Book Review: The Case of the Love Commandos by Tarquin Hall

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Vish Puri, the famous detective of India’s ‘Most Private Investigator’ hasn’t been having a good time. His ongoing investigations haven’t been met with any success. To add to it, his biggest rival, Hari Kumar, seems to be doing rather well, indeed, if his clothes and style were any sort of indicator. Puri is about to set off on a holiday or rather a pilgrimage with his family, to Jammu, to visit the famous Vaishnu Devi Shrine. Unlike most people, Puri hates going on holiday, or taking a break, but is finding it tough to wriggle out of this one. Even his secretary is determined to send him on a break.

Ram and Tulsi a love-crossed couple. Their families are dead against their union because they are both from different castes. Ram is a Dalit, and Tulsi’s high caste father would rather see him killed than married to his daughter. One day before they were supposed to get married, Ram disappears and it fell to the Love Commandos to trace him down. Love Commandos are a group of people in India, who help couples who are ostracized and threatened by society for falling in love with someone from a different caste. They help couples get married, and even change names in some cases when their safety be compromised. It is a dangerous thing to do, falling in love, when it could result in death.

Ram and Tulsi had approached the Love Commandos for help. When Ram mysteriously disappears, Laxmi, the Love Commando who was protecting Ram and Tulsi, knew she had only way to go. Vish Puri. Laxmi was also known as ‘Facecream’, a trusted aide of Vish Puri.

Puri had been unaware of Facecream moonlighting as a love commando, and her involvement came as a surprise to him. Moreover, he has his own reservations about young people falling in love and chipping away at ‘family values’, but he still agrees to help Facecream out, after all, a mystery is a mystery. And of course, this meant that he could wriggle out of his family trip as well! Puri sets out on the trail, and comes across all sorts of obstacles including his arch rival, Hari Kumar being on the case too. Now, he has to work doubly hard to solve the mystery before Hari does. The case turns out to be far more complex than he thought, but he gets there in the end, of course.

It’s a delightfully book, although that’s not something one would say, of crime fiction, but that’s what this book is – delightful! But Puri’s antics and idiosyncracies, make it such a fun read. He fondness of food, as usual, figures prominently in the narrative. Although I have to say, I start craving for samosas or Frankies, whatever it is that he is having. I love the way the author writes. You can vividly picture the lanes of India, flavour of the setting, the people, especially Puri’s wonderfully resourceful Mummyji.

About the Author
About the Author
Tarquin Hall is a British author and journalist who has lived and worked throughout South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. He is the author of The Case of the Missing Servant, dozens of articles, and three works of non-fiction, including the highly acclaimed Salaam Brick Lane, an account of a year spent above a Bangladeshi sweat shop in London’s notorious East End.

This book is available from Amazon(UK) and Flipkart(India).

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Book Review: Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain

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Can the best of intentions be enough justifications for taking decisions for someone else? And what if it’s done in an official way?

Set in America Forrester os an idealistic young woman. Fresh out of college, newly married and just starting her new job as a social worker. Her job takes her to Grace County, one of the most impoverished areas, where people most needed help from the authorities. One of the first families that she meets are the Harts. Ivy and Mary Hart are sisters who live with their aging grandmother and Mary’s two-year old son Baby William. Sixteen year old Ivy, an epileptic seems to be the responsible one, the one who seems to be taking care and keeping an eye on Mary, Baby William and her Grandma’s medications. Mary seems intellectually disabled and so does Baby William.

As Jane, gets involved with the Hart family as part of her job, she realizes that she is unable to keep herself from being emotionally involved. She also discovers some shocking facts about the Eugenics program that is ongoing. Women and girls who are seen to be likely to have children and not be in a position to raise the children, are sterilized by the state. Any excuse would work, some are deemed ‘feeble-minded or marginal’, some are labeled, ‘promiscuous’ anything that could be considered an excuse to prevent these impoverished people from having more children. The social workers were responsible for writing up a petition and getting it done. The worst part of the process is that some of the people who are made to undergo the process are not even aware of it, like Mary. She believes that she had an appendix operation after Baby William was born. She dreams of having 5 babies, oblivious to the fact that she can no longer have any more babies.

Jane is soon faced with a decision she doesn’t want to make. A decision she doesn’t feel, that they as social workers, should be making, in the first place. She faces trouble at work for challenging status quo. Her co-workers are annoyed with her stance and also by her refusal to back down.

Jane’s work is not the only area where the waters are tumultuous. Her marriage seems to be in trouble as well. Her new husband, Robert seems to have very different expectations from his wife that he had with his girlfriend. He is not very happy with her job, the fact that she has to go into the homes of people very poor, or even worse, black. He is unhappy with the fact that she chooses to work, he feels that it is demeaning for him to tell people that his wife is working. He wishes she could be happy with volunteering or pick up a job that is more ‘suitable’. Jane, on the other hand, has ideas of her own, aspirations of her own, and it doesn’t help that all of Robert’s friend’s wives seem to have taken an instant dislike to her. Jane is struggling to manage her husband’s expectations and try to do her best for her clients.

Things come to a head when a certain turn of fate changes the course of events drastically. Suddenly, Jane is faced with a situation where she is suddenly all alone and helpless, and yet she is the only one who can save Ivy from the fate that stares at her.

What a impactful book it was! The book transports you back to the time when Eugenics Program was accepted and people saw no harm in it. They never thought twice about the fact that they were taking control of other people’s lives without even checking with them. It is a spine chilling story, fictional, but something that could have/must have happened to so many people in those times. The Eugenics Program was apparently a social program, designed to weed out ‘undesirable’ traits in the human race. Sounds similar to what happened in Germany, doesn’t it? I guess it’s not surprising to read that Eugenics program was inspiration for what happened in Germany. Apparently, this continued in America from the 1920s till the 1970s. It is unbelievable to think that people actually did this and endorsed it.

I would definitely recommend this book. Not the easiest of books to read. Painful, and excruciatingly sad at times. it makes you wish and hope for Ivy and others like Ivy who don’t stand a chance in life. It makes you glad for people like Jane, who fought the system and made it stop. It is a heart-wrenching read, but still a great read. It ends with hope, hope for a future where people will hopefully not treat others less privileged or less able in this way.

A 5/5 book for me. It’s a tought read, but well worth it, if you ask me.

About the author
Award-winning author Diane Chamberlain, was born and raised in Plainfield, New Jersey, and attended Glassboro State University. She also lived for many years in both San Diego and northern Virginia, where she still resides. She is an author of 22 novels. She usually writes about relationships between men and women, parents and children, brothers and sisters, and friends.

This book is available from Amazon(UK) and Flipkart(India).

Book Review: First Love by James Patterson and Emily Raymond

I’ve always enjoyed Patterson’s crime thrillers. Come to think of it, it’s been a while since I read one. A few years back, I discovered his non-crime writing and loved that too. So when I saw this on the library shelf, I had to have it.

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Axi Moore is a good girl, living in a nondescript small town, where nothing really happens. She is sixteen, but unlike normal teenagers, she never does anything naughty. She works hard at school, does all the right things, never breaks a curfew.. The works. Suddenly she wants to do something different. Something far far away from the things she does. She wants to run away from home. Living with her alcoholic father isn’t easy and has given her an insight as to what made her mother give up and run away. She wants to leave her existence in K-Falls behind her. And she isn’t running away alone. She has her best friend Robinson with her.

Together they set off on a cross-country trip together that involves stolen cars and bikes, bluffing their way through, getting into trouble with the authorities and visiting places both of them always wanted to. It was turning out to be a trip of a lifetime. Robison and Axi have history together, they are the closest of friends and have been bound together by fate. Axi loves Robinson, but has never been able to tell him. Robinson is also the opposite of Axi, as in he does everything he can to break rules, test his boundaries. Their trip together marks a journey special as can be. Mad, crazy, dangerous, with memories that would stay with them. It takes them both to places they might have never wanted to go. It makes them face up facts that they would have been happy to ignore.

It is book that will have you in tears. It is sweet, painful, heart-breaking, and still makes you smile, makes you wish you could just wave a wand and get things sorted. Their love has been portrayed so well, sensitive, touching.. From the beginning, you can sense the sadness in Axi, something that becomes clear at the end. Which, by the way, is sad and yet so sweet.

I loved the book. I would happily rate it a 4/5. Do read it only if you don’t mind sniffling your way through the book though.

About the Author
James Patterson is a bestselling author of many titles. He is the first author to have #1 new titles simultaneously on The New York Times adult and children’s lists and is the only author to have five new hardcover novels debut at #1 on the list in one year—a record-breaking feat he’s accomplished every year since 2005. To date, James Patterson has had nineteen consecutive #1 New York Times bestselling novels, and holds the New York Times record for most Hardcover Fiction bestselling titles by a single author (63 total), which is also a Guinness World Record.

This book is available from Amazon(UK).

Book Review: Salaam Brick Lane by Tarquin Hall

After reading ‘The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken’ by Tarquin Hall, I started checking out the other books by the author. The one which caught my eye was not one of the Vish Puri series, but this one- ‘Salaam Brick Lane’. The fact that it was non-fiction, set in London’s East End sounded very interesting.

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Tarquin Hall returns to England after 10 years abroad. Returning back he realizes to his dismay that he cannot afford to live in the leafy suburbs of his childhood. He had been priced out of the nicer London areas and the only place he could afford was a tiny, squalid attic, above a Bangladeshi sweatshop in London’s East end – Brick Lane. A place whose reputation precedes it. A place which he hopes is temporary, a place from where he hopes to move from before his Indian born, American fiancee lands in London.

Things don’t quite work as he planned, as most things in life. He ends up staying for a little longer than he had planned to. It was not quite the London he had planned to introduce his fiancee, Anu to. Living on a street filled with drug peddlers and prostitutes peddling their fare, it was not quite the London to write home about. And yet, despite the unsavoury characters and the reputation of the place, Hall discovers people and their stories just as any other place in the world. He discovers the world that immigrants have made their own. Some out of choice, some because they donot have a choice at all.

East End has a history of having been the place where immigrants have settled and have got absorbed into British Socieity. From the Jews to the latest in the line, the Bangladeshis. It was funny to read how some people who had come to Britain as immigrants now consider themselves British and are ready to campaign against the new immigrants. It was interesting to read how the East End has moulded itself over the years and taken over the characteristics of it’s latest inhabitants while absorbing them into a unique but still British Identity.

Hall’s narrative is interesting and non-judgemental and is fascinating read. It has a great set of characters, a lot of variety and their stories bring out a perspective to the East End some of us might have never known about. The life some of the immigrants lead, looked at with suspicion by some, being in a place, they never wished to be in the first place, was an insightful read. For others it was still a life much better than the one they left behind in the countries they came from. He adds in his personal story as well, which just adds to the flavour. His life with his fiancee, who is initially horrified by their surroundings(being mistaken for a prostitute doesn’t help, I’m sure!) but slowly comes to terms with Brick Lane, warts and all. As they chart their lives together, Brick Lane provides a fascinating backdrop in it’s character and colour. An intriguing narration of life as an East Ender by someone as far removed as possible from it, someone who has had a privileged upbringing, in London suburbs which are as different as they can be from London’s East End.

For me, it was full of insights and bits of history, which I found very interesting. An account of London’s immigrant hub, so to speak which seemed to have been the place immigrants have always migrated to. A place which has sheltered them and taken on their idiosyncracies and flavour, transforming into Jew town when the main immigrants were Jews and now, in it’s latest avataar, Banglatown. Who knows what it’s future holds, but whatever it might be, East end promises to be interesting and vibrant.

All in all, a great read. It’s a 4.5/5 from me. I have to say, I enjoyed Hall’s non-fiction a lot more than his fiction(I’ve just read one).

About the Author
About the Author
Tarquin Hall is a British author and journalist who has lived and worked throughout South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. He is the author of The Case of the Missing Servant, dozens of articles, and three works of non-fiction, including the highly acclaimed Salaam Brick Lane, an account of a year spent above a Bangladeshi sweat shop in London’s notorious East End.

This book is available from Amazon(UK) and Flipkart(India).

Book Review: The Sweetest Hallelujah by Elaine Hussey

This another book which jumped at me from a bookshelf in the library. I do seem to come across a lot of acrobatic books these days, I have to say 🙂

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It is 1955. Southern America is engulfed in racial problems. Betty Jewel Hughes was once the hottest black jazz singer in Memphis. But when she finds herself pregnant and alone, she gives up her dream of being a star to raise her beautiful daughter, Billie, in Shakerag, Mississippi. Now, ten years later, in 1955, Betty Jewel is dying of cancer and looking for someone to care for Billie when she’s gone. With no one she can count on, Betty Jewel does the unthinkable: she takes out a want ad seeking a loving mother for her daughter.

The advert catches the eye of Cassie Malone, a white woman from the other side of town. Living a different, far more luxurious life than Betty Jewel and Billie, but misfortune and unhappiness dogging her as well. Cassie is still struggling to come to terms with her husband Joe’s death. She goes to a psychiatrist, on her sister-in-law’s suggestion, who suggests that she take up a project. Little does she know that she is about to embark on a project that would change her life. On seeing the ad for a mother, Cassie, who works as a journalist and having covered stories from the other side of town, is immediately interested. Her editor and close friend Ben, is not too keen on Cassie covering stories from there, given the racial tension that is prevalent, but knowing Cassie, is aware that she is not easily deterred.

Cassie discovers more than she would have wanted to. She discovers connections that she wouldn’t have dreamed about, and soon finds herself involved far more than she would have ever imagined, in the lives of Billie, Betty Jewel and her mother Queenie. I wish I could say more, but that would mean giving away more of the story than I should.

A sweet, moving story albeit a little unrealistic. The author portrays emotions beautifully. A child who suddenly realizes that her mother is dying. All she wants is to keep her mother alive, and if that is not possible, to go and find her father who she has been idolizing for long. Billie is an endearing, spunky, determind and strong child but even the strongest of children can get affected deeply when faced with the fact that their mother is dying. Betty Jewel, her mother, harboring a secret for years, having hidden it from the world, now, nearing death, is coming to realize that she might have to reveal the truth, to at least some people. A secret that could potentially be explosive given the racial tension they were going through. Betty’s mother Queenie is another strong character, unfazed by what life deals her. The unlikely friendship that sprung up between Cassie and Betty Jewel was really touching to read, especially since they had all the reasons to stay away from each other. The story was fast paced, rich in detail, kept my interest, till the end. The way it ended, however, was a little difficult to accept, for me. Suddenly, everything just falls in place, which seemed a little difficult to believe given the context. The way things fall into place in a part of the country where racism was rampant and tempers ran high, is a little difficult to believe. Especially since the book builds it up so well, people’s attitudes and prejudices, the violence and the intolerance.. And the ending, where everything just fell in place, perfectly, I have to say was a wee bit disappointing for me. Not that I wanted an unhappy ending, but I wish it was portrayed a wee but more realistically.

All in all, an interesting book, one that gave me a little more insight into America in the 1950s. Books like these show us a slice of culture and how things have slowly changed(for the better over) the decades. I would rate it. 3.5/5.

Just one more thought, the cover picture is rather misleading. Neither Billie nor Cassie fit into the image that is portrayed by the picture. Not that it makes a big difference, but I like covers that have some sort of relevance to the book.

About the Author
Elaine Hussey is a writer, actress and musician who likes to describe herself as “Southern to the bone.” She lives in Mississippi, where her love of blues and admiration for the unsung heroes of her state’s history served as inspiration for The Swe etest Hall elujah . Visit her at http://www.ElaineHussey.com.

This book is available from Amazon(UK) and Flipkart(India).

Book Review: The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken by Tarquin Hall

This book was recommended by Smita and Pixie, and luckily for me, I found it in my library, that very day! That never ever happens to me!

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I picked it up only to realize that it was the third of a series, but that didn’t retract in any way from the book, I have to say.

Vish Puri is the famous detective, who has been solving mysteries while gobbling up delicacies of all sorts. He is extremely fond of food, butter chicken is one of his favourites, and he tucks in, albeit surreptitiously to avoid his wife when he chances upon a mysterious meeting with two individuals, one of whom ends up dead on the floor as soon as he eats the butter chicken, Puri had just enjoyed. The dead man is the famous Pakistani Cricketer Kamran Khan’s father.

Vish Puri ends up involved in the case, but of course! And eventually solves it with the help of his Mummyji, who despite her son’s pleas refuses to accept that detective work is not for mummies! It’s a fun journey with Vish Puri as he goes about his job, eating his way through situations. The author does an incredible job portraying India, it is as if we are there. His words transport you to the places, the alleyways and the journeys that protagonists embark on. It was all spot on. The mystery was well handled, and the suspense was maintained well.

So would I recommend it? It’s an interesting book, for sure. The story as well as the setting is well etched out. Keeps you engrossed, a complete page turner. I have to say that if I have to choose a favourite character, it would the feisty Mummyji! I absolutely love her! She was so much fun! If the other books feature her as well, I’m definitely picking them up. Some of the things that niggled at me was the use of Indian-English. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for using the local language, but I felt that in some places, it felt forced, didn’t feel natural. As if the author was trying too hard. Either that or I’m out of touch with India. Might be the latter, if I’m honest.

I wasn’t too taken by the secondary plot of the missing moustaches. The book would have been just as great without it, in my opinion. But these are minor quibbles at most.

I would rate it a 3.5/5.

And before I forget, I found a non-fiction book by the same author which feels like something I would love to read! And what makes it doubly exciting is that I have gotten hold of it too! It’s just waiting to be read, as soon as I finish the one I’m currently on.

About the Author
Tarquin Hall is a British author and journalist who has lived and worked throughout South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. He is the author of The Case of the Missing Servant, dozens of articles, and three works of non-fiction, including the highly acclaimed Salaam Brick Lane, an account of a year spent above a Bangladeshi sweat shop in London’s notorious East End.

This book is available from Amazon(UKand Flipkart(India).