Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House

10/30/2017 at 6:45 AM (Books, Classics, Mystery, TV) (, , )

When I borrowed this book from my local library, I was under the impression this was an Agatha Christie type mystery with a bit more edge. I think Agatha Christie type mysteries are older fashioned compared to Agatha Raisin. The novel ends in a surprising fashion with the protagonist deciding to begin her own agency for ladies.The problem the victim faces is that she is an older, much maligned lady and her claims that her house is being haunted falls on deaf ears when it comes to the local police. Due to her interest in solving crimes, when the old lady is murdered, it makes M.C. Beaton’s Agatha sit up and take interest. For her, the solving of a crime holds more interest because she finds it more fun rather than chasing after ghosts.

Agatha Raisin, comfortable and warm in her cottage, in Carsley has that same old feeling-boredom-until a report of a haunted house sends her and new neighbor, handsome Paul Chatterton, to investigate. Suddenly, middle-aged Agatha is aglow with romance and excitement. But the charm fades fast. It turns out Paul is a cad because he is married to Juanita. The victim of the haunting is a universally disliked old biddy. And the ghost is most likely someone playing a dirty trick. Then an old lady is soon found murdered. For Agatha, solving a homicide is more fun than hunting a ghost. She quickly has a theory and a risky scheme. And she makes a startling discovery which could either be her greatest triumph or leave her heartbroken, in trouble with the police, and in danger of losing her reputation – or her life.

 Agatha is again mesmerised with the latest man living next door Paul Chatterton while she pines under it all for James Lacey. Her older age comes out well when she can’t get up out of a lawn chair gracefully. I like Agatha because she is so very real. I can imagine myself doing what she does just blundering around until something happens. But there is a susceptible side to Agatha, and this was brought out in this book and at times I felt a little sorry for her. As usual Agatha solves the murders, and saves the day, and everything turns out alright in the end. This was #14 in the Agatha Raisin series written by M.C. Beaton.

There is a TV series also based on the much-loved books by M.C Beaton where Cotswold dwelling amateur sleuth Agatha Raisin attempts to solve the mysterious murder cases that seem to plague her community.

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Cloud Atlas

10/24/2017 at 11:21 PM (Books, Movies, Science Fiction, Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

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I don’t think I’ve read a novel so surprisingly excellent since Jonathan Strange Mr Norell. Actually, I have. What I meant to say is that I’ve read nothing as epic. My attempts to explain Cloud Atlas to people have met with changed subjects.  Let me try: the book is like 6 perfect little novellas, arranged as Russian dolls, and as you read, you bore in, and bore back out. Each doll is a different period in time, the outermost being in the early 19th century, the latest being somewhere around 2200. Four of the six are genre pieces: historical maritime fiction, crime novel, dystopian sci-fi, and post-apocalyptic sci-fi, with all their tropes rendered with loving affection. But they are just written so well that they are irresistible. The pieces placed in the 1930s and the present day are also wonderful, but certainly aren’t the type of fare I normally seek out. I am far from being a fan of science fiction.

But yes, exceedingly well written. What’s it about? Well, there’s the journal of an American notary returning home from the Chatham Islands aboard a suspect ship in the 1830s; a young composer cuckolding an older colleague while helping him write new works, who documents his affairs and foibles in letters to his former lover; there’s a true-story thriller about a Californian journalist in the 1970s planning to out a corrupt and deadly energy company for concealing a safety report damning their new nuclear energy plant; the soon-to-be-filmed chronicles of a publisher in the present day whose attempts to escape the extortionist cronies of his gangster star author land him in a Draconian nursing home reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest from which he cannot escape; there’s the future testimony of a Korean clone bred for service in a fast food joint but who, via the machinations of forces many and penumbral, gains full consciousness; and finally “the Huck Finnish tale of a post-apocalyptic Hawaiian ‘primitive’ and the ‘civilized’ researcher sent to study his society”. Whew! The characters of each story find themselves reading their predecessor, and sometimes characters overlap a little. Each story features a character with the same birthmark, and they all seem to experience deja vu from characters in other stories. Now it sounds corny. But my promise to you, is that it is cool.

I guess the book is primarily about the will to power. Slavery and subjugation, small personal cruelties, corporate greed. Its premise is something I still don’t know.  Please read this book so, at the very least, you can explain it to me. A movie might be easier to watch than reading Cloud Atlas.

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Ice Station

10/12/2017 at 6:32 AM (Books, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

Ice Station is Australian thriller writer Matthew Reilly’s second novel, released in 1999.

When a diving team at Wilkes Ice Station is killed, the ice station sends out a distress signal. A team of United States Recon Marines led by Shane Schofield, under the code name of Scarecrow, arrives at the station. At the station, he finds lots of French scientists have arrived, and several more arrive after the Marines’ join them. The French reveal them to be soldiers and a fight ensues at the station, claiming the lives of Scarecrow’s men along with several scientists and most of the French soldiers. Mother loses her leg, Samurai is badly injured, and two French scientists are captured.

Schofield decides to send a team down to find an object below the ice where the diving team was going. Later, Samurai is found strangled, leaving the only people he trusts to be one of the scientists, Sarah Hensleigh and another soldier named Montana as he was with them at the time of Samurai’s death. Hensleigh, Montana and two other Marines, Gant and Santa Cruz, are sent down to where the diving team vanished. While alone, Schofield is shot and killed. He later wakes up, found to have been accidentally resurrected by his attacker, and is in the care of scientist James Renshaw, the believed killer of one of the other scientists at Wilkes. Watching a video of Schofield’s death, they view the attacker and discover it to be Snake, one of Schofield’s men. The two capture Snake before he is able to kill the wounded Mother.

Meanwhile in the United States, Andrew Trent and Pete Cameron meet; Cameron is a news reporter and Trent was a former Marine using the alias Andrew Wilcox to avoid being found by the U.S military who had tried to kill him a few years back. They hear the distress call from Schofield and Trent realises what happened to him was duplicating itself in regards to Schofield.

The team learns of an impending attack by the SAS and decide to flee the station. During the escape via stolen vehicles, Schofield and Renshaw’s is pushed off a cliff, Schofield’s close friend Book and the step-daughter of Sarah Hensleigh, Kirsty, are captured, while Rebound escapes with four of the scientists. Schofield manages to destroy a French submarine and he and Renshaw begin their journey back towards it. Meanwhile, the SAS Brigadier Trevor Barnaby kills the two remaining French scientists and feeds Book to a pod of killer whales. Schofield returns to the station and manages to kill all of the SAS and Snake, and save Kirsty. Schofield receives a message from Trent with a list of members of a secret service known as the Intelligence Convergence Group (ICG) which includes Snake and Montana.

Gant and her team find what appears to be an alien ship, but which turns out to be a spy ship. Montana kills Santa Cruz, but is killed by mutated elephant seals. Schofield and the two others arrive and Hensleigh reveals herself to be an ICG agent, but is soon killed by a wounded Gant. Remembering the station is about to be destroyed, Schofield, Gant, Renshaw, Kirsty and her pet fur seal named Wendy escape on the spy plane and land on the USS Wasp. They later destroy the plane using a guided missile fired earlier. It is revealed Mother escaped Wilkes before its destruction and was luckily saved by US forces.

The survivors get to Hawaii where they are nearly killed by an ICG agent before being saved by Andrew Trent, Pete and Allison Cameron, and the captain of the USS Wasp. Renshaw assumes custody of Kirsty since he is her godfather, and Schofield doesn’t leave Gant’s side until she recovers.




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The Hundred Foot Journey

10/10/2017 at 6:00 AM (Books, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I am currently in the middle of a book called The Hundred Foot Journey. It is written by Richard C. Morais and is the recipient of accolades from Joanne Harris, the writer of Chocolat (yes, the movie with Johnny Depp).

This story is about an Indian family that moves to France and sets up a rival restaurant across the road from a French restaurant that has been awarded 2 stars. Madame Mallory, the restaurateur is eagerly awaiting her third star but when Maison Mumbai goes into competition with her regarding supplies, she is very displeased because the Indian restaurant becomes quite popular with the French populace who live in the area.

 

The family was originally living in Mumbai India but then moved to the UK, after the protagonists mother passed away in the wake of a political melee. In the UK, there is far too much variety to compete with when it comes to owning a restaurant and after some not so savory dealings with his cousin, the protagonist and the rest of the family move to Lumiere in France. Unfortunately their decision to open an Indian restaurant so close to her is not palatable to Madam Mallory.

Things change later on when the main character is employed by the rival French restaurant because she realises Hassan, the protagonist, has perfect pitch on his palate when it comes to experimenting with food and bold and exotic flavours inspire him.

The book deals with the clash of cultures in different locations ( Mumbai, Lumiere, London, Paris ) involving food and in an interesting way explores people’s reactions to things that are new and foreign.

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The Trespasser

06/05/2017 at 12:09 PM (Books, Mystery, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

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This was my first experience reading Tana French and my negative reaction to it is attributable to a mistake on my part. Had I been introduced to the main detective earlier in her Dublin Murder Squad book series, I might have found her sympathetic. However, this was a pick up from a local bookshop after reading the following blurb.

Being on the Murder squad is nothing like Detective Antoinette Conway dreamed it would be. Her partner, Stephen Moran, is the only person who seems glad she’s there. The rest of her working life is a stream of thankless cases, vicious pranks, and harassment. Antoinette is savagely tough, but she’s getting close to the breaking point.

Their new case looks like yet another by-the-numbers lovers’ quarrel gone bad. Aislinn Murray is blond, pretty, groomed to a shine, and dead in her catalogue-perfect living room, next to a table set for a romantic dinner. There’s nothing unusual about her—except that Antoinette’s seen her somewhere before.

And that her death won’t stay in its neat by-numbers box. Other detectives are trying to push Antoinette and Steve into arresting Aislinn’s boyfriend, fast. There’s a shadowy figure at the end of Antoinette’s road. Aislinn’s friend is hinting that she knew Aislinn was in danger. And everything they find out about Aislinn takes her further from the glossy, passive doll she seemed to be.

Antoinette knows the harassment has turned her paranoid, but she can’t tell just how far gone she is. Is this case another step in the campaign to force her off the squad, or are there darker currents flowing beneath its polished surface?”

Due to my lack of research into reviews of this book and expectations of fast-paced story, when I realised it was the reverse I found the descriptions of police procedural rather tedious because it seemed to border on the excessive. I enjoyed her writing and her characterisation was very well done but personally I think this book probably didn’t make for a very good stand-alone read. The mystery was interesting enough in its individualistic way but the paranoia exhibited by Detective Conway grated on my nerves. My favourite part was when a certain arrogant character got his comeuppance from an unexpected ally but I disliked the brow beating of the primary suspect in the murder mystery. I was coming in expecting a psychological thriller so I was disappointed despite the motivations of the murder victim.

All I can say is if you are a Gone Girl fan, don’t go for this type of book. It’s not the type of psychological thriller you are looking for. For me this particular reviewer’s assessment of The Trespasser is spot on. For a positive perspective on the book, try this review.

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We Were Liars

09/11/2015 at 4:57 AM (Books) (, , , , , , , )

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Source: Goodreads

Although the book fails to explain the origin of the title, E. Lockhart does manage to deliver an interesting twist in the tale with We Were Liars. It’s a shame that I saw it coming from a mile away but for those who have managed to remain oblivious, I will do my best to give the gist of the plot with no spoilers. The main character is this privileged girl called Cadence who appears to have fairly inconsequential problems. She is romantically interested in Gat, an Indian-American boy, who does not fit into the world inhabited by Cadence. Her family is so wealthy that they own a private island where she spends her summers with her cousins and outsider Gat. We Were Liars in spite of seeming like light hearted YA touches on themes of avarice, influence and materialism with a grim warning in its core. You expect a fun beach read but end up with a heavy-hitting fable.

The writing style is fragmented and chaotic all at once reminiscent of poetry. I know there are people who would hate this book because they would not be able to tolerate the artistic liberties taken by E. Lockhart in crafting her imagery and compelling narrative so creatively but surprisingly it didn’t bother me. What stood out most were the enthralling mini fairy tale retellings about the King’s daughters that mimicked the main storyline and paid homage to King Lear. Since the prose is executed so differently, it is something that requires an acquired taste. There are no shades of grey: you’ll either love it or hate it.

It seems that even Cadence is not privy to the secret the author is foreshadowing and unreliable as she has amnesia following a possible breakdown. The family surrounding her are full of deceit and that makes it hard to trust them to tell the truth about the upcoming big reveal. By the time we become aware of the big secret in We Were Liars, we can only be shocked by the plan that tragically backfired. Apparently this book has caught enough attention that there is a possibility of an upcoming film adaptation.

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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

09/10/2015 at 8:52 AM (Books) (, , , , , , )

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Source: Goodreads

What struck me about Rachel Joyce’s debut novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry when I purchased it was that older characters are gaining momentum as protagonists in literary novels as I couldn’t help thinking of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. After I finished it, my thoughts on the book changed because this felt more like a kindness of strangers story as it had no political symbolism.

Harold Fry is motivated to deliver in a letter in person after he hears from an old friend living in a hospice who once did him a big favour twenty years earlier. When Harold first plans to post a reply to the letter his intention is to go to the local postbox but the chance conversation he has with a girl prods him forward on his pilgrimage through the British countryside to his former saviour. As he walks, Harold starts to believe that his friend Queenie Hennessy will still manage to be there when he arrives.

Along the way Harold encounters various characters who could have been unkind but are not and finds serenity in the task at hand. He also develops the courage to come out of his shell in the absence of his wife Maureen who has so far regarded him as a defective spouse and father figure. In a cruel twist of fate, his wife, stunned by her husband’s abrupt departure and lacking a way of getting back in touch because he failed to take a cellphone, begins to desire his return home.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry has both good and bad points. I was really into the beginning of the book but as various hangers-on join Harold on his walk and the journey halfway becomes a full-fledged media circus, my interest waned. While I get this is a love story which addresses the rekindling of a marriage, the liberally applied sentimentality was not to my taste.

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I am Pilgrim

09/09/2015 at 8:15 AM (Books) (, , , , , , )

It took me several hours over all of four days to finish I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. Essentially the book is all about prey and predators of the human sort. Two characters stand out: the American intelligence agent and the Muslim fundamentalist. Who will emerge the victor?

Source: Goodreads

Source: Goodreads

It all begins with a fairly innocuous NYPD murder investigation in New York. The intelligence agent provides back story about how he got into the covert operations business and how he rose up the ranks after discovering evidence of treason when he was very young. Anyway the agent decides to shed the vestiges of his former life and become a regular person but beforehand  he writes a book under an assumed name about investigative techniques. After this book comes into the possession of an American policeman heavily involved in the September 11 aftermath rescues, the cop and his wife decide to track down the agent for fun. Strangely their mission is successful and so the intelligence agent has to erase and re-write his past so he cannot be found again. Anyway the couple end up roping the agent into presenting at a seminar posing as the researcher for the book.

The other story is about a boy who saw his father publicly beheaded for criticising the Saudi royal family. Not having made it in time to witness the execution, the boy decides he will take revenge – not by striking out against Saudi Arabia but by going up against America which provides the nation with its wealth. Anyway this boy grows up to be known as the Saracen and comes up with a virulent strain of a biohazard and ingeniously devises a way of transporting his dangerous cargo to the US and to the people. There is a lot of back story of how on upon leaving his homeland, he joins a mosque and comes under a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood under an imam.

Anyway the intelligence agent is recruited to chase the Saracen to stop him from unleashing havoc at all costs. It leads him to a town in Turkey where he comes across a suspect that baffles him because she does not fit the profile he has. Anyway he makes the connection between the suspect and the Saracen and it is fortuitous that he does because when the climax goes down, he has a valuable bargaining chip.

Apart from the basic spy story above, there are other story arcs. The protagonist manages to provide a favour to a hacker, he ponders about disappointing his foster father by giving up sailing, he talks of making Swiss bankers give up their secrets for love and even the initial murder story we begin with is not cast aside but is caught in the undercurrent of the bigger and more overarching plot. To be honest, a lot of these asides felt like unnecessary padding. I am Pilgrim has many flaws but I forgave them because of the pull of the writing style. The casual xenophobia did bother me but I suppose it should not be surprising given the September 11 centric storyline and the Muslim terrorist as a villain. I think the written language suffers because this book has a made-to-be-a-movie plot. In spite of the interesting story Terry Hayes created, there are far too many instances of luck.

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The Year I Met You

09/08/2015 at 8:00 AM (Books) (, , , , , )

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Usually books by Cecelia Ahern bewitch me but The Year I Met You didn’t live up to the magic of PS I Love You or Thanks for the Memories. Perhaps it was the fact the main character, Jasmine, wasn’t very charming unlike her previous heroines and it deals with serious topics.

Jasmine has been put on gardening leave. Technically she has been fired from her job but in order to stop competitors from snapping her up, she has to wait out one year before she can start a new job. Luckily she is still paid while she waits out the year. This was the first time I came across the phrase and what it referred to. Who says fiction doesn’t impart knowledge? Because so far her job has been her life, Jasmine is clueless as to what to do with all her spare time.

Apart from her job, there’s one person she has vowed to protect all her life: her younger sister who has Down Syndrome. As a result when she realises her neighbour across the road is a shock-jock who once belittled people with her sister’s condition, he becomes an unwitting antagonist subject to the prejudices of her blind judgement. As the days go by and the social barrier she put up against her neighbours begins to crumble, Jasmine realises she may have not known the full story about Matt, who has himself has been put on gardening leave after his controversial chat show went too far on-air.

Jasmine has to contend with a returning adopted cousin whose memories of their childhood do not mirror her own and is also approached for a job by a handsome headhunter with whom she develops a budding but promising romance. If anything, The Year I Met You is about judgement and how appearances can often be deceiving.

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I Capture the Castle

09/07/2015 at 8:00 AM (Books) (, , , , , )

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Source: Goodreads

I took I Capture the Castle with me to Sri Lanka to while away the hours when it became too dark to spend time outdoors and bloodthirsty mosquitoes roamed around my grandmother’s garden. Dodie Smith was an author I had never heard of until one of the casual staff at work brought her to my attention. I was hooked from the first page but because I didn’t like the thought of it ending, I tried to spend as long as I could savouring it.

The main character of this story is a sixteen-year-old girl called Cassandra Mortmain who writes in her journal about her life in the castle that is her home with her somewhat unconventional and penniless family. Her father is a writer who was once hailed as a genius but he is suffering from writer’s block, her stepmother is a nudist who likes to commune with nature, her beautiful but scheming sister is waiting for a rich and eligible bachelor to sweep her off her feet, her younger brother is someone who we hear little about and the handsome servant boy appears to harbour an affection for Cassandra and works for the family for free. The interesting part begins when the owners of a mansion nearby come to live in it and happen to be two single brothers who end up bumping into Cassandra inadvertently while she is dying her clothes. However the two girls pursue the wrong brother cultivating sisterly rivalry and some misplaced suspicions along the way.

The word I would probably most associate with this book is whimsy. What I really enjoyed about I Capture the Castle were the journal entries reflective of Cassandra’s coming of age experience and was full of interesting pearls of wisdom giving voice to her thoughts on religion, reading and imagination. While the story reads like a Jane Austen tale with the two penniless sisters finding handsome suitors, I find much more charm in Dodie Smith’s writing.

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