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


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

#BookReview : Head and Tales : Aandhi and Hu Tu Tu (English) 1st Edition by Translated by Meghna Gulzar

On the jacket:


Two beautiful tales told twice. 
Rediscovering Aandhi and hu tu tu.  

Aandhichronicles the lives of Aarti and JK who part ways a few years after their marriage, still in love but divided on principles. JK, the dreamy poet, is a complete contrast to the fiery, ambitious Aarti who goes on to become an influential political leader. They meet years later in a chance encounter full of poignant regret.  In hu tu tu, Panna Barve, the daughter of Malti Barve-a power-hungry politician-and Aditya Patel, the son of a rich businessman, grow up seeing their parents forge ahead fulfilling their ambitions, ruthlessly squashing everything that comes in the way of their success. Unable to come to terms with the single-minded cruelty of their parents, the young couple is forced to take the ultimate step.  Heads and tales - Aandhi and hu tu tu brings together, in an engaging narrative form, two of Gulzars best-known films. Brilliantly translated by filmmaker Meghna Gulzar, this volume will appeal to the fans of these classic movies, as well as to all lovers of strong, well-told stories.  Interesting facts Adapted screenplays of two iconic films. Translated by the acclaimed filmmaker, Meghna Gulzar. Must-have for every film buff.

Review:

I really don't know what to write here, how to review this book. How does one review a Gulzar book? How does one review stories which have already been hits? And how does one review a translation by someone who is a student of the man himself?

Well, you don't. I am sure not many will be reading this review, 'coz seriously, you just go and buy a Gulzar book. The stories don't need me to talk about them. The summary is self-explanatory for the uninitiated. What I would like to talk about is how reading the stories felt like. Usually, I prefer reading the book before I watch it's movie. Here, the opposite happened with Andhi. I have not watched Hu Tu Tu, but plan to now. So, I got both the flavours - reading the story and matching it to the movie, and reading a fresh story. 

What I particularly liked was how Gulzar's poetry has been written in English and in it's Hindi translation (which we have read and recited, often). The way the dialogues are written, the story is told - this book is a live teaching class for anyone who wants to take up writing fiction. 

This is a collector's book - the collector could be a reader, a poet, or just a  book hoarder. But this book has it's place reserved right in the front of any book shelf.

Rating: *****/5

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

#BookReview: Korma, Kheer & Kismet by Pamela Timms

On the jacket:


Pamela Timms finds her inspiration when the disorderly, not-so-grand and yet honest gullies of the old city, Delhi, offer her a sweet escape into the world of aroma and vibrant flavours. Numerous explorations change her perceptions about cooking and food forever, and she embarks on a journey to explore the stories and the undisclosed ingredients of the much-loved street food of Old Delhi. She discloses the anonymities surrounding several recipes. This journey takes Pamela straight to the heart of the city, where she is not only opened up to new ways of cooking and creating brilliant taste, but is also welcomed into the lives of people who are in this noble business. She rejoices festivals with them, gets acquainted with their families, finds recipes for some of the best Khorma, Kheer and beyond, and makes treasured friends, soon to gather that Old Delhi has become no less than a home.

Review:

I cannot review this book, unless I talk about it's cover. Since the day the book came home, I would pick it up everyday, and just gaze at the cover. For someone who deals with words, I rarely agree that a picture speaks a thousand words. Except that this one really does. The cover mesmerised me, I must confess.

Moving on to the book, as the book suggests, this is Timms journal of discovering food in the streets and flavours of old Delhi, while she stayed in India. In all of twelve chapters, the book gives us not only the author's recount of staying in Delhi and finding out the dishes (and their recipes) but also gives us twelve authentic recipes which otherwise we would have had to give an arm and a leg for. 

Now, before I forget, let me warn you. While this is not a recipe book per se, the recipes in here will make your tummy churn and tongue salivate. So, eat before you read this book. Trust me on this. I was left wanting and dreaming of Shokky's Mutton Korma.

The anecdotes mentioned and Timms' the style of writing, both are so engaging that as a reader, you will be transported to a few years ago, about when Timms is talking. You will find yourself scouring the streets of Old Delhi with her, such is the way the book has been written. And more brilliantly, it exudes the earthy feel of old Delhi. A brilliant book, to say the least.

Rating: *****/5

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

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

#BookReview : Resonance by Ajay Pandey


On the jacket:

Siddharth Rana, the Joint Director of the IB, is at his wits end attempting to unravel that mystery. Working with the blindest of clues, Siddharth has to race against time to prevent terrorists from achieving their horrific goal-an India laid low by a catastrophe of biblical proportions. This is a story that leaps across continents, gets to the heart of convoluted terrorist plots and attacks and amazes you with its exposition of high-tech gadgetry and science. It is equally a story of breathtaking bravery, recounted at a mind-blowing pace. At its core, it is also a story about the beauty of relationships. Relationships that are beyond national boundaries and historic enmities.

Review:

A book by someone who has served in the Intelligence Bureau and is an Indian Revenue Service Officer has to be entertaining. With this thought, I picked up Resonance by Ajay Pandey and I must confess, I was right!

Set broadly on the Indo-Pak conflict, this story is a nail-biting page turner. Very detailed yet, to the point, the author has managed to do a fine job in keeping the reader glued to the topic. As it is, the topic is very close to every Indian's heart. To top it, the best part of this story is that the author has kept it as a conflict between countries and not generalised religions. Indians are Indians, despite the religion they chose to follow. ISI and RAW at war with each other, who wouldn't want to read such a thriller?

There is also a love angle, very Aman Ki Asha style, between Ayan and Juhi, who study together in the US. The thriller bits are lavishly peppered with high end gadgets which give the story a very hollywood-ish feel. Fine writing, with extensive research as the story indicated, Resonance made for a very interesting weekend read.

Rating: ****/5

[This is a PR request review. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.]

Thursday, September 4, 2014

#BookReview : Scandalous Housewives: Mumbai by Madhuri Banerjee

On the jacket:


Meet women from Sapphire Towers, a residential high-rise Mumbai where life is lost to a clockwork routine. Although everything appears calm on the outside, there are those housewives who yearn for change and joys in their mundane life. One gets into a forbidden relationship following an irresistible lust, another gets addicted to kinky sex and ends up in misery, yet another woman falls in love with a young man, a friend of her own son and one more lady is holding within a secret that could probably put an end to her marriage. One ominous day, an anonymous email comes in to the inboxes of all Sapphire Towers residents and leads to unimaginable consequences! Discover what happens to the dilemmas of these women in this unputdownable novel.

Review:

A few months ago I had read Madhuri Banerjee's Advantage Love and quite liked it. When Scandalous Housewives came by mail, along with half a dozen other books, I picked this one up first. Now, reading through this book, I had two very strong emotions. Till about page 100, I was a bit bored because no scandal was happening and the story read straight out of the pages of Indian tele soaps. But from around page 125, things picked up and how! The climax, and the anti-climax, both were unexpected and the story ends with a bang. And once I'd finished reading the book, it made sense why the first hundred odd pages seemed so slow.

Four friends - Gita, a housewife whose husband and inlaws dislike her because she bore two girls; Sarita, whose inlaws are misers and she believes her teenaged kids need all the freedom they desire; Natasha, an ex-model whose husband is a wife beater and daughter, a spoilt brat; and Aarti, a working mother who bears the guilt of the secret she is keeping from her family. So technically, they are not all housewives. The are the best of friends and while they share a whatsapp group where they chat up as and when needed, they also meet for a couple of hours, every evening. They are each other's source of entertainment, power, strength and gossip.

Yet, they are all keeping some secrets about themselves from each other. While one's child was fathered not by her husband but by her ex, another is having an affair with a boy much younger in age. While the third has kinky sex with her husband, which the entire family seems to be aware of, the fourth is in a forbidden relationship with her brother-in-law.

But one day, it all comes out in the open. Somebody is out to bring their secrets out in the open and that will be the real test to friendships to test. Will the women survive this storm? Or will they and their friendships succumb? I had started reading thinking this would be something like a Jackie Collins novel, racy and scandalising but then, for a story to be set in middle class India, this is about the most scandalising a plot can get. I finished reading the book in 2-3 hours, yes, it's a page turner no doubt. I did have mixed feelings during the reading, but once done, I would recommend it, if you are looking for a quick read.

Rating: ****/5

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

Saturday, August 30, 2014

#BookReview: Under Delhi by Sorabh Pant

On the jacket:


With his hilarious flair and blatant voice, Sorabh Pant writes about a girl’s tribulations with the issues of sexual assault and rape in Delhi. As wise politicians and holymen will soon tell you, girls who are raped are merely “asking for it”. They wear skimpy clothes and eat fast food and chow mein, all of which add to their sexual vibes. Women need to take care of how they dress in public, and to do this they may need to ask a certain president’s son for fashion advice. After all, he is only too willing to offer it for free despite his busy schedule. And, of course, there is always the failsafe. Call your would-be rapist “bhaiya” and he will be filled with brotherly remorse, letting you go free. These are all that any woman in Delhi needs to do to avoid being raped. Or, they could just ignore the words of these wise men and kick men right in the family jewels. Angry with the issues of rape, Tanya Bisht decides to do just that, over and under Delhi.

Review:


Under Delhi is Tanya Bisht's story. Tanya is your regular girl who also breaks all stereotypes about girls in general and Delhi girls in particular. She works as a sales execitive with a builder's firm, which takes up most of her time. Yet, at night, she doubles up as a messiah for girls by bringing to justice those men who have wronged women but have been let off by the law. 

Pant is known for her wit. It's will not come as surprise to you that a topic which is not so serious is peppered with the author's wit and sarcasm, which only add up to the story's credibility. This is a man writing about a woman who is cruising the city to punish men who have wronged women. Geddit? It's not as easy for the writer as it may seem. And to top it, the book is crazy hilarious. 

I will refrain from getting into the story and it's details because this is one book I would recommend to all. You will crack up on this humorous take on a very serious issue.

Rating: ****.5/5

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

#BookReview : A Perfect Life by Danielle Steel

On the jacket:


The epitome of intelligence, high-powered energy, and grace, Blaise McCarthy is an icon in the world of television news, asking the tough questions and taking on the emotionally charged issues of world affairs and politics with courage and insight. A single mother, she manages her well-ordered career meticulously, always prepared on the air or interviewing world-renowned figures and heads of state. To her audience, Blaise seems to have it all. But privately, and off the set, there is another untold story she has kept hidden for years.
Blaise’s teenage daughter, Salima, was blinded by Type 1 diabetes in childhood, and her needs have kept her away in a year-round boarding school with full-time medical care and assistance ever since. When Salima’s school closes after a tragedy, Salima returns to her mother’s New York City apartment, and suddenly they face challenges they’ve never had to deal with before, and that Blaise feels ill-equipped to handle. A new caretaker provided by Salima’s school creates as many problems as he solves. Handsome, accomplished, thirty-two-year-old Simon Ward, with strong opinions on every topic, questions how mother and daughter view themselves and each other. Simon opens new doors for both of them and refuses to accept Salima’s physical limitations. He turns their world upside down, and the three become friends.
Then everything starts to unravel and Blaise can’t keep her two worlds separate anymore. A beautiful young anchorwoman is hired at the network; it is no secret that she is being groomed to take Blaise’s place. Her career as she has known it is threatened, and her previously well-ordered life feels totally out of control. For the first time, Blaise’s life is not perfect, but real.
 
In this unforgettable tale, the incomparable Danielle Steel has written a novel that pulsates with emotion and honesty as three people face the truth about themselves. A Perfect Life is about what we do when facades fall away and we can no longer run from the truth. As old ideas fail, everything changes, and life is suddenly brand-new.

Review:

For someone whose favourite author during her teenage years was Danielle Steel, I am a really disappointed reader in my 30s. Even today I would refer her books - Message from Nam, Daddy, Accident, Kaleidoscope and almost every novel I had read back then, to anyone who wants reading suggestions. But coming back to reading her, in the last two-three years, I have only been disappointed. I suppose I no more fall in the age group Steel writes for, but I wish I knew the reason.

Blaise Mc Carthy is world famous for her TV specials; she interviews world leaders, celebs and everyone who is the top in their profession, she herself being on the top of her own. HEr daughter, Salima, is diabetic, blind and lives the life of an invalid, in a school far away. She is dependent for all her chores and is a spoilt brat. When her caretaker dies, Salima is forced to moved in back home. The new caretaker Simon, is out to do everything Blaise and Salima had wanted to prove was not possible - that Salima can be independent. And he does make them see the point.

Romance develops between Blaise and Simon while thanks to him, the mother-daughter relationship takes shape for the first time, and that too in a positive way.

The thing about Steel's novels is that the pattern is same. Strong woman, who has built it all herself, has everything she ever wanted when suddenly her world will collapse which she will slowly pick up, since she is a winner. The repition of this pattern is probably what has become boring now, for someone who has read dozens of her titles. 

Having said so, as a story, this is a decent weekend read. 'Coz, after all, Steel is a good story teller, no doubt.

Rating: ***.5/5

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

#BookReview: Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan by William Dalrymple


On the jacket:


In the spring of 1839 British forces invaded Afghanistan for the first time, re-establishing Shah Shuja on the throne, in reality as their puppet, and ushering in a period of conflict over the territory still unresolved today. In 1842, the Afghan people rose in answer to the call for jihad against the foreign occupiers, and the country exploded into violent rebellion. In what is arguably the greatest military humiliation ever suffered by the West in the East, more than eighteen thousand cold and hungry British troops, Indian sepoys and camp followers retreated through the icy mountain passes, and of the last survivors who made their final stand at the village of Gandamak, only one man, Dr Brydon, made it through to the British garrison at Jellalabad. An entire army of what was then the most powerful military nation in the world was utterly routed by poorly equipped tribesmen. The West's first disastrous entanglement in Afghanistan has clear and relevant parallels with the current deepening crisis today, with extraordinary similarities between what NATO faces in cities like Kabul and Kandahar, and that faced by the British in the very same cities, fighting the very same tribes, nearly two centuries ago. History at its most urgent, The Return of a King is the definitive analysis of the first Afghan war. With access to a whole range of previously undiscovered sources, including crucial new material in Russian, Urdu and Persian, and contemporary Afghan accounts including the autobiography of Shah Shuja himself, prize-winning and bestselling historian William Dalrymple's masterful retelling of Britain's greatest imperial disaster is a powerful and important parable of neo-colonial ambition and cultural collision, folly and hubris, for our times.

Review:

Who doesn't love reading a Dalrymple! I sure do! Such a detailed study of a place, masterfully retold. 

When I started reading this book, I realised how less we know about our neighbouring countries. At least, I know very less. Afghanistan isn't exactly a neighbouring country (as much as the others), but it is a neighbour all right. A neighbour we hear and read a lot about. If you are a Bengali, you must have heard tales of the Kabuliwallahs travelling all the way from Kabul to Bengal, carrying dry fruits from their countries, to sell in India. Their stories have a mystical essence as well as a whole new world out there, to explore through the tales.

Return Of a King has in-depth account of the first Anglo-Afghan war, with Dalrymple presenting facts researched from Afghan, Indian and Russian archives. How Shah Shujah, who was ousted from his position, manipulates the British and gains his place on the Afghan throne. A story of the first 19th centure British invasion in Afghanistan; while it is basically a recount of the history, it is also a gripping novel. 


Best thing about this book is that a reader can literally jump into this thick, hard bound book of pure history of no worries about gaining incorrect knowledge of the history, because it's a Dalrymple book! And trust him to bring boring history back to life. Vivid sketches of recount of incidents, wars and invasions that happened decades ago are stated in a brilliant way, making them alive. A brilliant read, no doubt.

Rating: *****/5

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

#BookReview : Private India by James Patterson, Ashwin Sanghi

On the jacket:


In Mumbai seemingly unconnected people are dying, strangled in a chilling ritual and with strange objects carefully arranged with the corpses. For Santosh Wagh, head of Private India, the Mumbai branch of the world’s finest investigation agency, it's a race against time to stop the killer striking again. In a city of over thirteen million, hed have his work cut out at the best of times but this case has him battling Mumbai's biggest ganglord and a godman who isn't all he seems and then he discovers there may be an even greater danger facing Private India. Hidden in the shadows is someone who could destroy the whole organisation along with thousands of innocent Mumbai citizens.

Review:

I'd read Ashwin Sanghi's Chanakya's Chant and marvelled at how well-researched the book was. From being a snob who looked away from the Indian fiction section, to now being someone who is experimenting with reading Indian authors, weeding out the average authors while I stock up on books by authors I would want to refer to others. Sanghi is one such author. I want people to read him. I am also a fan of Patterson’s Alex Cross series.

Private India is James Patterson's collaboration with Ashwin Sanghi. There are a series of murders in the city that never sleeps, Mumbai. The murders seem to be connected and the killer is leaving clues which are not adding up, while they also give the hint that the killer wants attention.

Santosh Wagh is the man on the case. He is the Indian head of Private and his boss is of course, Jack Morgan. The city’s police force is overworked, so happily hands over the investigation to a private investigating company as long they get credit for the result.

Private is an investigative agency, private of course, and is headed by an ex-CIA agent, Jack Morgan. It has branches all over the world, including India. In India, it's in Mumbai. Santosh Wagh is an investigator armed with a bottle of whiskey, in which he tries to drown his troubled past.  He has his team; the best there are in the industry.

The story is gripping, no doubt. As is expected in murder mysteries, as soon as you as a reader start thinking you have solved the case, you turn a page and you are rudely thrown off the track. Only to start picking on the new clues and to solve the whodunit, alongside the pages that you are turning. But I would have liked this better had been it a one author book. Of course, the mythological research comes from Sanghi and the pace is Patterson’s. I wish I could say the collaboration has made it a splendid read. Most of Patterson’s Private books that I have read have given me the same feeling, why the collaboration. Now, I am saying this purely from a reader’s point of view, a reader who is a fan of both the authors equally.

This is not a book I can compare with either writer's independent books. The story is an unputdownable page turner. The short chapters make it more gripping, each chapter ending at a note where the author is left wondering, and their mind racing to see if they can finish the puzzle.

I won’t say I am disappointed. ‘Coz this is a good story. The end was unexpected and the way the plot was woven was smooth and practiced. There however remains a doubt that maybe, just maybe it could have been better had this been written by a single author?  There is Mumbai. There are multiple murders which need to be solved. There are two brilliant authors. And, there is a fast paced novel they both have written. No reason why one shouldn't read it!

Rating: ****/5

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