Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Title : Allegiant - Book 3 in the Divergent trilogy
Author : Veronica Roth
Genre : Fiction / YA / Dystopian
Publisher : Harper Collins India
Pages : 526
My Rating : 7.5/10
Reviewed For :
Publisher

Blurb:


What if your whole world was a lie?

What if a single revelation – like a single choice – changed everything?

What if love and loyalty made you do things you never expected?

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered – fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she's known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.
But Tris's new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature – and of herself – while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice and love.

Told from a riveting dual perspective, Allegiant, by #1 New York Times best-selling author Veronica Roth, brings the Divergent series to a powerful conclusion while revealing the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.

My Review:


Allegiant by Veronica Roth is the long-awaited finale in the Divergent Trilogy and perhaps the most powerful one in the series. I’ll admit it: When I first heard about this series, I passed it off as just another trilogy fitting into the currently trending YA dystopian stereotype and never had any high hopes from it. So it was with great skepticism that I went into Allegiant expecting not to like it a lot, but then 50 pages into the book and I was hooked. Very much like the first two novels in this trilogy – Divergent & Insurgent, this book too moves at a very fast pace making it difficult to put it down.

For the uninitiated, the basic premise of this series goes like this: It’s the distant future, and the world we know has metamorphosed into a different place altogether. The novel starts in the city of Chicago where the society is divided into five factions. Each of these factions is dedicated to a human virtue, a single type of behavior—those in Amity value peace, while the Dauntless are brave warriors. Members of Abnegation are selfless, while Candor values brutal honesty and those in Erudite hold intelligence dear. Our protagonist – sixteen year old Beatrice Prior (Tris) is born into an Abnegation family, however, she never quite feels comfortable in her family faction and has a hard time fitting in. On a given day each year, all sixteen-year-olds take an aptitude test that will tell them which faction they are best suited for. Tris shows equal aptitude for three factions: Abnegation, Erudite and Dauntless which makes her a “Divergent”. Much to everyone’s surprise, Tris chooses to be a Dauntless in the Choosing Ceremony and that’s where the plot in Divergent really kicks off. Divergent moves at a pretty fast pace leaving the readers breathless and Insurgent is an equally amazing follow-up to the explosive debut by Roth. Allegiant picks up right where Insurgent left off and plunges straight into the action. There’s no recapping of the events of the first two books, which means the reader should definitely be very familiar with the basic plot and characters of Divergent & Insurgent before picking up Allegiant.

Coming to Allegiant, Tris and everyone around her is shocked after the old video of Edith Prior reveals that there exists a world beyond Chicago and that the Divergent should be allowed to explore it. Also, following the video, Evelyn becomes the self-appointed leader & is forcing everyone to live without factions. Looking at the chaos that their city has become, Tris and Tobias (Four) cannot help but think about leaving Chicago to move on into the world beyond and the endless possibilities that it can offer. Meanwhile, Cara & Johanna form a secret group called the “Allegiant” and recruit Tris, Tobias and their friends. The Allegiant make a plan to send a group of people outside Chicago’s borders to explore the world on the other side of the fence. Tris, Tobias, Christina, Cara, Uriah, Peter, and Caleb successfully leave the city. Their arrival in the world outside Chicago opens a new path for Tris & Tobias but what they discover here shocks and disturbs them in equal measures bringing home the realization that once again they must take action to preserve what they hold most dear.

First of all, right at the beginning of this series Roth did a pretty amazing job in creating and building the future world. This setting is an integral part of the story and there are a lot of questions that the readers may ask when Divergent commences – “How did the world get to this point? What drastic changes occurred that morphed the society to such an extent?” Well, here is the good news – Roth continues with the amazing job and answers all the questions in Allegiant. In fact, Roth pulls in the readers in Tris’s world and builds so much anticipation regarding the outside world, that as a reader I was on tenterhooks and was racing through the story to know what lay beyond. Secondly, the major highlight of this read is Tris, she is the backbone of these books and is what makes them worth reading. At the start of the series, she isn’t perfect – she is impulsive and short-tempered, but she grows so much over the course of the book. Though there are still some shades of the impulsiveness and angst in this volume, it just makes her more realistic. In fact, by the end of Allegiant she no longer seems like a sixteen-year old; instead she seems like an old soul, matured by her past. Through the course of the series, she has lost a lot of good friends and her family and is crippled by her own guilt and self-doubt. It's easy to empathize with such a strong character who also has her own weak moments. But she also begins to realize how many more she can loose and starts picking up the pieces to build a new world around her. She becomes strong and wise but it takes a lot for her to come to that point.

Another strong highlight of this series is - Character development. Even in Allegiant, Roth continues to develop her primary as well as secondary characters consistently as well as realistically. No character goes out of their way to throw a surprise moment, everyone acts in exactly the same way had they been people in the real world. However, that in no way makes the read a predictable one; in fact that is what makes it all the more intriguing. But the ultimate redemption of this series lies in the final twist, though it was despised by a lot of fanatics but I thought it showed a certain amount of boldness and maturity on the author’s part. Also, as I said earlier, the pace of these books is incredible; Roth does not hesitate to kill off characters or spring out a twist at every turn, thus recreating the entire storyline completely in a new way. Tris’s mother’s back story adds welcome depth to the story.

Coming to the letdowns, this book introduces Four as a parallel narrator along with Tris, which should have been exciting since it gives an interesting insight into his mind. But despite providing a fresh and alternative perspective, it fell short almost to the point of being bland. Also, the pace in this read is not balanced. The first few chapters roll along smoothly and then there is a sudden flurry of activity. Sometimes, it feels as if everything is happening in a blur, which might overwhelm the reader!!

So all in all, I thought it was a pretty decent read. It’s definitely interesting, if not what you are expecting. The choices that Tris & Tobias make have far-reaching impact in this read but they it is only by making these fateful choices they come to terms with the fact that their destiny is not something hypothetical; but it lies in the choices that they make. If you are looking for a fast paced read and haven’t picked up this series yet, you should definitely do it as soon as possible.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Beaten by Bhagath!: A Tale of Two Writers by S. V. Divvaakar

Title : Beaten by Bhagath!
Author : S.V. Divvaakar
Genre : Fiction
Publisher :
Leadstart Publication
Pages : 193
My Rating : 7/10
Reviewed For :
Author / First Reads Challenge 2013 / South Asian Challenge 2013 / IQRC 2013

Blurb:


‘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 Review:


Beaten by Bhagath is one of those reads that can be termed as a “book of facts” about the current and ever-expanding publishing industry in India. Through his protagonist, the author presents before us a full, if a little cynical, picture of the world of a debut author, his struggles as his book clambers into the world of fiction & publishing, every small accomplishment that seems like a herculean win, the disaster i.e. failure waiting to happen and its aftermath. S.V. Divvaakar (SVD) like many of the budding authors, muses if there is indeed a winning formula to writing fiction and if at all, it exists then what it might be.

BB, an executive in a MNC is happy spending his days on the side-lines whilst writing reports and earning profits for his company.  However, an off-hand compliment from his sexy lady boss (talk about woman power!!) on his writing skills and creativity sets off our protagonist into action. To top it up, the lady boss unknowingly sets the stakes high for BB by comparing him with the country’s most successful and prominent writer Dr. Ketan Bhagath. But what we don’t know is that best-selling author Ketan Bhagath & our protagonist, BB go a long way back. From hostel room-mates to partners-in-crime to classmates to friends in college life, BB & Ketan (K-10 as he was known then) have had a couple of colourful years together. However, in the present day, boosted by a single compliment, BB immediately takes this impulsive decision not only to pen down an entire novel but also to beat Bhagath in his own game i.e. Writing. And thus armed with an aggressive obsession to churn out a read better than K-10, BB sets off to explore the dangerous and unknown minefield i.e. the Indian Publishing Industry. What ensues is the ride of BB’s life with sharp curves and steep inclines as he moves through the various phases of his literary sojourn.

The most applaud-able fact of this read is that, SVD not only takes us through each phase of publishing – from the initial exhilaration of deciding to become an author, to going into a panic mode whilst deciding a plot, to writing down the actual book, to finding a decent publisher, to promoting it quite effectively, to the book finally making its way into the hands of the readers, to hitting the hard reality – but also lays out the facts bare – as they are – without sugar-coating them. SVD draws from his own experience as an author and has broken many myths about publishing with this read. While most of us believe that the author’s work is done after he/she lands a publication deal, SVD points out that the journey is actually uphill from here for the author. The author not only has to handle the hullabaloo around the publication and promotion of his book but also has to keep up with the latest technology & maintain his presence on the various social platforms. The readers also get a glimpse into the working methods of online stores, leading chain bookstores, the stocking & distribution of books and the advent of eBook market.

Another highlight of this novel is that it is sharply satirical with each chapter giving an elaborate view of the kaleidoscopic publishing industry.  Also, you will laugh out loud at the cleverly twisted names the author uses for different publishers & e-sites throughout the narration. This read clearly etches out the struggles of a debut author & portrays their emotions, hurdles, backbreaking work, time, patience & resources required on the author’s part quite vividly. However, SVD also provides some very useful & important tips to the aspiring authors out there.

Coming to the plot, it itself is a bit of a drag at the outset & threatens to run off its course with BB going back into the past. However, the plot picks up pace once we come back to the present before losing its charm in the end again. Most of the characters are under developed since they are created with the sole intention of providing a specific lesson and then they vanish into thin air. Also, there are a couple of parallels drawn between a book and many things, which might not go well with book lovers.

For newbie writers planning to get published and surviving in the literary world, this book is your guide. For others, this novel does take some patience at the beginning, but as you proceed, you will get to know the pattern our publishing industry.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Redeemers by Suresh Taneja

Title : The Redeemers
Author : Suresh Taneja
Genre : Fiction
Publisher :
Leadstart / Frog Books
Pages : 229
My Rating : 6.5/10
Reviewed For : Author /
First Reads Challenge 2013 / South Asian Challenge 2013 / IQRC 2013

Blurb:


One bizarre vacation marked a turning point in the lives of four teenage friends. It dawned upon them that corruption and malpractices had become rampant and deeply ingrained in our culture. They felt anguished and shocked at the shameful state of affairs.

They pledged to redeem and change the destiny of the country. They had only two weeks of vacation left to take some big initiatives. The pressure on them was immense. Status quo or failure was not an option for them.

Read the inspirational story of a unique movement masterminded by youngsters through innovative ideas and creative thinking. Not a single family could escape from its unrelenting onslaught. It was a rewarding outcome for their persistence and hard work, as they nostalgically recall in 2030.

My Review:


The Redeemers by Suresh Taneja is a thought-provoking novel that focuses on a lot of issues that India faces today. In the times that we are living in, it can safely said that the state of affairs in our country has taken a turn for the worse. People responsible for country’s development are exploiting it instead. As a result, our country’s economy is taking  a regressive path rather than a progressive one. Amongst this scenario, reading a novel like The Redeemers is almost like that hypothetical fantasy that you want to happen but know that it is too good to be true. The author strongly believes in the fact that the youth of our country can play a crucial role towards shaping its future & the plot for this read is based exactly on this theme.

The book kick-starts in the future, i.e. in the year 2030, where the situation is totally and astonishingly so, diametrically opposite to what it is today. USA and India have literally exchanged places, India being a super-power & the value of 1INR being equivalent to 100 USD. We are introduced to a group of close-knit friends – G4 - Vikram, Yuvika, Manisha and Akshay. Vikram is the Indian Ambassador to America & the other 3 have gone to visit him in the US along with their families as a part of their annual vacation which is a tradition that is carried down in their families. As family & friends gather, the elders (G4) end up telling the younger generation a story that happened in one such vacation – a story about the great Indian revolution & its aftermath that changed India’s position in the history of world map. The plot then moves back to 2009 where the G4 are in their teens and have gathered with their parents for the annual vacation. On this vacation they face a bizarre situation – a situation that forces them to come out of their privileged cocoons and changes their lives altogether. They finally decide to confront the ugly side of reality & pledge to redeem the country. They launch a unique mass-movement and unrelentingly strive towards changing the destiny of our country.

As I said earlier, the author emphasizes the fact that the youth need to play a pivotal role in moulding the future of our country. Needless to say, the target audience for this read is mainly the youngsters. Through this read, the author attempts to inspire us into action so that each one of us, in our own small way, purge our corrupt system through prompt thinking and innovative ways. Also, the author highlights a very valid point - that the change which we desire might not happen overnight, nevertheless we need to persistently keep striving towards achieving it. However, the most salient feature of this read is that it will strike a chord with every Indian reading this book. Suresh has written in a way that arouses the otherwise dormant patriotism in us albeit it just falls short of bringing out the rebellion. The language is simple & the narration keeps the readers interested. The character development of all the members of G4 was particularly well done, with each of them having their own distinguishing trait & yet they all fit in together in the same group seamlessly. Coming to the downside, the plot as well as the editing could have been more taut. Also, in many instances, the author has presented the discussions & conversations with respect to the groups (G3, G4, G6..) rather than between individuals. At such places, the read seemed a bit strange and impersonal.

All in all, The Redeemers presents a hopeful story that forces us to think if we are doing more for our country rather than just sitting down with our friends/families & having conversations about the downfall & doom of our nation.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Amreekandesi - Masters of America by Atulya Mahajan

Title : Amreekandesi - Masters of America
Author : Atulya Mahajan
Genre : Fiction
Publisher :
Ebury Press, Random House India

Pages : 318
My Rating : 6.5/10
Reviewed For : The
Reader Cosmos Book Review Program / First Reads Challenge 2013 / South Asian Challenge 2013 / IQRC 2013

Blurb:


Akhil Arora, a young, dorky engineer in Delhi, can’t wait to get away from home and prove to his folks that he can be on his own. Meanwhile in a small town in Punjab, Jaspreet Singh, aka Jassi, is busy dreaming of a life straight out of American Pie. As fate would have it, they end up as roommates in Florida. But the two boys are poles apart in their perspectives and expectations of America. While Akhil is fiercely patriotic and hopes to come back to India in a few years, Jassi finds his Indian identity an uncomfortable burden and looks forward to finding an American girl with whom he can live happily ever after.

Laced with funny anecdotes and witty insights, Amreekandesi chronicles the quintessential immigrant experience, highlighting the clash of cultures, the search for identity, and the quest for survival in a foreign land.

My Review:


Amreekandesi - Masters of America is one of those reads that can be termed as a tell-all about Indian students living “The American Dream” & the confused life associated with it. The author – Atulya Mahajan, himself has ‘Been there, Done that’ and has wittily drawn out from his experience to portray the struggles of Indian students trying to find their feet in the foreign land whilst adapting to the diametrically opposite cultures. With equal doses of sarcasm & drollness, Amreekandesi weaves together contemporary issues of culture clash, identity crisis & the quest for survival. The plot itself revolves around two Indian boys - the protagonists - Akhil Arora and Jaspreet Singh, who not only share the same apartment but also the same dream of making it “big” in America albeit in different contexts!!

Akhil & Jaspreet (aka Jassi aka Jazz aka Jazzminator) are as opposite to each other as chalk & cheese & so is their reason to go to the States. Akhil Arora is a simple, pampered engineer from Delhi who wants to move away from his overbearing parents, stay independently and hence prove to everyone under the sun (read : nosy & snobbish Uncles & relatives) that he is capable of managing his own life. On the other hand, Jaspreet Singh hails from a small town in Punjab for whom life in America is akin to the movie American Pie and he intends to live it just like that – in the arms of Pamelaji (read : Pamela Anderson). What ensues is a series of episodes – some quirky, some hilarious, some embarrassing and some eye-opening when the horny Jassi meets the equally dorky Akhil in the States and both become roommates.

Akhil is fiercely patriotic & protective of his Indian identity. He looks at America as just a means to carve out his career while staying independently & prove himself. On the other hand, Jassi is ready to shed his Indian identity at the drop of a hat & adopt to the better American lifestyle. He changes his entire way of existence just so to fit in the crowd and be accepted as one amongst them. The author has done an excellent job of taking up these two completely opposite characters & blending them in one storyline. Also, the author gives an honest albeit interesting insight of the life that awaits the Indian students who aspire to study & settle in the States. The initial exhilaration & anxiety of settling down in a new country with an entirely different study system, the slow & tedious effort of blending in with the crowd, the typical mind set and attributes of Indian students and the thrill of visiting new places are some of the aspects that the author has hilariously drawn out in this novel. The reluctant comparisons between the American & Indian lifestyle that Akhil’s mind draws out and springs on him unsuspectingly when he comes back is something that is more and more prevalent today and the author has done an excellent job at portraying it.

At the outset, the book holds a promising note of being a rib-tickling funny read but as the novel progresses the humour quotient drops down the scale. Also, in the last few chapters, the read takes a turn which frankly, for me, was a tad too filmy. And then there is a Jassi’s lack of interest in books and preoccupation with American girls, which is amusing at the start but then only gets more & more repetitive towards the end.

The author’s writing style is simple and uncomplicated which makes this a light and breezy read. The narration keeps the readers interested, a touch of humour here and a speck of satire there make it an enjoyable read overall. Pick it up over the weekend if you are looking for some easy-on-the-senses read.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The Caretaker by A.X.Ahmad

Title : The Caretaker - A Novel
Author : A. X. Ahmad
Genre : Fiction / Thriller
Publisher : Harper Collins India
Pages : 304
My Rating : 8.5/10
Reviewed For :
Publisher / First Reads Challenge 2013 / South Asian Challenge 2013 / IQRC 2013


Blurb:


A compelling thriller that introduces a new hero for our times: Ranjit Singh, former captain in the Indian Army, illegal immigrant in the heart of white America and caretaker to the rich and famous.

One harsh winter, Ranjit illegally moves his family into an empty, luxurious vacation home belonging to an African-American Senator. Ensconced in the house, he tries to forget his brief affair with Anna, the Senators wife, and focuses on providing for his family. But one night, their idyll is shattered when mysterious armed men break into the house, searching for an antique porcelain doll. Forced to flee, Ranjit is hunted by unknown forces and gets drawn into the Senators shadowy world. To save his family and solve the mystery of the doll, he must join forces with Anna, who has her own dark secrets. As he battles to save his family, Ranjit’s painful past resurfaces and he must finally confront the hidden event that destroyed his career in the Army and forced him to leave India.

Tightly plotted, action-packed, smart and surprisingly moving, The Caretaker takes us from the desperate world of migrant workers to the elite African-American community of Martha’s Vineyard and a secret high-altitude war between India and Pakistan.



My Review:


The Caretaker by A.X.Ahmad is a compelling read about a man who is trying to run away from the ghosts of his past but they keep following him, no matter how far he runs. In his debut work, the author has given us our very own desi yet exotic hero in the form of Ranjit Singh, who is – a Sikh, a respected and brave former captain in the Indian Army, a fallen soldier, an illegal immigrant & a landscaper trying to pass off as a common brown man in America, in exactly that order.

Ranjit Singh is a tormented man, tormented by the demons of his past. A former captain in the Indian Army, an awry mission forces him to flee from his motherland and settle down in the quiet confines of an island of Martha’s Vineyards in America. The narrative runs in two parallel tracks - one in the present where running away from a past, Ranjit is trying his best to create a comfortable life for his wife and daughter in the unknown land. However, deep down he knows that all his attempts at normalcy are failing as miserably as his relationship with his wife. The other narrative takes us in the past to Ranjit Singh’s glorious military career days where he was appointed as the commander of a squad in the Indian Army for a Top-Secret Mission. However, the mission goes horribly wrong & since then Ranjit is on the run with his family.  Fading away into anonymity, he becomes a part-time landscape worker on Martha’s Vineyard. Opportunity comes knocking to Ranjit in the form of a caretaker’s job for the house of a famous senator one winter. But what seems to be like a boon at first glance turns out to be a horrible nightmare in disguise as Ranjit realizes that there are dark secrets hidden in the Senator’s house and when he uncovers them, all that he has ever believed in his life will change forever.

If I list down the reasons to read this novel, then the first and foremost factor for me will be the protagonist – Ranjit Singh. Unlike the perfect caricatures that we come across in works of fiction, Ranjit is every bit of a flawed & complex hero as you or I can be. Tangled up in the past & taunted by the ghosts of his previous life in army, he seems to be apathetic at first glances. But as the read progresses, the author slowly chips away his hard exterior, one layer at a time, & exposes his vulnerabilities, his fears, his love, his regrets, his guilt & his emotional dependence. It is very easy to sympathize with him and keep rooting for him as the ground beneath his feet keeps slipping just when he thinks he is firm footed. Also, the flashback scenes provide a glimpse into his past and the reason for how he has shaped up today. Being in army, it is expected of him to adapt himself in any environment but even then, we see him struggling as a turban-clad Sikh in post-9/11 America who draws as much as attention as flak and suspicion for his turban & beard. Yet even in the face of these humiliating circumstances, he never loses his sense of identity as an Indian and a Sikh. He has his own flaws but underneath all of the mess that he is in, he makes some choices which define who he is & gains the reader’s appreciation. Needless to say, the author has done an excellent job of sketching and developing the character in a realistic manner.

The second best part of this read, perhaps for me, is
that this novel explores many difficult issues. The most apparent was immigration issues which might strike a chord with many of us. The unsettling idea of settling down in an entirely new country with a totally different culture, the general desperation that stems from trying your best to blend with others and yet standing out amongst them because of your colour, and in spite of that retaining your heritage, traditions and religion because that is what identifies you - are some of the cultural aspects that the author has beautifully drawn out in this novel. Ahmad’s narrative has a distinct and beautiful poetic style to it. The descriptions he offers are vivid and transport you to the different worlds described in the book. Thus, in spite of being a fast-paced thriller, the read has a unhurried tone to it. Also, Ahmad has given the readers a rare glimpse into the Sikh religion and weaving the teachings from the Guru Granth Sahib into the read. For the unawares like me, this was a rare learning experience which I thoroughly enjoyed. Another highlight of this read was the development of the secondary characters & the various sub-plots. The author has done an amazing job at  carefully constructing & seamlessly interweaving the sub-plots which might seem like a jumble at first but at the end fit together perfectly like the pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle. The political history between India, Pakistan & the US, familial relationships, emotional vulnerability and some good plot twists are the other factors that make this an enjoyable read.


It has its own highs and lows but all in all, this is a very well-written debut with beautiful descriptions, engaging characters and a taut plot. If you are looking for an excellent page-turning thriller, then this might be just the one.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Other Side Of The Table by Madhumita Mukherjee

Title : The Other Side Of The Table
Author : Madhumita Mukherjee
Genre : Fiction
Publisher : Prakash Books / Fingerprint
Pages : 240
My Rating : 8.5/10
Reviewed For : Shoppingwish.in /
First Reads Challenge 2013 / South Asian Challenge 2013 / IQRC 2013

Blurb:

Circa 1990.
A world drawn and woven with words.
A bond punctuated by absence and distance . . .
Two continents. Two cities. Two people.
And letters. Hundreds of them.
Over years. Across oceans. Between hearts.
Between Abhi, who is training to be a neurosurgeon in London, and Uma, who is just stepping into the world of medicine in Kolkata.
As they ink their emotions onto paper, their lives get chronicled in this subtly nuanced conversation through letters . . . letters about dreams, desires, heartbreaks, and longings . . . about a proverbial good life falling apart, about a failed marriage, a visceral loss, and about a dream that threatens social expectations . . .
Letters that talk. And don’t. Letters about this and that. Letters about everything . . .
Letters with a story you would never expect.

My Review:


The Other Side Of The Table by debutante author Madhumita Mukherjee is a simple yet incredible piece of epistolary work that tugs something in your heart and slowly works its magic on you. It is a collection of letters exchanged between the two childhood friends who are separated by distance but choose to stay connected to each other with these letters. The letters move to and fro for almost a decade & act as their reservoir of inspiration, source of joy, reliever of pain and a lot more. There is a certain amount of candidness in reading the letters between two unknown individuals and that’s what makes this read an engrossing one.

As the book begins, we are introduced to Abhi & Uma who are close childhood friends. Abhi has moved over to London (without any intentions of returning back to India) and is training to become a neurosurgeon. Uma, on the other hand, who is 10 years younger to Abhi has just joined a medical college in Kolkata. Abhi is a mature, level-headed guy while Uma is a feisty girl who dreams about the unconventional & isn’t afraid to achieve it. It is said that friendships forged in childhood are the ones that last the longest & it is just that for Abhi & Uma. They stay in touch with each other through these regular, uninterrupting letters that chronicle the various happenings of their lives. They share every little detail of their lives with each other, be it as significant as a heartbreak or a failed marriage or a fatal malady or as trivial as most recent crush or an anecdote or an amusing family member. They lean on each other in times of sorrow, share their dreams & longings, understand the said as well as the unsaid alike, ask for advice, argue and tease each other, and laugh with each other – and everything of this through letters. For Abhi, who is in London, there is nothing at all that appeals him or binds him to India, except his friendship with Uma. For Uma, who is in India, Abhi is the only confidant with whom she shares her true desires without the fear of being judged. And as their life happens, one letter at a time, the reader gets a glimpse into their worlds – through their eyes.

I am sure everyone will agree that there is something about handwritten letters – a certain old world charm that is associated with it, makes them something special, something tantalizingly personal. They ooze of intimacy and provide the warmth even without the physical presence of the person writing it. And writing a novel that consists of only letters is an elusive job, the book might end up being impersonal where the readers cannot just relate with it. However, this read is quite the contrary, it is a heart-warming blend of emotions that keep you hooked till the very end. Madhumita has taken two characters with strong albeit different personalities & has developed them through their respective letters. They both gain a fresh perspective from each other & grow with each other. The writing is extremely simple and lovely that makes each and every letter wonderful in its own way. The editing doesn’t disappoint as well, which is really required these days.

If you’re looking for a unique read that will really please you, then The Other Side Of The Table is a great choice. A decade worth of letters, a poignant narration and a subtle romance make this novel a riveting read. Pick it up over the weekend and I assure you that you will breeze through it and will be left wanting for some more.


Find the best prices for The Other Side Of The Table by Madhumita Mukherjee at ShoppingWish.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Monsoon Memories by Renita D'Silva

Title : Monsoon Memories
Author : Renita D’Silva
Genre : Fiction
Publisher : Bookouture
Pages : 410
My Rating : 9/10
Reviewed For : Publisher / First Reads Challenge 2013 /
South Asian Challenge 2013 / IQRC 2013


Blurb:

 

“English rain smelt and tasted of nothing at all. It had none of the fury, the passion of the monsoons. Instead, it was weak; half-hearted.”

Exiled from her family in India for more than a decade, Shirin and her husband lead a comfortable but empty life in London.
Memories of her childhood – exotic fragrances, colours, stifling heat and tropical storms – fill Shirin with a familiar and growing ache for the land and the people that she loves.
With the recollections though, come dark clouds of scandal and secrets. Secrets that forced her to flee her old life and keep her from ever returning.
Thousands of miles away, in Bangalore, the daughter of Shirin’s brother discovers a lost, forgotten photograph. One that has escaped the flames.
Determined to solve the mystery of an aunt she never knew, Reena’s efforts will set in place a chain of events that expose the painful trauma of the past and irrevocably change the path of the future.

An unforgettable journey through a mesmerizing, passionate land of contrasts – and a family whose story will touch your heart.

My Review:


Every once in a while, comes along a newbie author who takes you by absolute surprise and transports you to a place where you stop thinking that you are reading a debut work. Monsoon Memories by Renita D’Silva was one such read for me - it mesmerised me with its poignant narration and heart-warming story and kept me hooked to the book till the last page. The story keeps oscillating between the frosty winters of London and tropical monsoons of India, between the past and the present and is yet seamlessly interwoven by the author.

The plot revolves around Shirin & Reena – Shirin, who is living a life that has crumpled and fallen apart in pieces by demons of her past and Reena, a 11-year old girl, an aspiring detective who idolises Nancy Drew. As the plot moves on we come to know that Shirin has been exiled from her family in India, literally cut out like a vestigial organ forcing her to shift to London with her husband. However, the ghosts of her past follow her around everywhere like a nightmare and her life becomes a mere shadow of her dark past. Meanwhile in Mangalore, Reena who is Shirin’s niece, discovers an old, ancient even, hidden family photo at her grandmother’s house, with a mystery girl whom Reena has never seen before. Inspired by Nancy Drew, Reena embarks on a detective hunt to find out who this woman is but instead unknowingly ends up opening Pandora’s Box.

This read, from the outset, plunges into Shirin’s life which has gone through an upheaval and has left her bereft of the place and people whom she loves the most. The plot progresses through two parallel narratives – one from Shirin’s view point while the other from her 11-year old niece Reena. As a result of this, we get a glimpse of how each & every incident is perceived by both the protagonists without the plot getting repetitive & blasé. As the plot unfolds, the author uncovers each hidden secret, each small fact – layer by layer and the readers get an insight into the Shirin’s painful & troubled past. Another highlight of this read is the way the author has portrayed the secondary characters. Each and every character is given a distinct voice and attribute. The author has done an amazing work at drawing out each of their emotions, their actions as well as inactions, their regrets, vulnerability – each of which has a reason associated to it.

Even though this read followed both Shirin & Reena’s journey to self-discovery, Shirin stood out to me through and through like a star. Although her life lies in broken pieces, she tries to pick up each & every piece and tries to live with them every day. Needless to say, she is easy to sympathize with, the reader’s will feel her pain, her guilt, her sacrifice, her yearning & the self-imposed exile that she throws herself into. Coming to Reena, though she is 11-year old inching towards her teens, she is way more matured & wise for her age. A rebel from the outset, her wit, humour and investigative antics make sure that the readers have a soft spot for her.

The author has based this read around many thought-provoking themes – the changing dynamics in family & relationships, the social demands and obligations, the details surrounding arranged marriages in India and the burden of holding the family name & its esteem. Renita has intricately captured all these issues into the storyline. Another aspect of the narrative was the author’s style of writing. Renita has a way with describing each and every detail and incorporating it into the storyline that the reader is literally transported to the world described in this read. The sensorial details are beautifully written and paint a vivid & exotic impression on the reader.

All in all, this is a captivating read of a journey towards home & self-discovery. An impressive and engrossing work from a debut author. Will definitely recommend this one and also look out for other books from Renita.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

I Kissed A Frog & other short stories by Rupa Gulab

Title : I Kissed A Frog & other short stories
Author : Rupa Gulab
Genre : Short Stories / ChickLit
Publisher : Pan Macmillan India
Pages : 230
My Rating : 7/10
Reviewed For : Publisher /
South Asian Challenge 2013 / IQRC 2013 / Chicklit Club

Blurb:

 

Girls arent really made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Well, perhaps some girls are, but those are certainly not the girls youll meet in I Kissed a Frog a collection of wacky short stories, tongue-in-cheek diaries and not so grim twenty-first century fairy tales that turn love and friendship inside out and upside down. Youll find it all here: getting even with exes, changes in male-female dynamics, crazy diet wars, besties turning into worsties, dark humour, light comedy and the startling discovery that Prince Charming may not be your pitcher of beer. Young, fun and feminist, I Kissed a Frog is just what a girl needs to chase the blues away.


Review:

 

(This review first appeared on ChickLit Club)

I Kissed A Frog is an eccentric mix of 17 tongue-in-cheek short stories which revolve around the themes of love, friendship and modern-age fairy tales highlighting most of the woes of singledom.

"Love" is a bewildering emotion in itself and the first section (Love and other four letter words) of the book addresses exactly that via four stories. “Hell's Angel” is based on the age-old adage that love is not essentially found in handsome boyfriends, instead in places we least expect it to be. In “Love in F Major”, the heroine falls for an older, married man and needless to say it's a downhill ride for her from there on. “Welcome to the Sisterhood” portrays the bittersweet relationship between the heroine and her boyfriend when he comes out of the closet and has a sex change operation. “Heavy Weather” is a sweet story of a chance encounter with a stranger, falling in love with him, getting estranged only to fall in love with him - again!!

The second section (The Friendship Diaries) sketches the complex dynamics between friendship and love through five stories. “The Ex Files” deals with getting even with your ex, with your partner-in-crime being none other than your mum!! “Best Friends and Boyfriends” is a laugh-out read about a heroine whose boyfriend and best friend hook up leaving the heroine baffled albeit a little wiser. “Au Revoir” is a heart-touching story about losing your best friend to a fatal disease. “Diet Wars” speaks about the desperation of weight loss and the extreme steps that are associated with it. “Wannabe Mum” portrays a heroine who is obsessed with the idea of becoming a mother but then gets a dose of her own medicine when she is faced with an equally daunting task of baby-sitting.

The third section of the book (Not-So-Grim Fairy Tales for Big, Bad Girls) consists of eight ultra-short stories with illustrations and hilarious morals at the end. As a child, we all believe in fairy tales, Mr Right, Prince Charming and Happily-Ever-After only to be hit by reality later in life. The author takes on the conventional fairy tales and replaces them with practical and not-so-happily-ever-after endings.

Needless to say, the protagonists are nothing like the sweet, docile variety but are sassy with a tangier side to them. The book itself has a witty and quirky tone which is refreshing. Pick this up, if you are looking for a breezy weekend read or want to drive away those blues.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Monsoon Magic!!!

Bonjour my virtual friends!!!

It’s the season of showers and for all those who are unaware, Mumbai was once again soaked (err…more like waterlogged!!) last week as the incessant rains just didn’t cease…even to take a breath!!!
And what better thing to do in such a weather than to just curl up with a read and a steaming cuppa??

Speaking of books, going by my blog updates or the lack thereof, we all might just unanimously agree that it's been quite some time (almost two months, gasp!) since I have blogged. What do I say to this? Life, in all its glory, took over for a while and here I am wondering how the time just flew away. But I digress…

Aaannnnyway, so I have this massive backlog for reviews pending that is just ready to go up on the site and you can be rest assured that it will be raining reviews soon!! So watch this space & see you on the other side!! J


Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Age Of Hiblisk by Sumukh Naik

Title : Age Of Hiblisk
Author : Sumukh Naik
Genre : Fiction / Fantasy
Publisher : APK Publishers
Pages : 400
My Rating : 6/10
Reviewed For : Author / South Asian Challenge 2013 / First Reads Challenge 2013 / IQRC 2013


Blurb:

 

“Age Of Hiblisk: A Story with a Soul” is the journey of Prince William and Princess Sara, the protagonists, through the magical and spiritual worlds of Pantolis, Hiblisk, and Ikra. As their voyage unfolds, they realize the true motive behind the terror employed by the dark forces of Dushtt to claim supremacy over the lands of Pantolis and beyond. Every new revelation brings to light the methodical madness employed by the dark forces and secrets of Mother Nature, which have been safely guarded for ages by the various civilizations of the secret worlds. Their journey also introduces them to the divine forces that monitor the functions of the world and gives them access to legendary, mystical weapons and advanced spiritual knowledge which illuminates the flow of their understanding and actions towards various aspects of life. They use the knowledge gained, to try and bring peace, to their war ravaged lands and fight the ever growing might and influence of the mysterious dark forces that haunt their kingdoms. Will the light of all that is divine, fighting under the banner of Prince William and Princess Sara, flicker away into oblivion against the might of the dark forces under Dushtt, or will they survive?...Only time in her womb holds the answer, potent enough to change the outlook of the very world we live in.


My Review:


“Age Of Hiblisk: A Story with a Soul” is a fascinating and thought provoking novel that is difficult to classify in any one genre. That is because this read has an eclectic mix of fiction, fantasy, adventure, magic, spirituality and philosophy – all blended in together. Set in the magical and illusionary worlds of Pantolis, Hiblisk and Ikra, this read charts the magical & spiritual voyage of a prince and a princess who set out to reclaim the balance of nature which has been perturbed due to rise of evil forces and which is threatening the very existence of their world.

The story commences with mysterious & grisly occurrences taking place in the Himra forest of Zyren village which resides on the border of the two disputing kingdoms - Jaguar and Ivory. Naturally, the peace loving villagers are terrorized and after futile attempts at trying to get to the root of the problem, they turn to seek the help of the prince of Jaguar as a last resort. Prince William, being the kind & fair ruler that he is, decides to help the villagers to relocate. However, in an unfortunate turn of events he himself gets trapped by the soldiers of Ivory and has to surrender. What seems as unfortunate at first glance, turns out to be destiny’s play later as the Princess of Ivory – Princess Sara joins hands with Prince Williams to ward off the evil forces. Helping them on their quest is the mysterious 11th Master of the “Order” – this Order is responsible to maintain the equilibrium in Pantolis & ensure its smooth functioning. The 11th Master who is the most powerful master in the Order recognizes William and Sara for the pure souls that they are and bestows them with magical powers. He then sends them on the expedition of setting the balance of good & evil right in order to save Pantolis. Thus, begins their journey in the magical land of Hiblisk where they go through various adventures and learn the valuable lessons of life & gain advanced spiritual knowledge from the various encounters in the magical land.

The most striking part of the read was the point that the author has put across which is quite different than the usual “good-always-beats evil-and-turns triumphant” tales that are abundant. In this read the author has explained that it always takes the balance between the good and the evil to maintain a state of tranquillity in the world and in its beings. Excessiveness of even one thing will ruin the order and create chaos. Another highlight of the read was the author’s imagination – Sumukh has without any effort created the worlds of Hiblisk, Pantolis & Ikra in its finest details and has blended them together seamlessly. The portrayal of the different characters, beings and scenarios make a major part of the read an engaging one inspite of it being based in a land of magic and illusion. Also, through William and Sara’s journey, the author has made an attempt to explain various philosophical as well as spiritual aspects of life. The maps provided at the end of the read prove to be helpful aids while reading the novel.

Coming to the drawbacks, the major sore point was the connect. The author has followed a rather weird pattern in naming the characters & places throughout the read. While he started off with western names, as the read proceeded, the names turned Indian and the mix of Indian & non-Indian names didn’t really blend well. Secondly, the initial  pace of the read is a bit slow and it takes a patience on the part of the reader to move over to the more interesting part of the read. The major focus of this read is philosophy and hence, the plot consisting of almost no suspense has turned predictable. Also, the novel could do with better editing for a more more crispier and tighter plot.

To give the debut author credit, the reader gets much more than they bargained for. The language is simple which makes it an easy read. The read is packed with subtle yet beautiful messages on spirituality and philosophy. Kudos to the author for following the unconventional path and experimenting with a new genre for a debut work.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Thundergod : The Ascendance of Indra by Rajiv Menon

Title : Thundergod: The Ascendance Of Indra
Author : Rajiv Menon
Genre : Fiction / Mythology
Publisher : Westland Ltd.
Pages : 384
My Rating : 7/10
Reviewed For : MySmartPrice Books / Indian Debut Writers Month 2013 / South Asian Challenge 2013 / First Reads Challenge 2013
 
 

Blurb:

 

One day a prince from one of the four great tribes will unite the sons of Aditi and he will sow the seeds of an empire that will rule the world. Born of a prophetic union between the Earth Goddess Gaia and Daeyus, chief of the Devas, comes the story of a child recounted by history to have become a king and retold by legend to have transcended into a god. Indra, destiny’s orphan, finds himself growing up in a vortex of treachery and tribal incumbency. Shielded from the usurpers of his birthright only by the watchful eye of the warrior sage Mitra, he first sets out to conquer the hearts of his tribesmen, and then the kingdoms of the unmapped world. Aligning forces with his brothers by blood oath and divine intervention Agni, Vayu, Varuna and Soma Indra embarks on a military campaign of epic proportions, stretching from the Euphrates in Asia Minor to Harappa on the Indian subcontinent, encountering formidable armies, demonic beings and powerful goddesses, and losing the only woman he really loves. Will he get her to love him again? Will he avenge the death of his father? Will he assume his place in the pantheon of the gods? In a compelling saga, blended by history, spiced by legend and mutated by myth, Rajiv G. Menon transforms ten years of research into a lightning rod of an action adventure that streaks into your consciousness with the speed of Indra’s thunderbolt.


 

My Review:

 


Thundergod: The Ascendance Of Indra is a complete high-octane read from the outset. Being an ardent mythology buff, something in me (I call it curiosity) prompted me to read this one, if only to know how the author had portrayed a less popular God like Indra!! The Hindu has described this book as “a story of unbridled flamboyance from a debutant author”, so yes - unbridled it is and how!! Mediocre doesn’t settle it for the author, the events here are at the extremum -  swashbuckling action, bloodbath, heartbreak, amorous dalliances, revenge, cowardice, conspiracies, shifting loyalties – you name it & it has got it.
 
The story kickstarts with King Daeyus (who is the chief of Devas – a clan of barbarian warriors) leading his men on a mission across the vast sandy stretches of the Karakum Desert. So brave and virile he is, (The way his character is sketched, I am compelled to imagine him as Gerard Butler from the movie “300”), that even the Earth Goddess Gaia, who being an Elemental is forbiden from consorting with humans, cannot resist him. The result of this brief tryst is Indra – whose birth is prophesied and who is destined to unite the sons of Aditi. However, from the moment Indra is even conceived, forces of nature & human beings alike start concocting to annihilate him. However, destiny’s child – Indra remains protected by supernatural powers and guarded by the warrior sage Mitra.  As the years proceed, Indra grows up in a vortex of treachery, tribal incumbency and splintering loyalties. On attaining adulthood, Indra claims his birthright position as well as his childhood sweetheart’s hand in marriage. However, on the other hand he loses her love in a series of unexpected events and is left heartbroken in a single stroke. A heartbroken & brave warrior never fears anything and needless to say, what follows next is Indra’s ambitious quest - first to conquer the vanquishers of his father & then the kingdoms of the unmapped world. The author charts Indra’s journey as he turns into a war machine and attains a new high after every conquest. Supporting him in the carnage are his brothers who are bound to him by a blood oath – Agni, Vayu, Varuna & Soma. Finally, the hunter becomes the hunted and Indra finds himself ensconced in Swarga after he fulfils his prophecy.
 
The author has created a plot which resembles a grand game of chess, where many players are introduced and their roles constantly oscillating between being a pawn or a knight. The plot is replete with testosterone-charged, adventuristic voyages of the protagonist. The most striking part, however, is Indra’s metamorphosis from an innocent, mortal lad to an alpha male to finally a God!! As a reader, I found him endearing, sympathized with him, watched him run high on heady brews as well as ambition, plough down entire armies of humans & other creatures alike and finally deteriorating into a power hungry king. The author has not created stereotypical perfect God but has a sketched a very flawed protagonist with whom the readers will share a love-hate relationship. Another major highlight of this novel was the author’s earnest attempt in meshing together Indian mythology & world history. His love for Greek & Indian mythology as well as meticulous research is clearly evident in this read.
 
While the plot is packed with pace, it also includes a lot of graphic war & erotic details. While at the start they seem inevitable, page after page of war scenes in all its glory of bloodshed becomes repelling and slows down the pace of narration. Secondly, the author has filled the plot with motley of characters & frankly, I was overwhelmed by the vast array of characters. Also, whilst doing so, the author has wonderfully developed Indra’s character but whilst showering all his attention on Indra, the author has not done justice to the secondary characters. Especially, the characters of Vayu, Varuna, Agni & Soma are not fleshed out properly neither is their equation with Indra. And lastly, with all the anticipation for the final battle building up, the ending seems to be rushed & abrupt which left me absolutely unsatisfied.
 
When this read came out, it garnered a lot of mixed reviews. And after reading this one, I got a feeling very much like that – mixed emotions!! While the author has to be lauded for a beautiful & bold debut effort, I also wish to read a more crispier plot in the sequel sans a little bit of gore. All in all, this is a complete page turner that will keep the reader hooked.