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

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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.

 

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.

1st To Die–Book Review

Women’s Murder Club – 1

By James Patterson

After trying different genres I don’t usually read or enjoy, I caught hold of my favourite genre – detective. Rather, 2 of my favourite genres combined – detective and chick lit. Now, whether the combination worked well or not, I will talk about that a bit later.

Homicide Inspector Lindsay Boxer works with San Francisco Police Department. Even strong Boxer is unable to face the gruesome murders of brides and bridegrooms happening all over US. A mad serial killer is on the loose. He attacks couples on their wedding nights, kills them brutally, steals their wedding bands and leaves their murdered bodies in outrageous positions. The sexual sadist killer makes Boxer’s blood boil but however desperate she is to catch the killer, she is helpless at the hands of her own critical illness. 6 murders one after the other takes a toll on Boxer’s peace of mind and health. Then there is a major distraction by the name of Chris Raleigh. Soon, Lindsay is unable to ignore the growing chemistry between the two. Both divorcees; heartbroken & tough. How far do they go? What happens to their chemistry by the end of the book? Ah. The story of their relation is to be read on your own.

With the killer still on the run, Lindsay realizes she needs moral support more than skills. And that’s when she forms the Women’s Murder Club consisting of herself, Claire (a medical examiner), Cindy Thomas (a reporter with Chronicle) and Jill Bernhardt (assistant D.A.). They do all it takes to keep their guts and sanity together when suspicion falls on celebrity novelist, Nicholas Jenks.

Through rapid twists and turns, they nail down the killer.

I enjoyed reading a light crime story after ages (I must stick to such kinds and not venture into literature, like I try to, once in a while). Some may find the plot childish and the writing, amateur. I felt that too. At times, I wanted the characters to move fast, talk lesser hollow stuff and just get real.

Putting in a love story appeared interesting in the beginning (who doesn’t like some spice amidst any serious theme) but later on, ‘chick lit romance’ & girly drama (Boxer’s illness) just did not gel well with ‘hard-core murder detective’. Sometimes, the narration gave a feel of Mills & Boons. Creepy.

This book has also been made into a movie. I thought of watching it. But I remembered the detailed descriptions of murders in the book. Gross; cannot watch them on screen.

I was hooked on to this book, I confess. However immature a murder mystery may be, once suspense is created, you just have to finish it to know who the killer is. It was like that. Once I was mid-way (and mind you, the book isn’t very fast paced), I sneaked into the book during class, while travelling, while eating – I could not keep away from it. And the climax did throw me off track but many could guess it mid-way.

If you want to go in for a light, casual read, this is a good one.

I rate it 3 on 5.

The Thirteenth Tale – Book Review

Author: Diane Setterfield

The Angelfield family is weird. First there were siblings Charlie and Isabelle and then Isabelle’s strange twins Emmeline and Adeline. The twins love violence. Pain is like candy for them. And they speak in a language no one else can understand. Their ignored, run down house is told to be haunted and no one likes approaching it. People die, things are vandalized and no one knows who does them. One of the twins? Or the ghost? Eventually, the mansion is burnt down to ashes and takes with it its secrets and the real story.

Fast forward to another part of the world at another time, Margaret Lea is a quiet book lover who helps her father run a book store. She receives a sudden letter from mysterious author Ms. Vida Winter to write her biography. Ms. Winter has hidden her past from the world and many journalists have failed to get her story. But one man in brown suit tempts Ms. Winter to tell the world her story with his statement – Tell me the truth.

Margaret travels to Ms. Winter’s secluded, secretive house and finally gets to meet the author face to face. The spine tingling story telling sessions happen in the grand library while Margaret spends rest of her time locked in her room. She is advised not to venture out in the rest of the house. But she does. When she hears humming from the maze of the garden. When she hears scraping sounds in the rain.

What is Ms. Winter’s story? How is she related to the Angelfield house? Who was the man in the brown suit? What happened to the twins? Is Ms. Winter’s story really the truth or is it another misleading yarn? How does Margaret come to terms with her own pain?

Diane Setterfield has woven a mildly gothic tale. The book is written in a very poetic manner, sometimes overly dramatic. All characters have an element of mystery, vagueness and anonymity. Even normal things seem peculiar.

This book is not just about thrill, it is also about love of books. Most of the narration happens in the book store or library. Margaret lovingly describes the book store that seems to be every book lover’s delight. Several analogies have been made for books, stories, authors and dead people who become biographies and stay alive. Every time there is a threat to books, the protagonist burns with regret and frustration. Those who love books and treat them like their most prized possessions will relate to this.

While I was reading the book, I visualized pale, white, cold faces of characters who stared at everyone with blank eyes. The mansion was grey and always wet. There was always a dark, depressing humming music in the background. This was the movie in my mind. For a person like me who cannot withstand horror, this much degree of suspense was just right.

The story picks up in the second half. Many may find the climax a bit let down but I was just relieved when the suspense was out!

Definitely a onetime read. I would rate it a 3 on 5.

Hold Still Book Review

Author: Nina LaCour

I almost forced myself to pick up this YA book (after SPOLAFS disaster). Initially, I even had difficulty in hanging on to it. 227 pages should take not more than 3 days to complete but I took more than a week. Actually, when I got hooked on to it, I finished it in one go.

This book is about Caitlin’s life after her best friend, Ingrid, commits suicide. Caitlin feels a void in her life; she misses the last part of her school year and refuses to talk to anyone. She has no friends except Ingrid and now that Ingrid isn’t around, Caitlin does all she can to cut herself away from the world (for example, by spending evenings and nights in the old family car). She doesn’t even know how to make friends. Then she finds Ingrid’s journal under her bed – 3 months after her friend took her life. Ingrid tells her secrets through the diary and surprises Caitlin with hidden thoughts and feelings that Caitlin had no idea about. What does Ingrid say? How does Caitlin cope up with the void? How does she finally face the world?

Hold Still is less about coping up with suicide and more about self-discovery. It’s about how Caitlin finds herself. It is her delightful journey of discovering things – first love, circle of friends, confidence, friendship with her parents, real passion. Even little things as her favourite coffee. We see Caitlin change from an immature, socially awkward and stubborn kid to a grown-up almost-adult.

The book spells out little details about everything. How Caitlin dresses up, what things clutter around her room, what she eats, little things she and Ingrid used to talk about, how her new friends look like, the 100 feelings that go through Caitlin when she reads the journal. These minor details don’t lengthen the story; only make the whole story make-believe and very, very real. Throughout, I felt it going on in my mind like a film reel.

The story also has delightful characters – Caitlin’s kind, supportive parents, Caitlin’s new friends – Dylan and Maddy, Caitlin’s love – Taylor, Ingrid’s crush and Taylor’s best friend – Jayson and Caitlin’s photography teacher – Veena Delani. All these characters are pieces that constitute and complete Caitlin’s life.

This book is very mature for a YA because this deals with delicate topics like suicide and it’s after effects on people. The author (who incidentally is also gay) has brought in a lesbian couple in the story, included lot of quotes on moving on, guilt, friendship and death and introduced symbolic elements to dramatize the story. And oh, she did it all so well. Ingrid’s intense diary entries are very moving. On a lighter note, the entry titled ‘Dear Rain Clouds’ (pg 115), where she describes her puppy love feeling for Jayson is so damn cute!

I was initially unsettled by Caitlin’s extreme attachment with Ingrid. I find it difficult to accept a person’s sole dependency on another. Though, this aspect was taken care of later on in the book when Caitlin starts moving on with her life by making more friends and doing things she loves.

The fact that in the last chapter she deserts the diary probably hints that she has moved on for a better life.

I will give this book a 4 on 5.

This is Nina LaCour’s debut novel. Read more about her on her blog. Also, see this interesting book trailer.

Book Review: In Her Shoes

by Jennifer Weiner

The problem with chick lit novels is that they suck you into the lives of the characters. You think about them even when you are fighting it out in the rat race of your real life. There is enough drama, chaos and tragedy happening with them to make you forget your own. Moreover, reading about others’ problems is much easier. This is what happened when I started reading In Her Shoes on a lazy day and decided not to rest till I had reached its end.

Rose Feller is your typical chick-lit heroine. Low on self esteem. Looking for love. Goody goody. Has difficulty in saying No. Works as a decently placed corporate professional. Is more heartbroken than happy. Turns around her life after a disastrous relationship.

Her younger sister, Maggie Feller, in what a normal girl would easily call a b*tch. She is abnormally good looking and trendy, nasty, selfish and arrogant. She gets what she wants and is not afraid to play with anyone to do that.

They have nothing in common except their shoe size.

The same broken past leads the two sisters on two different paths. One is successful on the surface while the other is totally spoilt and unhealthy to everyone around her. Their togetherness only creates chaos and destruction.

Maggie gets meaner as the story progresses and though you sympathize with Rose for tolerating her sister’s malevolent ways, you want to shake her up for being such a loser. Maggie isn’t ashamed of lounging at her sister’s house, treating her possessions as her own without the least bit of shame for being unemployed. It is only when Maggie steals something really dear to Rose that the latter throws her out of her house and heart.

There is a third woman involved in this heartfelt tale – their grandmother, who is battling her own conflicting feelings of sadness and guilt.

These three women come together at one point of time and learn to come to terms with the painful past connecting them all. Their mutual relationships are knotty and tricky. But each of them transforms into a new being for their own good and makes life better for themselves and everyone around them.

The book was easy to read, was touching with being hilarious at the right places and translated the feelings of the characters well. One thing that I was not convinced with was Maggie’s transformation. The drastic transformation isn’t explained well. I see no reason why a b*tch would suddenly be so interested in poetry. Once when you begin to sense her change, she again dips to disgrace by thinking about extorting money from her grandmother. She seemed to be a character that could never be trusted. And yet, she turns into a generous bubbly girl. A happy result but a bit difficult to digest.

The book, which has also been made into a movie, is a good light entertaining read that also gives some lessons – of treating oneself well before treating others, of being a little selfish for your own good, of letting go when needed.

For chick-lit lovers, this book is a must read. I will rate is 3 / 5.