Category Archives: Being a writer

Review: The Crucifix Killer (By Chris Carter)

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The Crucifix Killer (Source: Goodreads)

Length: 423 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

When Homicide Detective Robert Hunter walks into the derelict cottage, he sees something that makes his worst nightmare come alive. The naked body of woman is strung from two parallel wooden posts, her face skinned off, an unbelievable amount of torture having been inflicted upon her. And the mark of a double crucifix cut into the back of her neck. But that signature had been known only to the people working the case that had consumed Hunter’s life until two years ago. But they’d caught that murdered, and the Crucifix Killer had been executed. Then what could explain the scene that lay before him? A copycat maybe? The theory holds some weight… until Hunter receives the call. And then he and his rookie partner are assigned to the case – to finding a murdered who had already taken him to the edge of madness and greif once. Would he succeed in pushing him over this time?

My take:

Let me first state that I began this book with a whole lot of expectations, born from an excellently written blurb that had me hooked within just a few words. I mean – sadistic killer, a psychopathic signature that’s all too familiar and a detective with an obviously tormented past – it’s got all the ingredients for a great crime thriller with a side of criminal psychology. And of course, the fact that the author is a criminal psychologist.

So there I was, diving into The Crucifix Killer with bated breath and high hopes.

But page after page, the book managed to just about keep me hooked on the story, while letting me down on everything else.

The first good thing about the book was its story line. It had the right pace, the right amount of twists and turns and even managed to bring in unpredictable touches to that which was predictable. The second good thing was the characterization of the main characters. There were contradictions to each character’s personality which gave them a human-ness that was very appreciable. They did what had to be done, but they were not immune to fear and pain – it gave them a very real persona.

But that was where the good points ended.

The first thing that strikes you when you read The Crucifix Killer is that it is, without doubt, Chris Carter’s first novel. The writing style varies from really good in a few odd places, to really amateur in most others. For a criminal novel, there is a severe lack of mystery in his writing. He sort of just states things – narrative and dialogue. And that is a real downer. Not only are you left reading something that is written more like ‘the obvious book of obvious observations’, you also end up with dialogue that most often evokes the thought, “Who talks like that?”

You would think that this isn’t a big deal, but it really brings down the flow and pace, which is a real shame considering you like the characters and the story too. Sometimes, the characters also get annoying because there is some odd bluntness even to them that you can’t put your finger on, but that clearly exists and diminishes the reading experience.

So where does The Crucifix Killer really stand?

I think it’s okay as the first book of an author who clearly comes across as one with great potential. You can see that he’s got the ability to be a really amazing story-teller – it comes up many times and when it does, pulls you right into the story. The facts and information have a way of coming across as really accurate because of his diverse experience, giving you interesting insight into criminal psychology. The things that are lacking seem like they’ll reduce over time and books. And that is why, in spite of the drawbacks I found in his style, I will probably read another Chris Carter novel, and then another. If you like crime thrillers and crime fiction, and if you enjoy criminal psychology, then you should The Crucifix Killer a shot. Maybe you won’t feel the disappointment I did and will just love it – many people do. Or maybe, you’ll like it just enough to read another, and to take it from an okay book to one that gets a 3 out of 5 rating.

What did you think of Chris Carter’s The Crucifix Killer? Share your opinions in the comments below.

– Rishika S.

 

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Review: The Bone Collector (Jeffery Deaver)

Source: Goodreads

Source: Goodreads

Length: 467 pages

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Lincoln Rhyme was the best forensic expert the city of New York had known. Until an accident left him a quadriplegic. Now, he spends his time in the hope that someone will help him kill himself. But the Bone Collector has other plans for the once famous criminologist.

The first victim had been buried alive, his hand, stripped to the bone on the ring finger, left above the surface to beg for help that never came. And Rhyme comes face to face with an old colleague who brings the case to him. Finally given the chance for which he’s waited a long time, Rhyme doesn’t care about case. Until one detail catches his eye. And Lincoln Rhyme knew that there wasn’t much time for a second body to appear. Turning to many of the people he’d worked with at an earlier time, Rhyme begins to follow the clues being left by a deranged and sadistic killer. He is forced to face his most daunting rival even as he struggles with his own demons and decisions. But will a man who wants to do nothing more than die, hold on to his life to save another?

My take:

The Bone Collector is the first in the Lincoln Rhyme series, and it takes just a few pages to tell you why it went on to become such a famous series.

There are many things in Deaver’s writing that really pull you in – the first being his characterization. Whether main characters or supporting ones, every single person in the book has a presence of their own. They are real people with very real emotions, flaws and desires. And that makes it very easy for you to love and hate the same person in a single moment. The dynamics between the characters is extremely well-done and gives you an insight into each person’s nature. That’s what gives you the feeling of watching the entire story unfold before your eyes.

The story itself is really interesting. It takes you by surprise on more than one occasion, with the end being a real surprise. One major aspect of the story is the actual forensic procedures. The book has a lot of information on the analysis of physical evidence, something which I hadn’t expected. But it didn’t slow the book down, in my opinion; it only added a new, interesting angle to it. And it gave it its own unique place in the really popular genre.

The Bone Collector reminded me of Simon Beckett’s work which features another forensic expert – David Hunter. Deaver’s work though, focuses more on the technicalities of forensics. And then, of course, is the fact that his protagonist is a suicidal quadriplegic.

Rhyme is quite unlike any other protagonist. He’s mean, angry, irritable and brilliant. Deaver makes you want to take care of him and hit him, both at the same time. And the development of his character is the best thing about the book. You can see him fight – his circumstances and himself – and grudgingly face the truth about himself which isn’t always pretty. And he’s just one of a wonderfully complicated cast of characters that add multiple layers to the story.

A crime thriller with a technical edge, The Bone Collector is a fast, intriguing and sometimes-intense read. It introduces really interesting characters that you want to revisit, while also dabbling a bit in the macabre (the victims’ fates are a bit more disturbing than you’d expect). It’s the first of Deaver’s work that I’ve read, but definitely not the last. It’s a great read for those who like the crime and thriller genres. If you’re looking for a crime thriller that goes beyond the usual, I’d definitely recommend this one.

– Rishika

 

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Review: Yes, My Accent Is Real: and Some Other Things I Haven’t Told You (By Kunal Nayyar)

Yes, My Accent Is Real Source: Goodreads

Yes, My Accent Is Real
    Source: Goodreads

Length: 272 pages

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Kunal Nayyar plays Rajesh Koothrapalli on TV’s The Big Bang Theory. This book takes a look at the man who brings Raj to life and the journey that led him to the role.

Normally, there isn’t much that you can synopsize about a memoir/autobiography. But, in this case, I’m going to share an excerpt from the book blurb. And that goes something like this, “Full of heart, but never taking itself too seriously, this witty and often inspiring collection of underdog tales follows a young man as he traverses two continents in search of a dream, along the way transcending culture and language (and many, many embarrassing incidents) to somehow miraculously land the role of a lifetime”.

My take:

A book blurb is meant to give you an insight into the book. It’s also meant to entice you into buying and reading the book, but primarily to tell you what to expect. Now, I like Raj and I think Kunal Nayyar plays the role near-exceptionally. And when I heard of the book, I was definitely intrigued. Like any regular reader, I read the blurb – and the damn thing suckered me into reading 272 pages of ordinariness.

At the end of it, I felt betrayed by the blurb – like it lied to me. Because the book isn’t really witty, save for a few parts, isn’t exactly inspiring and definitely isn’t the story of an underdog. What it is, instead, is a story of a guy who went from India to U.S.A and had some mishaps while trying to fit in.

I think that can happen to people who move from one city to another too. I’ve gone abroad and yes, it is difficult, but it isn’t underdog-y. There are very times that you’ll find yourself laughing out loud. Those are the times that the book is hilarious, but if I was forced to recollect, I’d say that that happened five times. A few times, maybe fifteen, you smile. The rest, you read with a straight face and straight emotions.

The experiences he’s shared come across as too filmy and exaggerated or like they are experiences that anyone can have. Now ‘anyone’ won’t write a book about them – they’d barely make a note in their Dear Diary – but Kunal did. And as a result, you have a memoir that doesn’t truly inspire.

Mary Kom and Milkha Singh’s stories are inspiring. They had the real underdog stories where they fought against unbelievable circumstances, grief, obstacles and prejudice to rise to the top. Kunal’s stories have lessons in them, but they are morals you would learn all on your own, as you live your own, regular life.

And that is why I found the blurb to be a bit of a lie.

But that doesn’t meant that the book was bad altogether. The laugh-out-loud moments were really good. It’s also been written blatantly in most places – right from the heart. And that comes through, making it quite touching in places and warm in others. You get to see the man behind the character and his emotions and principles which I found admirable. That is the only reason it reached 2.5 stars.

All in all, the book was an average read. I could have gone without reading it, but don’t think I lost too much by spending a few days on it either. It could have been shorter – there was a point where I just wanted to be ‘done with it already’ – which, I think, would have increased its appeal.

You shouldn’t bother reading it if you’re looking for an exceptionally inspiring tale. The people who will really enjoy it are the die-hard fans of Rajesh Koothrapalli and The Big Bang Theory. So, if that’s you, jump right into it!

In conclusion, I would like to add that not all weddings are as elaborate as Kunal Nayyar’s. I should know, I got married six months ago. And my husband did not get on a horse – that is actually an option which most men, today, choose not to exercise.

– Rishika

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Review: Vanished (By Tim Weaver)

Vanished Source: Goodreads

         Vanished
   Source: Goodreads

Length:484 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Sam Wren got onto the Tube train on the morning of 16 December. But he never got off. He vanished without a trace, not even leaving so much as a shadow on security cameras. Six months later, his wife Julia makes the decision to reach out to David Raker. And so, the missing persons investigator created by Tim Weaver finds himself on the hunt for another lost person. Raker knows that the lives of people who go missing are filled with secrets. But even he isn’t prepared for the web of lies that waits for him. As he discovers that there was more to Sam’s life than anyone knew, he learns that he can’t trust anyone. Danger grows as Raker’s path crosses with old acquaintances and new threats come to light. And before he realizes, Raker is pulled into the dark depths that he’d vowed to avoid – depths that, as he realizes, he cannot avoid. Because the only thing that matters is finding those who are lost… even if that means that he doesn’t know when to stop.

My take:

The first thing I’d say about Vanished is that it wasn’t as good as its predecessors. It lacked that chill that was so excellently included in The Dead Tracks. Yet, the book manages to make it to 4 stars (instead of the 3.5 that I’d first considered). One reason for this is, of course, the story. Weaver has written an interesting tale that comes from many different angles of the past and present and converge at an unexpected conclusion. You don’t really see it coming and it definitely leaves you wanting more.

Another aspect that I thought was brilliantly done was the characterization. Weaver’s characters are very human. They are flawed, they have ambition, they want revenge and they get hurt – emotionally and physically. And their complexity is what is so easy to associate with. While I can appreciate near-superhuman protagonists (read Jack Reacher, who I think is awesome in his own way), there is an extraordinary ordinariness to David Raker that makes Vanished so very enjoyable. Weaver captures his protagonist’s strengths and weaknesses almost perfectly, exploiting them to create a story that is believable.

Throw a little bit of criminal psychology into this mix of twists-and-turns filled story and relatable characters, and you get an interesting read that you can’t put down. And when you finally do, it’s only to wonder just what the heck is going to happen next (this is where I’m grateful that I discovered his books late enough to not have to wait for the next one to still come out).

As a chilling thriller, Vanished falls just short of the mark. But as a gripping mystery bordering on thriller, it does just fine. It can be read as a stand alone without having to read its prequels. But if you’re a first timer for Tim Weaver’s work, then maybe begin with The Dead Tracks or Chasing the Dead. If you’ve been following the Raker series, then don’t miss this one – it has some of the best insights into Raker and other regular characters. All in all, a great read for mystery and thriller lovers and for Tim Weaver fans too.

– Rishika

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Review: Needful Things (By Stephen King)

Needful Things Source: Goodreads

Needful Things
 Source: Goodreads

Length: 944 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Leland Gaunt – a stranger in Castle Rock and the owner of the new store, Needful Things – causes great curiosity amongst the people of the small town in the days leading up to the opening of his store. And painful satisfaction after. When you offer one’s deepest desires for sale, there’s something for everyone to buy. Especially when the price is so very low.

But the low price is only a part of the payment that needs to be made to Leland Gaunt. And the dealing is never done until Leland Gaunt says its done. A baseball card for young Brian Rusk, The King’s sunglasses for his mother, a fishing rod for the Deputy Sheriff and a cure for the chronic pain in her hands for Polly Chalmers – Needful Things has something for everyone and by the end of the week, Leland Gaunt has a captivated group of customers.

The only one unconvinced remains Sheriff Alan Panghorn, a man who has his own demons to deal with, a man who has sworn to uphold law and peace in his town, a man who Leland Gaunt intentionally avoids. But even the skeptical Sheriff could not predict nor guess who Gaunt really is, and what it is that he’s really selling. Until greed begins to possess the buyers who will do whatever it takes to hold on to their new purchases. As the Sheriff attempts to protect the town he serves and the woman he loves, greed gives way to insanity; and Gaunt becomes a foe unlike any he’d ever faced and one who could bring about his end. And Castle Rock finally begins to reveal more of its hidden secrets, secrets that could cost the town dearly.

My take:

Needful Things is a long read that spends most of its pages building up to a potentially thrilling climax. Unfortunately, the build up is a little too long and the conclusion, although interesting, seems like a bit of a let down due to said build up. Yet, the book manages to be interesting enough to keep you reading. What helps are the numerous points of view that the book follows as you learn about the feelings and lives of the many people of Castle Rock. While some may say that the many points of view and the sheer number of people that make their presence known in the book can make it a bit too confusing to follow, the chaos is somehow controlled just enough to give you a feel for what the town is going through.

The book also tends to escalate really high, really fast at random points in the book, sometimes making you cringe at the blatant insanity, and other times, making you wonder just what it is that makes people the crazy way they can be. That in fact, is the best part of the book – the craziness that forces you to look at people and their limits when it comes to their deepest desires more closely, and with a new perception altogether.

Other than the sudden changes in speed, of which there are only a few, the book moves along more or less steadily. You know something big is going to happen sometime, but you can’t say what it will be and the wait can get annoying. Also, you require the ability to simply accept things for what they are, much like with other books by Stephen King. Strange things happen; they’re not really meant to be explained or justified – they just are, because they can be, in Castle Rock. So, if those kinds of loose ends bother you, then maybe give Needful Things a pass.

If you are a mild Stephen King fan, Needful Things will be one of those books that you like, but that you wouldn’t have really regretted missing either. All in all, an interesting read that leaves little to desire in story and style, but quite a bit on length and transparency. Needful Things may be perfect when you have time to kill and no other favorite books or authors to read. But should you make great effort to find and read this entire book? Only if you’re a die-hard fan of Stephen King.

– Rishika

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Review: Sudden Death (By Pat Wilpenter)

Sudden Death Source: Goodreads

      Sudden Death
   Source: Goodreads

Length: 34 pages

My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Dr. Tess Scott became a doctor to ease the suffering of human beings. On night duty at the ER, she’s had as normal a Tuesday as any can be. Until a patient is brought in, incoherent, in brutal pain, and writhing uncontrollably. The man is dead before the results of his blood tests can be reached. And he’s just the beginning. As people with similar conditions are brought in over the next few days and weeks, Dr. Tess finds herself looking for the cause, as yet imperceptible. And as she gets closer to uncovering the truth, the deeper in mortal danger she finds herself. Can Dr. Tess find the condition that is killing so many people? And can she stop the people behind it before they stop her?

My take:

It took me a grand total of 15 minutes to read Sudden Death – that is how short and quick paced the book is. Except, that it feels very little like a book and more like the outline of a story.

Dr. Tess, who actually has the potential to be likeable, comes across as anything but. A doctor who talks to herself and takes breaks to chat with a handsome colleague while a patient is dying in the ER just because she’s waiting on results becomes a little difficult to believe as someone who is compassionate and as someone who is deeply affected by said patient’s death. She may not have anything to do while she waited for the results, but there was a serious lack of a sense of urgency. The odd contradiction of complacency and urgency, in character, writing style and story, made for a very unpleasant beginning. And maybe it’s just me, but I’d like the characters I’m reading about to act a certain way as I discover more about them; simply stating how one is, that too at random spots, doesn’t do much for the character, the story, or the reader.

The story then goes on to describe Dr. Tess’ attempts at finding out what’s actually happening to her patients. Random action scenes that you can miss if you as much as blink and sequences that simply jump from one to another make you feel like you’re just reading a bunch of paragraphs that are sort of written along a story line. Add to that the complacent style of writing regardless of the scene unfolding and you don’t really feel for any of the characters, what they’re going through, or what they’re even doing. Wilpenter jumps from one scene to another with little thought for continuity and in the process, has created a short story that gets some story across, but does so with almost no impact.

The story has potential and could have been well written and drawn out even to make a full sized novel. But as a short story, it doesn’t strike as anything more than a loosely drafted outline of an idea. All in all, a sore disappointment as a medical thriller.

– Rishika

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Writing tip: Edit before you write

If there’s one thing that most authors can agree on, it’s that editing your own work, although necessary, can be a giant pain in the neck! You’ve just written ten pages and finally called it a day. You’re super excited about moving onto the next chapter or part of the book. So why would you want to start your next day by editing what you’ve spent hours on just a day ago?

The answer is simple – so that you don’t spend months on it later.

Many authors swear by the ‘edit before you write’ method. In this method, you simply begin your day of writing by going over everything you wrote the previous day. You will probably find a few spelling mistakes, gaps where you altogether missed words in your hurry to type, and maybe even get a better way of writing sections that are meant to have a high impact. Additionally, this allows you to remain updated with everything that’s been happening, especially when you get back to writing after a long weekend, and it ensures that you don’t forget the intricacies of the plot line or the general direction of the story. I’ve found that this method can also stop you from getting overwhelmed by your own work which can happen if you’re working on a book that has many parallel story lines.

Editing can be a drag, especially if you’re in a hurry to get your story completed. But employing the ‘edit before you write’ method when you’re on your second or third draft (depending on how clean and how close to the final version with which you are satisfied the draft is), can help you reduce the effort required at a later stage and can help you move ahead more effectively every day. Plus, you don’t end up finishing an entire novel only to discover, when you finally begin editing, that you’ve made a mistake which has compounded over the pages and effectively ruined a great chunk of your work.

What methods do you employ to keep your work moving smoothly? And how do you go about your editing? Share your thoughts on the editing aspect of an author’s work in the comments below.

– Rishika

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