosphere. Answering this week's BTT question seems to be the perfect way to get back into blogging mode. :-)

  • When somebody mentions "literature," what’s the first thing you think of? (Dickens? Tolstoy? Shakespeare?)

  • Do you read "literature" (however you define it) for pleasure? Or is it something that you read only when you must?

  • Whenever literature is mentioned, I am always reminded of books written in the 1700s or 1800s or even early 1900s. Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Fyodor Dostoyevsky are some of the names that I usually think of when I think of "literature".

    As far as reading literature is concerned, I must admit to not reading too much of it. I have read a few books that could count as literature, but I generally prefer reading recently published books. I always find reading modern fiction easier than reading "literary" works.

    BTT: Playing Editor

    This week's BTT question (suggested by John Mutford from The Book Mine Set):

    How about a chance to play editor-in-chief? Fill in the blanks:

    ___ would have been a much better book if ___.

    I really can't answer this one. There are many books that I would have liked better if they had been different but I'm absolutely sure about one thing... allowing me to edit the books would most certainly not have made them any better! In fact, I would have spoiled the book completely and fewer people would have liked it. I would rather read a book the way it was written by the author and not worry about how it should have been written.

    Books: February 2008

    I can't help but feel disappointed that I couldn't read more in the past month. Four books in a month isn't all that bad, but after that magical reading month of January (when I finished 11 books), four looks like a very small number.

    The Books

    1. Ice Station (Matthew Reilly) [8/10]

    2. A Falcon Flies (Wilbur Smith) [9/10]

    3. Voyage To the End of the Room (Tibor Fischer) [2/10] (review)

    4. Miracle (Danielle Steel) [6/10] (review)


    • books: 4

    • authors: 4 (2 new)

    • pages: 1743 (436p/book)

    • avg rating: 6.5


    1. A Falcon Flies (Wilbur Smith)

    2. Ice Station (Matthew Reilly)

    Didn't like

    1. Voyage To the End of the Room (Tibor Fischer)

    Maybe I didn't get too much time to read, but looking at the brighter side, there was only one book that I didn't like in February compared to three in January. :D

    Review: Voyage To the End of the Room (Tibor Fischer)

    Oceane is a computer graphics designer living comfortably in her London flat. She likes to travel as long as she doesn't have to leave her flat. For this she gets her travel agent to arrange for foreigners to visit her and thus give her the experience of having spent an evening in a foreign country.

    Then one day she gets a letter from Walter, her ex-boyfriend who has been dead for ten years. Here the book moves back a few years into Oceane's past when she used to work for a sex club in Barcelona. The letter tells her that Walter knew something about a series of deaths that took place when she worked there. He instructs her to travel to a remote island in the Pacific Ocean to find the truth about the deaths. Reluctant to leave her flat, she hires Audley, a debt collector and sends him to investigate as she watches his progress using hi-tech gadgets and the internet.

    The reason I picked up the book was the title. It promised to be a story that took a close look at the protagonist's life and that's what it did for the first few pages. After that it meandered along with flashback after flashback which did nothing to move the plot forward. I was kind of pleased with the book when I started reading it, started getting bored by the time I read the 50th page and was quite irritated when I reached the end of the book.

    Although technically this book falls into the first person narrative category, with Oceane being the narrator, large part of the book involves someone narrating his/her story to Oceane or even sometimes narrating a story that someone else narrated to them in the first place. I found this style rather interesting at first but constantly stopping by to listen to people talk about their past really slows down the plot and makes the book boring.

    Sure, the book is funny at times, but you need a halfway decent plot for a book to be called good, which this book doesn't have. The ending too was very disappointing. The book just ends, that's it. It's as if Fischer had enough of writing this novel and decided to stop. It's definitely not a book that I would recommend.

    My Rating: 2/10

    BTT: Hero

    You should have seen this one coming... Who is your favorite male lead character? And why? (BTT)

    I've been too busy to post here over the last month and I missed (yet again!) last week's question about favourite female lead characters. Good thing too, seeing that I couldn't remember a lot of characters I could have put into that list except for Robyn Ballantyne from Wilbur Smith's book A Falcon Flies which I read recently. These kinds of questions are always difficult because I always end up typing up a quick reply and then remembering more characters after I've published the post. Coming to today's question, there are a few characters I remember right now. Here's the list:

    • Andy Dufresne from Stephen King's Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. He's probably the most patient and determined character I've ever seen. How many people would actually spend two decades planning the perfect prison break?

    • Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter series. I couldn't resist putting all three on the list! ;-)

    • Patrick Lanigan from John Grisham's The Partner. Sure, he may be a crook, but like Dufresne (who was actually innocent) he's one of the most determined and brilliant fictional people I've seen. You just have to read the book to know what I mean.

    That's five people on the list already and I still haven't been able to decide who my favourite character is. I'm sure I'll find that I missed someone who would have topped that list once I go through the replies by other bloggers. For now, I'll give that title to Dumbledore. When I started reading the Potter series, this amiable wizard was the first character I liked and has remained my favourite throughout the series. Plus, he's the coolest headmaster I've ever seen!

    Non-Fiction Meme

    Gautami started this meme about non-fiction reading and tagged me. To be frank, I'm not really qualified to do this meme, because I hardly ever read non-fiction books. But I like doing memes (which is why I do the weekly BTT) and I'll try to answer this one too.

    a) What issues/topic interests you most--non-fiction, i.e, cooking, knitting, stitching, there are infinite topics that has nothing to do with novels?

    Cooking, knitting or stitching are definitely not topics that interest me! If I were to read non-fiction more often, I'd mostly be reading autobiographies, especially of my favourite authors. I read Sidney Sheldon's autobiography, The Other Side of Me (review) recently and liked it. If all autobiographies are as interesting as that one, I might even start reading non-fiction full-time. :-)

    b) Would you like to review books concerning those?

    Ideally, I'd love to review every single book I read. But I never manage to write reviews for most of the books I read. If I weren't as lazy as I am, I definitely would have liked to review them.

    c) Would you like to be paid or do it as interest or hobby? Tell reasons for what ever you choose.

    I'll have a lot of trouble finding someone who'll want to pay me for writing reviews, wouldn't I? ;-) But seriously, I don't think I'd want to be paid for writing reviews. If I were sent a book for reviewing, I'd spend more time worrying about writing a perfect review because I'm being paid for it and probably end up enjoying the book a little bit less than I normally would. Right now I can just jot down a few thoughts about the books I read without trying to write a masterpiece review.

    d) Would you recommend those to your friends and how?

    If the books are good, I would certainly recommend them.

    e) If you have already done something like this, link it to your post.

    I haven't.

    f) Please dont forget to link back here or whoever tags you.

    I was tagged by Gautami Tripathy from My Own Little Reading Room. Thanks, Gautami!

    BTT: Format

    All other things (like price and storage space) being equal, given a choice in a perfect world, would you rather have paperbacks in your library? Or hardcovers? And why? (BTT)

    I've never thought about it really. I've always read paperback, so that's the format I'll stick with. I would feel kind of awkward reading a hardcover. Paperbacks are more comfortable to read, easier to carry and lighter than hardcovers.

    The one advantage that hardcovers have is that they can be preserved forever. But hey... weren't we talking about a perfect world? In a perfect world, I'd learn to say a firm NO when somebody tries to borrow books from me. Then I wouldn't have to worry about damaged books.

    Books: January 2008

    January was an excellent month for reading. I've read 11 books in the month, which is perhaps the most I've read in a single month in a long, long time.

    The Books

    1. Poirot Investigates (Agatha Christie) [4/10] (review)

    2. The Fourth Protocol (Frederick Forsyth) [7/10] (review)

    3. Lord Edgware Dies (Agatha Christie) [7/10] (review)

    4. The ABC Murders (Agatha Christie) [10/10] (review)

    5. Dumb Witness (Agatha Christie) [5/10] (review)

    6. Curtain: Poirot's Last Case (Agatha Christie) [8/10] (review)

    7. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller) [1/10]

    8. In the Days of the Comet (H G Wells) [1/10]

    9. The Three Investigators #01 - The Secret of Terror Castle (Robert Arthur) [3/10]

    10. First Among Equals (Jeffrey Archer) [8/10]

    11. The Last Llanelli Train (Robert Lewis) [2/10]


    • 11 Books

    • 7 authors(2 new)

    • 3615 pages (329p/book)

    • Avg rating: 5

    Best Books

    • The ABC Murders (Agatha Christie)

    • First Among Equals (Jeffrey Archer)

    Worst Books

    • Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)

    • In the Days of the Comet (H G Wells)

    • The Last Llanelli Train (Robert Lewis)

    February, unfortunately, has been far too hectic for me to read as many books or even post regularly here (which explains why this post has remained in drafts for two weeks now!)

    BTT: After the Honeymoon

    This week's question from BTT (suggested by Chris):

    Have you ever fallen out of love with a favorite author? Was the last book you read by the author so bad, you broke up with them and haven’t read their work since? Could they ever lure you back?

    Robin Cook. That's the first name that came to my mind. I fell in love with his medical thrillers a few years ago when I read Fever. But once the novelty of his style wore off, I started asking myself why I wanted to read thrillers that sounded like biology textbooks. It's been a while since I read one of his books but I haven't completely given up his books yet. Maybe someday I'll go back and read one of his older books.

    Robert Ludlum is another author I felt this way about. I loved The Icarus Agenda, liked The Bourne Identity to some extent and started getting tired of his cloak-and-dagger style by the time I read The Matlock Paper. But it was later, when I read The Road to Gandolfo/Omaha that I really got annoyed with him. Like in the case of Cook, I haven't completely given up, but it will take a lot of convincing before I read his books again.

    Technorati Top 1,000,000

    I just noticed that this blog is now ranked at 871,446 on Technorati. It's not much to brag about but that number was in the order of a few millions a few months ago, which means there's been some improvement in the blog's rank. Well done, me! Now, if only I stop posting stupid posts like this one and start posting some reviews instead, I could actually call this a book review blog.

    P.S. This blog's Technorati page is here, just in case you loved this blog so much that you wanted to fave it on Technorati. *wink*

    Book Meme: Page 123

    The worst thing about going back to college after a month long break is that you suddenly find yourself really struggling to catch up with blogging. In the two weeks after college reopened, I haven't managed a single post here. Gautami tagged me for this meme almost a week ago and today is when I finally manage to post it here. I've done this meme before (well, who hasn't?) but I'll do it anyway because of two reasons. One, it's very easy. I don't have to think before I post. Two, this is the first time I've been tagged for a meme and it's also the first time I'm doing one outside of the weekly BTT memes.

    1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages)

    2. Open the book to page 123

    3. Find the fifth sentence

    4. Post the next three sentences

    5. Tag five people

    Steps 1, 2, 3 and 4 are easy enough. This is what I found on page 123 of the book nearest to me:

    The phone rang, and Hammond went to answer it. Wu tried to think of another way to press his case.But the fact was that, after five long years, Jurassic Park was nearing completion, and John Hammond wasn't listening to him anymore.

    You have three chances to guess what book those sentences are from. *grin* And no, I'm not giving out prizes for guessing right.

    I've finished the easy part; step 5 is more difficult. Almost every book related blog I follow seems to have done this meme already, and it will take me a while to find one that hasn't done it yet. So I'm skipping the tagging part but please do leave a link to your post in the comments if you're doing this meme.

    Review: Curtain - Poirot's Last Case (Agatha Christie)

    This book -- as the title suggests -- is the last case featuring the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and his friend Captain Arthur Hastings. Although Curtain was actually written in the 1940s, it wasn't published until 1975 which is why the books doesn't fit in well with the chronology of the series. It brings Poirot and Hastings back to Styles, the place where they met and solved their first case together in The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

    Poirot, now in very poor health and confined to a wheelchair, invites Hastings (who is now a widower) to Styles Court in Essex where now lives. When Hastings arrives there, Poirot tells him that one of the lodgers at Styles is a serial murderer. He gives Hastings a brief account of five different murders and points out that even though there was no doubt about who committed the murders, there was someone in the background who was actually pulling the strings. Despite knowing the identity of the criminal, Poirot refuses to reveal it to Hastings.

    I wouldn't rate this as one of the best Hercule Poirot novels, but the ending is good enough to make it a fitting conclusion to the Poirot series. For most part of the book we have to put up with Hastings making his wild guesses as to the identity of the criminal while Poirot sits quietly in the background. All the time we see Poirot doing nothing and asking Hastings (and in effect, us) to wait for the murderer to show himself, which gets rather irritating after some time. There are some clues and red herrings as usual, but the ending still comes as a total surprise and makes up for us having to listen to Hastings' speculations.

    When Poirot signs off at the end of the novel saying, "we shall never hunt together again, mon ami", it is to remind us of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which he signed off with "we shall hunt together again". Poirot may have said his farewells, but I'm not saying goodbye just yet. There are a dozen or so Poirot novels that I haven't read so far. :-)

    My Rating: 8/10

    NaJuReMoNoMo Winner!

    I came across this in Gautami Tripathy's blog. Foma came up with the idea for NaJuReMoNoMo, and he has this to say about his idea:

    Two years ago I invented a semi-parody of National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo that I called National Just Read More Novels Month or, for not-so-short, the unpronounceable NaJuReMoNoMo. It’s only a semi-parody because I am completely serious about wanting people to read more novels. January is the perfect month for this sort of internet meme. It’s the middle of winter and doesn’t conflict with any major holidays. January is 31 days long, giving people plenty of time to read a book. Folks are flush with cash and gift cards from holiday giving, And they are burnt out from the endless November challenges that require too much work.

    Best of all, NaJuReMoNoMo is astoundingly easy. All you have to do is read any novel from start to finish within the month of January. You can read memoirs or non-fiction in January, they just don’t count towards your NaJuReMoNoMo total.

    I wanted to read at least 10 books during the holidays in January and actually managed to finish 11, which means I deserve a gold and a blue badge as a winner of NaJuReMoNoMo.


    BTT: Quirky! & Huh?

    This week's BTT question:

    Sometimes I find eccentric characters quirky and fun, other times I find them too unbelievable and annoying. What are some of the more outrageous characters you’ve read, and how do you feel about them?

    Not an easy one, this. I really have trouble remembering characters I read in books. But I'll try anyway.

    1. Hercule Poirot. That's the first name that came to my mind. I've been reading too much Agatha Christie over the last month and I'm almost getting used to Poirot's strange behaviour. But he's definitely one of the most quirky (and funny) characters I've seen.

    2. Luna Lovegood. One of the most eccentric and yet one of the most likeable characters I've ever come across. You only need to read the Harry Potter series to know what I mean.

    3. Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. Now that I'm talking about the Potter series, how can I miss Hogwarts' very, very strange Headmaster? I mean, if he doesn't make it to this list, then who will? ;-)

    4. General MacKenzie "The Hawk" Hawkins I didn't much like the two books -- The Road to Gandolfo and The Road to Omaha -- in which the Hawk made an appearance. But there's no denying the fact that he is one of the craziest characters to have lived within the pages of a book. unlike the other three characters I've mentioned, I'll put General Hawkins in the "unbelievable and annoying" category.

    That's about all I can think of right now. Maybe I should do this meme next week, so I get enough time to remember some more characters, but I've already missed last week's BTT, and I don't want to miss another one this week. Here's my reply to last week's question.

    What's your favorite book that nobody else has heard of? You know, not Little Women or Huckleberry Finn, not the latest best-seller... whether they've read them or not, everybody "knows" those books. I'm talking about the best book that, when you tell people that you love it, they go, "Huh? Never heard of it?"

    Mark Haddon's touching book about an autistic child, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time always brings that kind of reaction when I mention it. The closest that anyone got to placing the book in the literary world was when a friend asked me if it was a Sherlock Holmes story. At least he got the source of the title right! :-) (The title was taken from a sentence in Silver Blaze, a short story featuring Sherlock Holmes).

    Another book that gets that reaction is Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park. Every time I mention that book, people try to correct me, saying it's a Spielberg movie and not a Crichton book. Ditto for Conan Doyle's The Lost World. Nobody seems to know that Conan Doyle first thought of the word "Jurassic Park", which Crichton used in his book that was finally made into a Hollywood movie.

    Considering the popularity of The Da Vinci Code, I'm always surprised to find that very few people have read -- or even heard of -- The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. Both the books cover very similar topics and (at least in my opinion) The Rule of Four is almost as good as (if not better than) Dan Brown's best-seller, but it is the Da Vinci Code that everyone talks about. I guess the lack of controversy is why The Rule... isn't as famous.

    Review: Dumb Witness (Agatha Christie)

    Emily Arundell is a rich woman whose fortune will go to her nephew and nieces on her death. When they come visiting their aunt, Emily falls down the stairs in what is apparently an accident, but she suspects otherwise and writes to Hercule Poirot, asking him to meet her. The letter gets delayed by some time and by the time Poirot visits her, she has already died of natural causes. When her will is read out, everyone is shocked to find out that Emily had changed it so that all her wealth went to her companion, Mrs Lawson and the relatives get nothing. Poirot's investigation leads him to believe that the "accident" was caused by a string tied across the staircase to trip Emily who was in the habit of walking around the house at night.

    The title Dumb Witness refers to Emily's dog, Bob who was supposed to have left a ball at the top of the stairs which caused Emily to trip (Poirot later proves that this wasn't the case). The dog has very little to do with the story except for this incident and is there in the book for little more that for displaying Hastings' great affection for dogs -- Bob becomes Hastings' pet at the end of the book.

    Rich old lady, young relatives desperate for money, so-called accidents, poisoning -- it's a typical Agatha Christie story, but one that perhaps fails to maintain the high standards that we have come to expect of Christie. The book seems too slow and the solution a bit too obvious. There are a couple of details that don't fit in. For example, how is it that Mrs Lawson can notice the initials on the suspect's brooch and still not be able to see that she was hammering a nail onto the staircase? And how could Hastings -- or anyone for that matter -- forget something that we were all taught in primary school -- that a mirror always interchanges the left and right sides of the image? This slight on Hastings' intellect -- in spite of its ridiculously low standards ;-) -- isn't something that can be explained that easily.

    My Rating: 5/10