Sunday, July 17, 2016

Review: The Hundred Names of Darkness by Nilanjana Roy

Nilanjana Roy
Title: The Hundred Names of Darkness (The Wildings #2)
Pages: 313
Published: 2013 by Aleph Book Company
Find it at: Amazon / Flipkart
My Rating: 4.5/5!

Book Blurb 
Nilanjana Roy takes us back to the Delhi neighbourhood of Nizamuddin and its unforgettable cats - Mara, Southpaw, Katar, Hulo and Beraal. As they recover slowly from their terrible battle with the feral cats, they find their beloved locality changing around them. Winter brings an army of predators - humans, vicious dogs, snakes, bandicoots along with the cold and a scarcity of food. Unless Mara can help them find a safe haven, their small band will be wiped out forever. With the assistance of a motley group of friends--Doginder, a friendly stray; Hatch, a cheel who is afraid of the sky; Thomas Mor, an affable peacock; Jethro Tail, the mouse who roared; and the legendary Senders of Delhi - Mara and her band set out on an epic journey to find a place where they can live free from danger.

My Thoughts
I'd read the wonderful the Wildings (click link to read review) some years ago. I've had this copy for quite some time (an author-signed copy I got at the launch!) but hadn't got around to reading it till now. I was just as enchanted with the author's writing as I had been with the Wildings. It's simply engaging, lyrical and creative with the ability to pull you into a world run by cats, cheels, rats and others we "Bigfeet" either ignore or mistreat. It's such fun to be reading about the world from the perspective of these creatures. They're as varied as we are, though perhaps not as complicated.

Isn't the cover gorgeous?
The setting is in Nizamuddin, Delhi. In the Hundred Names of Darkness, we follow Mara, the "sender" of Nizamuddin's cats, as she grows and learns. Due to Bigfeet activity, the clan is in danger of being wiped out. It takes Mara a while to realize the level of danger, triggered more so when one of her favourite companions gets lost. Mara realizes the importance of her being a sender and having a responsibility towards her clan. She starts leaving her comfort zone and discovers the world as she never knew it before.

There a bunch of new characters whom I loved. I want to particularly mention Doginder Singh, not only because his name made me glad that I'm not the only one who thinks of such straightforward names, but also because--what a lively, cheerful character! The unique friendship between Mara and Doginder serves to break stereotypes in two ways. One is the parallel metaphor to differences in race and another is Doginder's likes and preferences that represent the breaking-away-from-the-norm by following one's heart. I also liked Hatch's character, a young eagle and son of a super-talented flyer, who stubbornly refuses to fly at all. It's a trying time for Tooth, Hatch's father, to get him up in the sky. Hatch is the embodiment of the hidden feelings of insecurity, lack of knowledge about oneself, and under-confidence. It is so easy to lose faith in someone like that. But sometimes what seems to be at the surface is not what is actually at work on the inside. There could be reasons we don't know about and mostly it could be tackled in a new, surprising way.

Compared with the Wildings, this book was more slow and deliberate. It lingered more on thoughts than action, and it showed places other than the Nizamuddin we knew of from the first book. Gone are some Wildings characters and instead we are introduced to some new ones--both the good and the mean. I felt that the second half of the book was better paced than the first, and there were some parts I wished had been described more when they seemed to get over too quickly or happened in the background.

As for the story, it is doubtless a wonderful tale with hidden meanings and references, narrated in a unique way by the langauge of cats. Artful illustrations at the beginning of each chapter add to the charm. The Hundred Names of Darkness is more 'dark' and sad than the Wildings, especially because we get to see the effect human activity has on nature and wildlife. A particular thing about the ending was just delightful (even though it was predictable)! I recommend this book (this author, this series) if you're interested in good Indian writing.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Review: Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben
Author: Harlan Coben
Published: 2016 by Century (Penguin Random House)
Pages: 387
Find it at: Flipkart
Genre: Psychological Thriller/Mystery
My Rating: 4.5/5

You think you know the truth. The truth is you know nothing.

If your husband was murdered,
And you were a witness,
How do you explain, seeing him on your nanny cam?
You thought you trusted him.
Now you can't even trust yourself.

Dark secrets and a terrifying hunt for the truth lie at the heart of this gripping new thriller.

My Thoughts~
It was the blurb that had me inclined to read this book. I hadn't read any book by Harlan Coben before, but after reading Fool Me Once, I'm sure I'll read some more of Coben. Fool Me Once is a thrilling read, a book full of suspense, complicated twists and turns, and mind-boggling answers.  

It opens with Joe’s funeral. Maya was there when Joe died, so how can Maya possibly explain having seen Joe on the nanny cam she installed after Joe's death? It is one of those freaky moments when you need to pause and gasp for breath because you can't understand how it could possibly be! (Even though it wasn't really a "surprise" twist.) What follows is Maya's search for the truth. She collects all possible information, follows the leads, manages being questioned by the detectives, and goes around in search of answers, while trying to make sure her two-year-old daughter is safe. What complicates matters is her own past in the military, which looks like a big enough reason to cause catastrophic events and wreaks havoc in her (and the readers') mind. 

Following Maya's story soon turns into a chase with many clues but also many assumptions. The narrative is in third person, written in an easy-to-follow style. The sentences are simple and short (which is something I've seen is used a lot in thrillers). The characters used in the story have not been explored in detail, so I couldn't really connect with anyone much, let alone figure out who could have carried out the murders. It does become a bit complex in the later half of the book, when I felt “unintelligent” because it was hard to follow. But that only makes it guarantee a re-read. The twists and turn follow you to the end. There isn't a moment when something isn't happening.

I liked how the story had a female lead character with a military past, and who's struggling with a civilian life. It was good to gain insight about what makes the ex-military live their lives differently, how, when they look at things with a suspicious perspective, it's not just paranoia or after-effects of shock or trauma. It could just be a part of their nature.

I did feel sometimes that the descriptions lacked balance—some parts were explained unnecessarily, while some were left too early. The story has multiple layers of mystery. You could sit back and think about how one thing led to another, if you went back all the way and "connected the dots". Like with an unnerving number of books, I didn't feel enthusiastic about the ending. It wasn't exactly "wrong" but it also wasn't the only way. 

Some things also made little sense to me. I won't go into the "why"s of characters' actions, because it is human to make errors of judgment due to emotions. I'm going to let those inconsistencies get away. I could write more if I dug deeper for flaws, but I'm not going to. I liked reading this. It made me feel things. I read it my way through work, through travelling, and through the night. Not all books make you do that.

Fool Me Once is a gripping and compelling page-turner. It has the ability to turn your head, mostly because you don't want to stop reading. It just STAYS in your head all the while you're not reading. It was impossible to keep the book down. I ended up sneakily reading it while at work. It has a good story, good plot twists, and good suspense. Though it has some flaws, Fool Me Once is a great fix for thrills.

Some quotes that I liked:
“When you can see the stakes, when you realize the true purpose of your mission, it motivates you. It makes you focus. It makes you push away the distractions. You gain clarity of purpose. You gain strength.”

“Your fellow soldiers had to know that you had their back. That was rule one, lesson one, and above all else. If the enemy goes after you, he goes after me too.”


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