Friday, 29 November 2013

The Sweetness of Life by Paulus Hochgatterer

In the Austrian town of Furth am See, a six year old girl finds her grandfather dead, with his head smashed and all. The girl stops speaking after the shocking discovery. She taken for visits to a child psychiatrist who tries to make her speak. Who killed the grandfather and why? Will the child speak and reveal if she knows something? 

I was looking for a book based in Austria for the German Literature Month event, I had a choice between Greed by Elfriede Jelinek and The Sweetness of life by Paulus Hochgatterer, both available in the local library. Greed by Noble prize winning author looked like something heavy that would need sometime to ingest the subject, on the contrary The Sweetness is a slim volume and is a murder investigation something that I would read in a night. But it is not so. The Sweetness is also a heavy disturbing book. 

The story starts with the girl finding the dead grandfather which is disturbing and moves on to Horn, a child psychiatrist. We get to meet all his patients, from the aggressive man who takes out on his wife and children and comes running to the psychiatrist to get a get out of jail free card, to the young mother who believes that her baby is the devil. We also meet Kovacs who is supposed to be investigating this case. There is the first person narrative of a disturbed boy on what he and his brother are up to after they face their father's wrath. While I was immediately drawn into the story and lives of these people, the fact that there isn't much investigation either by Kovacs or Horn slowly lost my interest in the story. I didn't guess the killer and there is a nice twist in the end. 

Translated from German by Jamie Bulloch

Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Lie by Petra Hammesfahr

When Susanne walked into the lift and looked at her look alike, she didn't realise that her life is going to change forever. Susanne is out of work, and borrowing (stealing) money from her mother's pension fund to eat and live. And then she meets Nadia, who looks exactly like her, the only difference is what money could buy. When Nadia suggests that they swap places for a weekend, so Nadia could get away with her boyfriend, while she plays a surly wife to her unfaithful husband, Susanne is hardly in a position to say no, she needs the money. But things are never as they seem, are they? What is Nadia playing at? Will Susanne with all her intelligence(?) escape unscathed from things she is getting into? 

The premise is not entirely new and something I have seen in umpteen movies. So the story is in the telling. And what a telling! Susanne with all her naïveté and her idea of thinking after the leap is quite a character. Susanne is somebody straight out of a Ruth Rendell book, a woman who leaves her work as a bank clerk after facing the gun in a robbery, who returns to work only to face another, ending up with a cracked skull, looking after her bedridden mother-in-law when her husband goes all over the world making his career, who gets dumped after the mother-in-law dies. Nadia sounds more canny and she is certainly up to something. So what is she up to? The first half built up nicely and there is a point where the roles are reversed, you wonder that Susanne is not all that naive nor Nadia all that canny, the story gets more tense and exciting. And you expect something to happen and it happens and after that story becomes unreal, it becomes very complicated and at one point it nearly turns into one of those love stories where the heroine pines for her man but doesn't tell him kind, luckily it turns back into the thriller kind. Only the last few pages need more convincing and leaves a lot of questions unanswered. A gripping psychological suspense! 

Translated from German by Mike Mitchell. 

Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found there by Lewis Carroll

Last year, I read Alice in Wonderland and wondered why I never did read this delightful book before. I saw various versions of Alice in wonderland on the screen over the years, so I know all the characters and the plot. But it was fun to read the book, especially the word play and humour, couldn't help reading it with a smile throughout. This year I ventured into the second book, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. I should say I enjoyed it more than the Alice in Wonderland, the whole logic of the looking glass world is fascinating so is Jabberwocky and all the characters. Though I don't usually reread books, I could see myself reading this book again and again and smiling at something I may have missed the first time. Imagine that you are a figment of somebody's imagination! 

Published in 1871, this book is available as a free ebook from various websites including Project Gutenberg.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner

Young Emil travels to Berlin in a train for holidays. His mother saved up money for his grandmother and some for his stay. She gives him Seven Pounds, five for grandmother and two for his stay. If you wonder, what Seven Pounds could buy, this is in 1929 and seven pounds is a lot of money. Despite being asked to keep the money safe, Emil manages to get his money stolen. Imagine Emil in a big city with no money. Not to worry, Emil is intent on getting back his money from the person who stole it. So what is Emil going to do?

This is a fun little classic adventure book. Emil meets a group of boys in Berlin who decide to help him. They come up with a plan to get the money back. It is interesting that instead of bickering and fighting, the boys become organised and designate roles for everybody. While they are adventurous and optimistic they are also practical. They think about their immediate needs about food, money for travel, and need to be informed and create a point of contact. It is also clever how Emil proves that money is his finally. I loved the illustrations too. 

Translated from German by Eileen Hall and illustrated by Walter Trier

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The White Tiger by Arvinda Adiga

“Never before in human history have so few owed so much to so many, Mr. Jiabao. A handful of men in this country have trained the remaining 99.9 percent—as strong, as talented, as inteligent in every way—to exist in perpetual servitude; a servitude so strong that you can put the key of his emancipation in a man's hands and he will throw it back at you with a curse.”

Why are 99.9% of Indian population supporting the rich and comfortable lifestyle of the 0.1% ? What is it that stops the 99.9% caged in a rooster coop, where a butcher sits outside and cuts the throat of the roosters in front of their kin, to get out of the coop? No, it is not lack of education, poverty or lack of opportunities that stops them. What stops them, says our Balram Halwai, is the family! Yes, the very family system India proudly brags about. The very extended family system that enables many Indian families to live, eat and educate their children even when there is no wage earner in the family. How is that possible? India does not have Social Welfare schemes or unemployment benefits. So how do families with no wage earner survive. There is sometimes an uncle who pays for education, a sister who feeds her brother and so on. No, I am not going to defend the great Indian family system. It has probably some good and probably some bad. I come from a nuclear family, and value my privacy and individuality too much to let anyone poke their noses in my business, which is always the case with the extended family. As Balram suggests the big family with aunts, uncles et al could drink your blood and leave you dry. Probably for some breaking away from them could be the only real chance for success.

Now about the issue of treatment of servants. As more and more Indian women join the work force, they owe their careers, no, not to loving, understanding husbands who share the household work, but to maids, women who not only cut vegetables, but also sometimes pick the children from school. I have heard many Indian women living outside India moan about missing their maids. They don't miss their mothers, or miss Indian food but miss their maids who made it possible for them to go to work. So how are they treated. Maybe in the past a few decades before, there were drivers who also for the same salary even cooked and massaged your feet and were servile. But that is definitely a thing of the past and also something that probably only happened in Zamindar's house. Majority of Indians are not Zamindars, nor are they the poorest poor. They are the ever-growing middle-class. Definitely those who do domestic work for others could be treated better, but things are not that bad not because people have become suddenly sensitive to their treatment of servants but because there is more demand than supply. One can always leave and find another work. Their is no coop really, not one where the 'Master' holds a knife to the throats of the servant's family, many 'masters' know only as much information as the domestic worker wants to share.

Having got these out of the way. Let's concentrate on the story. The story is a letter a Bangalore based entrueperner writes to the visiting Premier of China about his success as an entrepreneur and how he did it. Initially, Balram Halwai comes out as the obnoxious, snobby self-made man, who always humorously tells you how he made it in life. But then what emerges is a gripping tale of man who was never given a chance who had to succeed at a cost. Balram Halwai hails from Bihar and what he calls the 'darkness'. He is taken away from school to pay for the dowry of his cousin. He uses some initiative and becomes a driver and eventually moves to Delhi. We encounter corruption and poverty living by the side of opulence of Malls in Delhi. Balram tells us that there are only two caste in present India, those with big bellies and those with small bellies. Those with big bellies eat those with small bellies.

The story that emerges is not completely unheard of. Most of the story is what we have read and seen in news and sometimes in overdramatic exaggerated movies of feudal landlords and struggling villagers of 1970s. A driver cutting the throat of his employer and running away with the money, a driver of a celebrity caught for drunk driving and killing somebody, driver kidnapping children of the rich, rich paying bribes to evade income tax, doctors absconding in rural hospitals. Balram has a justification for his act too, but then Balram killed Ashok because he was weak. The strong kill the weak, isn't that the survival of the fittest? Those with big bellies eat those with small bellies. A riveting tale!

The White Tiger Won the Man Booker Prize of 2008.

Border Field Blues by Corey Lynn Fayman

Private Investigators get to investigate bizarre cases some so bizarre that police would not bother investigating. Rolly Waters, Rock n Roll Dick of San Diego, is asked to investigate tyre marks that ran over Least Tern (if you wonder what it is, it is a bird) preserve near the Mexican Border, killing at least one bird. While investigating, Rolly finds a CD, meets a man with a paint gun ready to shoot illegal immigrants, a cowboy with a pair of panties who talks about a house where a woman who kills young men after her desires are fulfilled dwells. Now Rolly really has to go to the house and find out what all this is. But more Rolly finds out the more puzzling and strange it gets. And it isn't just finding out who ran over the Least Tern Preserve, or guys who shoot illegal immigrants, or about the woman who lives in Smuggler's Canyon or the boy who plays video games that has uncanny similarity to what is happening out there, but it is a murder investigation now. A teenager is found drowned. And it is not just one murder, but looks like a string of teenage girls were killed. So what is happening? Will Rolly find out without getting into trouble or being shot at?

The strange case of the tyre that killed the Least Tern got me interested and as the story progressed and new and quirky characters are introduced it got more puzzling and I really need to know what is happening here and that got me hooked. The story is full of conversations and is a quick entertaining read with a dose of black humour. But at the end of the story there are many threads dangling without a clear resolution and I do like my mystery stories with all knots untied, with explanation and all. Quirky entertaining read!

Disclaimer: I received an ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated for this review and all opinions are my own.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Wolfsangel by Liza Perrat – Review and Giveaway

My Take

Growing up, you yearn to go far away from home, to step into the world and prove your worth. Ironically, when you get the chance to start living your dreams all that you think of is home. In Autumn 1943, nineteen year old Céleste Roussel of Lucie-sur-Vionne, a French Village under German Occupation, can't wait to move away from home, to join the Resistance to fight for her country and prove her worth. More so, to get away from her resentful and embittered mother. Céleste’s father has been taken away to work in Germany, her sister is a nun cloistered in a convent, her brother and his friends are taking an active role in Resistance and Céleste is stuck at home with Germans and Mother. She wants to study at the university in Lyon and may be take up a job not tend to the farm and become a farmer's wife.

Stuck in a village, she may be, but Céleste is determined to do her bit. Even if it means consorting with the devil to find information. Only the devil is a handsome German. Céleste starts with playing small games finding herself getting entangled into something that she may not get out easily without breaking hearts. But matters of the country take over the matters of the heart. As circumstance change, she joins the Resistors in a more active role and moves to Lyon but yearns for home.

Wolfsangel starts with Céleste reminiscing about a terrible crime that happened at the end of World War II for which she feels guilty. So what did Céleste do? What happened to her German she was playing games with? Why is her mother always bitter and resentful? Who is betraying the villagers to the Germans? Will her father be back from Germany? How did the villagers live during German occupation?

Céleste is the narrator of this engaging story and I got easily absorbed into it. Based on historical facts and events, some of the events in the story are shocking and disturbing, especially, what happens to Céleste herself and what happens to her village. Dealing with guilt for something you have done is one thing, but how do you deal with not knowing if you are responsible for the terrible events. No wonder she cannot forgive herself. A gripping tale of inhuman brutality and human resilience.


(NB: The story involves a small amount of sex, but not graphic. It contains the violence of WW2, but again, not graphic, except one event at the end of the story, which is quite graphic and could be a bit shocking).

Seven decades after German troops march into her village, Céleste Roussel is still unable to assuage her guilt.

1943. German soldiers occupy provincial Lucie-sur-Vionne, and as the villagers pursue treacherous schemes to deceive and swindle the enemy, Céleste embarks on her own perilous mission as her passion for a Reich officer flourishes.

When her loved ones are deported to concentration camps, Céleste is drawn into the vortex of this monumental conflict, and the adventure and danger of French Resistance collaboration.

As she confronts the harrowing truths of the Second World War’s darkest years, Céleste is forced to choose: pursue her love for the German officer, or answer General de Gaulle’s call to fight for her country.

Her fate suspended on the fraying thread of her will, Celeste gains strength from the angel talisman bequeathed to her through her lineage of healer kinswomen.

The decision she makes will shadow the remainder of her days.

A woman’s unforgettable journey to help liberate Occupied France, Wolfsangel is a stirring portrayal of the courage and resilience of the human mind, body and spirit.

Release date: 16th November, 2013.
Page number: approx 390.
Publisher link:
ISBN Paperback: 9 782 954 168 128
ISBN E-book: 9 782 954 168 135

Buying links:

Amazon Kobo Smashwords

Author bio

Liza grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years.

When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her husband and three children for twenty years. She works part-time as a French-English medical translator.

Since completing a creative writing course twelve years ago, several of her short stories have won awards, notably the Writers Bureau annual competition of 2004 and her stories have been published widely in anthologies and small press magazines. Her articles on French culture and tradition have been published in international magazines such as France Magazine and France Today.

She has completed four novels and one short-story collection, and is represented by Judith Murdoch of the Judith Murdoch Literary Agency.

Spirit of Lost Angels is the first in an historical series set against a backdrop of rural France. The second in the series –Wolfsangel – will be published in November, 2013, and Liza is busy working on the third novel in the series: Midwife Héloïse – Blood Rose Angel.

Liza reviews books for the Historical Novel Society and Words with Jam magazine.

Author Contact and Other Information

Twitter: @LizaPerrat
Author Collective: Blog:

For rest of the tour and other giveaways click the France Book Tours Banner.

Disclaimer: I received an ebook copy from the author and France Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated for this review and all opinions are my own. Giveaway is sponsored by France Book Tours.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Liani Taylor

Kerou lives in Prague studying art. She is a typical teenager with typical teenage problems of love, betrayal and heartbreak. But is she? Kerou's family is strange. They are chimaera, half beasts and half human. She is sent on expeditions throughout the world by magic to collect teeth from sellers. Her foster father Brimstone is a wishmonger, one who grants wishes in return for teeth. Kerou though lived with her strange family and have run many errands for them have never questioned them about why they collect teeth or why she is different from them, what do they do with the teeth? Who or what are they? But when mysterious marks appear over the doors of the secret portal all over the world, and Kerou is attacked by an Angel, she has to find the answers for these questions because when the doors burned she loses the only connection to her family. How will she find them? Who is the angel? Why does he want her dead?

I picked this book for the various challenges but also because of the title which was creepy to me. I was expecting something dark, something scary, creepy kind of book. Especially the bit about collecting teeth, how creepy could it be! But this is a love story. Bored with teenagers of warring families falling in love creating mayhem and pain? Make the teenagers from different worlds, different species, Angels and Demons- perfect love story or is it?

I found the ball scene in the end to be grotesque while it should have been romantic, I think. Imagine various creature with different parts of beasts for different parts of body wearing a mask, dancing, sugared and all. Doesn't bide well with me.

The narrative kept me interested in what was going on, though there was a lag here and there. I liked the new twist about Angels and Demons. Not all beautiful things are good, and not all grotesque are evil. Not all Angels are good, not all chimaera are evil! And Angels and Chimaera are at war! 

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Sometimes all it takes to get over a burning passion is to meet the person again.

"Today, when I saw you, I realized that what is between us is nothing more than an illusion. "

Fermina had been thinking about Florentino for the last three years, even if she couldn't meet him, even when she had to undergo hardships all so that she would be kept away from him to wipe away his memories. He is in her memories, he kept her going. When her father decides to come back home as time would have cured her of her passion in absence of constant contact. We learn that the passion still burns. All it takes for the passion go puff is not the absence but the presence, meeting him again.

I don't read love stories. No, not because I am a pragmatist, which I am, but because I am a romantic. I have seen the movie, so I know the story, I know what happens. But there are still things that catch your attention. Like the fight over the soap, which sounds so real. Fermina smelling clothes to decide if they need to be washed.

I do wonder what if Florentino's love was reciprocated would he have still gone on his adventures, what would happen when you have attained your goal. Would this have been just another story not worth telling? I find Ruth Rendell version more plausible than this one- somebody burning in passion for years to obtain the unattainable leading to disaster to both. While Florentino lives for Fermina, how could he be insensitive to the women who lost their lives because of him.

Why do women reject the likes of Florentino, and Heathcliff the ones who would do anything for their love? The prose is beautiful but very slow especially to one used to reading crime fiction all the time. Sometimes you need to work on it to get to the beauty of it. I have heard love being compared to many things, but to Cholera, no. 

A Deal with the Devil by Martin Suter

Already there is sensory overload- too much to see, too much to hear, too much to taste, too many smells that sometimes we hardly do feel. Imagine 'seeing' sounds, 'smelling' colours, 'feeling' smells, when you have problem with dealing with one reality, and somebody tells you that there is more than one reality. This is what happens to Frau Sonia Frey after a LSD trip. Trying to make amends for her overworking senses and her shattered life, she flees to a remote Swiss Village to work as physiotherapist in a renovated hotel. Does it help when the room she is staying has a slanting ceiling making her feel 'she was in danger of sliding out of the room.'?

While she is dealing with her overworking senses, she also realises that somebody is acting out the Legend of the Devil of Milan. Will Sonia make sense of her reality? What's happening in this remote Swiss village? Will she escape the demons pursuing her? Who's trying to destroy the Hotel?

The back cover of the book gives too much of the plot away. The story is only 204 pages why give so much of the plot away. Good that I didn't read it until I finished the story.

If you wonder what's with the font. I did so too. For first quarter of the book, alternate pages had some gimmick with the font, some of letters in a word in italics and others normal. This put me off reading the book for a while. The premise got my attention but every time I picked the book, I couldn't read more than 2 or 3 pages because of the font. If the idea is to let me feel like how Sonia feels, I get the feeling just from reading the text and description, I didn't really want this gimmick with fonts.

After the quarter, the story starts to settle and so does the font and from there I read the book in one sitting. I could feel the ceiling sliding, being enchanted by the rainbow, not exactly smell the colours, but yes, I understand what Frau Sonia is going through. It is not very difficult to guess what is going on but this is a psychological suspense that plays with your senses and perception of reality and works really well.

Translated from German by Peter Millar and winner of the Friedrich-Glauser Prize for New Crime Novel and shortlisted for the CWA Duncan Lawrie International Dagger 2008.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

2013 A-Z Reading Challenge Complete

I completed the  2013 A-Z Reading Challenge hosted by 
Lori at Escape with Dollycas. Here  is the list
Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason
Below Suspicion by John Dickson Carr (13/1/13)
The Caves of Steel by Issac Asimov (9/1/2013)
Double Double by Ellery Queen (31/1/13)
Evil Water by Inger Wolf (2/1/2013)
The Fire Engine that Disappeared by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (29/1/13)
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (4/1/2013)
Headhunters by Jo Nesbo
I and My True Love by Helen MacInnes (28/2/13)
The Jewels of Paradise by Donna Leon (14/1/13)
Killed at the Whim of a hat by Colin Cotterill
The Lake of Darkness by Ruth Rendell (10/2/13)
The Mountains have a secret by Arthur Upfield
Never Saw it coming by Linwood Barclay
The Oracle Code by Charles Brokaw
The Problem of the Green Capsule by John Dickson Carr
Queenpin by Megan Abbott
The Racketeer by John Grisham (21/2/13)
Standing in Another Man's Grave by Ian Rankin (24/1/13)
Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay (10/1/2013)
Ultimatum by Simon Kernick
Villain by Shuichi Yoshida
White Face by Edgar Wallace (19/1/2013)
XO by Jeffery Deaver
You Don't Want to Know by Lisa Jackson
Zugzwang by Ronan Bennet

Killed at the Whim of a Hat by Colin Cotterill

If you start digging a well in your field, you would expect to find maybe water, sometimes a hidden treasure or oil , but what did Old Mel find in his palm field in SouthernThailand? He found a Volkswagen buried in the soil with two skeletons in it. However did a VW get buried in a Oil Palm field in the middle of no where, and what are these skeletons doing in it, well, people before they became skeletons.

This is the first excitement in Jimm Juree's life in nine months after her family moved to this dump resort. Jimm Juree had been a successful crime reporter in Chang Mai slowly hoping to fill in the shoes of her senior who may die very soon. But as things do happen Jimm's mother Mair decides to reroot the family and 34-year old Jimm decides to be loyal to her family and moves with them. Jimm sets to action making contact with local police and getting a few bylines.

While this excitement would be enough to get her on track for a while, Jimm also finds that an Abbot had been murdered. Jimm's all set to solve these crimes, with the help of a grandad who grunts all the time and had worked all his life as a traffic police, a younger brother who body builds and an older ex -brother now a sister and an internet diva. An ally in the local police helps her get the inside information.

This story had been compared to the No. 1 Ladies Detective agency series. I haven't read it, so I can't tell if the comparison is justified. The story is funny, and engaging and you get a lot of local colour. But the mystery gets solved very easily in the end, it looks like all that it needs to solve crime is technology. I liked the small details like in the middle of a murder investigation Jimm is worried that if she didn't cook, her family will starve, or when she ponders any male reporter would file the report go home to a wife who would cook him his dinner, and Jimm had to come back home and cook for her eccentric family or a brother who insists on accompanying her when she needs to do her investigation late night.

I didn't even notice the George W. Bush quotes in the beginning at the start of each chapter. Then when I started paying notice I found them very funny and looked them up again and had a good laugh. If you wondered what Killed at the Whim of a hat is, there is not only an explanation but also the title is justified. I wonder if one of Cotterill's students did a study on George W. Bush's speeches!

I picked up the Dr. Siri book set in Loas to read next.

German Literature Month

I have a few German Crime Fiction lined up to read this month. Then I found this event. German Literature Month November 2013 hosted by Caroline and Lizzy on a dedicated German Literature Month site for this event. I was already planning to read these

A Deal with the Devil by Martin Suter
Fever by Friedrich Glauser
Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner

Caroline and Lizzy suggest we try to maintain 50/50 ratio between women and men writers. So here are some books by women crime fiction writers I may read. 
Hell Hath no fury by Ingrid Noll
The Life by Petra Hammesfahr
The Muder Farm by Andrea Maria Schenkel