Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sycamore Row - John Grisham

Sycamore Row (Jake Brigance, #2)Sycamore Row by John Grisham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We are back in Clanton, Mississippi. It is a lovely little town. And it has some characters that we like. Harry Rex, Willie Traynor, Lucien Wilbanks, Judge Attlee are all here.

Jake Brigance gets a handwritten will and a covering letter by mail one Monday. It is by Seth Hubbard who committed suicide by hanging himself from a sycamore tree on his property. Seth Hubbard was a divorced man, alone, and battling cancer. He found it hard to face his illness and took his life.

Jake can see immediately that the will is going to cause a major stir in Clanton, and will be contested hotly. Seth left all his fortune to his black housekeeper Lettie Lang and cut his two children out completely.

There is an uproar on many fronts. Lettie Lang's husband, who is a drunkard, causes trouble by hiring some hotshot lawyers who are up to no good. Hubbard's children also hire lawyers to contest the handwritten will as well. Jake Brigance is supported covertly by Harry Rex and Lucien Wilbanks. With their invaluable help, he sets about trying to win the case for the Estate of Seth Hubbard.

The crux of the story lies in reason Seth had for leaving the fortune to Lettie Lang. Although that is not seen as central to the case. What is central to the case is whether Seth was in right mind when he made the will. But as the case progresses and the sleuths on the side of Seth's children uncover some facts, the reason for the strange bequeath becomes a moot point.

When we do find out the reason Seth had for giving the money to Lettie, we feel things could have been simplified by just stating the reason in the will. It was a horrific story, but it was in the past and not something that needed to be hidden. It is at the fag end of the book, that we feel the story gets weak.

For the major part of the novel, the story is very interesting and a real page-turner. At the end, with a lot of heavy duty legal descriptions, the lay reader is bound to feel bored.

I liked the Last Juror much much more.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Among the Chatterati - Kanika Gahlaut

Among The ChatteratiAmong The Chatterati by Kanika Gahlaut
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The first few chapters of the book were very readable and very interesting. By a weird chance, every book that I picked off the shelf from my library, for the past month or two, were very depressing. Which is why I picked this one. I was hoping it would be peppered with some light, amusing writing.

I was not disappointed there. It was amusing. A newbie journalist, Aby, gets thrown into the world of Page 3 reporting. We get a funny account of how she tries to handle this new assignment.

Kanika blends some fictional names with real life ones to add pep to the story. The Jessica Lal murder pops up the first thing in the book, thinly masked as the murder of an ex-model at a high profile party.

Aby also gets to date the delectable Arjun, scion of a royal family and also son of a cabinet minister.

About the time the Arjun episode starts, the story falls down a well. Well, there is no story thereafter, so to speak. Even the Arjun love affair is a bland report of some unexciting conversation, description of food eaten and restaurants visited.

The author launches into her categorization of the kind of people she finds in society gatherings, and no dope on what they do.

After a few descriptions of parties attended, the book whimpers to a stop with a tantalizing hint that Aby's love life is in a full swing.

What a sad end to such a promising start.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

On the Beach - Nevil Shute

On the BeachOn the Beach by Nevil Shute
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read two Nevil Shute books years ago, when I was in school. That was during the '70s.

No Highway was about a plane crash and a scientist who has a theory about it. An air hostess and an actress fall prey to his charm and try to gain his affection.

The Far Country was about an English girl who visits Australia for an long visit. She meets a Czech doctor there and they begin seeing each other. In typical Shute fashion, they form a deep bond without the usual romantic fuss.

I found his books good to read. They had a leisurely pace, good descriptions, good story and good characters.

After many years, I picked up a Nevil Shute book once more. I was not disappointed. His storytelling is as good as ever.

It is a post-apocalyptic world. Cobalt bombs have been dropped all over America, Europe and Asia. Nothing survives there. By virtue of distance, there is life still in Australia. But the radioactive clouds are on their way. No one will survive this. All they have is a bit more time.

The novel portrays how people behave in a time like this. On the surface everything is normal. People love, live, marry, raise children, work on their gardens, do things that people do in normal times.

Very subtly, we are made to realize what the necessities of life are. There is no petrol, so people go around in bullock or horse carts, or take the train and a tram. They listen to radio and look at films that are already in circulation. They can do without luxuries, but they need a chance to live a healthy life. They also realize how necessary it is do all that they dreamed of now, while they still have time.

Moira Davidson is a young woman who is on a drinking spree, trying to live it up for whatever time that is left her. She meets Dwight Towers, an American Naval Commander who is stationed in Melbourne because its the only place left. Love springs up between them, or rather, as Moira says candidly at one point, "Oh, he is not courting me, I am courting him." Dwight has lost his beloved wife and children in USA and he hangs on to a twisted belief that they are still well and good and decides to remain committed to them.

It is a fascinating novel. Only a bit depressing as we know it is not going to end well. I reduced one star because of the depressing factor. I think I will go back and add a star. It deserves to be read by people to realize how futile war is.

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Saturday, April 05, 2014

Play it as it lays - Joan Didion

Play It as It LaysPlay It as It Lays by Joan Didion
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maria is beautiful, thin, rich. Her parents dealt her with aces. She had her mother's beauty, her father's optimism. What she lacked was the game.

Maria's world is shattered when her daughter is put into an institution for being mentally retarded. This is never spelled out, it is merely alluded to. Her family life is not as she wishes it to be. They are not a cosy couple, living an everyday life with their child. Her husband is away mostly, making films, while she is the bored, purposeless Beverly Hills faded trophy wife.

She spirals downwards, all the people in her life, everything that happens to her, just pushes her deeper into mire.

What makes the book stand out is the masterly writing of Joan Didion. Her pithy prose leads you into the mind of Maria, what makes her tick, or rather, what makes her fall apart. Maria recounts her story, or parts of it, from an Institution. Her account is disjointed, moving back and forth. Her disjointed thoughts, lacking any clear flow, betray the state of her mind. It is as if the writer is not there at all, and the novel is flowing straight out of the head of Maria Lang.

Beautiful fading Maria remains strangely untouched by the decadence that surrounds her, even though she is a part of it. Her long highway drives to forget her troubles are going to stay in my mind for a long time.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Last Juror - John Grisham

The Last JurorThe Last Juror by John Grisham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was the first John Grisham book that I ever read. A friend recommended Sycamore Row and sent me an e-book to read. E-books are not my favorite format. I prefer paper. But I liked what I managed to read of the book. Here was an author who knew how to keep the reader's interest.

My interest was piqued and I tried to look for the book in my library. I failed to find it, but I wanted to read something else by John Grisham and picked up The Last Juror.

As it turned out, the plot of the novel was indeed eyeball grabbing. Willie Traynor, a young college graduate, armed with a degree in Journalism, arrives in the fictional town of Clanton, Ford County, Mississippi, in early 1970s, to work for a newspaper that barely prints a thousand copies. Soon after his arrival, the owner is served a bankruptcy notice.

The paper is up for sale, dirt cheap. Traynor has a rich grandmother who is prevailed upon to invest in the paper, and Willie finds himself, at 23 years of age, owner of a small-town newspaper. He works himself to the bone trying to turn a losing proposition to a winning one. He is unexpectedly handed a publicity bonanza when a young woman is found murdered in the outskirts of the town. Her murderer, Danny, nabbed almost immediately, is scion of the infamous Padgitt clan.

A trial starts and the whole town suddenly sees the need to buy Willie's newspaper. He fills the paper with not always impartial, often opinionated news, but he makes it a selling proposition once more. In the process, he falls in love with the small town and its people, and he fights hard to maintain the integrity of the town.

This novel is practically un-put-down-able. I neglected my housework in a bid to turn the next page and find out what happened next.

Like the hero of the novel, John Grisham also lived in deep south in a small town. He was a trial lawyer though, not a newspaperman. After working for years as a successful lawyer, John Grisham took to writing novels. His career graph (professional to author) reminded me of another favorite author of mine, A.J. Cronin, who became a successful author after years of being a medical practitioner.

It is not surprising that several of John Grisham's books have been turned into Hollywood films. His plots are imaginative and rich, his characters are dramatic and memorable and his story-telling is powerful and evocative.

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Murder on the Orient Express - Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express (Hercule Poirot, #10)Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have read a fair number of Agatha Christie mysteries during my mid-teens.  Reading these books was an important rite of passage, to show that I had graduated from the kiddie Enid Blyton books and was ready for more adult fare.

I did not read Murder on the Orient Express, though I did see the 1974 version of the movie long back starring all those stalwart actors.  Upon being prompted by a friend, I picked up this book up from the Library for a read.

Dame Christie's prose is a delight. Her sentences are simple and elegant.  She keeps to her subject without seeming to harp on anything. The way she handles a mystery is ingenious. She first presents a problem as practically unsolvable.  A man has been murdered on a train.  The co-passengers are all genteel folk who would not harm a fly.  The violent crime could have been committed by an outsider, who entered the train, killed the man, shed his clothes and left.  But the problem is, the train is halted due to a snowdrift and no one could have exited the train.

After the unsolvable crime has been presented, we are slowly acquainted with evidence which is usually very muddling.  It is left to M. Hercule Poirot to smooth out the knots and present the picture.

It is without doubt, a magnificent book which should be read by every book lover.  I am going to lay my hands on as many Agatha Christie books I can find and read her extensively once again.  She is totally worth my time.

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