Tag: Crime

Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman

7989831So! Prison sounds like fun! Wait, what? No, that can’t be right. It’s prison; it’s not supposed to be fun.

Before I go any further, let me confess that I have not watched the popular TV series of the same name. Not one episode. But I have reason to believe (because I know people who are fans) that the plot of the show deviates sharply from the source material. So, if you are a fan of the show or are planning to watch it, I suggest you skip the book, because the book is such a let down.

At first, I thought the title was an attempt at being ironic or funny. But if Piper Kerman has a sense of humour, it doesn’t really come through and then the title starts to look shallow and unintelligent. We are not talking about a ramp show or color of the year. It’s prison, FFS.

It’s surprising how Piper Kerman describes a place that we assume (and more or less know) to be grim and gruesome in a way that it sounds like summer camp. You actually think, “So, it’s cool, then? Like, a dorm at college?” I understand that this is a memoir, and Kerman has every right to write the way she saw things happen, from her perspective alone and all that. But “her perspective alone” is so near-sighted and self-centred that I can’t believe this girl’s even being real. She has been arrested for smuggling drugs in her early twenties (something she seems to feel no guilt or remorse for anywhere in the book, by the way). The trial goes on for a decade because there are so many others involved (such as Kerman’s ex girlfriend because of whom she got caught in all of this), after which she goes into the Danbury prison. Everyone welcomes her with open arms because she’s (as she repeatedly reminds the reader) white, blond, upper middle class. All the wardens keep telling her how surprised they are that a nice white girl like her is in a “place like this”. If she was trying to make a statement against the racist attitudes inside the prison, she does not come off as convincing – she comes off sounding like a snooty, racist person herself. The other prisoners often stick to their own racial groups, but everyone is friends with Kerman, because, oh, so lovable blond Barbie.

Now, I know families can be deadly supportive. Hell, they’re there even when you don’t need them. But I find it hard to believe that all her family members were so supportive and loving when they came to know of her crime. Like they’re almost proud to have someone go to jail. Wait, that’s an actual statement, in fact. Paraphrasing from the chapter Mothers and Daughters, “My mother was proud, despite the fact that I was in prison, because the other inmates thought we were sisters.” I need a moment.

By the way, did you know that they made crafts and celebrated Valentine’s Day in prison, with homemade cards and all? Yeah, me neither. Sounds like fun though. In one chapter, Kerman refers to prison as a “rotten” place. I was, quite frankly, taken aback. So far, nothing she had written gave me the slightest indication that it is such a rotten place (apart from my own common sense regarding prisons). I am shocked! Maybe your writing should’ve reflected that more, instead of telling me how many lovely items and books you regularly get in the mail from people you barely know, and how much people envy your love life.

And may I offer some advice for your next book (although, I hope there isn’t a next book) – EDITING! I don’t think any editor saw a draft of this. In fact, I think this may well be the first draft!

And the worst, worst thing about this book – I swear to the heavens, it is SO boring. This is one of the most boring books I have ever read. It’s torture how boring this is!

Quite frankly, reading the book makes me want to watch the show. How could the creators take something so poorly written and turn it into something that’s become so popular. My curiosity is thoroughly piqued.

Goodreads | Amazon

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The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, by Stieg Larsson (Millennium Trilogy # 3)

“When it comes down to it, this story is not primarily about spies and secret government agencies; it’s about violence against women and the men who enable it.”

7677839(See also, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson (Millennium Trilogy # 1))

Fiction must ring as true as non-fiction to the reader, just as non-fiction must be as engrossing as fiction.

This is a book that’s as cold, as precise, as categorical as if it were a true account of certain horrific events. Larsson’s writing reminds me of that of Frederick Forsyth and Ken Follett. Except that Larsson has a singular motive and it is crystal clear – to highlight crimes against women in every way possible.

Part 1 of the trilogy could be read as an independent book. As I stated in my review, I needed a bit of breathing space after reading it, because it was dark and brutal. I had no clue what was in store for me in the final book.

Book 2 and Book 3 are actually part 1 and 2 of the same story. We learn Lisbeth’s true history and uncover a massive government and secret service operation. We learn things that can never be un-learned.

The Millennium Trilogy Parts 2 & 3 is one of the most ambitious political thrillers I’ve read – which is saying a lot, since political thrillers are generally ambitious. In the hands of an author less skilled than Larsson, this subject matter would have injured itself. Not only that, Larsson gives a lot of back story to each character, no matter how unimportant. No other author could have accomplished that form of storytelling while not sounding boring. Larsson does so, and keeps the reader hooked. He makes the reader eager to listen, and he makes each character sound like someone you want to read about – no matter how insane or dull they are. Yes, I want to know what the characters are eating, wearing, just tell me (ordinarily, as is clear from my other reviews, I list this as a drawback)

The best part of this book is the snippet of history that precedes each major section of the book. Each snippet describes historical armies made up of only women soldiers. The author says how these rarely get documented or talked about. It was fascinating to read about the Libyan armies and the Amazons.

This is a story of abuse. If you thought Dragon Tattoo was graphic, this is a lot worse in terms of violence (and by “this”, I’m fusing Part 2 and Part 3 as one book). Are there completely unbelievable bits? Yes. But we’re back to the statement I made about less skilled authors not being able to carry it off. We hang on to every word. We believe every incredulity.

To give you a high level picture, I don’t think I have ever:

-Felt like I was on the roof of a bullet train, desperate to keep my balance (while enjoying that feeling)

Celebrated the death of one of the bad guys (or maybe I did, way back when Bellatrix Lestrange died. But that was a long time ago)

-Gasped audibly at an unexpected twist

-Screamed the following words at a page during a courtroom scene: BUTCHER THAT BASTARD!

I know those sound like hyperbolic statements that I am making impulsively. But wouldn’t you rather read the book and find out for yourself? It’s a whirlwind of a ride, I assure you.

As to why I have not summarized the story: the quote at the beginning of this post is the summary. Reading that quote made me feel like I was hearing it directly from the author. Like all his characters were put in this world, just so he could say that one line.

Oh, Mr. Larsson! You wonderful, brilliant man. Thank you!

My one regret remains that I’ve had these books since 2012, and only now did I read them.

Amazon | Goodreads

I have to put a note here about the translation: The book has been so flawlessly translated from the original by Steven Murray (pseudonym: Reg Keeland). Not once did I feel I was reading a translation or that something was lost or broken. Completely flawless!

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson (Millennium Trilogy # 1)

“She was perfectly content as long as people left her in peace. Unfortunately society was not very smart or understanding.”

Publishers advised Joanne “Jo” Rowling to use two initials instead of her real name because theysreesha-divakaran-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo feared boys wouldn’t read a book written by a woman.

More recently, and closer home, someone I know refused to read The Girl On The Train just because it was written by a woman. This is someone who usually holds my book recommendations in high regard.

These snippets tell you a little about the world we live in, don’t they? But how are they relevant to the book I’m reviewing today? Because nearly every person who recommended The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo to me is male. The exact same book, same plot, same words could have been written by a female author, and these same people might have very well dismissed it as a rant. Why? Because this book comes down hard on crimes against women. It does so in the sharpest, yet most chilling way possible.

The original Swedish title of this book, when translated to English, reads “Men Who Hate Women”. At first glance, that might sound like an outrageous, MRA title, because a book generally favours those mentioned in the title, or so we’re conditioned to believe. For instance, if a book is titled “Men Who Made History” or some such, you’d automatically assume the book is a favourable commentary on the lives of these men. However, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (or Men Who Hate Women) contains some of the angriest, most violent commentary against misogyny and hate crimes. Let’s discuss the story, shall we?

Summary: On his 82nd birthday, Henrik Vanger, former CEO of the Vanger Corporation, receives a framed flower, Leptospermum (Myrtaceae) rubinette. It is revealed that he has been receiving these for years, always on his birthday. He is convinced that the murderer of his niece is sending them to him to taunt him, as she once gave him the same flower before her disappearance and suspected demise in 1966. He has been obsessed about her disappearance ever since.

Mikael Blomkvist, a famous journalist and founder of the Millennium magazine is convicted of libel against Hans Erik Wennerstrom, a rich crook against whom Millennium did an expose of sorts (I kept imagining Trump) but were unable to provide evidence. He co-founded the magazine with Erika Berger, a former classmate and occasional lover. Post discussions with her, he steps down from Millennium’s board.

During this time, Henrik’s lawyer has asked for an investigation to be performed on Blomkvist, because he wants to hire him to solve the mystery of his niece’s disappearance. The investigation is performed by the other protagonist of this story, Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four year old hacker with a terribly troubled past.

Blomkvist, albeit reluctantly at first, accepts Henrik’s assignment. After a certain course of events, Blomkvist decides to meet Salander when he finds out she is the one who performed an investigation on him. He also discovers she has hacked into his laptop. Soon after, they become partners and try to solve the case together. They unearth several skeletons in the Vanger closet, and compile a list of murders and hate crimes against women that took place around the same time Harriet Vanger disappeared (give or take a decade). Do they solve the mystery? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

In short, this 465 page book has everything – half of the Vangers were Nazis, the remaining half were torturers of all other kinds imaginable. Nearly all the women have been subjected to domestic violence, rape, every crime possible, and yet, most of them emerged stronger (not a spoiler) (also, the book is divided into 4 parts, and each part gives you a statistic about violence against women). There’s politics, journalism and an intriguing financial crime drama. And of course, the whodunit plot that holds the whole thing together. It’s all intertwined into a seamless fabric.

That said, the book isn’t without its faults – some of the things seemed too convenient (for example, Blomkvist became famous on the basis of a hunch he had about some bank robbers). In some places, Larsson seemed to be trying too hard to push the point of strong women (to go back to how this review began, Blomkvist reads only novels by women authors). Not that this is a bad thing, but it sounds like he’s gone beyond driving home a point, that he just wants it drilled into people’s heads (why am I complaining? From a purely literary standpoint, of course). While I loved how all the various plot points closed, I felt Salander’s bit was a little cliched. But this one’s just me.

Overall, I give this book a 4.5 and recommend it to everyone. Be warned though, there is some disturbing content, and some scenes of brutality.

Goodreads | Amazon

PS: This review only covers the first book of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.

Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll

In a bowl, mix Opal Mehta (and every high school chick-lit ever) and The Devil Wears Prada. Add a dash of rape and blend well. Then add a few ounces of needless violence. Season it luckiest-girl-alive-jessica-knoll-sreesha-divakaran-rain-and-bookwith terrible prose. And voilà!

Needless. That is the only word that comes to mind when I think of Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive. First and foremost, when you look at the front cover, you see a lot of tiny text, but ‘Gillian Flynn’ stands out –  attention grabbing, that. Here’s the thing. A lot of authors these days are described as the next already-published-established-famous authors. Recently I got two other books, and both the authors were called “the next Stieg Larsson.” Another book’s promo tagline said “it will make Hogwarts look like playschool” (I already hate this book; I don’t even need to read it). Something about needing these borrowed legs to stand on tells you a little bit about the books themselves.

Luckiest Girl Alive is just another high school tale desperately trying to pass itself off as adult fiction. It is also as boring as a book can get. When I turned 29, I thought to myself there is no reason anymore for me to not ditch a bad book – as there are just way too many good books in the world. Old habits die hard I guess – I felt since I’d already invested enough time to reach the 12% mark, might as well reach the end and see how bad it gets.

Genre: Boring (yeah, that’s a genre)

Summary: TifAni (that’s how it’s spelled) is an editor at ‘The Women’s Magazine’, which is a prestigious… umm… women’s magazine (like the author herself). She also writes pieces on spicing up your sex life. She’s engaged to Luke, a filthy rich douchebag. Speaking of douchebags, TifAni is a horrible person. Like, really insufferable mean ass bitch. She is only engaged to Luke cos of the money cos her mother brought her up to believe a woman’s worth depends on whom she marries. TifAni has two best friends whom she hates. Basically she hates everyone. I’ve read till the end of the book and it never did explicitly explain why. Nor implicitly. She keeps chanting “I have a horrible secret.” But turns out – wait, we’ll get to it. Her catholic school tells her parents to transfer her to a different school following a weed smoking incident. She moves to a school in a posh locality and desperately tries to fit in. She gets accepted by Hilary and Olivia (the “HOs” (don’t ask)) but gets raped by the guys in the group. She later moves to college and in order to reinvent herself, changes her name to Ani (how many times have I read that before?)

Characters: TifAni/Ani, already described above. She is described as tiny in stature with large breasts. She has two friends, Nell, and another woman whose name I have already forgotten, but who is rather flat chested. Or wait, maybe it was Nell that was the flat chested one. Really, a lot of mention of boobs and the lack of them cos Ani does not have much else going on for her. TifAni was raped in high school by the “popular” guys and she wonders till the last chapter if it was actually rape (it was). But that’s not her “secret”. You’d think her mean nature was because of this, but it is not; she’s implied to be a bad human being even as a teenager, which is why I said we don’t know why she is intentionally shown as this villainous person. Her mother is your stereotypical, loud-mouthed mother-of-ungrateful-teenager woman with gold-digger tendencies. She lavishly spends her husband’s money and her only aim in life is to get Ani married to a rich guy so that she can keep up her appearance of wealth. Ani’s teacher in school is Andrew Larson, who is, later in the story, a client of her fiance Luke. He thinks she is a gem of a person, an angel, all those things, though I don’t see what he does in her (the boobs, maybe?)

The writing: Is laughably amateurish. Think about it, the only plot device in this book is having your main character repeat the words “I have a secret.” Unless this is the first book you’ve picked up in your life (in which case, my sympathies), you know nothing kills suspense more than those exact words. There is also something to be said about books that never make you reach for the dictionary – some books can create beautiful prose with the simplest of phrases; others, like this one, makes the writer look like he/she doesn’t know what they’re doing. That is not to say Knoll does not try to embellish her sentences, but they turn out hilarious bad. For instance: Sleep exploded over me like a meteor shower.
I don’t understand the need to try so hard to make her a bad person (she insults a waitress for no good reason, she draws on a colleague’s white pants when she’s not looking etc) – what is the reason to make her so bad? And why try so hard to imply something so pointlessly? If you’re making someone an out-and-out dislikeable character, at least give it a reason or make them interesting (like in The White Tiger, for instance or Voldemort) There are instances where Ani spouts wisdom about “all women”. I can’t make out if that’s what the author thinks about “all women” or just the character she created, but, to whoever it may concern – please speak for yourself. There are also some parts where whole paragraphs get repeated from a previous instance. As if the author thought when the reader reaches the middle, he/she might forget the beginning, or when they reach the end, they’d forget the middle. So much unnecessary repetition. Or maybe that is what was happening to the author because in a few places the descriptions did not match anything that was said at the beginning – like everyone recognizes Ani’s name cos of the high school incident, but later in the news reports, the reader is told her name was never mentioned. Funny thing is, Ani keeps remembering things and people (that bear little resemblance to the current context) and she would go on to describe them in detail, then she would give us reasons why she hates the person she is describing. Then said person would not make an appearance elsewhere in the story. That happens to scenarios as well – it is implied that Ani had weight issues because of which she is always on some kinda diet, but the whole body image angle isn’t explored in depth. She is buying a knife on the first page, I still don’t know why. The worst of it is, neither the story of rape nor the “secret” are given any true importance. They are serious issues dealt with so flippantly.

Overall, it felt like Jessica Knoll had a bunch of stories she felt like writing and somehow she ended up connecting them all with no real purpose or context. What this book is, is an insult to rape survivors, homosexuals, women (subcategories: homemakers/stay-at-home-moms, career-driven, unmarried, thin, fat, waitresses, with-fiance-less-successful-than-protagonist), less-than-affluent people, those suffering from mental illnesses, those suffering from anorexia, in short, everyone. Ugh how wasteful.

So needless.

 

PS: I heard there is a movie coming out? I don’t know for sure. Am I the only one that gets pissed when such terrible books are made into movies?

 

 

 

Whistleblower Trilogy 1: Wounded Animals, by Jim Heskett

jim-heskett-wounded-animals-rainandabook-sreesha-divakaranWounded Animals, the first book from the Whistleblower Trilogy is the first book I am reviewing in 2016. I am a little late though; a lot late, actually. This review was requested almost a year ago, but you all know that several things went wrong last year and review requests from authors had to take a backseat. Anyway, let’s discuss Wounded Animals now.

Genre: Thriller

Summary: Tucker Candle, a trainer in an IT firm, meets a man named Kareem at a bar. The man turns water into wine as Candle watches. Once Kareem knows he has Candle’s attention, he tells Candle that his boss is planning to send him on a business trip, and he must refuse to go no matter what. The next day, Candle’s boss dismisses his pleas and Candle is forced to go on the trip. When he returns, he finds his pregnant wife missing, and one of his trainees (whom he met during the trip) murdered in his bathroom.

Wounded Animals started off well. As I read about Kareem turning water into wine, I was immediately drawn into the story. It was almost comical, how Kareem criticized his work and Candle’s obvious confusion. A good beginning works well for a book, because it makes the reader turn the pages.

Speaking of turning pages, Wounded Animals is fast-paced. You can read it really quickly. I would not call it an “edge of the seat thriller” (reasons will be listed shortly) but it is a page-turner nevertheless. The cliffhangers at the end of each chapter really work in its favour.

Among the characters, only the protagonist Tucker Candle really stands out. The others, the bad guys, neighbours, cops, whathaveyou, all seem to be cut out of the same cloth and really don’t have any distinguishing features (but one of the neighbours, the could-be-a-meth-dealer guy, stands out; he doesn’t have anything to do with the story, but the phrase about his house being a meth-filled house sticks to your memory). Candle insists everyone call him by his last name – no prefixes, just his last name. (Reminded me of a math teacher I once had who insisted we do the same – it was odd addressing him by his last name, no Mr. no Sir.) Candle is a regular guy next door, who gets pulled into a conspiracy and he has nothing but his instincts to help him.

Wounded Animals is an easy read, the language used is simple and light. I noticed a few typos, such as whose/who’s (it was incorrectly used), Chricton (a reference was made to a Michael Crichton book). Another thing about the light, unburdened prose is that it situations, characters, circumstances etc are not too descriptive. I have three things to say about that:

  1. The best thing about this is that Jim Heskett does not waste too much time describing each and every little detail about silly things like appearances. I really hate reading about color-coordinated outfits and the like. Just get on with the story! So this was a plus.
  2. The drawback of this is that sometimes a reader requires a description. For instance, when a scene changes, we need to know where our protagonist is. The lack of description makes the reader lose focus. Also, there’s the failure of the “Show, don’t tell” rule in this situation.
  3. The third thing is, in some places, this is not true, resulting in a lot of redundancy. For example (more or less paraphrasing) “I followed my instincts. I did not know why. I knew I had to follow my instincts.” We could have saved a lot of words there.

Overall, this was a book that progressed well but had several loose threads by the the time it reached the climax. I did not feel it was well-resolved. Sure, the story reached closure, but I felt the “whys” of things were not explained. Also, the story as a whole seemed like an unconvincing thriller, because the protagonist works purely on instinct. It seems improbable to me. The premise is good, but the execution is certainly lacking… something.

Rating: 2.5/5

Amazon | Goodreads

Note: I received a PDF Copy of this book for review.

Real World, by Natsuo Kirino

sreesha-divakaran-rain-and-a-book-book-blog-real-world-natsuo-kirinoReal World is the story of five teenagers – a boy who murders his mother and four confused girls.

The premise holds (some) promise, but there are several things wrong with this story. I cannot wrap my head around oh-so-many things. I am simply gonna break it down, and you can analyze the parts out of it.

Usually, if the book was originally written in a different language (in this case, Japanese) and I am reading a translation, I give it the benefit of the doubt – a lot can get lost from the original, and we cannot blame the author for it, because unless we read the book in its original language, we can’t find out if this is indeed how it was intended.

Let’s talk about the good: We have five characters, and there is a lot of darkness in this book. It can get depressing and it will cause you to think about topics such as suicide, angst, and the tough decisions teenagers sometimes have to make (like, in the case of one of the girls, her decision to come out as a lesbian).

Now let’s talk about the bad, which is everything else.

First and foremost, the boy – Worm. He murders his mother. There is all the evidence pointing to it. He admits it unabashedly to anyone who would listen. His face is plastered all over the internet. The news of the murder is all over the newspapers and TV. There are police officers and detectives swarming over the place. He keeps making calls to the four girls. He keeps stopping at convenience stores.

Tell me how does this boy outrun the “long arms of the law”? How does he escape so easily, without even trying hard? He didn’t even have a plan! Is it that easy to commit murder?

Next the girls. Oh dear, so. Many. Inner. Monologues! I mean, Why! Here’s how the whole book is narrated: Chapter 1: Girl 1: Part 1: Detailed description of who she is, how she is, why she is the way she is, how none of the other girls know this. All this is written in first person. The four girls Toshi, Terauchi, Kirarin and Yuzan hang out together and pretend to be best friends, but I think they also hate each other, cos the inner monologues actually sound like the voice of a self-centred, whiny bickerer. You don’t even read it with the guilty pleasure of sneaking into someone’s diary. I don’t know if that’s just bad translation, but think about this – there has been a murder. You’re all got pulled into the aftermath and are even being questioned. With this in mind – how is it possible for you all to be so self centred?

All the girls think they have “secret lives” (nothing hardcore – just regular stuff like secretly partying after school or whatever) but all the other girls can see right through them and think they know nothing about life.

Another thing which bothered me is the complete and utter hatred towards men. I understand the characters are angry – they were groped on public transport, and assaulted or hit on by boys who considered them to be “dumb girls” – horrible things that happen to girls all over the world, sadly. One of them was cheated on by her boyfriend, another is a lesbian – but the anger towards all men all over the world is so palpable that I am unable to distinguish between the voice of the author and the voice of the character(s). Yes, these sort of incidents make us all wary, but do we end up hating everyone? If a book so blatantly generalized and insulted women, we would not take it kindly, would we? I know I wouldn’t. For instance several writers and ancient philosophers were anti-women (all the religious texts come to mind). This is like that – but reversed.  All I am saying is, same rules apply both ways – you do not denigrate whole groups based on the actions of a few. Also, one of the characters is so angry with her ex, that she gets Worm to call him up and threaten to rape the ex’s new girlfriend. So we have one character that murdered his mother, and another (a girl) who wants to get someone to rape another girl. This is all so messed up.

And in between all this hatred, all the girls want the attention of one boy – the murderer.

I am gonna let that settle in.

 

Yeah, so despite the fact that none of them really know him, they are so fascinated (WTF?) that they all help him out in one way or the other.

The dialogues in this book are so wooden, they don’t play out right in your head. The whole time I was going, “People don’t talk like this!” But that’s probably just the translation that’s bad.

This whole book is messed up YA. It is not noir or crime or anything – it hardly focuses on the crime – and I want to shout this out from rooftops! – it’s just YA that makes little sense.

Frankly, I had a lot of expectations from Natsuo Kirino, having heard a lot of good things about her. Maybe I should try some of her other works.