Sunday, September 22, 2013

Joyland by Stephen King

Summary: Saying Joyland by Stephen King is a mix of a horror story and a crime novel wouldn't be quite right: it's the kind of book that you couldn't squeeze into one genre. It is about twenty-one year old, mopey, just-broken-up-with-his-first-love Devin Jones who does a summer job at an amusement park, Joyland (where they sell fun.) On his first day, two mysterious things happen. One: Madame Fortuna, the resident fortune teller and an apparent psychic, predicts that Devin would meet two important children during his work at Joyland, one of them with the Sight. Two: Devin hears of the ghost that haunts the park's only dark ride, Horror House. A little sleuthing leads him to the tragic murder of Linda Gray, by a man who slit her throat and dumped her in the darkest part of the amusement ride; the murderer was never caught. Intrigued by the stories, slightly suicidal after his break-up, Devin finds himself turning his summer stint at Joyland into a full time job. And that is when he meets Annie Ross and her ten-year-old, Mike, who knows he is going to die, just the way he somehow knows so many other things.

My thoughts: This book was so sweet. It reminded me of how 11.22.63 made me feel at the end and if you've read it, you'll know what I mean. It was deeply moving. Joyland was another one of those reads that show that Stephen King writes more than 'scary stories'. This was not another book of gory monsters written for those with the emotional range of a teaspoon (know who said that? give yourself a pat on the back!) Nor just another whodunit where the story ends fair and happy when the smart detective figures out who the killer is.

The book was written in a nostalgic tone, as Devin, now old described the most memorable times of his youth. It was almost ruefully funny at times and sad and scary, at others. I adored Mike, the little crippled boy so full of hope. In a way, he might have reminded me of Danny Torrance (so many other Goodreads reviewers say the same thing) for his ability, but somehow he left a much greater impression on me. I liked the people of Joyland, all strange, hilarious and thoroughly lovable; from Fortuna to the owner, the cute old man Bradley Easterbrook. Not to mention, Tom Kennedy and Erin Cook; the young promises and friendships were wonderfully dealt with. Throughout, I could visualize Joyland and its carny lingo, its employees taking turns at 'wearing the fur' and being Happy Howie, the German shepherd mascot, the spooky lore and the large Ferris wheel, Carolina Spin, which made you feel like you were flying. The mystery itself was noirish and played out roughly: the 'answer' which ought to satisfy you, just left me drained.

Mostly, Joyland by Stephen King was a gritty, brutally honest coming-of-age novel. Read it as a book about growing up and tackling life as it comes, and you might love it.

I read this because I finally found it, yay. But also maybe for the R.I.P. Challenge. I'm just biding time now till my copy of Dr. Sleep arrives.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Elephant Vanishes (and other stories) by Haruki Murakami

This was my second shot at something written by Haruki Murakami - the first time, I abandoned Norwegian Wood after four pages, which is why I don't tell people that I did not finish the book, rather I never started it. I picked up The Elephant Vanishes, against my better judgment, from the library for the Japanese Literature Challenge. I read five stories from the collection, before I gave up the effort. Or, put the book indefinitely on hold. These are the ones I read:

1. The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday's Women

2. The Second Bakery Attack

3. The Kangaroo Communique

4. The Elephant Vanishes

5. The Silence

You know what the strange thing is? I quit reading because I actually liked the last story. I didn't want to spoil the effect it had on me with another 'The Second Bakery Attack'! If I'd only read The Silence, I'd have had a much more favourable impression of Murakami than I have now. The other stories just weren't for me. I found the writing disconnected and pretentious in its annoyingly stubborn lack of purpose. Why do people love Murakami? Do you? There has to be something I'm missing here. I've never got a clear explanation from a fan of what it is, exactly, that I apparently don't get.

But you know what, I don't even want to understand. I don't want to trudge through another slow story, told by another dull narrator, only to reach the most anticlimactic ending in the history of endings. Call me dumb, but I'd rather be dumb than pretend I got something out of this read other than complete boredom and mild confusion. I don't want to have to try so hard to like something, which is proving so difficult to like. The Silence was a rare gem. Was it worth struggling through the entire book? Not according to me.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Drake Equation by Heather Walsh

I know I'm not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but look at that! How could I not? It's a beautiful cover, you have to admit. The Drake Equation by Heather Walsh is a good story. Not wholly life altering perhaps, but for a book with a dreamy cover that promises 'a contemporary love story', it's awesome.

Summary: She's a Democrat, he's a Republican. She spends her days fighting global warming at an environmental non-profit, he makes his living doing PR for Bell Motors and their fleet of SUVs. But as soon as they meet, Emily Crossley and Robert Drake realize they have encountered their intellectual match. You’re never challenged, he tells her. You've surrounded yourself in a cocoon of people who think exactly the same way you do. She hurls the same accusation back at him, and the fiery debates begin. Despite both of their attempts to derail it, there is no denying that they are falling in love. But their relationship is threatened by political differences, Robert’s excessive work hours, and Emily’s fear of losing her identity as she falls deeper in love. Can their love survive? The Drake Equation is a tale of modern love and all its complexities.

My thoughts: When Robert and Emily met, I felt I knew what was going to happen; how the plot was going to play out. Romance novels can be awfully predictable. But The Drake Equation wasn't all that formulaic. The love story was both gradual and instant. A long time passed before either of them was serious about the relationship; though that didn't happen many pages into the book. But the initial inevitable attraction, the eventual relationship weren't too drawn out. I liked that there was so much fun dialogue, and few descriptions of fluttering hearts and insanely attractive knights-in-shining-armours. The conversations, the playful arguments and the serious discussions were precious. Both Emily and Robert started out as stereotypes (they definitely stereotyped each other), but they weren't picked straight out of a fairytale. They were real and really interesting. They grew with the relationship and ended up in an altogether different place than they'd started. I still wasn't sure why I so liked the book until I read that very nicely dealt with ending. The Drake Equation is not just another cozy romance, a quick breezy read; though it does a good job convincing you it is. I enjoyed the book immensely because of that: that easy flow it maintained despite all that seemed to be going on; even the often unfocused chaotic plot, managed to be very engaging.

There were other characters that were nice and funny, and some that were perfectly capable of shocking/disgusting me, none of them redundant. There were delightful bits of information about every thing from language to food, fascinating talks about Charlotte Bronte and Carl Sagan, politics and environment. The book did make a point in the end, a big one; and had many small messages strewn over the pages. It had quite a bit of The Pride and Prejudice 'do-i-know-me' and 'am-i-really-sure-i'm-right' theme. But I don't want to talk about the things the book made me (re)consider, I don't wish to spoil the experience for you. You'd want to analyze the story, not to mention, heart-flutter over Robert Drake/Emily Crossley all on your own.

Huh. I guess I only thought I was a cynic, when all this time I'm just a goofy romantic. That's correct, this is one of those rare times when I recommend a love story on this blog.

If you are still not convinced you'd like this; read Dented Cans, the author's debut novel which was more of a your-and-my kind of book. You don't want to miss this author!

I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the author.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

A little more than a year ago, I read this review of The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson on Vishy's Blog. The review made it sound like the most fascinating book and if not anything else, it is certainly that.

It is difficult to write a summary for a book that winds so many stories together, but I'll try. The book opens with the life-altering car crash of our narrator, once a hardcore porn-star and a junkie. He survives, but his body is almost irreparably burnt. While recovering in the burn ward of a hospital, alone and grotesque, the pain drives him to a point where the only relief is the idea of suicide. With the same suddenness with which the narrator describes his accident, he introduces us to the character central to his story: Marianne Engel, a beautiful apparent schizophrenic, a sculptress of gargoyles, who believes not only that she is seven hundred years old but that she's our narrator's true love. She insists that they were lovers in medieval Germany; he, a badly burnt mercenary; and she, a nun, who nursed him back to health. Tacky as it may sound, with little to do but suffer the extensive treatment for his injury, our narrator immerses himself into the tales of love and God that the strange Marianne tells him; intrigued by the accuracy and consistency of her delusions. Under the care of his physiotherapist, the cheerful Sayuri, and his doctor Nan Edwards, with the help of an unlikely friend, a shrink, and the increasingly mysterious Marianne Engel, our narrator's condition slowly improves. When he is released from the hospital, the narrator moves in with Marianne, and realizes for the first time the true extent of her mania.

"If a man says that God is wise, the man is lying because anything that is wise can become wiser. Anything that a man might say about God is incorrect, even calling Him by the name of God. The best a man can do is to remain silent, because any time he prates on about God, he is committing the sin of lying. The true master knows that if he had a God he could understand, he would never hold Him to be God."

Now let me just say I like the book. Looking back on the 200-something pages, I can say with certainty that I'm glad I read them. You'll find many reviews on Amazon, Goodreads or your favourite book-lovers' haunt that describe just how charming, intelligently crafted, poetic, hauntingly beautiful the book is. I am intrigued by Davidson's imagination. The historical life of Marianne, growing up as a scribe in the famed monastery of Engelthal, is a wonderful blend of languages, art and literature. The culinary delights that she prepares for the narrator in the present day are appropriately delightful. The tales Marianne narrates, of everyone from Vikings to proper Victorian ladies, are an added charm. As I said, I like the book; but I don't quite love it. Though it had everything it needed to be properly splendid, the book just never fully held my attention.

I get the appeal for the book. The setting, the eerie writing, the mysticism, the switching timelines are reminiscent of writers like Patrick Sueskind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, A. S. Byatt. The narrator's oddly modern cynicism and abrupt sense of humour, the way the narrator talks, reminds me, for some reason, of China Mieville, though the content of this book rarely resembles his. The writing style, however, seems far too forced, like the author is mimicking his favourite writers; almost like a child who reads Enid Blyton writing about mean, horrid grown-ups and children who say things like, "Goodness me!" Apart from the stories Marianne tells, which are truly nice, there is little story-telling; only disconnected scenes strung together to form a brittle 'plot'. Few 'chapters', if they could be called that, are longer than a page. The theme of the book is, as is to be expected, redemption. But the part where the message of the book becomes most evident is rushed. Dante's Inferno, the circles of Hell are woven into the story, but even that story line remains, though imperceptibly, rough at the edges. While the author spends a long time working out an intricate history for all characters, their minds are superficial at best. The sudden change in the narrator and his view of the world, his abrupt lack of skepticism, the complete wiping away of the effects of his past, though brought on by a doubtlessly tragic incident, are sketchy at best. Marianne, who has so much potential, comes dangerously close to becoming an empty silhouette of a character; just a stereotype. Sayuri is an interesting character, her story adds a welcomed dash of bubbling humanity to the book, but even the ending the author presents her seems little more than a tying up of loose ends. The doctor is another stereotype I'd rather not dwell on. My favourite character is Jack Meredith, 'nuff said.

Despite the lengthy criticism, I do think the book is worth reading. It is certainly rather unique. It's not long, and though it sometimes loses momentum, if you like history, magical realism, dark fantasy, mythology, art, specifically grotesques, give The Gargoyle a chance.

I think the book fits The Historical Fiction Challenge better than it does the R.I.P. Challenge, though the latter is the one I originally read it 'for'. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Beaten by Bhagath! by S. V. Divvaakar

Summary: I’m sure you can do a much better job than Bhagath!’ When BB hears these inspiring words from his sexy lady boss, his staid life as a successful analyst in an MNC goes into a tailspin.
Bitten by the ego bug and smitten by her, BB sets off on his quest to write a book that’s better than India’s greatest writer Dr.Bhagath’s blockbusters. Nothing unusual about this for BB, who likes a good fight. Except that he and Bhagath had been classmates and friends at college.
What follows is a roller-coaster voyage of the debutant author and his book, with all its twists and cul-de-sacs. Brushes with publishers, celebrities, retailers, book chains, and competition with the alliances among giants, mark the challenger’s journey, upping the stakes at every stage.
Will BB catch up with his famous friend?  What will their encounter be like?
Written from inside the ring, ‘Beaten by Bhagath’ is a gripping tale ...the first-ever about the unseen side of the wonderland of Indian fiction.

My thoughts: Here's a fair warning: this review is about why I didn't like the book. To be honest, you might like it and reading the rest of this might be a good way for you to find out. By the end, if you wholeheartedly disagree with every word I say, Beaten by Bhagath! by S.V. Divvaakar is just the book for you! If you stopped by simply for a structured and concise review, please, excuse the rant.

Beaten by Bhagath! by S.V. Divvaakar has received quite a load of good reviews on Goodreads. Browsing through them, I realized all over again why when I receive that rare review request from an Indian author and it says, "you're one of the top Indian book bloggers", I conclude that it's an impersonal formatted and thorough suck-up. Because, I'm not. I rarely accept books by new, popular, upcoming Indian authors for review, and the reason is, I generally don't like them. Since this book was about those very new, popular and upcoming Indian authors and the pathetic desi publishing world, I couldn't relate to it. The book made some rather interesting points, provided me with pieces of information I wouldn't have come across on my own, and I'm sure a lot of effort went into creating the book; the timeline certainly made it detailed. I suppose it just didn't hold my interest.

See the problem with the book, for me, was that it was intended for an entirely different group of readers: those who'd nod their heads, amused at the mention of their possible guilty pleasure Chetan Bhagat and his huge fanbase, or perhaps those who want their books to have a "dictionary-free" language (whatever the hell that means.) The book talked about and starred these so-called aspiring authors, who view themselves as the next Chetan-Bhagats and those who do achieve that 'standing': but these are people I haven't once considered reading! The only thing CB has managed to create, in my opinion, is a world where just about anyone decides to become a writer, likely out of sheer boredom.

That's not necessarily bad. But I don't like to read books which are written expressly for people who don't like to read; for people who find Dickensian descriptions long-winded and boring; who underline words out of library books for about thirty pages and then evidently just give up the effort! I don't yearn for stories written in a 'simple language', I want them written in an apt manner, and if that requires words I haven't heard before, then that's okay with me. I think "the gibbous moon" sounds delightfully better  than "the moon, which was more than half, but not quite full". I like to read well-written books; I want writers who express themselves in ways I wouldn't have thought possible, I don't mind the occasional running to the dictionary: in fact, I love all that. If people think that words that they consider 'big' are unnecessary or weigh a language down, then they just don't love language like I do, they don't quite understand the nuances of rich vocabulary, or get its charm. They read for entertainment and a variety of other reasons that are as important to them as language is to me. 

If you are one of those people who thinks Chetan Bhagat is capable of telling stories just as vividly as (let me pick an Indian author I like:) anyone from the oldies like R. K. Narayan to Amitav Ghosh; go ahead and read this book, you'll probably like it. If all being a writer means to you is 'beating the metaphorical and real Bhagath', if you think there can be more to writing advice than a tough-loving "Just sit down and write.", then this book might actually help you. Despite all its misplaced humour and Hindi-coated English, it does provide that behind-the-scenes look into the publishing world and all its problems.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Lay Death at Her Door by Elizabeth Buhmann

I read an interview the other night, by the author, Elizabeth Buhmann, where she points out that there are many supposed criminals who are exonerated after spending years in jail, when brand new forensic evidence is discovered with modern technology. The obvious conclusion is that the eye-witnesses who put them behind bars must have been mistaken; the idea that they could have lied is pathetic and horrible and yet, it makes you curious. With that as the framework, the author has constructed a hell of a mystery.

Summary: Twenty years ago, Kate Cranbrook's eyewitness testimony sent the wrong man to prison for rape and murder. When new evidence exonerates him, Kate says that in the darkness and confusion, she must have mistaken her attacker's identity. She is lying. Kate would like nothing better than to turn her back on the past, but she is trapped in a stand-off with the real killer. When a body turns up on her doorstep, she resorts to desperate measures to free herself once and for all from a secret that is ruining her life.

My thoughts: This hugely unpredictable book left me at a loss for words. Picture me shaking my head in an unlikely combination of disgust and awe. The heroine, if you could even call her that, is a severely prejudiced compulsive liar with no redeeming qualities and an obvious inferiority complex: difficult to care for and excruciatingly true to life. 

The story took its own sweet time to kick off and during that time, I couldn't relate to Kate, Pop, Tony or any of the other characters. It was only after almost half the book that I really started wondering about the truth, about what could really have happened, whether Kate knew the actual murderer, why she lied. When the last fifty pages were left, the mystery that was brewing slowly but steadily up to that point had begun bubbling with frenzy, quite ready to end in a fancy display of sparkly firecrackers: when I thought, the book was going to let me down. What could possibly go down in fifty pages that would make it all better!? The ending had to be a disappointment. BUT I was wrong. The climax was so... climactic. Deliciously surprisingly, wonderfully unceremonious and the ONLY reason I considered, if grudgingly, the possibility that I liked the book, after all. I loved how neatly the pieces of the puzzle fit together. 

I couldn't stop thinking about the book, long after I was done reading; wondering about truth, innocence and mistakes, about how easy it is to be selfish, how no matter what people say, there is a big difference between good and bad, how you write your own destiny, about justice and the law and racism and for once, a female 'antagonist'.

I don't recall being in a loathe/love situation before. With Lay Death at Her Door, I'm going to go with LOVE! But it was a close call. While I admire how the author somehow managed to wholly engross me in the story of such a horrible person, I'm not sure if I can sit patiently through another such read. One thing, however, is for sure, like it or not, Lay Death at Her Door by Elizabeth Buhmann is a murder mystery like no other.

This counts as another R.I.P Challenge read.
I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the author.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

My first Salman Rushdie novel. The fabulous writing has left me in awe. The Enchantress of Florence is a book about storytelling and adventure and magic of the crude, unrestrained, undiluted kind; unlike the magic you encounter in modern fantasy, this is wholly inexplicable.

A yellow-haired traveller shows up in Emperor Akbar's court in Fatehpur Sikri claiming to be the child of Akbar's grandfather, Babar's exiled sister, Princess Qara Köz, Lady Black Eyes; known in Italy as the Enchantress of Florence. As the traveller, who calls himself The Mughal of Love, relates his mother's tale, the narrative switches back and forth between Akbar's court in Hindustan and Renaissance Florence.

Rushdie takes characters out of history and blends them almost perfectly with the fiction he has created; Tansen in Sikri and Niccolo Machiavelli in Italy, among others; giving even the greats only as much attention as the story allows.

Despite being a bit rushed at times and slightly dull at others; despite bordering, sometimes, on pretentious; many stories in this book have left a huge impression on me. The tale of Jodha, the aloof Queen that Akbar brought into existence through sheer passion; that of the painter who, quite literally, lost himself in his artwork; the story of the Memory Palace, a woman, a vessel, whose mind was erased to make room  for someone else's story. I have always been fascinated by the Mughal history of India and having grown up on tales of Birbal and his antics in Akbar's court, the book has brought back the fondest memories of my childhood. Akbar is just as I would have imagined him. Rushdie brings Sikri to life, right from the first scene, from the splendid descriptions of the shimmering golden waters of the palace lake. Florence, though, I am not so sure about. It may be because I have never been there, but the city isn't quite as vivid. The journeys of Argalia, the story of the three friends from Florence, and of the lives of Qara Köz and her servant, however, are intriguing. 

Here are some of my favourite quotes (no spoilers) from the book:

~ 'Imagine a pair of woman's lips,' Mogor whispered, 'puckering for a kiss. That is the city of Florence, narrow at the edges, swelling at the centre, with the Arno flowing through between, parting the two lips, the upper and the lower. The city is an enchantress. When it kisses you, you are lost, whether you be commoner or king.'

~ 'We find that we enjoy him and do not care, for the present, to unravel his mysteries. Maybe he has been a criminal, maybe even a murderer, we cannot say. What we know is that he has crossed the world to leave one story behind and to tell another, that the story he has brought us is his only baggage, and that his deepest desire is the same as poor vanished Dashwanth's - that is, he wants to step into the tale he's telling and begin a new life inside it. In short, he is a creator of fables, and a good afsanah never did anybody any real damage.'

~ Is it not a kind of infantilization of the self to give up one's power of agency and believe that such power resided outside oneself rather than within? This was also his objection to God, that his existence deprived human beings of the right to form ethical structures by themselves. But magic was all around and would not be denied, and it would be a rash ruler who pooh-poohed it. Religion could be re-thought, re-examined, remade, perhaps even discarded; magic was impervious to such assaults.

Witchcraft requires no potions, familiar spirits or magic wand. Language upon a silvered tongue affords enchantment enough.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Dark by James Herbert

Honestly, I didn't know James Herbert was renowned for horror, when I bought The Dark at this book sale at a ridiculously small price. I've read quite a few horror books, but only a few by each author; except, of course, Stephen King: but I couldn't help that, he's written too many books. I've begun, overtime, to associate horror with Stephen King. But I've gotten used to his style of writing. This was a good change; a little more raw, absurd, wild; a less focused on individual characters. It wasn't like the books or movies that you'd consider to be stereotypes of the genre. It did not have the usual formulaic plot characteristic of the horror-chiller genre: strange huge house; new residents, initially skeptics; a child, woman from the family becomes a sort of medium, seances and exorcism reveal that someone had died there in some sort of excruciatingly brutal and unjust manner.  The book reminded me of Peter Straub's Ghost Story for having a similar villain, it had the cult-ish vibe of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (Lovecraft) and it was much like a 28 Days Later, society-breaks-down adventure!

Summary: The book opens with Chris Bishop, a ghost-hunter hired by the estate agents, entering an old house, Beechwood, to find thirty one mangled corpses. In the house and especially in the cellar, the black darkness seems like a force of its own. Terrified of the increasingly cold, uneasy atmosphere, Bishop runs away from the house. A while later, he is found on the street, unconscious and with no memory of what he witnessed and how he got out. Almost a year (I think?) after the Beechwood mass suicide incident, Bishop is approached by Jessica Kuleck and father, parapsychic Jacob Kulek to investigate three seemingly unrelated murders in one night that happened on the same road, Willow Road, as Beechwood house. Along with Edith Metlock, who is a medium and the father and daughter, with the reluctant permission of the house owner, Bishop, our cynical ghost-chaser, sets off to Beechwood to conduct an investigation. Following a perverse, gory vision Bishop has and an attack by a crazed woman, Beechwood is set to be torn down. But when it is demolished, the dark that was once contained in the house is released, as a powerful and seductive evil energy possesses the world, manipulating its victims to insanity.

The Dark is your classic fight between good and evil, light and dark offered with a twist. It brings up the question of what evil really is and whether it is a part of our minds or a stage in our lives. It also goes beyond a usual good trumps evil ending and concludes in a most amazing, though not entirely unexpected, fashion. The explanation behind the malevolent force that enters people's minds at night, that they call the Dark, was intriguing and unique. The science meets parapsychology aspect of the book was fascinating and well constructed. A recurring theme in The Dark is that the paranormal is quite normal; we just haven't understood it yet: it continues, predictably, with a wink and a, "but some of us might have already understood it", but that's getting into details that I don't want to spoil for you.

I loved the book for the ideas and the theme. What I do feel is, the book could have been condensed. There was too much mayhem for the sake of describing mayhem. Some of it I got, but most of it was written with a disturbing relish, making me wonder, which side the author really was on. Limbs being torn off, throats being sliced open, people being raped, throttled to death, poured gasoline on and set to fire: there was too much crude and unnecessarily detailed violence for my taste. You know how King starts Under the Dome introducing us to a woman who dies within a couple of minutes, anyway and plays no part in the rest of the book? Just to shock us? This happens more times that you could count in The Dark. I suppose I got to know the people and understand the terrific evil inside them, even when it was just a spark of darkness; but mostly, it just disgusted me. The book could have been a hundred pages shorter (mine is four hundred and fifty pages long.) and would have still been a harrowing but fascinating journey. Also, though Bishop is shown to grow as a character, becoming considerably more open-minded over the course of the book, I found it a bit annoying that he (the writer) still referred to Edith as 'the medium' till the very end. 

The writing is by no means literary or verbose, it is almost a little dated, but it's immensely engaging. I read the book in one day and I do see myself reading more books by James Herbert. You should give this a try, if you aren't weak minded or easily bothered by gore.

The Readers Imbibing Peril Challenge is back, I think this is my third year participating. The Dark is my first book for R.I.P. VIII and there are many more to come!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mr. Monk Helps Himself by Hy Conrad

Summary: Adrian Monk is an eccentric genius, a renowned private homicide consultant, most famous, of course, for his ridiculous compulsions and phobias. Natalie Teeger, formerly just his assistant, is now an ex-op, studying for her PI license, the last step to becoming Monk’s full partner.
Before taking the plunge, Natalie sneaks off to Half Moon Bay for a retreat run by Miranda Bigley, charismatic leader of the “Best Possible Me” self-help program, whose philosophy has helped Natalie deal with her recent life changes.  Her plans for a relaxing weekend are disrupted when Monk tracks her down, determined to rescue her from the “cult.”  Their argument is cut short when Miranda, in full view of everyone, calmly walks to the edge of a cliff and jumps off.
Even though Miranda’s death looks like suicide, Natalie is sure it is murder.  But Monk brushes her off to help the SFPD solve the murder of a clown, despite his fear of clowns (number ninety-nine on his list of one hundred phobias) Natalie and Monk begin their separate investigations and are quickly caught up in situations neither one of them can handle.  If they want to solve both crimes - and survive - they first need to learn how to be full partners.  Can Monk handle the change?

My thoughts: This book made me so happy. I suggest you read it, whether you're typically fond of mysteries or not. I wish I could watch this book. I haven't read the other books based on Monk (nor any other TV series, for that matter) but if they're all this good, I've sure missed out on a lot. Monk was one of the few detective series on TV, where the detectives actually did detective work (and were damn good at it) with no help from ridiculously high-techie gadgets. There were neat puzzles, with clues strewn around, lovably comical characters and plots that weren't so convoluted as to make any guesswork impossible. 

Mr. Monk Helps Himself by Hy Conrad is quite the same as the TV series it's based on. It's hilarious, engaging and just the perfect cozy mystery - except it's not just one mystery, it's three; the suicide, the dead clown and some mysterious anonymous packages that Monk keeps getting in the mail. For those of us who know and love (sometimes) Monk, just the idea of him solving a clown mystery ought to be enough to grab the book. But what I liked the most is that even those who've never heard of Monk will enjoy this! The author gives plenty of background info.

Without revealing any details, all I can say is that the book is honest in its portrayal of both the good guys and the bad guys, whose actions and motives are neither over emotionalized nor justified. The book Monk is a little different from the TV Monk, in that he is a little less obsessive, although his list of phobias is still increasing. Captain Stottlemeyer is pretty much the same as he was before, which is not surprising at all. Randy Disher is absent, of course, and there's a new lieutenant, Amy Devlin. Natalie, our narrator, is an altogether new person in the book, but she makes a good narrator; with funny comments and enough suspense to frustrate you, along with clues to keep you glued to the book, guessing until, of course, Monk declares, "Here's what happened." I stayed up late into the night reading, and finished it at one go. I was sorry the book ended, when it did and I can't wait to read the sequel!

You can buy Mr. Monk Helps Himself on Amazon and visit the author's website here.
I received this book in exchange for an honest review. For more reviews of the book, visit the Virtual Author Book Tours page.