The lost man – Jane Harper

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863488-the-lost-man


Genre – Mystery

Published – February 2019

My rating – 5/5

“At night, when the sky felt even bigger, he could almost imagine it was a million years ago and he was walking on the bottom of the sea. A million years ago when a million natural events still needed to occur, one after the other, to form this land as it lay in front of him now. A place where rivers flooded without rain and seashells fossilised a thousand miles from water and men who left their cars found themselves walking to their deaths.”

This is the third novel of Jane Harper that I have read and like the other two, I completed it in less than a day! It’s that good and that difficult to put down.
As in her earlier stories, the surrounding and the landscape are important characters in this one, set in the vast, dusty, blazing hot Australian outback where next door neighbours are a three hour ride away and survival depends on how well prepared you are to weather the always difficult, often unpredictably treacherous conditions.
Nathan Bright is called out to the stockman’s grave, a place that has given rise to a lot of local legends and ghost stories and at present is the site where his younger brother lies dead. He seems to have succumbed to heat and dehydration in the harsh climate, which isn’t a rare occurrence in those parts. But his car is found some distance away, well stocked with food and water and indications that he was headed where he said he was. Why did he abandon his car and how did he get to the grave where he died, a good nine kilometres by walk?
Nathan, who has never been forgiven or recovered from a grave mistake he made a decade ago, still suffers from the isolation that has imposed on him. Struggling for years to get to spend time with his son after a messy divorce and barely making enough money to get by, he is plagued by loneliness and afraid of his own thoughts, especially off late.
Back home to help his family deal with the aftermath of Cameron’s death, Nathan has to deal with both childhood memories and the secrets that tumble out of his brother’s closet, prompting him to wonder how well he knew him and what really is the cause of his death that is assumed to be suicide which isn’t uncommon where they live.
The USP of this story is the brilliant characterization of Nathan undoubtedly. He is someone whose vulnerability is so relatable. The tough guy who regrets his mistakes but has given up trying to make amends because no one is willing to forgive after years, the father who is unsure of how he should behave with his teenage son in the few days he has left with him, the son who feels helpless in the face of his mother’s grief and above all the man who leads a completely solitary existence not by his own choice.
The mystery is slowly unraveled with more focus on the family and their bonding with each other and Cameron. As the dust settles on everything and the temperatures continue to rise uncomfortably, the truth slowly emerges.
So much more than a mystery and so good!

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The hunting party – Lucy Foley

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37642030-the-hunting-party

Genre – Thriller/Psychological Suspense

Published – January 2019

My rating – 4/5

This book ticks off several staples of a psychological suspense thriller –
Isolated setting in a hunting resort deep in Scotland with very few people around,complete with dark woods and a loch.
A group of friends who go back a long way and meet up to celebrate New year together ever since they met more than a decade ago.
A blizzard that cuts off communication of the resort with the outer world
A missing guest who turns up dead

In short chapters and as many as five different alternating POV’s the narrative switches from the second day of the new year to three days earlier when the friends arrived at the resort.
They are an eclectic bunch – gorgeous Miranda with her slim figure, shiny blonde hair, impossibly green eyes, wealth and a cruel, superior streak, her husband Julien who is equally good looking and charming when he wants to be, her oldest friend in the group, the quiet one, Katie, who is a brilliant attorney in her regular life but tongue tied most of the time in this group, Nick and his American partner Bo, Mark and his partner Emma who being the outsider to the group, tries really hard to fit in,and finally Giles, Samira and their baby girl.
If this cast of characters wasn’t enough to create mayhem, there is the manager of the resort, Heather, who seems to be hiding herself away from the world outside that she doesn’t want to face anymore. She has for company, the gamekeeper, Doug, an ex marine who keeps to himself and has his own terrible secrets.
The friends indulge in good natured bantering, drinking, reminiscing their university days and catching up on their present lives while enjoying the pleasures of the resort. But there is a conscious sense of unease that permeates the atmosphere, making it seem like they don’t really want to be where they are and have come reluctantly to uphold tradition.
Then things get ugly, with old grudges being aired, always accepted attitudes being questioned and years old resentments coming to the fore.
But the question is who went a step too far and got silenced forever.

The build-up to who did it is suspenseful though who the victim is, is a tad predictable if you have read a bit of this genre.

A gripping read overall.

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Disappearing Earth – Julia Phillips

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34563821-disappearing-earth

Genre – Mystery/Suspense/Psychological fiction

This is one of those stories where the setting, the landscape is not just important but almost like a character itself.
The Siberian Kamachatka peninsula is where the action takes place.
In one of its major cities, Petropavlovsk, two sisters, Alyona and Sophia, 11 and 8 respectively, accept a lift home from a stranger in a dark, shiny car one August evening. They disappear without a trace and the police investigation doesn’t turn up anything.
As the days and then months pass, the abduction moves from top story to somewhere deep in the mental recesses of the people of the city.
With each chapter focusing on one month of the year after the girls were taken, the narrative takes the form of individual stories of a diverse cast of women who belong to the peninsula and are loosely connected to and/or majorly affected by the unexplained disappearance of the sisters.
The school student who resents the fact that she cannot hang out with her best friend at the city centre because her friend’s parents are too wary after what happened, the college student who is in a relationship with a man who controls her and expects updates of what she is doing every minute with proof and more so now that there is danger lurking near her in the form of a predator who may snatch her too, the daughter who finds it difficult to coexist with her mother during the holidays because of their differing views regarding her younger sister who also went missing 4 years ago as a teenager, the mother of the missing girls who just wants the world and its questions to go away and has to remind herself to breathe when thoughts of her children dominate her brain… These are some of the narrators of the stories who talk about their life and challenges in this brutal, isolated, but beautiful place.
The stories themselves flow smoothly, covering a range of topics from how nice it was during Soviet rule, the bleakness of post Soviet Russia, deep mistrust of outsiders, scorn for the natives, fear for a friend who declares herself in love with women, all having to do with the main abduction in some way.
The changing of the seasons with each month that passes after the girls go missing reflects the slowly altering attitudes to their disappearance, the urgency of the first few hours and days melting into a skeletal investigation with public volunteers and then even that petering away when there are no leads.
The sense of anticipation around how these stories are linked builds with each one and reaches a crescendo towards the end when the beautifully rendered words helped me imagine scenes filled with hope, tension and despair.
From the sheer loveliness of the landscape to the often bitter loneliness of those who inhabit it, this tale taught me about the people, culture,myths, beliefs and rituals of a land far, far away, bordered by the Arctic Tundra.
A novel way of telling a tale in an unusual setting, this was a captivating read that held my interest from start to finish. Definitely a book to be savoured for the lovely writing.

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The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

Genre – Nonfiction

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6493208-the-immortal-life-of-henrietta-lacks

This book has been on my tbr for years and when I finally read it, I found it difficult to put down!
On the one hand, it tells the story of the HeLa cells dubbed ‘immortal’ because they live on in the world of scientific and medical research more than sixty years after the woman whose body they were taken from died.
And on the other, this is a sincere attempt to tell the world about the person behind these cells that have been used to change the face of medicine, and who was largely forgotten about until this book was written – Henrietta Lacks.
A young black woman and a mother of 5, Henrietta was diagnosed with a malignant tumour on her cervix and given treatment in John Hopkins hospital in Baltimore in 1951. A sample of tissue taken from her tumour during her biopsy procedure and sent to George Gey, a tissue culture researcher, is what started the HeLa phenomenon that grew to enormous proportions and is still growing.
When it was discovered that her cancer cells not only stayed alive in culture but kept multiplying, the scientific world was enthralled – here was the opportunity for studying several diseases believed to originate due to cell mutation and in time, developing cures for them.
From being shipped in an envelope to a neighbouring city to a HeLa factory being set up to mass produce these cells for use by researchers all over the world, these cells revolutionised the world of medical research.
Cancer studies, polio vaccine testing, cloning, invitro fertilization, studying effects of radiation on cells, discovering how cells behaved in space… all of this and much much more was made possible by HeLa cells.
Many people including doctors, scientists, pharmacists became rich and famous piggybacking on these cells.
Ironically, the family of Henrietta had no clue a part of her was immortal! Though their mother’s cells were the basis for so many important discoveries and cures, her children struggle to make ends meet and have no means of seeing a doctor even!
With no regulations or laws in place regarding the use of human beings and bits and parts of them in medical research, Henrietta’s name never had to be revealed until after many years, her identity was discovered and her family subjected to testing without their permission.. all in the name of science!
Bewildered, angry and totally fed up with the intrusion of strangers into their personal lives, wanting to talk to them about the mother they lost so early and trying to take pieces of them for research, the family shut the door on the world and put up a barrier until Skloot managed to win their trust and break it down.
Based on interviews with Henrietta’s children, mainly her daughter Deborah, this is not just a dry, technical account filled with highbrow terminology, but a look at the human beings involved along with a consideration of the ethics (or lack of) involved in conducting research on people or parts of them without their explicit knowledge or consent.
Ranging from how the HeLa cell research eventually led to establishment of regulations pertaining to the requirement for informed consent from test participants, to some modicum of peace for Henrietta’s descendants when they finally learnt just how it all enfolded and were reassured that Henrietta would receive due credit for all her cells had been used for, this is a book told as a human interest story by a writer who was passionate and invested enough to care.

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The hate you give – Angie Thomas

This is a book everyone should read, especially those who believe that race, colour of skin, looks or being different in some way should not affect the way people are treated.
Taking on probably the most familiar example of discrimination, racism against blacks in America, it tells a hard hitting story with a focus on police excesses against black youths.
Starr Carter straddles two totally different worlds – the all black community she lives in and the almost all white suburban prep school she attends. She has developed an alternate persona of sorts for school – talking in a certain way, never confrontational, not even using slang that white kids use in case that differentiates her from everyone else. She has friends in school, a white boyfriend and believes she is one of the crowd now.
This illusion is cruelly shattered when she witnesses her childhood friend, Khalil, being gunned down in the middle of a road by a policeman one night.
In shock and completely scared, Starr tries to get over the trauma and get on with life.
But then she realizes that absolutely no one seems to care that Khalil was murdered. He is being painted as a gang member and a drug dealer though nothing was found on his body. He was unarmed the night he was killed and did nothing to provoke the cop.
From what those she considers her friends say, Starr wonders whether Khalil deserved to die because he made some wrong choices at some point in his short, misguided life. He was just a kid!
And she also comes to the conclusion that if he has to get justice, she is the only one who can help him get it.. by using her voice to speak out about what really happened that night.
What’s appalling immediately after the crime is the complete apathy of the law enforcement mechanism! Nobody cares about the victim being a kid! The fact that it was clearly prejudice and stereotyping of blacks that led to the cop’s actions is completely glossed over. What’s worse is the sympathy he elicits from some quarters on the basis that his life matters too, causing an enraged Starr to question why his life always matters more!
Starr knows that speaking out means consequences for her community, her family and herself. Yet what is a voice for if you keep quiet when you should use it?

This is the story of a crack in the wall of silence that surrounds crimes against people who aren’t the same as the majority of others around them.
I loved Starr with all her teenage angst and quirks on one side and her strength and courage on the other, fueled by her sometimes cool, sometimes annoying, sometimes embarrassing but always loving family.
This is a story that will resonate with everyone and make people sit up and acknowledge that racism of the kind in evidence here, is a definite reality that needs to be systematically removed.

A definite must read.

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2020 Nonfiction Reading Challenge

I have been trying to read more non fiction for a couple of years now. Last year I read 6.

Decided that a challenge would encourage me to pick up more non fiction.

So I will be doing the challenge hosted at http://bookdout.wordpress.com/2019/12/23/2020-nonfiction-reader-challenge/

Select, read and review a book from the categories listed below during the year for a total of up to 12 books. A book may be in print, electronic or audio format.

Choose a goal:

Nonfiction Nipper : Read 3 books, from any category

Nonfiction Nibbler : Read 6 books, from any category

Nonfiction Know-It-All : Read 12 books, one for each category

* You can choose your books as you go or create a list in advance. You may combine this challenge with others if you wish. Use your best good faith judgement as to whether a book fits the category or not.

* Where a book is identified by more than one category, it may only count for one, not both.

* You can read your chosen titles in any order, at any pace, just complete the challenge by December 31st 2020

Categories

1. Memoir

2. Disaster Event

3. Social Science

4. Related to an Occupation

5. History

6. Feminism

7. Psychology

8. Medical Issue

9. Nature

10. True Crime

11. Science – The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

https://whatireadwheniread.wordpress.com/2020/01/10/the-immortal-life-of-henrietta-lacks-rebecca-skloot/

12. Published in 2020

Pachinko – Min Jin Lee

What do you do when you live in a foreign land that does not want you and your own country is not safe for you to return?

This is the dilemma faced by the Korean family at the centre of this story, who represent all those Koreans who, in the backdrop of the Japanese colonization of their country, moved to Japan in search of a better life.

In the early twentieth century,Sunja,a Korean teenager, falls in love with an older man, only to find out when she is pregnant, that he is married. Refusing to have anything to do with him anymore, she accepts a marriage proposal from a kind but frail Christian pastor Baek Isak, whom she nursed to health from a bout of tuberculosis.

Leaving her native land behind, she moves to Osaka, Japan to live with his brother and his wife and there begins the saga that spans three generations of this family.

The Japanese do not want the Koreans in their country and regard them with suspicion and contempt. No jobs except those considered too demeaning and very low paid are available to the immigrants. The law of the land does not offer them any protection and they have to be careful all the time or risk indefinite imprisonment.
Even the children are not spared and they are bullied and insulted in school.

Sunja and Isak manage to build a life in this backdrop until the ugly politics of war and religion destroys what they have.

Wanting a better life for her sons,Sunja takes to setting up a food stall with her sister in law to sustain the family. Supporting her children in whatever they want to do, no matter the personal cost to her, is her life’s mission.

But as the second and third generations of this family grow up and face their own trials and tribulations, it is clear that they will never truly belong in a land that considers them foreign and refuses to acknowledge them as an integral part of a place they have always considered their own, not knowing any other.

The game of Pachinko, while being a source of employment to the younger generation of the family, is also a metaphor for life itself. It is a game in which there are controls but enough randomness exists to keep customers interested and playing. Similarly, there seems to be a divine plan for everyone’s life with choices thrown in at various points.

Is it right to fight for what you think is right or keep quiet for the sake of those you love? Should you try to prove that you are better to those who look down on you or live as if it does not matter? Is it possible to ever feel a part of a place and truly belong when you are constantly reminded that you are from elsewhere, even if you have never been to that distant place that is supposed to be yours?

What I liked in this story is the bonds between the characters.. Mother daughter, siblings, husband and wife, parent and child, friends and a truly wonderful sisterhood between two women who are related by marriage and sustain each other through the worst adversities that life throws at them.

Japanese and Korean culture and the patriarchal mindset that existed at the time, making life even tougher for women is also in evidence.

For me, this was a window to a period of history I did not know much about.
And I discovered that Koreans also refer to their parents as ‘Umma’ and ‘Appa’!
Unity in diversity for sure!

And I think it has engendered in me a new appreciation for the freedom I have and the opportunity to live in a country I have the right to call my home.

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All the light we cannot see -Anthony Doerr

When you turn the last page of a book and wish it had not ended, when you close the book and remember all the beautiful lines it contained and want to read them again and again, you know you have found an extraordinary book!
Mindful of the fact that award winners are often too abstract for my liking and further convinced of this truth by the very technical descriptions in the book in the first few pages, I wondered if I should carry on. But I am so glad I did.
The prose is so so lyrical, so simple that I marveled how the author managed to convey such poignancy and evoke such strong feelings in such an easy manner.
The story is of Marie Laure,a French girl blinded at 6 years of age, who is forced out of her home and into the town of Saint Malo during the German occupation of Paris.
With her father gone without information, she is left in the care of her grand uncle Etienne,an eccentric, sometimes lost individual who has not stepped out of his six storey house in years, the same house that Marie now lives in with him.
This is also the story of a German youth, Werner Pfennig, who, as a child in Berlin, learnt the concepts of light, electricity and other scientific terms from a radio broadcast that came from far away across the sea. This knowledge makes him adept at electronics and saves him from a dreadful life working in the mines that killed his father. It also brings him to the notice of the Hitler youth and puts him in the centre of the war, first in a politically motivated educational institution where he continually witnesses brainwashing of his fellow students as well as abject violence and cruelty, and then as part of a war unit trying to intercept transmissions.
Moving back and forth between the beginning of the war and the waning months in 1944, Marie Laure and Werner are on a course that is leading them to each other, to a mingling of their stories in one crucial moment.
Whether it is Marie Laure pondering over the fact that the city outside is starting to resemble its scale model that her father made for her to learn to navigate it, because of people being sucked out of it by the war, or Werner reflecting over the untruth that humans perpetrate by thinking they are in control of their lives when war can take everything from them in a fraction of a second whichever side they may be on, this is a commentary on the futility of armed conflict.
It portrays the desire of the ordinary people on both sides of the conflict to just live their lives without fear. It also shows the steely courage of the very same people that just naturally enables them to do what they must.
Most of all, it brings out the goodness inherent in people and the purity of their actions driven only by this virtue.
A really compelling read and I am glad I started the year with this book that will stay with me for a long time.

#popsugarreadingchallenge

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Pick your poison 2020

This one sounds like real fun. What I love most about these challenges is the matching of the book to the prompt and the creativity and treasure hunting involved there.

The categories here are very unique compared to others I have seen so I want to see how many I can do.

Even if I match some of the books I am already slated to read this year with these prompts, it should be fun!

Hosted https://gregoryroad.blogspot.com/2019/12/the-2020-pick-your-poison-reading.html?m=1

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