Book Review – A Gentleman in Moscow

book cover of a gentleman standing in the balcony of Hotel Metropol in Moscow

Image credit: Goodreads

Some books come in your life like a ray of sunshine during incessant rains.

Well, this book has been one of that kind. On one hand, you don’t want to put the book down and on the other you don’t want it to end. Huh!!

Plot: 

In 1922, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is sentenced to spend his life under house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. The book narrates the story through the eyes of the Count for the next thirty years as he makes the most of his life despite its limitations. He meets interesting characters; some stay with him till the end, some part ways very early, some become his friends, while some antagonize him. But all in all, the Count lives an eventful life!!

Review:

Before reading this book, I had a hazy picture of Russia from what little history I had read in the school and from the books of Leo Tolstoy. Though this book is more of a fictional account of the times during the Bolshevik’s reign over the newly formed Soviet Union, it still gives a good view of the life during the times of Stalin.

The character of Count Rostov is finely and thoughtfully built. The Count not only amuses you with his wit and impresses you with his charm, but also makes you want to emulate him for his wisdom. A character that you want to tip your hat to, if you had been wearing one and wish good luck to for the rest of his journey.

Frankly speaking, when in the beginning the Count is sentenced to house arrest in a hotel, I was a little skeptical about how the book would pan out if the protagonist could not even step out. But nowhere during the story I felt that the Count was restricted; a patient, satisfied, but resourceful fellow he enjoys his life in his limited means. That doesn’t mean he lives a dreary or boring life; far from it, he has his adventures which will amaze you, make you laugh and at places teary-eyed too.

He becomes a waiter at the hotel restaurant and does his work with charm and panache. He is well read, identifies any piece of music, can speak many languages and knows his liquor well. He is a real asset to the Hotel though many might not agree with it.

A Gentleman in Moscow is a book that will make you fall in love with Russia, which even the combined brilliance of Leo Tolstoy and Chekhov couldn’t do. A book that will make you pick up Pushkin, Gogol and Dosteovysky. It’s a book that will make you want to visit Russia and book your stay in Hotel Metropol.

It’s a brilliant book given that it has everything that would appeal to a reader – romance, politics and espionage. The tremendous events of the great depression and the World War II are only mentioned in passing, it is because the main focus is on the Count and how he survives in the hotel.

Here are some of the quotes or observations from the book:

“That sense of loss is exactly what we must anticipate, prepare for, and cherish to the last of our days; for it is only our heartbreak that finally refutes all that is ephemeral in love.”

“By the smallest of one’s actions, one can restore some sense of order to the world.”

A Gentleman in Moscow is a book that you must read in this lifetime, even if you are not a Russophile.

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Reading Challenge and I have opted to read 24 books this year (though I am hoping to read more). There are 24 prompts given, and this book adheres to one of them. Seriously, only one!!

5. A book from WWII time period

10. A book set in a country that you visited/want to visit

18. A book with four words in title

19. A book written by an author who is new to you

 

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Book Review – The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

You pick some books either because the fancy cover catches your eye or because you find the title intriguing. For me, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street exhibited both these characteristics; not only was the three dimensional book cover eye catching but the title was quite intriguing too. And I am happy I chose this book because it was one of the warmest reads of the recent times.

Book cover of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

Pic – Amazon.com

In the year 1883, in the thick of the Irish War of Independence, Thaniel Steepleton, a telegraphist, returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the same watch saves his life by setting off an ear-piercing alarm that draws him away from the blast that destroys Scotland Yard. Realizing it was not an ordinary timepiece, Thaniel goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, an old but kind immigrant from Japan who stays in the Show Village.

Scotland Yard suspects Mori of being the brain behind the bombings. On Scotland Yard’s insistence, Thaniel rents a room in Mori’s house to dig more about him. But very soon he comes to realize that there is more to Mori than meets the eye. Mori is a clairvoyant who can predict certain future events, but he is not a wicked person. Mori, considers himself Thaniel’s friend and guardian, and tries to protect his ward as best as he can, though Thaniel doesn’t always understand Mori’s intentions.

Thaniel meets Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist and decides to marry her, though he knows Mori and Grace don’t like each other. But then certain events unfold which make Thaniel realize who he wants to spend his entire life with.

It is a very unusual book. Set in Victorian London, it takes us on a nostalgic walk through the cobbled streets of London, Victoria station, the West Minister Abbey, the filthy banks of the Thames and the up-market Belgravia. It also gives us a satisfying peek into Japan and how its civil war affects its aristocracy and traditions.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street has many heroes for me. Obviously, Mori outshines them all, with his kindness, his stoicism and his loyalty above all. He is an interesting character as he lives in the heart of London, talks in an almost faultles English accent and has his hair dyed so he doesn’t stand out too much in the crowd. On the other hand, Thaniel is a simple person from Edinburgh who gets drawn in by people’s kindness. However, he makes a just decision at the end of the story.

Grace Carrow might come out as the villain in the story, but she is driven by hurt and jealousy, and might be excused. She is a feminist of her day and age without her knowing about it; she is intelligent and bold. She defies all customs and traditions and walks about in men’s clothes so as not to be stopped in gentlemen’s gatherings. She is also obstinate – she plans to spend the night with Thaniel walking on the streets of London, so that she would be disgraced and forced to marry Thaniel. Though Matsumoto, Grace’s friend from Oxford, has a short role in the story, it is quite an important one.

This book appealed to me on various levels. It’s a story about friendship between Mori and Thaniel and between Grace and Matsumoto. It’s also a love story which you will realize at the end (no, it’s not a spoiler). Mori’s clairvoyance and his clever if strange watchmaking make you feel as if you are reading a fantasy. There are times when you get confused between the flitting from real to fantasy and back, but they are far and few in between. Also, I found the end to be too fortunate, but the romantic in me appreciated the happy ending (again not a spoiler).

This book has several colors – while I was reading it, I passed the narrow black streets of London, I felt the gray overcast skies, touched the warm oranges and reds from the Chinese lanterns in Filigree Street and saw the golden timepieces and green pears.

The story has all the right ingredients that keep you hooked – bombs, suspense, reality and magic. And so for all the above reasons, Natasha Pulley’s The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is not to be missed.

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Reading Challenge and I have opted to read 24 books this year (though I am hoping to read more). There are 24 prompts given, and this book adheres to one of them. Seriously, only one!!

2. A book written by a Female author

10. A book set in a country that you visited/want to visit

19. A book written by an author who is new to you

23. A book you bought just because of its cover/a book with a beautiful cover

 

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European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman

Book cover of European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman

Image Credit: Amazon.com

Apart from Harry Potter which I absolutely loved, I haven’t enjoyed the genre of fantasy much. So, when my librarian showed me this book, my first instinct was to say NO. But then I read the excerpt – it talked about Mary Jekyll and Diana Hyde (we have all read the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in our childhood), and also about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. That’s what intrigued me. I knew I had to give this book a try.

The story goes like this – At the end of the nineteenth century, must be the year 1898 AD, when Mary Jekyll receives a telegram that Lucinda Van Helsing has been kidnapped. Being a member of the Athena Club along with other women like Beatrice, Catherine, Justine and Diana, she must travel to the Austro-Hungarian Empire to rescue this young girl who has gone through torturous scientific experimentation.

Before I go further, let me tell you, about the members of Athena Club who Mary met in her previous adventure and who now stay with her in her house at 11 Park Terrace, London. All these women are basically monsters created by scientists in order to better the human race through Artificial Selection as opposed to Natural Selection, the theory proposed by Charles Darwin. Mary Jekyll is Dr. Jekyll’s daughter, an eminent scientist and a member of the S.A (a secretive Alchemical Society). Dr. Jekyll experimented on himself and turned into Dr. Hyde and sired Diana Hyde through another woman. Beatrice is Dr. Rappaccini’s daughter who has purposely raised her a garden of poisonous flowers so that she would be poisonous to other living beings. Justine Frankenstein nee Moritz is reanimated by her mentor Viktor Frankenstein after she is dead. So basically, Justine is a dead person living. Catherine Moreau is the half-finished puma woman from the island of Dr. Moreau, a science fiction novel written by H. G. Wells.

All these 5 women are both powerful and weak in their own respective ways, however, when each of their individual qualities are combined it gives them a definite edge over many others.

Mary along with Justine decide to travel to first Vienna, where Lucinda has been kept in a mental asylum. Diana tags along with them. Their mission is to rescue her from the asylum and take her to Budapest, where the next meeting of the Alchemical Society is held and her father Prof. Van Helsing would be proposing to allow human transfiguration/mutation. Sherlock Holmes aids them financially and introduces these girls to Mrs. Irene Norton, who stays in Vienna. With the help of Mrs. Norton and her clever network of spies, they are able to rescue Lucinda from the asylum and are on their way to Budapest when they get kidnapped.

On the other hand, Holmes disappears too without a word. Now, it’s up to Catherine and Beatrice to find out what happened to their club members and they too embark on a journey to Vienna and then to Budapest.

What follows is an interesting journey where the girls meet spies, vampires and a lot of unexpected benefactors. You really have to read the book to understand the mishmash of characters, the travel, the history and the places.

I liked the title of the book and it was also a factor for me to pick up the book – European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. Travels in the continent I love and oxymoron-ic monstrous gentlewoman.

The story takes you on a historical ride on the Orient Express, the iconic train journey from Paris to Istanbul has suspended its operations, and then through the beautiful and colorful streets of Vienna and Budapest and shows you some curious delights. It has Sherlock Holmes in the beginning and Count Dracula at the end and so many colorful characters in between that your mind does get overwhelmed for a bit – but it’s a happy overwhelm because you still feel like going on and on to find out who are you going meet next – a spy, a vampire or a monster created in a laboratory by power hungry scientists.

The book is a 700-page story and not once did I feel bored or have the urge to put the book down. It was interesting and gripping from the very first word. All the characters are interesting, and the narration of the story is witty. Be prepared to let out more than a few chuckles. However, there are a few drawbacks.

Sherlock Holmes has a very brief appearance and then disappears for the entire length of the book. I found it strange given that he funded the travel of Mary, Justine and Diana to Vienna and had instructed them to keep him informed of their findings. For a person who likes to be on the top of the things, his mysterious absence disconcerted me. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it’s a story of female protagonists, there are male characters too, but they are more to help than to lead.

Secondly, whenever the chief characters find themselves in a soup, they are marvelously rescued by a team of their well wishers whom they don’t even know. It happens every time in the story due to which my heart, which would start beating faster every time the protagonists got in trouble initially, stopped getting excited later on.

The story has a medley of characters, all of which have been written upon by various writers – Sherlock Holmes, Justine Moritz aka Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Catherine Moreau, Beatrice Rappacini, Count Dracula, Ayesha – the Queen of Kor, a vanished African city. The author, Theodora Goss has done extremely well to bring all these characters together in an interesting manner in her story.

This is the second book in the Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club. I would recommend you to pick up the first book – The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, to understand the depth of the characters.

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Reading Challenge and I have opted to read 24 books this year (though I am hoping to read more). There are 24 prompts given, and this book adheres to one of them. Seriously, only one!!

2. A book written by a Female author

6. A retelling of your favorite fairytale/classic

10. A book set in a country that you visited/want to visit

22. A book that has a mythical/imaginary creature

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Book Review – The Signature of All Things

Book Cover of The Signature of Small Things

Image credit Amazon Uk

 

I haven’t read Elizabeth Gilbert’s most popular book Eat, Pray and Love. I watched the movie first, and once I watch a movie, I don’t feel like reading the book. It ruins my imagination. Anyway, I loved the movie so much, that I thought if the movie was even 10% authentic, the book should be a marvel. And I picked up her first book that I came across – The Signature of Small Things. Though it was a huge 500-page book, the excerpt was interesting which made the decision for me.

Alma Whitaker is raised in 19th century Philadelphia in a world of luxury. Her curiosity and unquenchable thirst to explore the nature are fuelled by her father, a botanical explorer and mother, a botanist in her own right. Alma’s father encourages her to speak her mind, while her mother ingrains into her the values of a good human being. But, after all she is a human and there are times when she falls short.

Alma grows up into a practical woman who is neither blinded by the wealth around her, nor who shies away from the realities of life. She invests her time wisely into digging the mysteries of evolution. At the prime of her life, she encounters a man whom she finds both her equal and comes to love, but little does she know that her affection for him would draw her into the world of divinity and spiritualism.

Leaving behind all her worldly goods, she embarks on a momentous journey from Philadelphia to Tahiti and then to Amsterdam. She meets some wonderful people in Tahiti and also finds the truth for which she had undertaken the journey. She decides to visit Amsterdam, the land of her mother and settle there. Not to sit idle, she takes up work and makes a name for herself in the world of bryology.

The book started on an interesting note. It talks about the humble origins of Henry Whitaker (Alma’s father) and how he made his fortune and a name for himself as a botanist. Then the book focuses on Alma’s childhood, her adulthood and her marriage. The later part of the story focuses on Alma’s voyage to Tahiti, her discovery and her last years in Amsterdam.

The characters in the story are very well built; even the characters who played a small role are well defined and leave a lasting impression. For example, the unpredictable but ever bubbly Retta who ends up in an asylum, the beautiful but cold Prudence, who surprises everyone by marrying her tutor, Beatrice – the stern but practical mother of Alma, who doesn’t think twice before adopting Prudence, a maid’s daughter and treating her as the child of her womb or Hanneke de Groot, the handmaid who follows her mistress, Beatrice from Amsterdam to Philadelphia and runs the Whitaker household single-handedly.

However, for me, there are three heroes in the story. Alma Whitaker, Henry Whitaker and Ambrose. Alma is the protagonist, but she is not your regular spoilt rich kid. Even surrounded by wealth, her only passion is knowledge. However, she has her own faults. She is shown beseeched by jealousy when she finds Prudence in her home. She is upset when her friend Retta marries Georges, her first crush. She is overcome by anger and hatred when her husband, Ambrose disappoints her in their marriage. However, I found Alma to be boring. She lives a life sans adventure except for the last part when she undertakes a journey to Tahiti and then to Amsterdam. Also, I didn’t feel Alma endearing or engaging, and maybe that’s the reason I couldn’t feel the personal loss of Alma.

Ambrose is the husband of Alma, but only in name. Alma could never understand her husband – the strange but always happy man who talks about divinity and spiritualism. Though Ambrose plays a small role in the book, he overshadows a major part of the story.

I found Henry Whitaker to be the most interesting of the lot. He is an uneducated man who makes it big in life, both in terms of money and name. He is quirky and unapologetic, and that what makes him endearing to the reader. One never knows what to expect with him around.

Enough about the characters, let me talk about the writing style of Gilbert. Gilbert’s narrative is simple and witty. However, the plot slows down in the middle and there are times when exasperated you feel like putting the book down. A reader comes up with a lot of questions which sadly get answered a little too late, by the time which the reader has already moved onto the next plot and raised another set of questions.

The book is undoubtedly well researched, but I found an overabundance of historical facts and scientific research which intrigues the reader initially, but ends up frustrating him. At the end of the book, Alma is shown to be a contemporary of Darwin and anticipates Darwin’s work. I mean I am already exhausted by the many plots and subplots and didn’t want another one opening right at the end of the book which served no other purpose than to show one more failure, this time professional, that Alma went through.

Gilbert is a brilliant and talented writer, and she has put a lot of time and research into the novel, but a surplus of facts and details might have just killed the book.

I wouldn’t recommend the book unless you like big fat books with history, facts and details.

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Reading Challenge and I have opted to read 24 books this year (though I am hoping to read more). There are 24 prompts given, and this book adheres to one of them. Seriously, only one!!

2. A book written by a Female author

 

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Book Review – A Murder on Malabar Hill

It is no secret that I love reading murder mysteries and that Dame Agatha Christie is my favorite author in the genre. Last week, as I was picking up a book of Sophie Hannah in the Agatha Christie series, my librarian recommended to me this book – A Murder on Malabar Hill. The synopsis of the book was quite intriguing and I didn’t hesitate to borrow the book.

Book cover of a Murder on Malabar Hill

Book cover of a Murder on Malabar Hill

Written by Sujata Massey, an Indo-German, A Murder on Malabar Hill rolls in Mumbai in 1921 pre-Independent India. Parveen Mistry, a young and intelligent Zoroastrian, joins her father’s prestigious law firm to become one of India’s first female lawyers.

In her very first case, she is appointed to execute the will of Omar Farid, a wealthy mill owner who dies intestate leaving behind three widows and four kids. He also appoints a guardian/caretaker for his estate, mill and family. Parveen’s suspicions are aroused by the anomaly in the will and she is suspicious of the guardian of duping the unworldly wise widows who live in a strict seclusion, never leaving the women’s quarters or speaking to men, until she finds him murdered in his own house.

Who killed him? One of the widows of Omar Farid, one of the servants or someone from the outside? Parveen makes it her business to find out in order to protect the family of Omar Farid.

I like this book on various levels.

Firstly, I fell in love with the protagonist. Parveen Mistry is a feisty young woman who though is bound by the strict rules of society in early 20th century doesn’t give it up easily without a fight. As per the author, Parveen’s character was inspired by India’s earliest women lawyers, Cornelia Sorabji of Poona, the first woman to read law at Oxford and the first woman to sit the British law exam and to be admitted to the Bombay Bar.

Parveen has a disturbing past, but she rises above it, owns up her mistakes and moves on. Also, the author has dealt with the subject of Parveen’s tumultuous past with great sensitivity and respect.

I didn’t know about Purdanashins, the females of the Muslim community who choose to stay in seclusion all their life in zenanas (female rooms) and not to interact with men, except their husbands and sons. The book throws light on them and gives a good insight into their family structure and mental make-up of such women. The book talks not only about the women in seclusion in the Muslim community, but also some of the sordid practices of orthodox Parsi families.

Sujata Massey paints a nostalgic picture of Mumbai of a 100 years ago. The pretty sprawling Anglo-Indian bungalows on Malabar Hill, the Queen’s Necklace, Zaveri Bazaar, Dadar Parsi Colony and the jewel of Colaba – The Taj Mahal Palace. The tongas and man-pulled rickshaws, the stevedores at the Ballard Pier and Irani bakeries like Yazdani serving melt-in-your-mouth Irani confectionery all add to the old-world charm of this majestic city. Mumbai would not have been Mumbai without the generous contribution of the Zoroastrian community, and this book gives a just ode to them.

There are a few nail-biting moments in the book, however, for a murder mystery, I would have expected some more. The mystery was not mysterious enough and even I could see through the killer (I have never been able to crack the murderer in Agatha Christie’s books). So, yes, that was a bit disappointing there, however, the motive for murder was intelligent enough.

The book is more than just a murder mystery, but an introduction to the social life of elite Mumbai in the early 1900s and the stand of women in the society. The book is well researched and the characters are complex and believable.

If you are looking for a finely detailed and tightly woven crime novel like Agatha Christie’s, then you might be disappointed in this book, but if you are looking for an engaging and cozy read with one of its aspects being a murder mystery, you will definitely like this book.

I definitely would want to read all future offerings of Parveen Mistry Investigates.

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Reading Challenge and I have opted to read 24 books this year (though I am hoping to read more). There are 24 prompts given, and this book adheres to three of them:

2. A book written by a Female author

16. A book on crime-solving

23. A book you bought just because of its cover/a book with a beautiful cover

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#TellTaleThursday – The Wrath of Gods

Today’s prompt is this powerful image –

Image : Unsplash.com

His eyes opened to the majestic blue sky. A clear sky would be delightful to many, but not to him. It meant his woes would not come to an end today.

Shaking his melancholy aside, he got up from the charpoy and went to the nearby jungle to complete his morning ablutions. If it didn’t rain by the end of this week, he would have nothing to give back to his creditors who hounded him mercilessly.

He went to the hut. His wife, who all of 25-years but looked like 50 with years of poverty and hard work, looked at him with hope. He shook his head. His two kids were still sleeping, their faces gaunt and their skin thin due to hunger.

She handed him some food. He had neither gone to the market, nor had given her money to buy food. He knew what she had served her. Any rodent or tabby she could get her hands on in the field became their meals these days.

Before going to sleep that night, he put his hands together. Calloused hands with dirt beneath the fingers joined together in a prayer. He prayed to the Rain God to send some over to his field. And slept.

In the night, he woke up to unusual sounds. What was it? He felt hot, burning hot. Within seconds he was up. A fierce inhuman cry came out of his mouth as he ran towards his field. Or what was left of it.

The Gods don’t answer all prayers.

Note:

We are taking a break from #TellTaleThursday in the month of July. See you in August with a renewed vigor. 

We request you to kindly share our links in your posts. <#TellTalethursday with @anshu and @priya so that others can reach us.

Till then, write bold write unique. 

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#TellTaleThursday – Innocent Wish

Prompt – You make a wish at midnight and it comes true..

Innocent Wish

Jenny came home from school. She threw her bag on the floor, flung her shoes in the air and sat on the kitchen stool with a surly face.

Her mother asked, “What’s wrong Jenny? Why are you sulking?”

“All my friends got new gifts for Christmas, except me,” she complained. “Sonia got a new pair of rollerblades, Ron got a football, Amy got a cool pair of gloves and Tina got a new prosthetic leg.”

“But you did get a Christmas gift, remember?”

“A black cardigan from the Salvation Army does not count as a gift,” Jenny retorted. Her mother didn’t like the tone of the little girl, but she was not wrong either. She wasn’t able to gift Jenny anything new for the last couple of years.

“OK, do one thing. Tonight at midnight, make a wish and I promise it will get fulfilled,” her mother promised. She could spare some savings for a new doll.

Jenny was ecstatic and couldn’t wait for the midnight. At the stroke of midnight, she made a wish. A simple wish.

The next morning, her mother came to Jenny’s room to wake her up for school. She saw her daughter was surrounded by strange things around her. She could see Rollerblades, a football, a golden ring, a parrot and what was that! Was it an artificial leg? She gasped.

What did her daughter wish for?

Can you guess what was Little Jenny’s wish??

Note:

We have discontinued with the weekly linky party. However, we will be sharing the prompts with our stories. Feel free to write on the prompts every Thursday. You can share the links in the comment section. We promise to read it. There is no word limit anymore. 

We request you to kindly share our links in your posts. <#TellTalethursday with @anshu and @priya so that others can reach us.

As always, write bold write unique. 

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