Not her Daughter by Rea Frey

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Not her Daughter by Rea Frey

Published by: St. Martin’s Press (Kindle Edition)

Fiction, 352 pages

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Book summary:

Gripping, emotional, and wire-taut, Not Her Daughter raises the question of what it means to be a mother—and how far someone will go to keep a child safe.

Emma Townsend. Five years old. Grey eyes, brown hair. Missing since June. Emma is lonely. Living with her cruel mother and clueless father, Emma retreats into her own world of quiet and solitude.

Sarah Walker. Successful entrepreneur.Broken-hearted. Kidnapper. Sarah has never seen a girl so precious as the gray-eyed child in a crowded airport terminal. When a second-chance encounter with Emma presents itself, Sarah takes her—far away from home. But if it’s to rescue a little girl from her damaging mother, is kidnapping wrong?

Amy Townsend. Unhappy wife. Unfit mother.Unsure whether she wants her daughter back. Amy’s life is a string of disappointments, but her biggest issue is her inability to connect with her daughter. And now Emma is gone without a trace.

As Sarah and Emma avoid the nationwide hunt, they form an unshakeable bond. But what about Emma’s real mother, back at home?

About the author:

Rea Frey is the author of four nonfiction books. Her debut novel, Not HerDaughter (St. Martin’s Press) released this August. She has earlier published four nonfiction books.

*My review:

*Thank you Netgalley for the ARC

Rea Frey’s Not Her Daughter sure packs the punch with its premise: SarahWalker, a successful entrepreneur who caters to children spies a five year old girl being dragged with much violence by her birth mother. Another chance encounter that peels the layers of Emma’s life affects Sarah so much that she decides she cannot stay away: she HAS to step in and rescue the girl. What Sarah ends up doing is called kidnapping but to her, it is the only way to rescue Emma and keep her safe, give her the love and affection she deserves.

Emma’s mother Amy Townshed is weighed down by more than her physical girth: she is exhausted with child care and parenting, of being someone who has had nothing special going on with her life. She does have a spot for her younger son but none for Emma whose very physical appearance riles her no end.

The narrative starts with more focus on Sarah’s life: her childhood trauma of her mother walking out on her when she was a eight year old and a relationship that has only recently ended which looks like the trigger to her risky behaviour. Slowly, we get drawn into Amy’s life and struggle but the writing and character dilemmas is such that one does not get trapped into looking at the right and wrong of the actions of Sarah and Amy. What Rea Frey does with this book is to ask tough questions on who is a mother. It is a book that will look at mother daughter relationships and parent sibling bonds.

The search for Emma puts in the element of what would turn out for the three main protagonists: Sarah, who knows she is legally wrong but emotionally right to have got out Emma; Amy who is part scared that her track record of mistreatment for her daughter will get under the spotlight and at times wants a second chance as a mother and Emma who shines under the love and affection ofSarah. I loved the way the book throws compelling questions on the moral front. Does giving birth to a child make a woman a mother than one who is in no way related to a child? Can a mother be not judged because she cannot go all out to take a shine to the child she has given birth?

The Corset by Laura Purcell

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The Corset by Laura Purcell

Published by: Raven Books (An Imprint of Bloomsbury Books)

Fiction: Gothic historical, 304 pages

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

Is prisoner Ruth Butterham mad or a murderer? Victim or villain?

Dorothea and Ruth. Prison visitor and prisoner. Powerful and powerless. Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder.

When Dorothea’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted with the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person’s skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes. But when she meets teenage seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another theory: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread. For Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches.

The story Ruth has to tell of her deadly creations – of bitterness and betrayal, of death and dresses – will shake Dorothea’s belief in rationality and the power of redemption.

Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer?

 

About the author:

Laura Purcell is a former bookseller. Her ‘The Silent Companions’ won the WHSmith Thumping Good Read Award 2018. Her historical fiction novels about the Hanoverian monarchs are Queen of Bedlam and Mistress of the Court.

*My review:

I have not read Gothic fiction for a long time and must say reading Laura Purcell’s ‘The Corset’ is quite the reminder about how this delightfully wicked this genre is. This is my first book I have read by Laura Purcell and I am pretty sure that I will now look up ‘The Silent Companions’ written by her.

‘The Corset’ starts with Dorothea Truelove, a wealthy young girl ‘of marriageable age’ who is steadfast in her interest for phrenology besides her charity work. The later takes her to prisons where she interacts with women prisoners in a bid to bring about remorse as well as to pursue her belief that the brain can change when a person undergoes a change of emotions and beliefs. When Dorothea meets 14 year old Ruth Butterham, who is in prison after confessing to having murdered her mistress, the former is in turn fascinated but almost sure that Ruth is only telling her tall tales.

The narrative then alternates between the two young women who belong to different social classes: one born to wealth and another who could have been born to wealth but instead has only known difficult times. One woman has education and the privilege of following what she wants to do in life (though of course, society deems that she be more ‘ladylike’) while another has to give up education and take to being a seamstress. There could be nothing common between Dorothea and Ruth: one is rational and the other comes across as strange and affected by circumstances around her. Ruth believes that the corsets that she stitches with hatred in her heart have killed the people around her, something that Dorothea is dismissive about.

As the plot unravels and the reader is taken through the dark times that Ruth has undergone, we begin to see that Dorothea is struggling with the manner of her mother’s death and her father’s impending re-marriage. The climax can be an unexpected twist but the real delight is trying to crack whether Dorothea is a reliable narrator or not.

The writing in keeping with Gothic fiction creates a dark and almost edgy ambience while the historical backdrop plays well into the story of the two main protagonists. The world of young girl helps who are exploited by women, the physical and mental distress they would have gone through are well fleshed out and added layers to the main story. The most interesting for me though was the way the story has looked at the prison systems (then and now), whether criminals can reform and then of course, what makes a criminal.

I will certainly recommend this book as one of the most delightful reads for this year!

*I am thankful to Bloomsbury India for sending me an ARC of this book.

 

 

 

 

Shillong Times: A Story of Friendship and Fear by Nilanjan P. Choudhury

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Shillong Times: A Story of Friendship and Fear by Nilanjan P. Choudhury

Published by: Speaking Tiger

Fiction, 237 pages.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

A delightful novel about growing up in Shillong in the 1980s – a time when political connections are required to get a phone connection, Bajaj Chetak scooters are status symbols and a grim faced lady named Salma Sultan reads the news every night on Doordarshan.

When fourteen-year-old Debojit Dutta meets the slightly older Clint Eastwood Lyngdoh in his maths tuition classes, he is wary of his cigarette-smoking, whisky-swilling ways. Besides, Debu has only recently escaped a bunch of local ruffians who wanted him to ‘go back home to Bangladesh’. But Debu is unable to resist being friends with Clint. For, in return for doing his maths homework, Clint introduces him to a completely new life: the heady charms of Kalsang, the Chinese restaurant forbidden by Debu’s mother; the revolutionary sounds of Pink Floyd; and most importantly, the coolest, prettiest girl in town—Audrey Pariat. Audrey loves maths and detective stories, just like Debu, and does not make him feel awkward or exotic. Together, the three of them look set to embark on many adventures. But when tensions between the Khasi and Bengali communities boil over, Shillong becomes a battlefield—old neighbours become outsiders and the limits of friendship are challenged.

With crackling energy, Nilanjan P. Choudhury immerses us in the tumultuous lives of Debu, his friends and his family, and their attempts to find love and belonging. Written with uncommon warmth, humour and a delightful evocation of place, Shillong Times is an exhilarating coming-of-age story—showing us how friendship can eclipse the hardened enmities of adulthood.

About the author:

Nilanjan P. Choudhury has earlier written a mythological thriller, a contemporary detective caper set in Bangalore and a pioneering play on the history and science of black holes. He grew up in Shillong and now lives in Bangalore with his family

*My review:

I am often wary of reading books set in the North Eastern region of India as most writers end up making the region as sheer exotica or in a state of despair and beyond hope. But Nilanjan P. Choudhury’s ‘Shillong Times: A Story of Friendship and Fear’ is anything but depressing or about making the region exotic to readers. It is a book that is deeply insightful, at times playful, but mostly, written with a candour that will take readers on a nostalgia trip to the 80s but make it so relevant to contemporary times.

The narrative of the book set in 1987 moves through the eyes of 14 year old Debojit Dutta (Debu) who lives with his parents in Shillong. A small town, Shillong the capital of Meghalaya, is where socio cultural divides and political history binds the natives of the land to others who have come to look upon the place as their own. The ‘outsider’ and ‘insider’ fissures: doubts and judgments over food habits, social norms and a common tendency of certain terms for each other lurks in the book rising its head off and on then ultimately, holds centerstage.

Debu is a third generation Bengali Indian whose grandfather had to flee Sylhet in the wake of the creation of Bangladesh and settle in Shillong. His parents are a mixed pair when it comes to their attitudes: the mother being dismissive of the Khasis and everything that they are while the father is more ‘liberal’. Debu is only a bit aware of the schism that exists between the Khasis and the other communities, but mostly the Bengalis.

The entry of Clint Eastwood Lyngdoh in his life brings more than its share of excitement and new things. Debu’s life is akin to every teenager: there are new discoveries, ones that his mother and slowly others begin to find fault with. There are forbidden worlds he enters, new tastes and then of course, there is Audrey Pariat, a girl like no other. When the rift between communities sharpen, Debu questions Clint and his people. The tension in the world around them almost tears the friendship between them as it does to the social relations in the larger community. What happens to the three friends and to Debu’s family who starts getting targeted by both the Bengalis and Khasis over certain developments takes the narrative to its climax.

The writing is full of subtle humour but very sharp in its insights on both the Khasi and the Bengalis as communities living in Shillong. The landmarks of Shillong come alive as near characters and will make those familiar with the place(s) to smile. The book will surely resonate with people who feel and live as outsiders in a place as it will with people who firmly believe that their land is theirs only.

I will strongly recommend this book to readers who want to know more about the dynamics of people in the North eastern states of India.

*This book review is a part of “The Readers Cosmos Book Review Program and Blog Tours. For details log on to The Readers Cosmos at http://www.thereaderscosmos.com/

In His Father’s Footsteps by Danielle Steel

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In His Father’s Footsteps by Danielle Steel

Published by: Pan Macmillan

Fiction, 321 pages.

Rating: 3.25/5 stars

Book summary:

When U.S. troops occupy Germany, friends Jakob and Emmanuelle are saved from the terrible fate of so many in the camps. With the help of sponsors, they make their way to New York. In order not to be separated, they allow their friendship to blossom into love and marriage, and start a new life on the Lower East Side, working at grueling, poorly paid jobs.

Decades later, through talent, faith, fortune, and relentless hard work, Jakob has achieved success in the diamond business, invested in real estate in New York, and shown his son, Max, that America is truly the land of opportunity. Max is a rising star, a graduate of Harvard with friends among the wealthiest, most ambitious families in the world. And while his parents were thrown together by chance, Max chooses a perfect bride to start the perfect American family.

Max’s lavish lifestyle is unimaginable to his cautious old-world father and mother. Max wants to follow his father’s example and make his own fortune. But after the birth of children, and with a failing marriage, he can no longer deny that his wife is not the woman he thought she was. Angry and afraid, Max must do what he has never done before: struggle, persevere and learn what it means to truly walk in his father’s footsteps while pursuing his own ideals and setting an example for his children.

*My review:

*Thank you for this review copy, Pan Macmillan India!

In His Father’s Footsteps by Danielle Steel is a page turner. It is typical Danielle Steel: difficult circumstances, love, loss, mistakes and then redemption/resolution. The story begins with Jakob and Emmanuelle who have forged a bond under very tragic and challenging times: that of surviving the horrors of a concentration camp run by the Nazis. When they along with other camp inhabitants are rescued by the US Forces, they are left with no roots nor belongings nor family to go back to.

The book captures the journey of the couple as they get married and move to America where they struggle to make ends meet. An element of luck brings them in touch with a wealthy man who leaves his properties and a diamond business to the couple. Apart from the rags to riches story, it is the foresight of Jakob’s character as he sets foot into the diamond and then the real estate and construction business that captures the imagination of the reader. The historical context of an America taking shape after the Second World War and Jakob’s personal challenges of rallying on in life in light of his own sufferings in the concentration camp as well as his wife’s growing anxiety over how their life can go downhill forms the first half of the book.

The second half follows the success of Jakob and Emmanuelle’s son Max from his days at Harvard and his growing business. The generational shift is captured in terms of the outlook of father and son but beautifully intersects when Max visits the concentration camp that his parents were put in. I was slightly disappointed with the way Max’s wife Julie who belongs to an affluent family is described as without any substance by Max’s parents and which came forth in the tone of writing. Julie is a neglected wife whose husband keeps his career ahead of anything else and is there as a baby producing machine but the moment she walks out of the sham of a marriage, she becomes the villain of the piece. I wish there was some grace given to her stand.

Some editing of the repetitive mentions of Emmanuelle’s character being anxious about the future or negative could have been trimmed off but all in all, ‘In His Father’s Footsteps’ is a breezy read and should keep Danielle Steel fans happy. It is a feel good book and will come in handy when one is in a reading slump for it has got the right emotional connect and the drama and a historical backdrop.

 

Ramu Prasad’s Angel by Tayenjam Bijoykumar Singh

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Ramu Prasad’s Angel by Tayenjam Bijoykumar Singh

Published by: Partridge India

Fiction: Short Stories, 162 pages.

Rating: 3.50/5 stars

Book summary:

Intricately woven stories in this collection are as varied as life itself—from the bond of friendship between an old washer-man and a little girl to the affection of a foul-mouthed but generous old woman for a young boy, from the story of humble villagers building a rickety bamboo fort to ward off a heavily armed gang to that of an honest and hardworking man made to become an unwilling witness to a midair scientific experiment. Others tell stories of the traumatic experience of people living in the midst of terror. Some are yet intriguing stories of the prophecy of dying at the hands of a child who is born long after the death of both his parents and of a perplexing young admirer expressing his pent-up feelings for a senior lady anonymously.

About the author:

Tayenjam Bijoykumar Singh, an engineer by profession writes short stories, poems and non-fiction in English and Manipuri. He also translates from Manipuri into English and vice versa. His writings in English have appeared in Oxford University Press anthologies and in Glimpses from the North-East published by the National Knowledge Commission. He has received the Katha Award for translation in 2005. His short stories have been translated into Telugu and Malayalam.

 

My review:

Tayenjam Bijoykumar Singh’s ‘Ramu Prasad’s Angel’ is a collection of eighteen short stories, a majority of which are set in Manipur or have connections to the state by way of the character’s reminiscences. There is a cross cutting theme in all of the 18 short stories: that of a melancholic, almost despairing love for one’s roots connecting to Manipur. The loneliness of people brought about by circumstances: be it from the death of a spouse, a separation from family or living alone in an alien city is common between a few of the stories in this collection. The title story looks at an old migrant man living and working as a washer man in the state who tries to keep away his loneliness through his work. He forges a bond with a small girl that evokes the poignant innocence of Rabindranath Tagore’s Kabuliwallah while the larger theme of the story looks at how the growing urbanization in the state not only tears structures but relationships too.

The writing captures the simplicity of rural lives filled with bonds of affection on one hand as well as the clamor found in changing lifestyles as seen in in the stories: ‘Abok Macha, our small granny’ and ‘A pair of broken spectacles’. The later, has a bit of a supernatural element that the reader anticipates but takes pleasure in nevertheless. With Manipur and its people being a central theme to the stories, the writer could not have avoided writing about the unrest and the turmoil in the state along with its beauty. So, we have ‘Mauled cub’ that looks at how the power of those wielding guns, be it the state or central security forces or the armed militant groups play havoc in the lives of the common man and more so, how women suffer in unspeakable ways.

Interestingly, this collection of short stories, which was published in 2013, still has relevance to the socio political structure and setting of Manipur today. ‘The second death of Oinam Rabei’ looks at the rampant corrupt practices in the state and the reader can feel the tangible frustration and helplessness of the characters in the story while they try to grapple the matter of a person dying twice! ‘Asleep in a box’ is another story that has ethos and reflects all too well the plight of drivers along the difficult terrain of Manipur’s Highways and how their families almost live hand to mouth.

Ramu Prasad’s Angel is a book that I will recommend to readers who are looking at reading writings from Manipur. I certainly hope there will be another edition of the book that will place the translations of the Manipuri words in the order that they appear in the stories or as annotations on the pages. The cover of the book does not give any connection to Manipur and putting in some elements that links the picture to the state would certainly help catch the attention of readers.

 

 

 

 

Land of the Living by Georgina Harding

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Land of the Living by Georgina Harding

Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing

Fiction; 225p

Rating: 4.50/5 stars

Book summary:

A luminous and profound meditation on the devastations of trauma in the wake of the Second World War, from a writer at the height of her powers.

Every time the dream came it was different and yet he felt that he had dreamt it exactly that way before. The trees, there were always the trees, and the mist and the shadows and the running. Charlie’s experiences at the Battle of Kohima and the months he spent lost in the remote jungles of Northern India are now history. Home and settled on a farm in Norfolk with his wife Claire, he is one of the lucky survivors. The soil promises healthy crops and Claire is ready for a family. But a chasm exists between them. Memories flood Charlie’s mind; at night, on rain-slicked roads and misty mornings in the fields, the past can feel more real than the present. What should be said and what left unsaid? Is it possible to find connection and forge a new life in the wake of unfathomable horror?

An intimate, profound meditation on the isolating impact of war and the inescapable reach of the past, Georgina Harding’s haunting and lyrical new novel questions the very nature of survival, and what it is that the living owe the dead.

About the author:

Georgina Harding’s published works include Painter of Silence, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012, The Spy Game, shortlisted for The Encore Award 2011, and The Solitude of Thomas Cave. She has also written two works of non-fiction: Tranquebar: A Season in South India and In Another Europe. She lives in London and the Stour Valley, Essex.

*My review:

*I received an Advance Reading Copy from Bloomsbury India in exchange for an honest review.

Land of the Living by Georgina Harding starts with a taut scene in a jungle where there are enemies where one’s eyes cannot see: there is fear, there is wariness and a sense of foreboding. Cut then to an almost quaint domestic idyll where the reader is introduced to Charlie, his wife Claire and their dog. A few turn of the pages and then the narrative unfolds: Charlie has come back from Battle of Kohima and is now trying to settle in to a life at Norfolk, into a world that is drastically different from what he has gone through in the jungles.

The story unfolds between the two worlds of Charlie and we see all too clearly that he is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: he has issues trying to sleep, has hallucinations and feels like a changed man. His wife Claire tries to find a way into his thoughts and feelings but both know it is a long haul and there will be things and experiences that Charlie will keep to himself.

Charlie’s story is part of what happens with so many soldiers of wars: who must go to places they have not heard or even placed on a map, where men must lead or follow with no idea where and to what ends. His story comes to the readers soaked in mist: in the dense jungles of interior Assam and along Burma, the mist that covers and holds Charlie’s emotions over unspeakable things. The questions over morality in war: the notions of courage and fear made me connect to another book on war and men, For Whom The Bell Tolls and I was tickled to see that the film adaptation of the book referenced in this one.

Georgina Harding’s writing is lush with emotions and imagery: the reader in me was transported to the ambience and feel of the settings she has written about. The details of the Naga life and social dynamics are written beautifully and without judgment. Dialogues and conversations are kept at a minimum in the book but works well with more of observations and thought processes. The imagery, the ambience and mood, the pace of the narrative and the ending are almost meditative.

I must mention that seeing the Battle of Kohima in the book blurb made me very keen to read the book as I have followed the said battle and its counterpart, The Battle of Imphal (Imphal being my hometown) fought between the Allies on one side and the Japanese on the other. Both the battles are considered by modern day military experts and war historians as the most decisive battle of the world for the Japanese suffered their first defeats in the Second World War in Kohima and Imphal, which would lead to a blow on their psyche as a nation and then to further defeats. After reading the book, I can only say this: Land of the Living is a book that needs to be read and experienced.