Friday, December 19, 2014

#BookReview: The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob

On the jacket:

The story of a family, divided across generations and cultures, wrestling with its future and its past, The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is at once magical, mouth-watering and heartbreaking.  Of all the family gatherings in her childhood, one stands out in Amina’s memory. It is 1979, in Salem India, when a visit to her grandmother’s house escalates into an explosive encounter, pitching brother against brother, mother against son.  In its aftermath, Amina’s father Thomas rushes his family back to their new home in America. And while at first it seems that the intercontinental flight has taken them out of harm's way, his decision sets off a chain of events that will forever haunt Thomas and his wife Kamala; their intellectually furious son, Akhil and the watchful young Amina.  Now, twenty years later, Amina receives a phone call from her mother. Thomas has been acting strangely and Kamala needs her daughter back. Amina returns to the New Mexico of her childhood, where her mother has always filled silences with food, only to discover that getting to the truth is not as easy as going home.  Confronted with Thomas’s unwillingness to talk, Kamala’s Born Again convictions, and the suspicion that not everything is what it seems, Amina finds herself at the centre of a mystery so tangled that to make any headway, she has to excavate her family’s painful past. And in doing so she must lay her own ghosts to rest.

Review:

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is Mira Jacob's  debut novel. Set in India, Seattle and Albuquerque, the book spans from the late 70s and early 80s to about 1998. 

In 1979, we meet the Eapen family in Salem, India where they are visiting from America. The main character here is Thomas Eapen, a surgeon in Seattle. While in India, his mother tries to convince him to stay back. His wife would love to stay back, but Thomas wants a better life for his family.

The story moves to 1998, where we see Amina Eapen who is now a photographer in Seattle. Thomas is unwell and his wife calls Amina home. Here the story goes back to the early 80s, where Amina and her brother Akhil were children. We see them growing up and travel through time with their lives. Akhil is shown to have some problems but Thomas doesn't take it very seriously. This creates a mystery angle, about Akhil.

Bonds, connectiosn to the homeland, relationships, connections between old and new worlds, everything has been given such a fine treatement, it's hard to believe this is Jacob's first novel. The element of secrecy has been paid special attention to and the treatement given is wonderful. 


This book is indeed, as the author says, ",,,what it means, as an immigrant, to make a life in a stolen country."

Rating: *****/5

[This review is for Bloomsbury India. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.]

Thursday, December 18, 2014

#BookReview: Slightly Burnt by Payal Dhar

On the jacket:


"Sahil was going to say it, no matter what stunt I pulled and then things would be all weird between us, because, you know, I just didn't feel that way about him."  Sahil has been Komal's very best friend since, well, forever. Which is why she doesn't want to hear his confession. But there isn't much she can do to stop him from saying what he has to say. When her brother gets unwittingly tangled in the whole mess that ensues, Komal finds that she is out of her depth and in desperate need of help.  Slightly Burnt is a fresh take on coming of age in India. 

Review:

Slightly Burnt is a young adult book and has a particularly attractive cover.An easy read, it lures you into the plot almost from the very beginning. A story about Sahil and Komal who are best friends till the time they have a conversation which almost breaks their friendship. Sahil confesses to Komal of his love for her and all hells break loose in the freindship. How do the friends deal with this? 

Dhar has dealt with important issues in a very smooth manner.She has kept the language simple, yet good. Despite being an easy read, Slightly Burnt has also tackled issues like homosexuality, one of the burning issues of this country and amongst the youth. 

A one-sitting read, I liked this book quite a lot.

Rating: ***.5/5

[This review is for Bloomsbury India. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.]

#BookReview: Mirage by Ambika Rikhye

On the jacket:


Mirage is a story of an ordinary girl, Neena, with extraordinary courage. She is disdained by her parents for not living up to their expectations inspite of them warning her. She gets into an ugly mess and is disowned by her family. Will she get her life back on track? This is a story of love, relationships, friendship, betrayal, faith, revenge and forgiveness.

Review:

Mirage is a story about Neena, a medical student, who is stuck in a wrong line of education trying to please her parents. The story begins with the day of her results, of exams in which she hadn't fared well. Her results were a disaster and her parents devastated. At this point, Neena told her parents she doesn't want to go on with this course any more. Took a while but her parents came around. Neena joined a new college, now to study arts. age old stereotype of one who cannot do professional courses, ends up doing Arts, it's so easy. Well, alright.

Neena goes to college and the story takes the reader through a very eventful three years of her life. The story has a lot of character and each is well defined. She falls in love and wants to marry the man she loves. None of the people in her life, her friends or her family, like the guy. Here, she makes the mistake of eloping and marrying which leads to her family disowning her. What happens next isn't something Neena bargained for. 

Giving a very fresh treatment to a story of a regular girl, Rikhye is indeed a good story teller. Editing leaves a lot to be desired, and good editing would have taken the story up by a few notches. Madhya Pradesh is referred to as a city, everyone seems to be going there. Not to a particular city in the state. Also, Neena's senior from college, Jyoti was supposed to be posted in Madhya Pradesh. But in the climax, towards the end, we see that her best friend is also there. Why is everyone going there? 

The story unravels at a relaxed pace and when you begin reading it, nothing will prepare you for how it ends. I would want to read more stories coming from Rikhye.

Rating: ***.5/5

[This is an author request review. However, the views are all mine and unbiased.]

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

#BookReview: The City Son by Samrat Upadhyay

On the jacket:


Set in Samrat Updhyay's signature and timeless Nepal, The City Son offers a vivid portrait of a scorned woman's lifelong obsession to get revenge for her husband's infidelity, with devastating ramifications for an impressionable young man.  Acclaimed and award-winning author Samrat Upadhyay—the first Nepali-born fiction writer writing in English to be published in the West—has crafted a spare, understated work examining a taboo subject: a scorned wife’s obsession with her husband’s illegitimate son. When Didi discovers that her husband, the Masterji, has been hiding his beautiful lover and their young son Tarun in a nearby city, she takes the Masterji back into her grasp and expels his second family. Tarun’s mother, heartsick and devastated, slowly begins to lose her mind, and Tarun turns to Didi for the mothering he longs for. But as Tarun gets older, Didi’s domination of the boy turns from the emotional to the physical, and the damages she inflicts spiral outward, threatening to destroy Tarun’s one true chance at true happiness. Potent, disturbing, and gorgeously stark in its execution, The City Son is a novel not soon forgotten.

Review:

Easily one of this year's best books, The city son is hard hitting. Let me warn you, you will be horrified. But trust the author as he knows what he is writing; let him handhold you through the story of a young boy.

This story is about 'Didi' and Tarun. Didi is a married woman who lives in the village with her two sons while her husband, a learned man, lives in the city and rarely comes home. When Didi learns of her husband's second family in the city, she moves in with them bag and baggage. She takes over the household and the young child, Tarun who was her husband's second wife's son.

Tarun's mother Apsara loses her mind and is no longer able to take care of Tarun. Under Didi's care, Tarun is treated more like a lover than a son. He is only ten years old. Yes, the book is this shocking. This goes on till even after his marriage.

The City Son talks about how this relationship affects Tarun even after he is a grownup. The complexities of his character are harsh and so real. This book will punch you right between your eyes and leave you stumped. It's real and it's raw. It's not a book anyone can pick up and enjoy, you need to have an appetite for it to digest this story.

Rating: *****/5

[This review is for Rupa Publications. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.]

#BookReview: Breaking News : A Woman in a Man's World by Kamla Mankekar

On the jacket:

Breaking News: A Woman in a Mans World chronicles Kamla Mankekars experiences as one of the first women journalists in India. Engagingly written, Breaking News vividly portrays the struggles of a woman in a primarily male-dominated profession while recording the cultural and social changes that marked the pivotal decades of Indias history. The book depicts the hopeful years of a newly-born nation, the despair and resilience of those who came to India as refugees after Partition, the cultural ferment of the 1950s and 1960s, the political turmoil of the 1970s and 1980s and the social transformations of the present moment. It offers readers a splendid view of the momentous events that have led to the present.  In recounting anecdotes of her encounters with newspaper editors and proprietors, refugees and social activists, actors, playwrights, musicians and poets, industrialists, politicians and ordinary people, the author creates sparkling portraits of the people who have shaped modern India.

Review:

It's not easy for a woman to survive in a man's world that we live in. But things are getting better, women are streaming ahead and while are moving shoulder-to-shoulder, some are zipping ahead of the men. And contrary to common belief, no, it;s not easy for a woman. It's very difficult, men cannot tolerate a woman being better at them and women are jealous. So a woman who wants to excel in her line of work has it tough from both side.

Author Kamal Mankerkar is a journalist, an industry dominated by men for years. Look around and most of the big names in every section of the media are men. With specks of woman, here and there. 

Mankerkar, in her book Breaking News, has out up the turmoils women have to face in this  Interesting, to say the least, this book is an eye opener even for someone like me, who has been in the industry for close to a decade now. And along with this, the book also talks about India and how it developed post independence.

A serious, yet delightful read. One needs to give this book a go.

Rating: ****/5

[This review is for Rupa Publications. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.]


#BookReview: On Women by Khushwant Singh

On the jacket: Well known for his unabashed interest in the fairer sex, Khushwant Singh revelled in the notoriety his interest evoked, almost as much as he did in the response he received from women. Indeed, this enduring obsession provided fodder for some of Singh’s best-known work, both as a journalist and as a peerless raconteur. 

On Women, a wide-ranging selection of Singh’s writings on the subject, includes Singh’s recounting of an embarrassingly drunken meeting with Begum Para, an actress of yester years; a sharp profile of Shraddha Mata, a tantric sadhvi who was alleged to have borne Jawaharlal Nehru’s illegitimate child; and a touching sketch of Singh’s grandmother in the twilight of her life. Also featured in this volume are unforgettable women characters from Khushwant Singh’s most popular works of fiction: Georgine, a clueless American teenager who is seduced by a middle-aged tour guide in Delhi; and Nooran, a young girl in pre-Partition Punjab, who discovers the sweet pleasure of first love only to be overtaken by cataclysmic events which leave her adrift.

Insightful, poignant, and occasionally wicked, the essays and extracts in On Women are testament to why Khushwant Singh remains one of the most popular writers of our times.

Review: 

It's always a delight to read Khushwant Singh and to read a new collection of his short stories is even more a pleasure. Short stories spanning through his lifetime, set in different places and timezones, amidst a variety of people - these stories throw light on Singh's experiences of love and sex.

While on one end Singh talks about his wife Kaval Malik, he also talks about Phoolan Devi, a retarded beggar at Churchgate, the beautiful Ghayoorunnisa Hafeez of Hyderabad. Peppered in the book are stories about his encounters with the vivacious Sadia Dehlvi, journalist Anees Jung, his grandmother to the universal seductress Amrita Shergill, Indira Gandhi, Mother Teresa, sadhvi tantrik Shraddha Mata and even Protima Bedi. 

This book is candid and unabashedly to the point. But then what is a Khushwant Singh book, if not this! The book begins with few fictional characters taken from his other works and moves on to the various women and how they affected his life. A classy book, this is a book which needs to be read. It celebrates life and women, just like Singh himself did.

If you are the kind of feminist who hates men, you won't llike this book. What the anthology had going for it from page one is that the collection is of very well picked stories. We might not all agree to his views but Singh's interpretation of women was indeed interesting. 

Review: ****/5

[This review is for Rupa Publications. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.]

#BookReview: On Love and Sex by Khushwant Singh

On the jacket:


This selection of Singh’s writings includes an extract from his autobiography, in which he describes how he lost his own virginity. It contemplates on sexuality in India, after having seen a newly-wed couple consummate their marriage on a moving train and the poker-faced account of an incident in a doctor’s clinic which leaves Singh feeling 'buggered'. Also included in this book are selections from his works of fiction - a mixed marriage, a stirring account of a Hindu - Muslim union in Mughal times, and the rooftop massage, in which the masseuse Molly gives Mohan Kumar an experience which she asks him never try to repeat.

Review:

It's always a delight to read Khushwant Singh and to read a new collection of his short stories is even more a pleasure. Short stories spanning through his lifetime, set in different places and timezones, amidst a variety of people - these stories throw light on Singh's experiences of love and sex.

From talking about his first love which happened in college, to his days in England where he lost his virginity, this book is candid and unabashedly to the point. But then what is a Khushwant Singh book, if not this! Singh had written about trying out Rajneesh's approach to sex, to a memorable train journey and stories which throw light to his life and experiences. 

A refreshing book, in a very Khushwant style of experience.

Rating: ***/5

[This review is for Rupa Publications. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.]

#BookReview : The Winner's Curse by Dee Walker

On the jacket: A political thriller about national ID numbers, power and greed. Orphan Harsh makes it to the billionaire club with a burning vision, sheer intellect and the blessings of his political Godfather. The favours must now be paid back through a huge Guru Dakshina. To honour his Master’s wish, Harsh, with the help of his fellow IITians, sets out to create a never-seen-before governance technology around the national ID numbers, that will change the face of democratic India.  Everything is at stake: money, reputations, egos and morals. Even lives.  Will they succumb to insatiable greed in the murky games of politics, backstabbing and subterfuge or will they be redeemed by the ‘Ten Commandments’ that once forged their ideals at college?  If you thought that supreme technology and unalloyed power can bring lasting change or that e-governance and transparency can address the ills of our system, The Winner’s Curse will force you to think again. For what’s at stake is: YOU.  The Winner’s Curse: the turbulent voyage of talent and intellect in the morass of turpitude.

Review: The book begins with the ten IIT Commandments as written by R Gopalakrishnan, Director, Tata Sons and the story begins in March 2012, in Delhi.

'The Winner's Curse' is a political thriller about India, technology and greed. America had India under surveillance and without the Home Minister Ambasamudram Rajoo's knowledge, the CIA and the NSA had collected more than 6 billion documents on Indians within just a year. All this was done on the guise of strategic coorperation. 

Billionaire Harsh Mittal is called by his patron who is referred to as The Master. Together, they sit and hatch a plan to combat this situation. What happens next. The book includes in itself The Ten Commandments of IIT; Harsh being an alumni of the institute. We get to see a transparent view of how IIT graduates look at life & deal with it, and how their actions in turn affect India. 

A very crisp plot, a well-thatched plan and well-defined characters, The Winner's Curse makes for a fine read. A very tight plot with many sub-plots, what I loved is how the sub-plots are dealt with. Despite there being numerous flashbacks, the transitions from past to present to past is effortless and smooth. 

Editing leaves a lot to desire and to be honest, this was the only hitch in the reading experience. The book starts at a slow pace and but evolves steadily. The author knows what he is writing and is in control of the plot. At no point did the plot go off track.

Rating: ****/5

[This was an author request review. However, the views expressed are solely mine.]

Saturday, November 1, 2014

#BookReview: Because Life is a Gift by Disha

On the jacket:


He is ten years old and confined to a wheelchair. But that's not his identity. To the world, he is India's youngest patent holder for inventing variants of chess for six, twelve and sixty players.  Have you heard of the Army Major who was declared dead in the Kargil war, but is India's first blade runner today?  Do you think a woman without hands can be one of India's leading painters?  What is the first thought that comes to your mind when you see a differently-abled person? Pity? Sympathy?  The real-life success stories of fifteen differently-abled people charted in Because Life is a Gift will make you think otherwise. You will sense pride replace all feelings of pity and sympathy for they have fought against all odds to achieve their dreams.  This book is a tribute to their courage, passion and zest for life. They will challenge your notion of the impossible. They will inspire you to live life to the fullest, because life is truly a gift.

Review:

There comes a time in all our lives, however positive we are, when we want to give up and just leave. And at such junctions, the coward in us needs to be shown how people with bigger problems have tackled those very problems headlong and come out winners. I was in one such junction when I read Disha's Because Life Is A Gift. I doubt it has made me stronger ready to face my problems boldly, but I know this book gave me the guts to sit up and address my problems. Ideally, this is your cue to read this book but if you need more convincing, I'l do that too.

Disha's first book was My Beloved's MBA. It tackled something I have wondered about a lot. Many of my friends, with wives/husbands and families, had given up their high paying jobs and gone back to study. MBA. And I have always wondered, how are they managing. Not just financially, but emotionally as well. My Beloved's MBA had touched a topic which no one had till then and did a very fine job with it.

Disha has again ensured her book is different from the regular. This book isnt about brilliant scholars who had everything going for them, turned entrepreneurs. This book is about people who had nothing going for them, yet emerged more successful than most of us reading this review.

Right from Disha talks about Suresh, her batchmate at IIM-C, and how he gained the inspiration to write this book from him to the individual fifteen stories about fifteen people, this book is emotionally exhaustive. I read one story a day, sometimes, two. A friend had once said - until the problem landed in my own life, I too was never sensitized about the problems other people face and how they emerge as winners. But that's not right, is it? From a little kid like Hearty, to grownups, all with disabilities owing to which they couldn't have easily, very easily given up on life and lamented at their fates. But they didn't. They worked against what life gave them and in term emerged as bigger people. And we have a lot to learn and practice from these people. The book needs sharper editing, but that can be ignored purely because of the content.

The best part about this book is that at the end of each chapter, mail ids are mentioned for readers to contact. You can contact them to connect or just to tell them how inspirational they are!

Rating: ****.5/5

[This review is for Srishti Publishers & Distributors. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.]

#BookReview: The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson

On the jacket:


The computer and the internet are among the most important innovations of our era, but few people know who created them. They were not conjured up in a garret or garage by solo inventors suitable to be singled out on magazine covers or put into a pantheon with Edison, Bell, and Morse. Instead, most of the innovations of the digital age were done collaboratively. There were a lot of fascinating people involved, some ingenious and a few even geniuses. This is the story of these pioneers, hackers, inventors, and entrepreneurs—who they were, how their minds worked, and what made them so creative. It’s also a narrative of how they collaborated and why their ability to work as teams made them even more creative.” 

Review:

Walter Isaacson's The Innovators starts at delightful note, at least for me. When I began reading the book, I was looking at reading something about development of computers and the Internet, right from the times of Ada, Countess of Lovelace & Charles Babbage to all the way till today. Which is what the book is about, no doubt. But, a few pages about Lord Byron and poetry set a beautiful pace for me.

The only legitimate child of famous poet Lord Byron, Ada never really saw her father since her mother had taken her along, away from her father.  A romantic like her father, Ada's imagination raced when it came to machinery and her meeting with a much older Charles Babbage left a lasting impression in her.

When I had read Isaacson's Steve Jobs, I had marveled at how in-depth the content of the book was. If that had bowled me over, imagine what The Innovators did to me. When we talk about computers and the internet, it's not easy to fathom exactly how large the web is, that needs to be spoken about. So, while reading this book, you need to be patient. Specially, if you are a non-techie like me. But then the first chapter talks about the Byrons and the Shellys, even a literature lover gets lured in. 

Thing about innovations, specially to do with computers and the internet is that, they cannot be attributed to a single person. What one had invented, was added to by some one else, modified by yet another and few innovations added by a completely different person - and then we have a product that has evolved over the years.

In a very easy-to-read style, Isaacson doesn't boggle you with too many tech jargons. And in one book, we have history, science and art, all packed together. The fact that he has included so many innovators and no just written what they have done but given a sort of a backgrounder on the kind of people they were - which threw light on how they go about to be the innovators they were! Isaacson has also, almost spoken about everyone who needs to be named when talking about computers and their advancements - from Lovelace and Babbage back in the 19th centure, to current day Gates, Wozniak and Jobs. 

If technology interests you, this could be your bible. And if doesn't, this book has a lot of good-to-know information for anybody who uses technology, which most of us do.

Rating: ****/5


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