Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Reading Journey 2019

Looking at my reading history for last two years, at the beginning of this year, I set myself a Goodreads challenge of reading 50 books. The start was rather slow, and had some lean periods in between when I was busy with other things. By October end, it didn't seem likely that I'll complete the challenge, but I ended up well overreaching it (at least in terms of quantity, if not quality) - owing to binge reading small, fast murder mysteries in the last two months. I have always loved Perry Mason series, and dived into the ones I hadn't read before. I read a couple of Hercule Poirot novels, and explored a few books by some new authors - Dick Francis, John Le Carre, David Rosenfelt (Andy Carpenter series), Jessica Fletcher (Murder She Wrote), Sue Grafton (Alphabet series).

I read quite a few highly recommended books, some worked for me, others did not.

Best reads of the Year:
Winternight Trilogy - It was the absolute high of the year, what's not to love about Russian fairy tales and a totally kickass heroine!
The Strawberry Thief [Chocolat #4] - I love the Choclat series, and totally admire Joanne Harris's storytelling. Had been looking forward for this for almost a year.
Bartimaeus Trilogy - Started just about okay as I didn't find the first book good but not great. I am glad that I continued with the series.
History of Love - Hadn't heard of this one until a friend from my online reading group posted a beautiful review of this one. It was delightful.
Angela's Ashes - Of this one, I had heard a lot. I put off reading it for quite a while as I was afraid it was going to be very taxing. It was a great read. Although it is terribly sad, it doesn't drown you in misery (like Khaled Hosseni or Premchand's stories), as the heartbreaking tale of poverty and loss is related through a child's matter-of-fact voice, sometimes even with a little humor.

Big disappointments: There was so much hype around them that I had a big expectation with each of them. They weren't bad at all, but they left me underwhelmed.
Dead Poets Society - Plot was simple and predictable, and storytelling wasn't great to save it. The romantic subplot felt unnecessary and glorified stalking.
The Forty Rules of Love - Liked both the story-lines, but for me, they didn't gel together. The rules themselves felt forced into it.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - Even though the simple story was unrealistic in extreme, the end was heartbreaking. I think it works neither for children who may be unaware of the horrors of Nazi regime since everything is left unsaid, nor for adults for whom it doesn't add much insight.
The Book of Lost Things - The takes on popular fairy tales were enjoyable. But it has too much of violence and abuse for kids, and a very simple plot for adults. If it could be 'sanitized', it would be a wonderful adventure story for kids.
Little Women - I am perhaps in absolutely minority here, but I didn't even remotely love it; in fact, I considered quitting it halfway. There was only one character I liked, who was messed up with to 'nicely wrap up' the story.

Worst reads:
In the Convent of Little Flowers - I loved whatever works of Indu Sunderasan I have read, and thought that the short stories would be even better. It gave me a reader's block - the tone of stories is melancholy and depressing, and there was nothing new about them.
The Sunday Philosophy Club - Didn't connect to any of the characters, in fact, found the protagonist too juvenile. And was thoroughly bored by the philosophical musings after a short while.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Murder, She Wrote

Rum & Razors (Murder, She Wrote, #3)Rum & Razors
  - Jessica Fletcher
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The rating is for this particular book, though the review is for the books 1-3 (I rated the other two at 3 stars, but I was kind of frustrated by the time I reached this one).

I like reading murder mysteries and action thrillers, but the old school types (like Holmes and Christie, Perry Mason and Alistair Mclean) that do not feature psychopaths and sexual abuse. In my online reading group, I had seen recommendations of this series as cozy murder mysteries, and heard of the TV series also. Though I had assumed that TV series was based on books, but learnt that it was the other way around.

I read the first three books in the series over the weekend. The mystery part was okay, but I found the protagonist, Jessica Fletcher, increasingly annoying, so that I was ready to abandon the third book midway (but I find it very difficult to leave a book midway, not because of a compulsive behavior, but because I am too curious to know what happens in a story 😄).
Does anyone else who has read it (I haven't watched the series so can't comment on that) find it exasperating that she leads a fairy tale life (which is not so troublesome in itself), and appears to think that her fame and charm gives her the right to invade other people's privacy and professional confidence? That other people owe her answers to satisfy her curiosity? That she lacks the common sense to keep her mouth shut when occasion demands it?
She finds some crucial information about a murder and blabs it to everyone (in real world, and even in good murder mysteries, it leads to a person getting killed 😄) She meets a senator and tells him that she is visiting senate house to see him because she heard of the corruption charges against him (even if he is friend of a friend, and she is terribly famous, no sane or courteous person would speak this, specially in a first meeting 🙄) She asks a police officer to get a false charge against a person published in newspaper and he even does so (in real world it would result in a big lawsuit!)

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Hogwarts Collection [Pottermore Presents]

The Hogwarts Collection (Pottermore Presents, #1-3)The Hogwarts Collection
  - J.K. Rowling

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I am not a diehard Potterhead, I greatly loved the Harry Potter books as well as the movies. Rowling spun real magic with this world she created, and like millions of other fans, left me craving for more. Therefore, when she announced ‘The Cursed Child’, I waited with a huge anticipation. Notwithstanding the huge disappointment it eventually left me with, I still hoped she will give us something with a more substantial storyline (not continuation of Harry Potter though, it is well finished and shouldn’t be tampered with anymore, IMHO). That is why I found the “Pottermore Presents” collection, I had been keen to read these (I don’t follow Pottermore site, so had not read these earlier, and it appears that they had been posted there).

There are three short books in the series, which I finally read over last two days:
#1 Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies
#2 Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists
#3 Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide

It was interesting to read a bit of back history of some key characters such as Minerva McGonagall, Remus Lupin, Sybill Trelawney, Dolores Umbridge, and Horace Slughorn, and some of the story of Hogwarts and Azkaban. Of all of these, I found the story of Azkaban most interesting, since not much is revealed about it earlier, except that it is patrolled by dementors, while the (very) brief history of all the Ministers of Magic rather boring. I liked the one about Remus Lupin, since I was curious how he had come to be infected by the werewolf, and how he had managed prior to coming to Hogwarts. McGongall's story felt a bit of out of character.

BUT, I didn’t see what the hype was about; these are, after all, short stories extrapolating things that have been related in the original series. Moreover, publishing them as kindle books, when they had already been made available on Pottermore site free of cost earlier, just seems to be yet another instance of milking in on the hugely successful franchise. I just wish Rowling would write some new books or series set in the magical world, rather than extrapolating and exploiting the one masterpiece of hers.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Twelve Dogs of Christmas

The Twelve Dogs of Christmas (Andy Carpenter, #15)The Twelve Dogs of Christmas  
(Andy Carpenter, #15)
  - David Rosenfelt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Given that this series has over 20 books, I think it must be popular, even though I see less than 5k ratings on Goodreads for any of the books.

I chanced upon this one (which, by the way, is the fifteenth book in the series, but it didn't matter since it is quite standalone), because of an excerpt published in the RD a couple of years ago. I must say I liked it a lot. 

Though it is set around Christmas time, it is not a typical Christmas-sy story. The plot is interesting (though not unique), and the writing is pretty good, with a sprinkling of humor throughout. I could see some of the twists coming up, but in retrospect, that was mostly because the author chose to relate two apparently unrelated incidents early on (and we as seasoned readers know that such incidents are anything but unrelated, on the contrary, they are absolutely vital points), but the final reveal came as a total surprise. All in all, an entertaining whodunit, and I think I will try some more of the series and the author.