Month: May 2018

One Summer, by David Baldacci

I can’t find a quote to begin this review with. Even though One Summer was preachy and spoke at length about life and what it is and what it’s not, and while all of it was written in large font, it turned my expression and my mind rather wooden.

rain-and-book-david-baldacci-one-summerJack Armstrong is dying. He’s 35 years old, married to his high school sweetheart, Lizzie, and has contracted a disease that remains unnamed from start to finish but is serious enough to kill him by Christmas. He’s marking his days off on a calendar, worried about his three children (Mikki, Cory and Jackie), writing his “final” letters to Lizzie. . Understandable. My sympathies. Out of the blue, Lizzie slaps Jack’s friend who makes a move on her – this scene serves no purpose (except maybe to show men can’t trust their friends *shrugs*). Anyway. Just before Christmas, Lizzie meets with an accident and dies. Her evil mom decides to send the children to live with their relatives because Jack could die any minute now. Can’t applaud her plan but nevertheless, understandable.

But as every bad movie and pedestrian-prose-filled-plot-driven book in history, Jack gets cured of… unnamed dangerous disease. Not understandable. While we are to assume that his recovery took some time and effort, the time spent on it in the book would lead you to believe it was almost instantaneous. He brings back his kids from wherever they’d been sent to. At this point, quite conveniently, they inherit a house in Channing, South Carolina (beachfront property, mind you) and new-improved dad, dad’s friend (not the douchebag from before), and three kids pack and move to the house (that they call the “Palace”) by the sea for the summer.

It’s rare that one could write a book about a tragedy and make it seem so… un-tragic. There’s hardly any conflict, and if it does arise, it’s resolved too quickly for it to have an impact. Right from the beginning, the book gave me this country-song-with-trucks-and-beers-and-blond-girls vibe, if you know what I mean. It’s so light and fluffy (like cotton candy if you will) – and I mean that almost literally – I already mentioned the large font. Add to that, each chapter is only about three pages long. You can rush through pages (and yet, at times it was so boring that it took me two weeks to read – that jar you see in the photo is what I place my “fines” in if I don’t finish a book in time)

The dialogues are so bad that had it tilted one degree over, it would go into the so-bad-it’s-good-category. Jack and Lizzie have been married since they were in high school, but it’s on his deathbed that he asks her how old her twin sister was when she died and what killed her. Sounds like a pretty important conversation to have been postponed for so long.
There was another dialogue between Mikki, the eldest daughter, and Liam, a boy she met during the summer that went like this:
“Your mom is really cool, Liam.”
“I don’t even remember my dad.”
Liam, kid, she did not say a word about your dad; what kind of a response is that?

One Summer had some really unnatural and disconnected dialogues. Real people just don’t talk this way. And, oh, because Mikki is a teenager, she adds “Like” everywhere in a sentence, like, after every, like, other word. Ugh, please!

The author has also been rather judgmental about the clothes his characters wear. For example, there’s a character named Tiffany Murdoch who’s a stereotypical mean girl. We know this even before she throws her mean weight around because she wears “tiny shorts” and other outfits described as “skimpy”. Her mother is just the same and wears clothes that “do not suit her age”. Wow, talk about all kinds of shaming. On the other hand, Mikki is real nice because she wears “knee-length shorts” and Blake Saunders (another minor character) tells her, “Other girls are easy to read. You’re not like them.” and she’s pleased as hell with her knee-length shorts-wearing brains.

Have I mentioned how much I disliked the prose? Well, I’ll just mention it again so you understand the extent of my pissed-off-ness. I mean, I couldn’t even find a quote to put at the top.

I’ve heard that this isn’t a typical Baldacci book. Unfortunately for me this is the first one I picked up. While his other works may fall into other genres, I don’t think there’s any cure for poor prose and bad dialogue (and mean girls in skimpy outfits). Reason enough for me to stay away.

Goodreads | Amazon

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The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton

“If this isn’t hell, the devil is surely taking notes.”

rain-and-book-seven-deaths-evelyn-hardcastle-stuart-turtonIs it possible to miss a book once you’ve finished it?

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton is quite a book – both in content and size. [The edition I received is called The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, but to quote the author Stuart Turton (from Goodreads): “‘Seven Deaths’ and ‘7 1/2 Deaths‘ are exactly the same. We had a clash in the US and had to change the title there, hence 7 1/2. Don’t worry, you’re getting exactly the same amount of murder for your money, though.”] As I was/am going through a whole phase, I’m a tad intimidated by books that are on the heavier side. Obviously one of the advantages of reading it on a Kindle is you don’t quite know what you’re signing up for. In the case of Seven Deaths, I was hooked right from the opening line, “I forget everything between footsteps.”

The book starts with a man waking up in a forest, with no memory of anything except for a name: Anna. He hears a scuffle and is convinced Anna has been murdered and a man whom he assumes to be the murderer hands him a compass. Using the compass, he finds his way out of the forest and reaches Blackheath, where preparations for a ball are underway. Servants and maids are running around, cleaning, arranging, decorating… He runs into a few of the guests, including a doctor, and they tell him his name is Sebastian Bell. He tries to reconcile his thoughts with the man he now knows he is. In the meantime, he meets Evelyn, the daughter of the Hardcastles of Blackheath, who spends most of her time in Paris and has returned for this ball. It is revealed that the ball is being held on the anniversary of the death of Evelyn’s youngest brother and the same guests who were present that day have been invited for this event. All of this is a lot for Sebastian to process. However, that’s the least of his troubles, for when he wakes up the next morning…
… he isn’t Sebastian Bell at all.

He is doomed to repeat the same day multiple times, each time waking up as a different person, a witness to the event that the title of the book alludes to.

When I realized what was going on, my mind immediately went to David Levithan’s Every Day. Unlike that one, Seven Deaths has body hopping as well as time travel. I’m not a fan of time travel usually – it leads to too many questions and there are always continuity problems that just cannot be explained. I kept all those doubts aside and just delved into the story.

What’s really impressive about this book is, even though it has so many named characters, at no point do you feel it’s an overload of information – each character has a distinct voice and a well-defined role to play. I quite liked the characters of Ravencourt, Dance and Rashton. The three serve as hosts on three different days and have the sharpest minds in the story. Dance’s sadness added an emotional side to this mystery.

In most books, around the 80-85% mark, the climax is done with and you’re just waiting for it to be tied up with a bow. No tying up here – for even at 90% you’re on a rollercoaster ride realizing all the information you’ve received so far is only half the mystery. The book keeps you on the edge until the last page – gripping and completely unputdownable, especially so in the last few chapters. It’s incredible, completely unreal!

The early reviews of this book have called it Nolan-esque and Agatha Christie-ly atmospheric. Both of these comparisons are apt. Add in a bit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to the mix for the brilliance that are the last few chapters.

Goodreads | Amazon

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle from NetGalley/Sourcebooks Landmark

The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay, by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

“A human being was composed not only of everything that he possessed but also of all that he had lost.”

rain-and-book-lost-flamingoes-bombay-siddharth-dhanvant-shanghvi-sreesha-divakaranAs a book blogger, you’d think my job would be to tell you about good books, give reccos, tell you how a certain book made me feel (which varies from speechless to nauseous). Imagine my surprise then when over the last few weeks, people texted me to let me know they missed my reviews of terrible books.

When you know you have an audience, you give the audience what they want. Or so pop culture dictates.

The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay is a book that you don’t really need to read. Think of all the crimes committed by celebrities/politicians/sons-of-the-baap-in-tu-jaanta-hai-mera-baap-kaun-hai, blend in a little bit of this, a cupful of that, and you have a mishmash of a “novel”, allegedly “fictional”, that gives the tabloid treatment to serious issues.

Let me begin by saying how smitten I was by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi’s first novel, The Last Song of Dusk. Set during the pre-independence era, that melancholy novel with its palaces and magical realism, tragedies and romances enthralled me. Maybe it’s just grown grander in memory. Maybe if I go back to it, I’ll read it without the rose-tinted glasses. Or maybe, it really was as good as I remember it to be.

If his name wasn’t on the cover in big bold letters, I wouldn’t have believed it was the same author that wrote both these books. Why, Shanghvi, why? How, Shanghvi, how?!

Summary: Karan Seth, your everyday small town boy, is trying to make it big in the everyIndiannovel glittering city of Bombay as a photographer. His boss gives him an assignment he considers impossible at first – photograph the reclusive, eccentric Samar Arora, a former pianist. Karan not only finishes the assignment (I mean, obviously!), he also gets invited into the inner circle of Samar, his boyfriend Leo, and his best friend, movie star Zaira (small town boy growing wings among the rich, sad, and famous).
Karan is also pursuing a personal project – to capture the city through photographs. It is then that he meets Rhea Dalal, a bored housewife and amateur potter. Rhea and he become friends, and later lovers.
In the midst of all this, we find out that Zaira has a stalker, Malik Prasad, son of a powerful minister of the Hindu People’s Party (I mean, riiiiight).
Several subplots begin. None end.

Characters: Kindergartners often draw crude stick figures and label them “Mom”, “Dad”, “Sun”, “Hen”… You couldn’t tell, but you still give them an “Awww” for effort. The characters in The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay are much like those stick figures. You know them because their names are next to them in dialogue. There’s no depth to these characters, and if there’s no depth, we really cannot expect any growth either. These characters are none-dimensional. Instead of their names, had Shanghvi identified them as the photographer, the pianist, the potter, the actress, the novel would’ve worked just as well. Some minor characters flit in and out to increase the tabloid realism quotient – like Rocky Khan, who in a drunken rage drives over people sleeping on the pavement. I kept waiting for Rocky to shoot some endangered animals as well, but that never happened.
Several characters show up. None do much.

Narrative: If the characters have no merit to speak of, then rest assured this isn’t a character-driven novel. You’d assume then that it’s a plot-driven narrative.Well, you’re wrong. For a narrative to be plot-driven, it needs to have a plot.
Several incidents occur. None to drive anything anywhere.

POVs: You’re on a bus to Goa. You’ve settled into your comfortable seat, the in-bus entertainment is, for a change, playing something decent instead of the same Govinda movie from the 90s. You’re looking forward to your vacation, when suddenly the driver announces, the bus is now headed to Lucknow instead and for the rest of the journey, only Hero # 1 will be played. On loop. That seat isn’t too comfortable now, is it?
Imagine three characters narrating the story (if you’re thinking, that’s not too bad – wait, hear me out); so imagine three characters narrating the story… in the same PARAGRAPH! You’re cruising along with Karan, nodding along (or not) to his monologue, when suddenly Zaira offers you her thought bubble. How very jarring.
Several thoughts and POVs. No insight.

Language: Oh my God where do I begin! Tell me where do I begin! Ok, I’ll begin with this:
“Glee dripped out of Natasha like precum.” (my apologies if you’re reading this at work)
How about this:
“Minister Chander Prasad had a habit of scratching his balls so savagely that his pubic lice experienced multiple orgasms.” (apologies for that as well)
I’d stop, but let me squeeze just one more in:
“The words escaped the Judge’s mouth involuntarily, like a premature ejaculation.”
I’m done.
Several metaphors. None non-sexytimestype.

What’s the bottomline then? It’s unoriginal, too familiar, too verbose, too purple, too pretentious, too preachy. Should you read this book? Do your pubic lice a favor – don’t.

Goodreads | Amazon