I managed to complete my 2020 reading challenge – finished reading Fraudster by R.V. Raman.

This one had a pretty interesting storyline with lots of twists and red herring peppered across the chapters. Having said that, I wish the writing in the middle third was a lot more crisp. It gets too simplistic, slips into a narrative style of telling what’s playing out. I would have lost the patience, but it was the rapid pacing of the plot that kept me going. Also it has a few subplots and characters that should have been edited out - it becomes tiresome to follow towards the end.

With all said, this is a promising debut nonetheless by Raman with a welcome, quick read with an Indian setting.

I really enjoyed Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 - it was an absorbing account of an event I didn’t have much information about. I usually like the well-made courtroom dramas and this one was no different. And I also usually love Sorkin’s method of telling stories and, again, this one was no different.

Though debatable, Sorkin is a master of narrating true stories, keeping you glued to the screen as he unravels more details about the story. He has also mastered his signature style to blend varying and often opposing, narratives and perspectives without letting the drama drag any moment. Even though I didn’t know much about the event, I was completely involved and moved at many moments.

Also, as I was watching the trial play out, I thought Sorkin must have taken a lot of liberty in presenting the facts – especially the actions of Judge Hoffman. No human can be such an asshole, I thought. So the first thing I did was to check how closely were the event and the trial presented. I was surprised to find that most of the key moments shown were true – even the judge’s behaviour.

As unbelievable as it seems, Judge Hoffman, born in 1895, really did act with the malice shown in the film, dismissing objections from the defense before they were made and arbitrarily excluding evidence, witnesses, and even jurors.

Horrible!

I finished reading the second book in The Rabbi Small Mysteries series, Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry. Though I enjoyed this story, the overall experience was a bit dampened by the political subplots and unnecessary chatters.

Sure, every discussion that Rabbi was involved in was, though repetitive, refreshing; it was a welcome lesson on Jewish traditions and values. However, unlike the first book in the series, the mystery and the rabbi didn’t feel like the core of this one.

A good quick read, nonetheless.

Book Review - Friday the Rabbi Slept Late

Through some wonderful recommendations from folks I have learnt to trust now, I came across this brilliant mystery series featuring one of the most likeable characters I have read, Rabbi Small. I enjoy reading mystery as a genre the most - in that whodunit has a special place in my mind. It is the most difficult genre to write effectively.

This short read falls in the category that Agatha Christie had mastered – the story unravels itself for both the reader and the central characters together. Everything is laid out in front of the reader with nothing being held back by the “intelligent” detective. I hate the I-knew-it-all-along sort of twists. The mysteries that don’t employ such ploys can leave you with satisfaction that is of the highest order.

It is not the underlying mystery that charmed me though. It is the sincere presentation of Jewish culture in a small-town community of Barnard’s Crossing, notwithstanding the humorous undertone that author Harry Kemelman maintains throughout. I loved the setting of the lovable town and the characters big and small - I connected with each one of them. I enjoyed the discussions that David Small gets into every now and then, for that matter right from the get-go when he untangles the middling mystery of a broken vehicle with his simple, basic yet effective method of listening. I knew right away that I was in for an enjoyable ride.

This is an intelligent book with a common, sincere central character. He is not the only intelligent being around - each supporting character is important and equally worthy. I loved Rabbi Small’s bantering with Chief Lanigan on topics both related and unrelated to the mystery. The later, equally smart, is not there just to hear the detective unravel the mystery towards the end. He is involved too. In that manner, this book is special.

I haven’t been this engaged while reading a book, or to find what happens next since a long time now. And I don’t remember the last time when I rushed to pick the second book in the series this soon. I think it was when I read Christie for the first time.

I would recommend this to anyone interested in a light, cosy mystery and is ok to not be held up in the cleverness of the plot or presentation. The simplicity, then, will win you over.

Finished reading Atomic Habits by James Clear.

I didn’t want to read another self-help book. But this one had been recommended to me for so many days, so many times that I had to read this once. Going in, I absolutely knew what to expect of the book. I got just that. It just was structured well enough to keep me going.

James Clear has got a nice framework in place – make good habits obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying. One can understand why that is important. He also presents it with enough examples and detailed description. I just wish it was shorter. A few chapters feel repetitive and only to be there to meet the page count goal. We could trim almost a third of the book and it would still be equally effective.

Anyway, the rating is for the simple way James presents the framework. There’s something to be learnt from this, for sure.

Book Review: The Mystery of the Blue Train

The Mystery of the Blue Train is a typical Poirot mystery, just not presented in her signature intriguing style. There are just too many shifts to the points of view of the supporting characters. The clues are perceivable, but they aren’t backed by any information that is revealed earlier. There were many moments when I knew what was being narrated was important, was a clue to something. But I could just not put my finger on why that was so. The resolution towards the end too did not feel very natural; it felt rushed, forced.

With the way the novel is structured, it felt as if Christie began writing this somewhere in the middle when Poirot is introduced, reached towards the end, and began to wonder how to tie the woven mystery up. All the side characters and their backstories were penned at that point and spread across the novel.

As a whole, the story just didn’t feel coherent. It wasn’t boring; I don’t think Christie can write a boring mystery. But it just wasn’t one of her finest works. I have heard even she has acknowledged this fact.

Book Review: Seriously... I'm Kidding

I picked up this book just as a filler — something I read in between when am in no mental state of anything serious. Or something that will make me think. Or will make me sad. So I had very little expectations going in. And the book met my expectations to the T. It wasn’t terrible. But I don’t think I will remember any part of it after even a month.

I have now given up on many memoirs” which are nothing more than essays on varied topic. I have realized that they simply don’t interest me. Especially humor ones. Fact that I could sit through and complete this book is in itself a surprise for me.

One thing that might have worked in favor somewhat is that I listened to this book rather than reading it. I think the experience must have been a tad better. Because ..uhmm.. Ellen. But the content just was too patchy overall. Some essays were brilliantly written. They talked about some nice little ideas. And with Ellen’s easy-on-ears style of narrating, they made me laugh. Some even made me think. Her journal entries while on beach or her thoughts on having (not?) kids, to note a couple, are damn funny.

Others, however, - and there many to be frank - were terrible. Her haikus or bucket lists were just horrible. I don’t even know why were there in the book. They weren’t funny. They had no reason. They were just .. there. Wish if the chapters that weren’t funny at least made me learn something about Ellen’s life. Nope. Didn’t do even that. Few had just 4-5 words. Not something I enjoy - sorry. Even when I have very low expectations.

All in all, this is a terrible memoir, okiesh essay collection, a breezy audiobook. You can listen through it completely over a long drive. You won’t miss a thing while you place and collect your order at a drive through. Don’t pause. Don’t replay. Just let it play on through your drive.

Content gets 2 stars. Ellen gets another star. However, I don’t think I will pick up another of her earlier books any time soon though. Or any of the essay/memoirs. I am done with this genre.