Arsenic for Tea

Title: Arsenic for Tea (Wells and Wong #2)
Author: Robin Stevens
ISBN: 9780552570732
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK Children’s
Source: Advance copy via NetGalley
Release Date: January 29, 2015
Rating: 4 out of 5

Synopsis: 

Schoolgirl detectives Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are at Daisy’s home, Fallingford, for the holidays. Daisy’s glamorous mother is throwing a tea party for Daisy’s birthday, and the whole family is invited, from eccentric Aunt Saskia to dashing Uncle Felix. But it soon becomes clear that this party isn’t really about Daisy at all. Naturally, Daisy is furious.

Then one of their party falls seriously, mysteriously ill – and everything points to poison.

With wild storms preventing anyone from leaving, or the police from arriving, Fallingford suddenly feels like a very dangerous place to be. Not a single person present is what they seem – and everyone has a secret or two. And when someone very close to Daisy looks suspicious, the Detective Society must do everything they can to reveal the truth . . . no matter the consequences.

Review:

Arsenic for Tea was one of the books I had been excited to read. I thoroughly enjoyed Steven’s first book in the series, Murder Most Unladylike so I was delighted to find Arsenic for Tea on Netgalley.

This is a cute book with a cosy murder. It is the second in the Wells and Wong series, Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong – schoolgirl detectives. They are at Daisy’s house for the school holiday. For Daisy’s birthday, the entire family, a few friends and relatives are invited for a splendid birthday tea party. At the party, someone falls ills mysteriously.

A closed house mystery, motley of people – all with reasons for doing the bad deed, stuck in the house due to bad weather (another Christie style mystery – could it get any better!). Everybody seems to have secrets and it’s upon the Detective Society to solve their second case before something very bad happens.

Daisy and Hazel are delightful characters – witty and quirky. Daisy’s father, mother, uncle and Miss Alston provide further layers to the plot.

The second book in the series is always compared to the first one will the plot be as good, will the characters grow mature or appear pale? Arsenic for Tea is deeper and stronger. Daisy and Hazel are settling well into their role of detectives, the setting of the murder is charming and cosy and the mystery is very interesting indeed.

I am now a fan of this series.

Butterfly Season

Title: Butterfly Seasonbutterfly-season-200x300
Author: Natasha Ahmed
ISBN: 9781927826553
Publisher: Indireads Inc.
Rating: 4 out of 5

Synopsis:

On her first holiday in six years, Rumi is expecting to relax and unwind. But when she is set up by her long-time friend, she doesn’t shy away from the possibilities. Ahad, a charming, independent, self-made man, captures her imagination, drawing her away from her disapproving sister, Juveria.

Faced with sizzling chemistry and a meeting of the minds, Ahad and Rumi find themselves deep in a relationship that moves forward with growing intensity. But as her desire for the self-assured Ahad grows, Rumi struggles with a decision that will impact the rest of her life.

Confronted by her scandalized sister, a forbidding uncle and a society that frowns on pre-marital intimacy, Rumi has to decide whether to shed her middle-class sensibilities, turning her back on her family, or return to her secluded existence as an unmarried woman in Pakistan.

We follow Rumi from rainy London to a sweltering Karachi, as she tries to take control of her own destiny.

Review:

Butterfly Season is a story of a contemporary Pakistani girl Rumi, who has spent the last years caring for her ailing mother. Now after her mother’s death, she has come to London to visit her younger sister and some old friends. Rumi has been a dutiful daughter, loyal friend, yet independent and hard working.

She has been the typical girl next door until she falls in love with Ahad, a Pakistani man living in London. Even though both come from the same cultural background, their lifestyle and perspectives couldn’t be more different and this creates a complicated situation.

Rumi’s dilemma now is to decide whether to drop her usual way of thinking (traditional and conservative) or adopt a more bolder and refreshing approach to love and life with Ahad. The story develops among the family and cultural issues and is an interesting view on the Pakistani expats and society.

This is a bold and refreshing take about the Pakistani culture, expectations and way of life among the women in Pakistan. I loved reading about the independent Rumi, who is willing to realise her dreams even if it comes at a price.

Butterfly Season has well fleshed out characters. I loved all the characters in the book, their conflicts and different perspectives create a multilayered drama the story. This can be the story of almost any woman living in today’s society, be it India or Pakistan. Butterfly Season is an enjoyable read wih great engaging writing style and interesting plot.

Cocktails For Three – Book Review

…by Sophie Kinsella (writing as Madeleine Wickham)

This is a story of 3 British women who are close friends. For years they have maintained the tradition of meeting at a cocktail bar on the first of every month. This bar has strengthened their friendship and given them lot of memories to cherish.

They lead happy lives till an outsider by the name of Heather comes into their lives. She enters their lives at a time when each of them is at the brink of personal crisis.

This is the story of sweet Candice, rash Roxanne and intelligent Maggie. Candice is the ‘baby’ of the lot. She is cute and generous to the extent of being fooled easily. She harbours a pest from the past. To get over her age old guilt, she invites Heather into her life with open, welcoming hands. She showers her with all the help and love she can so that she can make good what her father spoilt years ago. Heather appears friendly on the surface. Maybe, too friendly. Soon, Candice is dealing with her self-obsessed ex-boyfriend, a crooked flatmate, lots of dilemmas and above all, the dangerous distance that is developing between her and her close friends.

Roxanne is in love with an older man whom she refers to as Mr. Married with Kids. Her two best friends do not know who he is. The affair that has been lasting since 6 years doesn’t seem to be coming to a decent conclusion. Still, she is willing to live with it. But one fine day, her lover ends it all. She is devastated. And she has no one to talk to. After all, she managed to lose both her friends too.

Maggie is the editor of a magazine. She is used to being in power and being busy. But in a month’s time, she would be delivering her baby. She and her husband have moved to their palatial house in the country. After her maternity leave begins, she only as the silence of the big house, large grassy fields and anxiety of handling a baby to accompany her. Roxanne and Candice seem to be moving on with their lives without her. And once the baby comes, she is at a complete loss of control. Despite working hard and spending sleepless nights, she is unable to handle her baby well and for that, she feels pathetic about herself. Her decreasing self-esteem isn’t helped much by her mother-in-law. And there is no one who can understand her.

Three closest of friends and yet so lonely.

But bad times are never to stay forever, ain’t it? Lost friends are won back. Lost trust is regained. Loves are lost but new loves are won.

It is a beautifully written story of women you can relate to. They face the same issues that we face in our lives. This book taught me two lessons. One, do not condemn yourself for who you are not. Accept and love who you are. A successful, working woman like Maggie, for example, cannot be expected to become a perfect mother from day one. Accept the fact that you cannot be good at everything. Second, keep your friends close in times of need. When you have good friends, you never have to feel lonely.

I did not enjoy some of Madeleine Wickham books but this one is a winner for me. It is an easy, engrossing, thoughtful read. I had difficulty parting with this book. I dared to leave all my work pending for the sake of this book. In fact, I would read it again some day!

My rating: 4

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – Book Review

Ravi Kapoor, a London based doctor is fed up of this Father-in-law, Norman and his absurd, vulgar, dirty ways. Overworked and frustrated, he feels life will be much better when his FIL is out of the way. Good news comes in the form of his distant cousin, Sonny, who works up a business partnership plan for both of them – a retirement home in Bangalore, India. With profit comes freedom from Norman. Ravi is excited about the plan – a new energy fed into him. His wife, Pauline, objects but realizes that if her father doesn’t go away, Ravi will.

And thus, Best Exotic Hotel Marigold comes into existence. A mottled bunch of widows, widowers, divorcees and elderly couples come together to put this retirement home into full action. Evelyn is an observer and the most amicable person around. Norman has managed to become a pain in everyone’s neck here too. Chain smoker Madge is looking for a rich Maharaja who can be her last and final partner. Muriel is aggrieving her son’s disappearance and resorts to ancient Hindu spiritual rituals to reunite with her son. Jean and Douglas have been married for 47 years and are busy exploring the city on foot. Add in Evelyn’s cowardly son Christopher and confused daughter Theresa, the hotel’s manager Mr. C and his fierce, aggressive, tantrum-throwing wife, the hotel’s head bearer Jimmy and other recurring characters like the mali, the legless beggar outside the hotel, the call center kids and other resident members and you get a funny, thought provoking sometimes confusing tale of how old Brit people take to a country like India.

The individual stories build up well – how and why each individual lands up at the hotel. And you want to know how each of them ends up. But I really wonder why anyone would leave their country and come to a strange land (that too, an underdeveloped country like India) to spend their last days? Especially people who have lived in Britain for their whole lives!

India is shown in a poor light many times – for example, the kids at the call center want to know how Britain is like. There is poverty and garbage all over. People are desperate and funny. Not to mention, the famous spiritual beliefs and practices. But several times, the Indian hospitality, good nature and warmth are appreciated.

Part 3, which contains climax and conclusions, is a big letdown. Unexpected people couple up in the end. People die and separate suddenly. There are so many loose ends. Characters change behaviors like it’s no one’s business. Overall, the story can be perceived as superficial.

I was disappointed. I was expecting more deep rooted emotions and innate conversations given that the story is about elderly people, coming together to spend their last days in a spiritual, stimulating country like India. Instead, there are shallow performances and frivolous thoughts.

The book did manage to hold my attention on a long flight; I finished it in one go. But I would only rate it 2 on 5.

 

Last Man in Tower

…by Aravind Adiga.

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Vishram Society, Vakola. The site sought after by builder Dharmen Shah to demolish and rebuild a new development in its place. The residents of both Tower A and B are given an offer for their flats. Given that Vishram society is falling to pieces, most of the residents are more than happy to sign the contract, get the money and find a new and more stable place. Except for one man.Yogesh Murthy of Tower A. A retired teacher also known as Masterji to his neighbours. What initially begins as a way of sticking up for friends eventually results in him taking a stance for exercising ones freedom and rights to keeping ones roots. However, Masterji’s stance soon sees him making enemies and those people he thought of as neighbours and friends can no longer be trusted. There is Mrs Puri who longs for a new life after 18 years of penance looking after her disabled son Ramu. There is the building secretary, Mr Kothari who longs to live in Sewri watching flamingos and reliving what his father lost. There is the scheming broker Ajwani who will do almost anything to make more money. And the cyber-cafe owner Ibrahim Kudwa who thinks more money would mean a better life for his family and who is always looking to please everyone. Then there is Mrs Rego, a single mother and social worker who is envious of her sister’s life. And the Pintos who were very good friends with Masterji but have troubles of their own. Finally, can Masterji trust his own son Gaurav who seems to have grown all the more distant since the death of Masterji’s wife Purnima a year ago?

How far will people go to get what they want?

Will one man be enough to stand up against corruption in society?

And what makes a person good or bad?

To know all these, you have to read the book.

I thought this was an interesting book. It took a little while to warm up but then picked up really well. It really makes you question humanity in general particularly the lengths that people can go to when they are desperate. It also makes you question issues around good versus bad and whether deep down some people are evil or whether circumstances make them that way. Adiga delves into the corruption that is rife in Indian society and how sometimes it is a struggle for one man alone to fight the system. Especially when the system is bought by the corrupt and rich few. I found all the characters interesting and intriguing, each with their own background stories and morals. Some of them I must admit, reminded me of people I’ve encountered over the years. Mrs Puri in particular was one of those characters most people might have encountered — a martyr of sorts but a hypocrite at other times. Your regular nosey neighbour.

I’d picked up the book ages ago because my maternal grandparents lived in Vakola and it was an area I’d frequented for years. It definitely brought back memories of the area and well, of Bombay in general. Bombay — the city of dreams. But also, the city that can make or break you.

In short, I really liked this book. Even more than the one that won the Booker Prize! I give it a rating of 4.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Note: This post first appeared on my personal blog

Teatime for the firefly

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Title: Teatime for the Firefly
Author: Shona Patel
ISBN: 9780778315476
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Source: Advance copy via NetGalley
Release Date: September 24, 2013
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

From Shona Patel’s blog:

My name is Layla and I was born under an unlucky star. The time and place of my birth makes me a Manglik. For a young girl growing up in India in the 1940’s, this is bad news. The planet Mars is predominant in my Hindu horoscope and this angry, red planet makes people rebellious and militant by nature. Everyone knows I am astrologically doomed and fated never to marry. Marriages in our society are arranged by astrology and nobody wants a warlike bride. Women are meant to be the needle that stitches families together, not the scissor that cuts.

But every thing began to change for me on April 7th, 1943.

Three things happened that day: Boris Ivanov, the famous Russian novelist, slipped on a tuberose at the grand opening ceremony of a new school, fell, and broke his leg; a baby crow fell out of its nest in the mango tree; and I, Layla Roy, aged fifteen years and three days, fell in love with Manik Deb.

The incidents may have remained unconnected, like three tiny droplets on a lily leaf. But the leaf tipped and the drops rolled into one. It was a tiny shift in the cosmos, I believe, that tipped us together—Boris Ivanov, the baby crow, Manik Deb, and me.

I loved this book! It is such a beautifully written book that I couldn’t put it down but somehow I made myself stop to just let the words wash over me and to feel the characters and live with them for some more time. Shona Patel’s storytelling and writing ability is so powerful that it transports you and you can’t get out of that magical place. While reading the book, I felt nostalgic for an era I didn’t even live in. Is it even possible?

In Teatime, we follow Layla’s journey from her laid back life with her grandfather, Dadamoshai to the turbulent times she faces during India’s independence and thereafter. Layla is born under an unlucky start and is orphaned at a very young age. Yet, she is brought up by her wise and forward thinking grandfather to be a smart, educated and independent thinking girl. After marrying Manik Deb, Layla moves to the borders of Assam to live in the tea plantations where her husband works. Overnight she finds out that she is a now a memsahib with a fully staffed bungalow at her disposal and has to look and act accordingly. Soon we see that her relaxed life with her grandfather is over and she has to face many issues arising out of the changing economic situations at that time. Set against the spectacular backdrop of tea plantations, Shona Patel remarkably portrays the contrasts of an idyllic exotic location and it’s flawed society. Through Layla we see the life and times of the local plantation workers as they face racism, poverty, superstition and even politics.

I fell in love with Layla first and with her grandfather a little later – but these are not the only people who are delightful to read. The other motley of characters that Patel weaves in this story are equally captivating and touching – from Layla’s extended family to her servant staff, her husband’s colleagues and their wives and mistresses – every character is a joy to read – they are real, believable and you can easily picture them in your head with their nuances.

Shona Patel’s prose is lush and lyrical. It transports you to the India in the 1940’s and completely immerses you in that time and place . Layla’s story is funny, adventurous, dangerous and courageous. You would at times wish to stop and savour the moments yet find yourself distraught at the thought of staying away from the beautiful place and characters of this book. A coffee addict myself, after reading this book, I craved for a cup of tea…

Highly recommended! Can’t wait for her next book!

Cupcakes At Carrington’s–Book Review

By Alexandra Brown

At last, a chick-lit that did not get on my nerves or put me to sleep. It caught my attention when I saw a 3.82 rating on Goodreads.

This book is centred around Georgie – A salesgirl at Carrington’s department store’s designer bag section. Georgie’s life isn’t easy. She is broke. And single. Her mother’s death and father’s bad name haunts her every day. Your heart kind of goes to her. After all, she has a heart of gold and everyone loves her.

Her boss, James, has caught her eye. And recently he has been acting flirty with her. Put in 2 adorable friends, Eddie and Sam, and you have a wonderful tale of friendship, among other things. Just when things are looking up for Sam, a threat by the name of Maxine is posted at the department store, threatening her job, friendships and love. Carrington’s is going through a make-over due to tough times which is why Maxine, a sultry, mean, man-eating woman is placed on the top. Georgie finds herself pitted against her love, James and the newest hottie, Tom for retaining her job. She desperately needs the job – she is almost bankrupt! At the same time, she loves James.

What will Georgie choose? What does Georgie get in the end? What is all the dishevelment happening suddenly at the usually peaceful department store? Who is good and who is bad here?

Georgie’s character is so adorable. She is sweet, helpful, warm and a great friend. Her friends and a host of interesting characters – evil Tina, her confused fiancé Ciaran, shrewd Malikov and kind hearted Alfie – create this sweet roller-coaster of a tale. You will fall in love with the characters!

What I liked most about the book is that it doesn’t have unnecessary bedroom romance to spice things up. It is also pretty fast paced. Though it comes across as a chick-lit, this novel has an element of whodunit weaved into it.

The tale may seem unnatural in some places but then, which fiction novel is totally realistic. And if they were so realistic, would they be fun to read??!!

I will give this book a 3 on 5.