Tuesday, November 14, 2017

#BookReview: Turtles All The Way Down

On the jacket:


Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. 

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.

Review:

“The worst part of being truly alone is you think about all the times you wished that everyone would just leave you be. 
Then they do, and you are left being, and you turn out to be terrible company.” 

I love how John Green writes. He is one of my writer goals. While I love his style of writing, I must also admit that his stories leave my exhausted and overwhelmed. Yet as it happens every time  book of his releases, I must read them, to soak in his style of writing. Like all the books I have read before, Turtles All The Way Down too left me anxious and stunned.

Th cover of the book is unlike any John Green book, while his overs usually are really attractive. What made up for the unattractive cover is the  jacket poster on the inside of the jacket. However, as you read the book, you begin to realise why the cover looks like it does and after some time it starts to make sense. 

Aza and Daisy, her best friend, on Daisy's insistence embark on a journey to find  Russell Picket whose son, she'd studied with. Teenagers with eloquent vocabularies with lifelong friendships, fighting existential crisis are common to John Green novels and here too we have Aza, trying to deal with her issues.  She and her best friend decide to take part in finding a rich man who seems to have disappeared. The characters are relatable and the friendships enviable. Aza Holmes are her fight with mental illness, trying so hard to be the best she could be - I wish I'd read both her when I was 16. 

It's been a day since I've finished reading the book and I am still overwhelmed. If you are a John Green fan, you must've already read the book. If you haven't, go grab it. The six year wait has been well worth it.



Monday, November 6, 2017

#BookReview: The Boys Who Fought: The Mahabharata for Children by Devdutt Pattanaik

On the jacket:

‘When you can fight for the meek without hating the mighty, you follow dharma.’
In the forest, the mighty eat the meek. In human society, the mighty should take care of the meek. This is dharma. A hundred princes should look after their five orphaned cousins. Instead, they burnt their house, abused their wife and stole their kingdom. The five fought back, not for revenge but, for dharma. What came of the hundred’s fight against the five?
India’s favourite mythologist brings to you this charmingly illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata that is sure to illuminate and enthrall a new generation of readers.

Review:

My oldest memory of the Mahabharata was a picture book, sort of a comic with pictures and text next to them, which my father used to read out to me when I couldn't read. It was a post lunch ritual. It was read out to me so many times that I remembered the story by the pictures and if he even skipped a page or two out of boredom from reading it every day, I knew he'd skipped a part! I still remember all the pictures of the book - it, along with few other such books, was my first introduction to Hindu mythology.
That was in the 80s. Ever since, I've never seen the great stories simplified for children, or maybe children now aren't read the stories any more. Either way, Devdutt Pattanaik has made knowing, reading and enjoying these stories easier and more enjoyable with his art of precise storytelling and all the artwork.
In The Boys Who Fought, Pattanaik has told the story in his signature style with animated sketches which not only enthral but also captivated. Each page also has important tidbits and information which, because written separately, have more impact on the mind. Pages also have these boxes where children will derive basic yet important moral science lessons from. Pattanaik has also included in the book, information pertaining to different versions of the Mahabharata wherever applicable. The story is told in its broad sense and is ideal to acquaint children to the crux of the story. As they grow older, they can be introduced to the finer sections of the story.
Rating: 4.5/5




Sunday, November 5, 2017

#BookReview: Murder In Paharganj by Kulpreet Yadav


On the jacket:


On a cold December morning, a white woman is found murdered in a cheap hotel in Paharganj, New Delhi. Vicks Menon, an out-of-work journalist, is tipped off by the hotel's receptionist and is the first to arrive at the crime scene, where he discovers a lead. It's the bus ticket used by the dead woman two days earlier. But Vicks is battling personal trouble. He has no money, an alcohol problem, and a nearly broken relationship with Tonya, his estranged live-in partner, a clinical psychologist who specializes in profiling hardened criminals. Moving in and out of the shadows, Vicks pushes his investigation harder as it takes him from Udaipur to Bangkok. On his side, for resources, he has a nameless intelligence operative, and to read minds, a lover who is beginning to trust him again. But above all, his instinct to stay inches ahead of death will be the key to his survival. If Vicks lives, this is one story that will change his life forever.

Review:

Anybody who knows my reading habits knows how much I love a good mystery. Leave me in a bookstore and I'd walk towards the mystery/thriller section. While there is an abundance of good mystery novels in the global market, I'd love to see Indian authors making their mark in the  genre as well. If we look at present day authors, it would be wrong to say that some aren't trying to disrupt the trend and create a stable position for mysteries and thrillers, because they are.

When I chanced upon the opportunity to read Murder in Paharganj, I said yes without reading the blurb. This was to be my first read of Kulpreet Yadav's work as well. I usually don't dissect stories too much and write my reviews on broader points, but hey, a murder mystery is all about the layers to come out, right? 

Jokes apart, while reading Murder in Pahargnj, I was quite stupefied when the killer was revealed quite early in the book. Let's start from the very beginning, where a white woman was found dead in a hotel room at Paharganj, with nothing else missing in the story. The hotel's employee who found the body, called his out-of-work journalist friend Vicks Menon. Vicks is trying to resurrect his career and had left a word with all his friends to be informed of any newsworthy incidence first. A few chapters later, the author reveals who the killer is, but here is where Vicks life turns into an adventure. 

The story travels across countries, to come back and settle in the Indian soil. The plot is gripping, no doubt. A lot keeps happening while different characters (and there are quite a few) move countries and have conversations. Religion, national security and fugitives - all comes out in the open, behind the death of a foreign national in India. The mystery isn't who killed, rather it is something the investigators land upon quite by chance and is something they never imagined it to be, all the while, chasing the murderer.

While I kept wanting to know what happens next, I also found something unsettling in the story. Probably, too many characters, all of whom are important to the story. There are quite a few sub-stories as well, all fit in 274 pages. While this was not the best mystery novel I've read, I cannot deny that Murder in Paharganj is a good step in the Indian literary scene. I hope there will be a series in the Vicks Menon Thriller.

In the end, I must add one thing I loved. The entire book had fresh characters which were creations of the author. Mentioning this, because I see many Indian authors name their characters/places/brands on existing prominent names/brands (parodying on the names) which takes away from the fictional flavour for me and honestly affects my reading experience. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Thursday, October 26, 2017

#BookReview: Corporate Avatars by Disha

On the jacket:


If you have ever worked in a corporate world, you are likely to have been confounded by some of its more curious characters – the sentimental dame with her sappy reminiscing, the bumbling accountant who can never seem to figure it out on his own and the freshly minted management graduate who is a walking encyclopedia – to name just a few.


Getting along is not always easy. But don’t lose hope just yet. Corporate Avatars tackles the oddities at the workplace in an exhilarating read, giving you just the smart essentials you need to survive such folk and make your way up the ladder.

Spirited and saucy, this undeniably helpful book reveals the quirks of more than 40 colorful personalities you are likely to meet at the workplace. It is the perfect compass with which to navigate the rough seas of the business world.

Disha is an IIM Calcutta alumnus and has spent over a decade with corporate giants like Paytm.com, Yatra.com and Mentor Graphics. She is currently a senior leader with Amazon India. Besides her corporate career, Disha loves to write and has authored many books.

Review:

For a fulltime freelancer, Disha's Corporate Avatars was a walk down memory lane. She's brought back so many memories in her book and in some way even reassured me of what all I am happy without!

Corporate Avatars was like moving back in time and remembering all the different kind of people I've worked with in the past. For those who are still living the corporate life, the book will be a different kind of amusing - for they could probably spot themselves amongst the pages of this book. Disha's always written books which readers can identify with and take inspiration from, this one sets the exceptions higher.

Each chapter in the book discusses one kind of character present in every office (e.g.) the micromanager, the whiner, the one who always calls for a meeting, the one always ready with excuses, the one who makes more noise than the work s/he does, and so on. I tried to think but couldn't think of any that she could have missed expect the pervert, but then all of them could be that or none of them.

Disha's style of writing is witty and simple, and she's kept the jargons limited so that even those who have never been a part of the corporate sector too could read and enjoy the book.

****.5/5


Friday, September 29, 2017

#BookBlast: Lean Into Relationships by Rishabh Jhol

About the Book:
Doubt has pivoted many a relationship across the centuries. Whether it is Othello suspicious of Desdemona or through the rise of paranoia as a trope in twentieth century writings. While paranoia naturally suggests the vulnerability of individual mind to social rhetoric, it is also the space for deep interrogation of the individual that renders him/her to paranoia. This novel presents that doubt has the potential to be a space of liberation.

Madeeha works in Jordan to rehabilitate Syrian refugees. Zehen, a political analyst from India, meets her in the US during their social impact program. He is intrigued and charmed by her, and falls deeply in love. But the world political climate, with its accompanying cultural narratives about terror and pain, infects Zehen’s mind. Zehen begins to suspect Madeeha as a possible mujahid. Will he find his truth?

Fear doesn’t devastate; it stirs the inner pot. It is a tender love story that triumphs heartbreaks and sets the foundation of deep lasting future relationships - a delightful emancipation from social intrigues and cultural constraints.




Read an Excerpt:

Zehen was experiencing sweet joy in his heart. Memories bustled in the head.

When did he first see her? Zehen searched his head madly. Orientation session? Corridor to the classroom? However, he tried, he couldn’t pinpoint the moment. A whirr of images, of moments, yet-to-be collaged. And a heart that already had a narrative, waiting to be inset.

We imagine that all romantic stories will have a sigh-worthy romantic beginning. But beginnings are when the heart awakens, when the soul remembers. A presence stills and emerges from the shadows of time.

His first memory was when she introduced herself in the class. They had gathered at Presidium University for a one-year course on Social Impact Leadership. Outside, the white fringe tree was laden with its grape-like fruits. The pine, oak and spruce waited for winter to tell the world how unchangeable they were. And the old Redwood stood proud like the institution itself. Inside, in the warm classroom, students from various cultures across the world had gathered. Icebreaker session was on and the usual round of introductions.

Introduction is a ritual. A cumbersome ritual. How does one reduce the tapestry of one’s entire existence, the colors, and the many weaves into a single palatable thread?


The Book is Free on Amazon on 29th & 30th September. Grab it here: Amazon

Anecdote

I published my first book in 2015 and my second book in early 2016. I was single at the time and using dating apps to meet other single people. I met a girl in mid-2016 who took fancy to my dating profile, especially that I am an author. After a couple of meetings, She demanded that I write about her. I jokingly told her that I am a Phoenix writer, i.e., I fall in love, get dumped, and write about my failed relationship. She broke-up with me, and still invariably pings whether I am including ‘her and our relationship’ in my upcoming book(s).

———————-

The genesis of this book came about while I was on a cross-country train ride in the US. I met Mark who had been a successful marketing professional with considerable international marketing experience. He had travelled to all of Asia and understood the regional peculiarities.
He was later diagnosed with lung cancer. By the time, it was detected, it was stage 3. He was put under radiation and intensive chemotherapy. He went in for three other opinions. All of them agreed that the cancer was aggressive and spreading fast. He searched for the latest treatments and sought to enter clinical trials. The process lasted for two years.

In the meantime, the cancer advanced. The doctors said the cancer was incurable and he didn’t have long to live. It took him weeks of denial to come around to the truth – he didn’t have long to live.

He returned home from a long walk one evening and asked himself a crucial question: “If I am going to die, then I might as well die straight away. What is point of waiting for death to show up?”

That evening he ate well, watched a movie with his girlfriend, poured himself a rare scotch and sat at his study. It was time. He wrote out his letter – love and wishes to his family, loved ones and friends, his last wishes about funeral, information on his will, and a general note thanking all. He placed it in an envelope. He planned to kill himself early morning. He finished his scotch, brushed and went to bed.

In the middle of night, he woke up to a noise. The light was on in the study and he could hear sniffles. He walked cautiously up and there in the study, his girlfriend was holding his suicide letter and crying. He watched her as her body crumpled and sink into chair. Her face contorted in agony. In her face, he saw what was the consequence of his action. The penny dropped.

I paled and listened in horror. Mark continued, “I realized that our life is never ours. We are nothing but a bundle of emotions for the people who love us and the people we love. The meaning of life is to optimize for the happiness of such people. There’s nothing more to living.
That day on, I have been living for maximizing the happiness of my loved ones”

That’s how I stumbled on lean in to relationships; it has become my life philosophy.


About the Author 


I was born into poverty. At the time of my birth, my parents shared a one -room hut with six other family members in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Delhi.

It was a hot day in the month of March 1995. I was in standard 4th and had an examination the following day. As was regular in that locality, we didn't have electricity that day. I couldn't study or sleep properly. One of the watershed moments happened when I came back from school the next day. We had an inverter installed at home. I knew we couldn't afford an inverter. But my dad was always convinced that the way out of poverty for our family is through education. 

Despite an interest in creative writing, I chose to study a subject that society values more – Finance.  Later, I got into one of the top colleges for finance in the country. My first salary out of college (in 2007, when I was 20 years old) was higher than that of my dad's salary at the time.

When I was 24 years old, I had everything that makes one happy – loving parents, great partner, close-knit group of friends, and career path that exceeded every goal. Yet, I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t sad either; but it never felt like my life. I had carefully and meticulously built that life though. Contextually, it was the safe thing to do.

Following year though, I had to deal with the loss of my 7 year old relationship and of my 5 year old job. My identity was crushed. My biggest lesson was that you can fail at what you don't want, and what you consider safe; you might as well take a chance at what you truly want.
Next year, I got my ‘ideal’ job but walked away from it. Failure had taught me to be more ambitious and audacious. I had reached a point in my life where I wanted my work to have more meaning; and to stand for something more important than myself.

I started a political consulting company to maneuver social ascendance of marginalized communities by equalizing access to political capital.  I primarily did topical research for MPs for their debates in the parliament and on TV shows.  Partial project list includes:

1.   Providing 108 rape survivors with medical, legal, financial, and social support over six months through one of my client's NGO
2.   Getting amendments passed in the communal violence bill that tackle systemic bias towards Muslims
3.   Helping three social entrepreneurs raise a combined total of INR 43 lakhs from their MP for community initiatives

Along with running my own company, I focused on my passion for writing and traveling as well.  I solo travelled to all seven wonders of the world, and did two-cross country trips by train in India and in the US.  I have also written and published three fiction novels.






Friday, September 8, 2017

#BookReview: The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

On the jacket:

When powerful real-estate tycoon Nero Golden immigrates to the States under mysterious circumstances, he and his three adult children assume new identities, taking 'Roman' names, and move into a grand mansion in downtown Manhattan. Arriving shortly after the inauguration of Barack Obama, he and his sons, each extraordinary in his own right, quickly establish themselves at the apex of New York society.
The story of the powerful Golden family is told from the point of view of their Manhattanite neighbour and confidant, René, an aspiring filmmaker who finds in the Goldens the perfect subject. René chronicles the undoing of the house of Golden: the high life of money, of art and fashion, a sibling quarrel, an unexpected metamorphosis, the arrival of a beautiful woman, betrayal and murder, and far away, in their abandoned homeland, some decent intelligence work.
Invoking literature, pop culture, and the cinema, Rushdie spins the story of the American zeitgeist over the last eight years, hitting every beat: the rise of the birther movement, the Tea Party, Gamergate and identity politics; the backlash against political correctness; the ascendency of the superhero movie, and, of course, the insurgence of a ruthlessly ambitious, narcissistic, media-savvy villain wearing make-up and with coloured hair.
In a new world order of alternative truths, Salman Rushdie has written the ultimate novel about identity, truth, terror and lies. A brilliant, heartbreaking realist novel that is not only uncannily prescient but shows one of the world’s greatest storytellers working at the height of his powers.



Review:

I had a really hectic time last week and in the middle of it all, I'd started reading Salman Rushdie's The Golden House. With too many deadlines looming on my head, rarely does it happen that I can give undivided attention to any book even if I am reading only at bedtime. With this book, what happened is that I read the first chapter and was hooked. I wanted to know more. Mainly because the story seemed to be set in a very interesting time. This was a refreshing thing because every other attempt I've made of reading Rushdie had been exhausting and I've struggled with the process.

The Golden House begins with President Obama's inauguration ceremony. It is a story narrated by filmmaker René and is about Nero Golden and his sons. That explains the title of the book. The story starts slow and while I was getting overwhelmed and exhausted at places, it did manage to pull me in. 

The Golden family starts living next to René and what  I specifically loved was how distinctly the characters were defined. This made me stop and places and mull over characterisation since I happen to be studying about character sketches in my free time, these days. When I say reading the book however enjoyable, was exhausting for me, is because Rushdie is his masterful ways, has included everything from sexual identity, to migration, politics, art, culture, literature to autism to more nuances of life. Some of these required a little bit of googling for me, to understand exactly what the author is indicating, and might be the same for some other readers too.

René narrates the story about the Golden family and their troubles, hoping to find or create out of all the happenings. Being a film-maker, he had an eye for stories. A family of immigrants with nothing known of their past, they are rich beyond imagination and all of they are very secretive. That it is set in modern times made the story more interesting, however Rushdie's style of writing is not easy to follow. The story is of course well-written and as I said in the beginning, has the capability of pulling one in.




Tuesday, August 29, 2017

#BookReview: BOMBAY FEVER: Medical Thriller by Sidin Vadukut

On the jacket:


In the bestselling tradition of Richard Preston’s now-classic medical thriller The Hot Zone and reminiscent of the blockbuster films Outbreak and Contagion, a fast-paced, page-turning thriller set in India about a deadly disease and the heroic efforts to contain the plague before it’s too late…


In the courtyard of a Hindu temple in Switzerland, a woman collapses in the arms of a visiting Indian journalist, her body reduced to a puddle of blood. Never before has anyone seen anything like this. Three months later, all over Mumbai, men, women and children are ravaged by a disease that begins with initially mild symptoms—that swiftly progress until an ultimately gruesome death. Who will it hit next? And where did it come from?

As the rogue microbe wreaks its bloody havoc—striking rich and poor, young and old—chaos ensues. Thousands try to flee the city, including the most powerful man in the country. Can this deadly plague be stopped? After all, all that stands between the city and apocalypse is a ragged team of doctors, civil servants, and scientists. But their intervention may be too little, too late.

Suspenseful and gripping from the first page to the last, Bombay Fever is a meticulously researched novel—too plausible to ignore and too chilling to put down—from one of India’s most talented writers.

Review:

The last time I'd read medical thrillers was when I was going through a Robin Cooki phase in my teens. After some time, I'd stopped reading those and never picked another medical thriller. The reason was simple, most of the things were too out of my radar and took a lot of my attention to enjoy the book, however gripping the plot was.
While I've written Sidin's work before, this was unchartered territory, that too something as serious as medical thriller. But I know him to be a funny guy, on twitter and in his books. With mixed emotions, and a lot of curiosity, I picked up the book.
And ever since I have been done reading, I have been petrified. Because what the story talks about is not far-fetched or unimaginable. Language is simple and not a brain-racker for those who are not deep into science or medical languages. The plot is one dimensional, easy to follow and what I love about stories - right from page one, I could imagine the story, as if a reel is playing in my mind.
And, the plot is gripping. It begins at Switzerland, with a character who is a journalist, who meets a student-part time worker, there is a Hindu temple and a death. The dead body is nothing but blood and with the journalist, some unknown virus comes to India. Similar deaths keep happening here while the virus spreads. True to Sidin's signature style, humour was not missing in this story.
If I have to critique the story, there was one thing I was unhappy with. It is a very common habit amongst Indian authors where they take common brand names, this the name a bit and use that name. Why don't we create new names instead? Wish the politician's surname was something an existing commonly known politician didn't share. There is no dearth of surnames in India, and one always has the liberty to create new names!
Fast paced and gripping, the plot's integral character as the title suggests, is Bombay. While the epidemic spreads in the story, my heart too paced at a high speed - curious about what lay next, and worried about what if this actually happens. Politics, journalism, media and history - Sidin has included them all in the plot cleverly.
While I can say I loved the book, and you all must read it if you love fast paced thrillers, I'll tell you what I actually felt. Reading Bombay Fever made me happy that I could read a medical thriller without feeling stupid. It also made me happy that a well-written medical thriller was based on an India metro city. And it made me very happy that an Indian author made me remember Forsyth and Cook.
Rating: ****/5





#BookReview: Turtles All The Way Down

On the jacket: Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hun...