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

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Sisters of Mercy

…by Caroline Overington.

Snow Delaney is in prison. And from prison, she communicates with journalist Jack Fawcett who followed her case as she thinks he was biased. Snow was born miles away and years apart from her sister Agnes. A sister whose existence she didn’t know about until her father’s death where Snow finds out that she is not the only beneficiary to her father’s large estate. Agnes though is now missing. A day after she visited Snow and possibly having disappeared in the red dust that blanketed Sydney on 23rd September 2009. As Snow protests her innocence through her letters to Jack, his research just might reveal something more than what Snow tells.

Is Snow responsible for the disappearance of her sister?

Why is Snow in prison?

Has she been unfairly judged? 

Was it trial by media or did she get a fair trial? 

To answer some of these questions, you need to read the book.

This book was a bit different from most books in that while it started with the premise of Agnes’ disappearance, it takes us to a whole different level in terms of Snow’s actions that lead her to be arrested. The chapters are in the form of letters from Snow and Jack’s own research. The truth in the end, is to the reader’s discretion based on all the information provided. Overington once again explores social issues including disabilities and foster care in our society. She also explores how the media can sometimes be quick to judge someone and how they possibly exaggerate stories. And yet, amidst all this, we, the bystanders, need to come to our own conclusions. The ending is probably not what you expect and leaves you wanting more. Initially I was a bit stunned at the way it ended — I felt like I didn’t have closure. But as I sat back and thought about it, I felt like it did its job. It’s not a fluke that Caroline Overington is one of my favourite Australian authors. I like her style of writing and her themes. There were several instances while reading I had to remind myself that it was a piece of fiction…because it felt so real! And any author who manages to do that is great at their craft.

My rating is 4.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Note: This review was originally posted on my personal blog.  

We don’t live here anymore

…by Matt Nable.

Charlie Hudson is on holidays with his parents Leon and Glenda, and his younger brother Aaron at the beach. A socially awkward teenager, his life sets on an unusual path as he is smitten by Tess Bailey who rescues him from being beaten up by another teenager, Derek. The book follows Charlie’s life from his teenage years to adulthood. It also follows the lives of his neighbours and friends and those who have touched his life. There are his neighbours Neddy, Carol and their son Lachlan and his aunt Bernadette. And of course, his immediate family. It looks at how their lives intertwine, how things don’t always go according to plan and how life itself can unravel but then straighten up. In short, it’s a journey about life.

While I found the story interesting to begin with, it seemed to leave me disappointed. For one thing, I had to keep checking back as to who the particular character being talked about was. I enjoyed the journeys of Leon who fights hard against his true sexuality and Carol to be most intriguing. I wasn’t a big fan of Neddy or Glenda. As for Charlie, I had a feeling he probably had Asperger’s syndrome even though it doesn’t explicitly say so in the book. The other characters didn’t evoke much emotion from me. The one thing that annoyed me the most was the changing times. I couldn’t figure out what was in the present and what was in the past. It seemed to intermingle without any clear indication. It would have been helpful for the author to not only have the character’s name as the chapter title but the year as well. The concept and the story were good but the manner in which it was eventually presented probably let it down the most.

My rating: 2.

Note: This post originally appeared on my personal blog, Over Cups of Coffee

The Casual Vacancy

…by J. K. Rowling.

Welcome to the town of Pagford. An idyllic and beautiful place where everyone knows everyone. But while on the surface Pagford is an epitome of goodness, upon closer examination, this is certainly not the case. Barry Fairbrother, a local councillor, dies of a stroke in his 40s. As a result, his council seat is left vacant and must be filled. His death also influences the little community in different ways.

For starters, there is his family that he leaves behind: his wife Mary, and children Fergus, Niamh, Siobhan and Declan. Two of his closest friends are also distraught at his death: Colin ‘Cubby’ Wall and Gavin Hughes. They each deal with it differently; Colin whose anxiety disorder increases in severity and Gavin, trying to avoid it all. Colin receives support from his wife Tessa Wall who is also Mary’s best friend but none from his adopted son Stuart ‘Fats’ Wall. Gavin on the other hand, is stuck in a relationship (with Kay Bawden, a social worker who moved to Pagford from London with her daughter Gaia to be with Gavin) he does not want to be in and uses the Fairbrothers as a way to escape. Then there’s Dr Parminder Jawanda, another councillor and the local GP who got along well with Barry and has difficulty coming to terms with her death. While attempting to help everyone else, she is oblivious to the pains of her youngest daughter Sukhvinder.

Barry’s death has the opposite effect on Howard Mollinson, who is also on the local council and akin to a mayoral status. He and his wife Shirley could not be more pleased given that Barry was fighting a cause against what Howard wanted. Howard’s son Miles is hoping to stand for Barry’s vacant seat along with Colin and another Pagford resident, Simon Price. Miles is nothing short of a mama’s boy while Simon is a domestic violence perpetrator towards his wife Ruth and children Andrew and Paul, as well as a small-time thug.

Finally, despite most people not realising it, Barry’s death has also affected one other person deeply: Krystal Weedon. A 16 year old in the same school and year as Barry’s twin daughters, Sukhvinder, Fats, Andrew and Gaia. Unlike the others, Krystal doesn’t live in Pagford. She lives in a housing estate in The Fields which despite being in the neighbouring falls in the Pagford local district. She lives with her junkie mother Terri who falls off the wagon of her methadone program at Bellchapel clinic several times and her younger brother Robbie.

The Casual Vacancy follows the journey of all of the above individuals and those related to them. It follows the repercussions after Barry’s death and all that he was fighting for. The main thing being continuing to include The Fields as part of the local district and continue to have Bellchapel running. Something which Howard Mollinson and his cronies did not want.

Now, after giving you that massive summary, let me talk about my views about the book.

I LOVED IT!

I loved the manner in which the characters were all set out, each which their quirks and most with shades of grey. Some were possibly more despicable (Howard Mollinson and Simon Price, for instance), some positive all over (Tessa Wall and Kay Bawden for instance) while others were complex and intriguing (Krystal, Sukhvinder, Colin, Fats, Andrew, Gaia to name a few). More than the plot, the focus is on the characters. How each of them think. How each of them feel. How each of them behave. And most importantly, how each of them tries to survive whatever is thrown at them. As I read the book, I felt a range of emotions: happiness, sadness, despair, disgust, helplessness, anger and frustration to name a few. I laughed. I smirked. I shook my head. I cried.

Rowling has done a fantastic job in her first book for adults. I was worried I’d be comparing it to Harry Potter. But you know what? A few pages into the book and Potter and his world were kicked out of my head. Despite Pagford being a make-believe place, it could easily pass off for society today. I loved the teenagers with their complexities. I think Rowling has got into their psyches perfectly. I see clients like Sukhvinder and Krystal and Fats. And I think that made the book hit closer to home for me. The pain they go through in different ways, the struggles with their identity and of course, the difficult upbringings and attachments all lead them to cope in a variety of ways. Krystal uses casual sex, Sukhvinder uses deliberate self-harm, and Fats with his desire to be ‘authentic’ in order to rebel. Rowling has described Colin’s anxiety disorder perfectly and once again, it is so realistic and gives you a great insight into what mental health is like for some people. Howard’s attitude is pretty much what you would see with people in society these days too. They don’t understand drug and alcohol abuse. They don’t understand the need for clinics that dose out methadone to drug addicts. All they see is people falling off the wagon. They don’t see that success in mental health and drug health is defined differently.

I know Rowling has copped a lot of flak for this book. I still don’t know why. Some people were offended by the sex and the swearing. It didn’t bother me one bit because that’s what society is like. Teenagers do have sex. Adults do have sex. As for swearing, well, to me it’s just like another word, possibly because I do it too.

I could go on and on about how great this book is. J. K. Rowling has in fact gone up even higher in estimation for me (she already was way up there) with the manner in which she has covered serious social issues and mental health issues in this book. They are all very realistic and beautifully portrayed. Her writing style as always is impeccable. You get the accents and the mannerisms and all the nuances in between. If there was one gripe for me, it’s the cover. Not a fan of the cover. 🙂 There were 500 pages in this book. 500 pages of a wonderful journey into people’s minds.

Thank you again for this masterpiece J. K. Rowling!

I rate it a 5.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Note: This post was originally posted on my personal blog.

Bel Canto

…by Ann Patchett.

Famous opera singer Roxanne Coss has been tempted to perform in a small Latin American country as a birthday gift for Katsumi Hosokawa, an opera fanatic and the founder and president of a wealthy electronics company. The “host country” (as it is always described) has decided to throw him a birthday party with the hopes of him investing in their country. The party is attended by dignitaries from different countries with links to the company. The only one missing from the party is the President himself. Because he stayed home to watch a soap opera. 🙂 As Roxanne finishes her final aria, the vice-president’s house where the party is being thrown, is stormed by a group of terrorists. Who are looking for the President. However, due to the president not being present, they keep the rest of the party-goers hostage. Until they can decide what demands need to be met.

The journey of being held hostage is interesting. As expected, initially, the hostages are fraught with worry and stress especially after the death of Roxanne’s accompanist due to being diabetic and not having insulin available. However, as the days go on, the terrorists don’t appear to be wanting to hurt the hostages and soon find themselves doing Roxanne’s bidding. The rest of the hostages don’t feel the need to leave as their needs are being met and they get to listen to Roxanne singing. Mr. Hosokawa’s translator Gen, is useful to assist everyone given his knowledge for English, Spanish, French, German and of course, Japanese. He strikes up a romantic liaison with one of the terrorists, Carmen. In addition to these characters, there are a number of supporting characters including Frenchman, Simon Thibault whoweeps into his wife’s stole; the Swiss hostage negotiator dressed in suit and tie, the chain-smoking Russian, Fyodorov, who regales Roxane with mournful and meandering childhood stories and unrequited love, the young terrorist boy with a beautiful voice and the rest of the terrorists themselves.

It all culminates to a tragic ending as most operas do but the journey itself has several laughs and moments of tenderness. I read the book as part of my book club and had never heard about it. While it didn’t keep me gripped the entire time, it was still quite a delightful read. I give it a rating. 3.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

The Fix

…by Nick Earls.

Josh is a 20-something journalist living in Brisbane. Having returned from London, he is now trying to eke out a living by writing a blog for a newspaper. So yes, he is a journalist in the loosest sense of the word. Additionally, he is a freelancer who engages in PR stunts. Josh is enlisted by his brother to assist with publicising Ben Harkin. Ben, a lawyer, who was in the process of receiving a bravery award for an act of bravery about 18 months prior. An act that involved saving the life of his boss Frank Ainsworth in a siege situation. Ben, who used to be Josh’s best friend. Ben, who slept with Josh’s girlfriend back when they were in university. As this awkward reunion begins, Josh has to try and be an adult and a professional. During all this, he meets a girl. At a strip club of all places. Hayley. Who also happens to be a law student. However, something is not right with the story of the siege and Josh’s journalistic instincts start to fire.

This is a part-detective, part contemporary fiction and has a few laughs. Josh is an interesting character — awkward, socially inept, wears his heart on his sleeve and is generally quite likeable. Ben is a character I felt a bit ambivalent about. While Hayley is quite likeable. The scene when Josh first meets Hayley is a big laugh. In terms of depth and meaning, I guess I wasn’t able to find anything big. There is a message about being true to yourself and the difficulty in doing the right thing.

It’s a decent read if you have nothing else.

I give it a rating of 3.
Until next time,

Cheers!!!

***This was originally posted on my personal blog***

Matilda is missing

…by Caroline Overington.

Barry Harrison has been left with a box of files and tapes by his friend Frank Brooks. Frank was a judge in the Family Court who passed away from terminal cancer. And he manages to tell Barry that he stuffed up and hopes Barry can help him make things right. Problem is Barry doesn’t know what Frank wants from him. All he has are court documents and transcripts of a couple who went through the Family Law Court and their counselling session tapes. Amidst all this, he is also dealing with his own son’s divorce and his wife’s reaction over-reaction to not being able to have access to her grandchildren. Barry then listens to the tapes at hand. They are of Softie Monaghan and Garry Hartshorn. The couple fighting for the custody of their daughter Matilda. The couple had nothing in common when they got together. Softie was a sophisticated career-woman while Garry was in his own words, a bogan, with several jobs under his belt. It appears that the only thing that made Softie continue with the relationship was that his adoptive mother Jean and her second husband Rick Hartshorn, a well-known car dealer were sophisticated enough leading her to believe she could change Garry. Plus there was her ticking body clock at the age of thirty-nine. While both parents believe they have Matilda’s best interest at heart and are hence entitled to her custody, it is little Matilda who gets lost in the process.

This is now the third book I’ve read by the author Caroline Overington and she reminds me a bit of an Aussie Jodi Picoult in that she deals with issues that are probably on everyone’s minds but which no one likes to talk about. Add to that a bit of mystery to keep the reader intrigued. In this book, Overington tackles the issue of Family Courts and how ridiculous the laws have become where in the end, the child loses. While the child may not lose their parents, being dragged through the process is hard on some kids. She also appears to make comments on how women give so much importance to the whole ticking of their body clocks that they are willing to have a child with just about anyone. Without thinking about the consequences. Add to that the idea that you can change your partner and just how wrong that can be! Neither Garry nor Softie are particularly likeable but I think that was the point…so as a reader, you really wouldn’t side with one over the other. All in all, it has been yet another book I thoroughly enjoyed. I am definitely going to be looking forward to her books in the future.

My rating would be a 5.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Note: This has been cross-posted on my personal blog