Saturday, April 4, 2015

Mount TBR 2015: First Check-In

It's time for the first check-in @ Mount TBR Challenge hosted by Bev @ My Reader's Block.

It has been a slow start for me. I have read only two books from my shelves but as I have only the smallest mountain (Pike's Peak) to scale I am pretty happy with the progress.

The two books read are both biographies of Indian Revolutionaries:

1. Bhagat Singh: Liberation's Blazing Star by P.M.S Grewal
2. Ajey Krantikari Rajguru by Anil Verma

To answer a question asked by Bev as to who has been my favourite character, I would say that both Bhagat Singh and Rajguru are my favourites.


If you want to participate in the challenge, you can do so over here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Mysteries in March

It has been a mixed bag of mysteries for me in this month of March. I read a couple of books which are all but forgotten and two which are far more recent.


This novel, published in 1918, is set in the pre-war years. Hugh Abercromby is a medical student in Germany who becomes involved in a nefarious German plot to over-run England (What else?)

Racial stereotyping is a major put-off in the novel. From what information, I have been able to get from the Web, the writer was a Scottish clergyman and unsurprisingly the Scots are described as an upright people, putting morals before everything else. Though surprisingly, earlier in the novel, there is a description of a Scottish farmer deliberately drowning his dog as it has become old and has outlived his usefulness. (Must say the description of the dog wagging its tail and licking it's master's mouth even as the latter put a stone round its neck was extremely difficult to read).

"The German", according to the narrator, Abercromby, "is childish in many ways: he is like a bad boy, not only in his love of destruction for its own sake, but also for his irrepressible boastfulness."

One can still overlook these views considering the time when the novel was published but to show the Germans as complete blackguards and then have a character say this:
"Sentimental I grant you...but then every one knows that the Germans are a sentimental, kindly, pious and simple race." (218)

You know that the author wants you to let out a big guffaw at this time. It simply put my teeth on edge.

First Line: If you leave the Friedrichstrasse at the first street beyond the Cafe Bauer, which is at the Danzigerstrasse, and then, near the far end, take the third to the right you come on the cafe Rosenkrantz.

First Published: 1918
Pages: 304
Source: Borrowed
Other books read of the same author: None


Last year I read Henry Cecil's delightful take on the anomalies between law and justice. Philip Mason (a writer whom I was more familiar with under his pseudonym Philip Woodruff, author of such texts as The Men Who Ruled India) also takes up the issue of law and justice (albeit in a more serious manner) in his 1946 novel Call the Next Witness.

We normally tend to believe that in a Court of Law, it is justice that prevails but Mason shows how any judgement delivered by the court is dependent on the evidence produced, especially on the testimonies of the witnesses who can be threatened, coached, bribed, coerced to give a false account.

Pyari, the daughter of a Thakur is married off to Gopal Singh, a thakur from another village. The marriage however, soon starts falling apart: He is avaricious and lustful, she is authoritative and shrewish. One day a quarrel between the two of them ends in Pyari being fatally shot. But did Gopal pull the trigger? Or was the death triggered off by something else altogether?

Mason, an ICS officer, presents a vivid picture of India in the 1940s and to have that touch of exoticism even has an entire chapter devoted to boar-hunting.

First Line: On the last day of her life, Pyari sat at her spinning in the veranda before her bedroom.
Publication Details: ND: Penguin, 1991
First Published: 1946
Pages: 208
Source: MCL [823.91 M381C]
Other books read of the same author: None


It was in 2012 that I first heard of Japanese writer Keigo Higashino. When I read The Devotion of Suspect X, the first in his Detective Galileo series, I was blown away. Here was a taut thriller that had me guessing till the end. Yet today I feel that Salvation of a Saint, the second in the series is even better than the first.

Don't go by the blurb, he is far better than Larsson

Ayane and Yoshitaka's marriage is over. Ayane cannot bear him a child and Yoshitaka cannot continue in such a relationship. Soon after his decision to end their marriage, Yoshitaka is found dead but Ayane, the logical suspect, was miles away. Did she kill him or not?

On the rain-drenched first Sunday of this month (the skies opened up on early Sunday morning and rain continued to pour continuously till late Monday afternoon), I snuggled up in a razai, opened this book...and just couldn't put it down. Reading the book with cups of garam cha and malpuas (hot tea and pancakes) was an experience that I'll cherish for ever.

First Line: The pansies in the planter had flowered - a few small, bright blooms.
Original Language: Japanese
Translator: Alexander O. Smith & Elye J. Alexander
Publication Details: ND: Abacus, 2013
First Published: 2008
Source: CL [823 H534S]
Other books read of the same author: The Devotion of Suspect X


After the highs, the lows. Earlier this year when I browsed the net for lists of the best mysteries of 2014, a novel that was featured repeatedly was author Tom Rob Smith's The Farm.

The premise seemed very interesting. Daniel's parents have retired to a farm in Sweden (his mother Tilde is a Swede). They are a loving couple who have always made their son feel secure and loved. Then one fine day Dan receives a call from his father stating that Tilde has been confined to a mental asylum as she had been imagining things and acting weirdly. A disturbed Dan books the first flight to Sweden but as he reaches the airport, he receives another call. This time it is his mother who tells him that she is flying over to London and not to believe a word uttered by his father. Caught between his parents, whom does Dan believe?

Who wouldn't want to read a book after such a premise? It was with great anticipation that I borrowed this book only for it to turn out to be a real turkey. The father's voice all but disappears in the narrative, more than 80% of which is devoted to the version of the mother, a character whom one exasperated Goodreads reviewer described as "beyond annoying".

First Line: UNTIL THAT PHONE CALL it had been an ordinary day.
Publication Details: ND: Simon and Schuster, 2014.
First Published: 2014
Pages: 351
Source: CL [823.910309 S55F]
Other books read of the same author: None

Monday, March 23, 2015

23rd March: A Remembrance in Books

It's that time of the year again. A day when I salute all those who laid their lives so that we could be born in a free country. This year too I am paying a homage to all those heroes by reviewing the books recently read on the revolutionary struggle for India's independence.


Sukhdev Raj was the person with Chandrashekhar Azad in Alfred Park on that fateful day when Azad attained martyrdom. In many ways, his reminiscences about his initiation into the revolutionary struggle in the Punjab and his later role in the party, makes for painful reading. While the first rung of Revolutionary leaders were in jail, the others who were supposed to carry the struggle forward simply fell apart, guided by personal vanities and gratifications and governed by petty jealousies and one-upmanship.

First Line: Mera Janam Lahore mein 7 December, 1907 ko Punjab ke khatri vansh mein hua.
Alternate Title: Jab Jyot Jagi
Editor: Sudhir Vidyarthi
Publication Details: ND: Rajkamal, 2009
First Published: 1971
Pages: 248
Source: DPL [954.0841 SUKHDE]
Other books read of the same author: None



Virendra was the editor of Partaap and Veer Pratap when the emergency was declared and editorials in newspapers started to be censored. Rather than suffer such an ignominy, Virendra stopped writing editorials and instead wrote a series of articles about his life as a young college student in pre-partioned Punjab when he was on the fringes of the revolutionary movement in Lahore. About the same age as Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev, Virendra was much impressed by the fiery zeal shown by these young men and became involved in the struggle for freedom. An involvement that saw him being arrested and locked-up in jails repeatedly.

For anybody interested in the history of pre-partioned Punjab, its politics, the prominent leaders, the play of press and politics, this is a must-read. In fact, reading it for the second time this year, I enjoyed it much more as compared to when I read it for the first time.

First Line: April 1927 ki baat hai.
Publication Details: ND: Rajpal & Sons, 1986
First Published: 1986
Pages: 212
Source: H.M.L [1602]
Other books read of the same author: None



Of the trio that was hung on 23 March, I had the least knowledge about the youngest, Rajguru. While I had read biographies of both Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev, this was the first time I read a full-fledged biography about Rajguru. Author Anil Verma thus has done a great job in filling a lacuna.

First Line: 23 March san 1931, Central Jail Lahore.
Publication Details: ND: Publications Division, 2008
First Published: 2008
Pages: 196
Source: Bought
Other books read of the same author: None

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Non-Fictional Reads in February

Besides Mysteries, I also read a couple of non-fictional books in February:


The author, P.M.S Grewal is Secretary, Delhi State Committee of the CPI (M), writes a thought-provoking introduction to his assessment of Indian Revolutionary Bhagat Singh but adds nothing new to the already existing scholarship on Bhagat Singh.

First Line: Bhagat Singh, like all individuals, was a product of his times.

Publication Details: ND: LeftWord, 2007
First Published: 2007
Pages: 104
Source: Bought @WBF, Delhi in 2010
Other books read of the same author: None


by ALEX TICKELL (2012)

Alex Tickell, lecturer in English at the Open University, UK, looks at certain flash-point situations during the British Raj: - The 'Black Hole' of Calcutta, the 1857 revolt, the assassination of Curzon Wyllie by Indian Revolutionary Madan Lal Dhingra in London, the Jallianwallah massacre, the dialogue between Gandhi and the revolutionaries - and discusses the impact on not only Indo-British relations but also on the literature of its time. Though a study of extensive scholarship, Tickell's book doesn't use convoluted arguments couched in high-sounding words but uses simple and effective language which make this book an easy and interesting read.

My favourite part of the book was however an extract from Veer Savarkar's book on the 1857 revolt:

Someone had asked the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah 'Zafar':

Dumdumaymen dam nahin ab khair mango jaan ki
Ai Zafar thandi ho gayi ab shamsheer Hindustan ki.

['Now that with every passing moment, you are becoming weaker, pray for your life (to the English): for, Oh! Emperor, the sword of India is now broken forever!']

To which the emperor replied:

Ghazion mein bhu rahegi jab talak imaan ki
Tabto London tak chalegi tegh Hindustan ki.

['As long as there remains the least trace of love of faith in the hearts of our heroes, so long, the sword of Hindustan shall be sharp, and one day shall flash even at the gates of London']

I'll also remember this book for another reason: I was reading this book in the Metro and a co-passenger glancing at the title of the book gave me a hard, searching look. It was then that it struck me that carrying books with the word Terrorism in the title can give rise to suspicious scrutiny nowadays.


First Line: By the night of 19 June 1756, the illusion of British mercantile authority in Calcutta, the East India Company's great trading centre in Bengal, had started to falter.

Publication Details: London & NY: Routledge, 2012
First Published: 2012
Pages: xiv + 273
Source: CRL: 0111944:g (Y:45) Q2
Other books read of the same author: None

Friday, February 27, 2015

Forgotten Mysteries in February

The mysteries read in the month of February:


Rhode's novel is centered around the great annual motor rally at Torquay. Robert Weldon takes part in the rally hoping to win a prize driving his 20 h.p. Armstrong Siddeley Saloon. Accompanied by Richard Gateman as the second driver and Harold Merefield as the map reader, he begins well. But on the second day, their luck turns. First they are waylaid by a fog and then in the dead of the night they come across another car from the rally which has met with an accident, killing both the driver and the man accompanying him. The coroner returns a verdict of death due to accident (and the coroner inquest is narrated in the most humorous manner) but then an astonishing fact comes to light and it is left to Dr. Priestly who is the employer of Merefield to solve the case. I wasn't too impressed by the one book of Rhode that I had read prior to this but this one I really liked and hope to read more of him.

First Line: The British Motor Car Rally of that year, organised by the Royal Automobile Club, was generally voted to have been a huge success.

Alternate Title: Dr. Priestly lays a Trap

Publication Details: London & Glasgow: Collins, 1934
First Published: 1933
Pages: 252
Source: Library
Other books read of the same author: Night Exercise


Cecile Hulse Matschat (1895-1976) was an American botanist and geographer who published a number of books on gardens, rivers, and the Okefenokee Swamp. In addition, she also published two books related to mystery and murder, both of which featured the Ramsays: Andrea and David. In this, their second adventure, the Ramsays are asked by the Military Intelligence to pose as guests in the house of Robert Brook, an oil magnate whose oil is being siphoned off to help the Axis in their war effort. The Ramsays go to Brook's plantation house, Black Crook, and meet a motley crew of family members, friends, and staff. The house is putting up a play The Black Crook and during the rehearsals a man is grievously injured and dies soon afterwards. The Ramsays find themselves caught in family politics as latent tensions come to the fore. Could the killing be related to the smuggling of oil? I found this novel to be okay. None of the characters except for the murderer and the murdered man really came to life.

First Line: David Ramsay sat at his desk in the New Orleans office of the Department of Government Housing.

Publication Details: London: Cassell & Company, 1945
First Published: 1943
Pages: 170
Source: Library
Other books read of the same author: None



J. Jefferson Farjeon (1883-1955) was a British writer of crime and mystery. Belonging to a family of artists and authors, Farjeon was himself a prolific writer who published more than fifty novels and plays in his lifetime.

Leonard Boyd arrives from Australia with the idea of meeting a certain Mr. John Coleby. However, as he descends from the London train, he seems to be a wee bit reluctant to meet Coleby, spending his time drinking tea at the station. While at the tea room, he happens to see a few other people: a red-faced heavy set man; a human rat; a young couple. Finally as he makes his way towards Coleby's house, he is almost run down by a speeding bike. When he reaches Leak Hall, the home of Coleby, he finds that the latter is hosting a dinner party and the people he had seen at the station are all guests at the party besides a few more. As one of the guests hasn't turned up, Coleby invites Boyd to take his place - there have to be thirteen at dinner, you see.

At the oval table were thirteen little skulls mounted on slender ebony pedestals holding the thirteen name-cards in their teeth. These skulls gave an unpleasantly symbolic character to the white lilies in the tall silver vase.

The guests are naturally uncomfortable and their discomfort increases as time passes and Coleby declares that he has received anonymous letters threatening to kill him. So he has invited all these people who would gladly kill him and challenges them to carry out the threat.

The cloistered community, the claustrophobia, the paranoia... all combine together to create a novel where the atmosphere is the king. I definitely want to read more of this author.

First Line: Leonard Boyd was one of the thirteen people who sat round John Coleby's dining-table at the last meal he ever ate.

Publication Details: London: Collins (The Crime Club), 1946
First Published: 1946
Pages: 192
Source: Library
Other books read of the same author: None



Andrew Garve is one of the pseudonyms of English journalist and writer Paul Winterton (1908-2001).

Robert Farran is a troubled man. The once popular actor is on the downslide after the death of his wife and his drinking problem. When Sally Morland, the wife of a popular politician is kidnapped and the kidnappers demand the release of Tom Lacey, one of their accomplices caught in an earlier raid, Farran sees a way out. He offers to impersonate Lacey in order to get both the ransom offered by Sally's husband as well as the chance to show the world his acting skills.

This novel begins well and the tension is well-maintained as Farran prepares to become Lacey. However, mid-way through the book, the writer decides to put in a romantic angle and introduces a trope which I have always found mightily irritating with the result that the book loses its steam and instead of the tension becoming unbearable, Farran's act to hoodwink the kidnappers becomes almost laughable.

First Line: The night the news broke out about Sally Morland I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.

Publication Details London: Collins (The Crime Club), 1978
First Published: 1978
Pages: 182
Source: Library
Other books read of the same author: None


Entry for Friday's Forgotten Books @ Pattinase

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Reading Challenges: Gentle Spectrums and Ethereal

This year I signed up for a new mystery challenge: My Kind of Mystery and realised to my great delight that the host, Carolyn, has two other exciting challenges too.

  The Gentle Spectrums 2015 Challenge has two parts: In the first we read books which have colours in their titles and in the second we read books that have certain subjects in their titles. I am signing up for both the parts though in the 'limitless pallet' I limit myself to  any 10 colours.

If you are interested, you can find the details over here.

The other challenge, Ethereal 2015, involves the reading of anything that belongs to the following categories:

 ~ Spiritual, mystical, paranormal:  non-fiction, fictional, religious.
~ Serious studies:  dreams, near-death experiences, miracles, astrology.
~ Novels with clergy:  Sister Carol Anne O’Marie, Caroline Roe, Margaret Frazer.
~ Books with animals talking / doing more than what society credits them.
~ Fantasy is certainly otherworldly, as well as witches and fairies.

I am signing up for the Intuition level for this one which means I'll be reading 5-10 books.

Details can be found over here.

There are prizes and other activities for all three challenges as well as bubbling enthusiasm. Have a look and join too.

Read Scotland 2015

After successfully completing the Read Scotland Challenge 2014 hosted @ Peggy Ann's Post, I am signing up for the 2015 version of the same.

My level remains the same: Just a Keek which means I'll be reading 1-4 books for this challenge. Details can be found over here.