Saturday, March 30, 2013

Book Review: Stilettos in the Newsroom by Rashmi Kumar

On the jacket:


A racy and lively account of a bubbly 28-year-old journalist Stilettos in the Newsroom unravels itself through the eyes of Radhika Kanetkar right from the time she took her first step into the newsroom, got her first story, made bloopers and handled pressures to meet deadlines. In the midst of all this, Radhika experiences a journey of triumph, anguish, jealousy and of course finds her true love Sameer.

Review:

I am still wondering what the intent of the story was. The protagonist is  a journalist, basically what we know better as a features writer. The amount that the pages speak of her work and work hassles, it's comes across as a part of a person's daily life. While after reading the title of the book, one is led to believe the story is about happenings in the newsroom as contrary to the protagonist's life as a features writer.

On the jacket, the book speaks about Sameer who is Radhika's true love. The book has absolutely no love story in it. The plot is extremely loose and you might be compelled to ask yourself repeatedly - what is the book about.

Newsroom story this is not, neither is this a love story. I say, read at your own risk, you might just end up cursing yourself for not being able to fathom what the plot is about.

Rating: **/5

[This is a personal review of a copy of the book borrowed from a local library.]

Book Review: Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World by Shereen El Feki

On the jacket:


If you really want to know a people, start by looking inside their bedrooms.
As political change sweeps the streets and squares, the parliaments and presidential palaces of the Arab world, Shereen El Feki has been looking at an upheaval a little closer to home—in the sexual lives of men and women in Egypt and across the region. The result is an informative, insightful, and engaging account of a highly sensitive and still largely secret aspect of Arab society.
Sex is entwined in religion, tradition, politics, economics, and culture, so it is the perfect lens through which to examine the complex social landscape of the Arab world. From pregnant virgins to desperate housewives, from fearless activists to religious firebrands, from sex work to same-sex relations, Sex and the Citadel takes a fresh look at the sexual history of the region and brings new voices to the debate over its future. 
This is no peep show or academic treatise but a highly personal and often humorous account of one woman’s journey to better understand Arab society at its most intimate and, in the process, to better understand her own origins. Rich with five years of groundbreaking research, Sex and the Citadel gives us a unique and timely understanding of everyday lives in a part of the world that is changing before our eyes.

Review:

Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World is an extensively researched book by Sherren El Feki. Egyptians, Tunisians and Moroccans view sex and sexuality dealing with sex education, prostitution, marriage etc.

Extensive and portraying in-depth information, in El Feki's unique story-telling manner. The perspective of the account is of a western-cultured Muslim woman, both as an insider and as an outsider. Common knowledge, about sex being a conservative issue in the Arab countries pertains, but this book tells us much more than what we have ever read or known. Upsetting tales of ignorance and gross inhumanity, Sex and the Citadel is a dark read peppered with the author's hope that the scene will get better with time.

Rating: ****/5

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

Book Review: Broken by Karin Slaughter

On the jacket:

Karin Slaughter’s internationally bestselling novels are as notable for their vivid portraits of lives shadowed by loss and heartbreak as they are for their dramatic criminal investigations. Her latest offering features the return of her most compelling characters and introduces memorable new ones in a tale of corruption, murder, and confrontation that will leave more than one life . . . 
When Special Agent Will Trent arrives in Grant County, he finds a police department determined to protect its own and far too many unanswered questions about a prisoner’s death. He doesn’t understand why Officer Lena Adams is hiding secrets from him. He doesn’t understand her role in the death of Grant County’s popular police chief. He doesn’t understand why that man’s widow, Dr. Sara Linton, needs him now more than ever to help her crack this case.

While the police force investigates the murder of a young woman pulled from a frigid lake, Trent investigates the police force, putting pressure on Adams just when she’s already about to crack. Caught between two complicated and determined women, trying to understand Linton’s passionate distrust of Adams, the facts surrounding Chief Tolliver’s death, and the complexities of this insular town, Trent will unleash a case filled with explosive secrets—and encounter a thin blue line that could be murderous if crossed.

Spellbinding and keenly paced, Broken is Karin Slaughter at her best. Here is an unforgettable story of raw emotions, dangerous assumptions, the deadly and layered game of betrayal, and a man’s determination to expose the most painful of human truths—no matter how deeply they’re hidden . . . or how devastating.

Review:

This is my first read of the Will Trent series by author Karin Slaughter and I have to confess, I am hooked. No what we would call racy but Broken is a typical mystery where every page read leaves you curiouser and curiouser. The fact that the plot was set in a very small town made it a little slow at times, but the plot was kept tight throughout.

A young girl being murdered, with a shady looking suicide note left behind. A slow kid, the girl's landlord's son is charged of her murder, but the loophole here is that he is too unsmart to plan a murder. He kills himself in lock-up when he simply couldn't prove his innocence. The cops have arrested the wrong killer and the real culprit is out, roaming free. Another murder happens. A brutal murder.

Between solving the murders and trying to get a confession out of the cops, Will Trent, who has come down to investigate the crimes, meets the previous chief's widow, Sara.

All in all, human emotions, entwined with a nail-biting mystery, Broken is the kind of book which you would want to finish in one go.

Rating: ****/5

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

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chronicles Of A Married Life - IV

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article for 21 Fools, about the fun side of being married. As soon as it went wire, while people who know me were a bit surprised and me writing on these lines, but the target audience being the single/dating/newly married youth the real surprise was that it got a huge number of hits and shares. 

Nevertheless, I am not writing this to blow my own trumpet. What I really want to talk about, came from some of the comments left by the readers. Now these readers are unmarried, mind it. Yet, they seemed to be disoriented by the idea of marriage. I am not surprised, as so was I, until I took the step. Which is why I had decided I won't marry young and I shall marry only when I feel I am ready. Which I did. For one, this factor is very important to be able to smell the roses, yet be married. To do it when you are ready for it and not when your parents think you are. Families need to understand this more than the bride or the groom.

I really wanted to say something very sensible to these readers who seemed disoriented about being married. But, how do I, it's not like I have been peacefully married for decades, yet. Also, to be frank, I was short of the right words. Just then, a friend wrote about exactly what I had in mind, and dedicated it to S and me on our anniversary earlier this month. He named the post Love Actually.

If you are a young person who has witnessed the wrong sides of marriage around you, please don't let that affect how you live your own marriage. If you are reading this, I'l tell you what I have learnt.

  • No two relationships are the same. 
  • If you see a seemingly nice relationship, it doesn't mean your friend is lucky to have found such a nice partner. Most often than not, it's both who are lucky and luck is the fact that they put in a lot of hard work to keep each other happy.
  • There are more fights and arguments in a marriage than in any other relationship, probably. Accept it and end it before your day ends. Accept your fault, keep the ego out!
  • If you both want to make it work, work it will. Simple :-)
[Read what else my friends and I have to say about marriage here.]

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Book Review: Our Moon Has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits by Rahul Pandita

On the jacket: 


Rahul Pandita was fourteen years old in 1990 when he was forced to leave his home in Srinagar along with his family, who were Kashmiri Pandits: the Hindu minority within a Muslim majority Kashmir that was becoming increasingly agitated with the cries of ‘Azadi’ from India. The heartbreaking story of Kashmir has so far been told through the prism of the brutality of the Indian state, and the pro-independence demands of separatists. But there is another part of the story that has remained unrecorded and buried. Our Moon Has Blood Clots is the unspoken chapter in the story of Kashmir, in which it was purged of the Kashmiri Pandit community in a violent ethnic cleansing backed by Islamist militants. Hundreds of people were tortured and killed, and about 3,50,000 Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave their homes and spend the rest of their lives in exile in their own country. Rahul Pandita has written a deeply personal, powerful and unforgettable story of history, home and loss.

Review:

I stayed awake the whole of last night to finish reading Our Moon Has Blood Clots because I simply had to. All through I was expecting something good to happen, but! Like most of the country, I am not much acquainted with the real situation up north, neither have I heard any first-hand stories of partition from my ancestors. My mother's ancestors are from Bangladesh, but both family had migrated to the capital city this side, when my grandparents were mere kids. So, to be frank, it's only through books, that I get to know a little bit about how partition, politics and religion have harmed people, leaving them homeless.

I had expected the book to be an account of gory killings and helplessness from the first line, but what I read gave me a mixed bag of emotions. Rahul's tales from his childhood, with examples of how the Pandits were treated, and even a sneak into the past, when different dynasties ruled over Kashmir, I would smile indulgently at the little boy's tales, shiver over the accounts of how one religion treated the other, and wonder over some facts which I read about the first time here. What was constant was the lump in my throat.

Easily on of the best Indian non-fictions, this is not just a tale of someone's life. It's a picture of Kashmir, through the eyes of a Kashmiri on exile from him own home. A true account of what really happened back then, it gives an absolute different perspective from what the media and government have been feeding us. 

A must read, not only to sensitise yourself, but to embrace the facts of how things are in the country.

Rating: *****/5

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


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Book Review: Legacy: Letters from Eminent Parents to Their Daughters by Sudha Menon

On the jacket:


A compilation of personal letters from India's most prominent personalities, sharing with us some of their most intimate experiences and profound insights on life 

Narayana Murthy, Chanda Kochhar, Kishore Biyani, Zia Mody, K.V. Kamath, Ajay Piramal, Amit Chandra, Ganesh Natrajan, Renuka Ramnath, P.P. Chhabria, Pradeep Bhargava, Deep Anand, Capt. Gopinath, Mallika Sarabhai, Shaheen Mistri, Sanjeev Kapoor, Jatin Das, and Prakash Padukone They say a daughter may outgrow your lap, but she will never outgrow your heart. In Legacy, noted journalist and author Sudha Menon brings forth a rare collection of personal and evocative letters from parents to their daughters. Through their fearless approach to life, love, and overcoming obstacles, these icons from the world of business, arts, films, food, and sports share with us their experience and wisdom as they pass them on to their daughters. 

Deeply moving and thought provoking, Legacy is a remarkable collection of life lessons that will delight and inspire at the same time. 

Review:

Reading Legacy was a fine experience.  The book is a collection of letter from their eminent parent putting to words, what parents do want to tell their kid(s) but never really sit down and do.

Every chapter in the book begins with telling the reader about the parent in questions, an achiever and someone the society already looks up to for inspiration. Reading about how the likes of Narayana Murthy, Chanda Kochhar, Kishore Biyani, K.V. Kamath, Sanjeev Kapoor, Jatin Das, Prakash Padukone all who started from humble beginnings but struggled their way up, armed with the values their elders had given them.

Some of the letters are specifically touching and the interesting part was, that all these famous parents have one thing common - they are mighty proud of their little girls. And why not, a daughter gives enough reasons to be proud of her, all through her life! What happens often is that we see an eminent personality and all that we see is what they have achieved, and not how they have reached there or what their values are. An insight to the above mentioned successful parents, and the values they are imparting their children, I for one, am seeing the whole lot in a new, positive light.

All these successful parents had few common advices to give, the most common being be firm on your roots and true to yourself.

As a book, a collector's item in my opinion.

Review: ****/5

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

Monday, March 11, 2013

Book Review: Falling For A Bollywood Legend by Mahi Jay

On the jacket:


Aadith Varma is the hottest guy in Bollywood-in keeping with his latest movie role,he is known as the ultimate romantic hero.Until his PR manager ruins his reputation by conveying him as the ultimate playboy! Aadith needs someone to help redeem his image fast,the movie's success depends upon it.That person has to be Nina Shah,she's the best PR person in the business,except he and Nina have a past...

Nina doesn't want the job, she once lived next door to Aadith and had a crush on him,but devastatingly, he rejected her advances, thinking that she was too young. Nina was crushed,and has avoided bumping into him in the film industry. Now they are face to face again. Aadith sees that Nina is all grown up and absolutely gorgeous, but he is not interested in marriage. Nina knows that this time she needs to protect her heart from Aadith and she will certainly stand up to him. 

Sparks might fly between them,but resisting each other? That's impossible!

Review:

I haven't read a M&B book in about a decade, purely because of no concrete reason. So, when I chanced upon an offer to review one, that too an Indian version, I grabbed it. A huge section of the so-called literary crowd are known to scorn upon Mills & Boon books, as they are unrealistic and set wrong expectations in impressionable minds, I absolutely adore reading them from time to time, in between heavy reads. A firm believer of happily-ever-after and in true love, I adore these little romance novels.

Now before I tell you how reading Falling For A Bollywood Legend was, let me tell you, the plot is exactly how every other M&B book is. Both the protagonists  are irresistibly attractive, hate each other, but the sexual tension is too much, the man rice, suave and a womaniser, the woman falls in love with him after their first time in the sack and shuns him fearing he'll know she is in love, an elderly family member will always know they were meant to be together and in the end, together they get. Falling For A Bollywood Legend is all this.

I began reading Falling For A Bollywood Legend  with a lot of doubts, but I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised. Nothing over-the-top (as a lot of Indian authors tend to get), and despite the plot based around the film industry, the author kept it tight and to the point, and didn't let it get filmy. A page-turner as all romance novels are to those who dig them, I stayed up till late in the night to finish it. All in all, a very impressive attempt by Mahi Jay.

Rating: ****/5

[This review is for the publisher/PR and the views expressed are absolutely personal and a fair account of impressions. The review has not been charged for.]

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Book Review: The Case of the Missing Servant (Vish Puri #1) by Tarquin Hall

On the jacket:

Meet Vish Puri, India's most private investigator. Portly, persistent and unmistakably Punjabi, he cuts a determined swathe through modern India's swindlers, cheats and murderers.

In hot and dusty Delhi, where call centres and malls are changing the ancient fabric of Indian life, Puri's main work comes from screening prospective marriage partners, a job once the preserve of aunties and family priests.

But when an honest public litigator is accused of murdering his maidservant, it takes all of Puri's resources to investigate. How will he trace the fate of the girl, known only as Mary, in a population of more than one billion? Who is taking pot shots at him and his prize chilli plants? And why is his widowed 'Mummy-ji' attempting to play sleuth when everyone knows Mummies are not detectives?

With his team of undercover operatives - Tubelight, Flush and Facecream - Puri ingeniously combines modern techniques with principles of detection established in India more than two thousand years ago -- long before 'that Johnny-come-lately' Sherlock Holmes donned his Deerstalker.

The search for Mary takes him to the desert oasis of Jaipur and the remote mines of Jharkhand. From his well-heeled Gymkhana Club to the slums where the servant classes live, Puri's adventures reveal modern India in all its seething complexity.

Review:

Nothing overly spectacular, but Vish Puri books are easy reads about good sleuthing done Poirot style, by an Indian in set-ups we are comfortable reading about. A typical Punjabi based in Delhi, Puri is the most private investigator. Through the book, you will find strong fragrances of peculiarities of Delhiites. The characters are real and going by the fact that the protagonist is a detective, minute details are mentioned in every scene. So much, that at times, you can actually visualise as if you are watching a play, and not reading a book.

Though referred to as the Punjabi Sherlock or the Indian Poirot, Puri has a charm of his own and he is truly good in his job. He is pompous and particular, has his own quirks when it comes to work, but he is supposedly the best there can be. He sets forth in solving his first mystery in this book, and I am sure like me, you will fall in love with the characters and the way the plot has been spun.

Rating: ***/5

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

Book Review: Dear Life by Alice Munro

On the jacket:



Alice Munro captures the essence of life in her brilliant new collection of stories. Moments of change, chance encounters, the twist of fate that leads a person to a new way of thinking or being: the stories in Dear Life build to form a radiant, indelible portrait of just how dangerous and strange ordinary life can be.

Many of these stories are grounded in Munro's home territory - the small Canadian towns around Lake Huron - but there are departures too. A poet, finding herself in alien territory at her first literary party, is reescued by a seasoned newspaper editor, and is soon hurtling across the continent, young child in tow, towards a hoped for but completely unplanned meeting. A young soldier, returning to his fiancée from the Second World War, steps off the train before his stop and onto the farm of another woman, beginning a life on the move.

The book ends with four powerful pieces, 'autobiographical in feeling', set during the time of Munro's own childhood, in the area where she grew up. Munro describes this quartet as 'not quite stories' but 'the first and last - and the closest - things I have to say about my own life'. Suffused with Munro's clarity of vision and her unparalleled gift for storytelling, these and the other stories in Dear Life are cause for celebration.

Review:

This was my first read by Alice Munro and it would be wrong to not mention that I intend to read more of her works. Dear Life fully justifies who it was the winner of the Man Booker International Prize. A collection of fourteen short stories, Good Life is a classic of sorts. You need to read Munro to understand why so much hype surrounds her work; it deserves every bit of it. In case you are not a fan of short stories, you will be once you read Munro.

The stories are set around small incidents in real life, with female centric characters. The last four stories are not just stories, are actually memoirs, mostly autobiographical. Munro is 82, and I am yet to read her other books. I hope she isn't planning on retiring from writing. Reading Dear Life was an experience, a journey. Delving much into the plot of the stories would be silly, because what do I say? Read for yourselves!

Rating: ****/5

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


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Book Review: The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco

On the jacket:


Nineteenth-century Europe—from Turin to Palermo, to Prague, to Paris—abounds with the ghastly and the mysterious—The Jesuits who plot against the Freemasons, Freemasons, Carbonari and Mazzinians who strangle priests with their own intestines, a bow-legged arthritic Garibaldi, the Dreyfus affair, the makings of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the notorious forgery, that was to inspire Hitler in his creation of concentration camps, machinations by secret services in Piedmont, France, Russia, and Prussia, massacres during the Commune in Paris, where people eat mice, stabbings, befouled haunts for criminals who, among the fumes of absinthe, plan bombings and rebellions in the streets, false beards, false lawyers, false wills, an abbé who dies twice, a hysterical female Satanist, celebrants of black masses—gore enough to satisfy the worst in readers. 

Except for one detail. Apart from the protagonist, all of the characters in this novel existed and did what they did. The protagonist also does things that actually happened, except that many of these things were likely done by different people. But who knows—when you are dealing with secret services, double agents, traitorous officials and sinning priests, anything can happen. And does. 

Review:

This book has been translated from Italian to English by Richard Dixon. This was my first read of any book by Eco and it took me a while to settle in. Not because the book isn't good, but because it's a bit beyond what I normally read. Set in 19th century Europe, and it explores the conspiracies that surrounded the wars which were apparently doings of one man, Simone Simonini, a master forger. Simonini tries to regain his memory about all the happenings in the past and the book is written in flashbacks. 

The book will come across as a challenge, one thrown in by the author, compelling you to rack your brains and whatever other senses you can. Eco has claimed that the book is almost true, so keeping that in mind, the read becomes more interesting. Talking even a bit about the plot will require getting into it, in-depth and this including major spoilers. So, no can't do!

The Prague Cemetery is the kind of a book for which you don't need to read reviews, really. An interesting read, a very well-spun story, reading the book is one hell of an experience.

Rating: ****/5

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





Book Review: The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine

On the jacket:


An astonishingly inventive, wonderfully exuberant novel that takes us from the shimmering dunes of ancient Egypt to the war-torn streets of twenty-first-century Lebanon. 

In 2003, Osama al-Kharrat returns to Beirut after many years in America to stand vigil at his father’s deathbed. The city is a shell of the Beirut Osama remembers, but he and his friends and family take solace in the things that have always sustained them: gossip, laughter, and, above all, stories. 

Osama’s grandfather was a hakawati, or storyteller, and his bewitching stories–of his arrival in Lebanon, an orphan of the Turkish wars, and of how he earned the name al-Kharrat, the fibster–are interwoven with classic tales of the Middle East, stunningly reimagined. Here are Abraham and Isaac; Ishmael, father of the Arab tribes; the ancient, fabled Fatima; and Baybars, the slave prince who vanquished the Crusaders. Here, too, are contemporary Lebanese whose stories tell a larger, heartbreaking tale of seemingly endless war–and survival. 

Like a true hakawati, Rabih Alameddine has given us an Arabian Nights for this century–a funny, captivating novel that enchants and dazzles from its very first lines: “Listen. Let me take you on a journey beyond imagining. Let me tell you a story.”

Review:

Absolute, awesome, breathtaking storytelling. Yes, that's what The Hakawati is. This is what a book lover, someone who passionately loves a good tale, craves for. It's not for you if you prefer think books which can be finished in one go; this book is a saga. It's magic! 

Hakawati is storyteller, in Arabic and in this book, the stories are a narration by a young Lebanese man. It's an amalgamation of stories and finishing the book can get exhaustive. The correct way to treat this book is with ample free time, when nothing will disturb you. A delectable experience, if you love books, you cannot not experience it!

There are stories inside stories with a never-ending feel to them. The stories are sort of interconnected but the clever bit is that the connections are not obvious. What I absolutely loved was actually in the acknowledgements. It went as, "By nature, a storyteller is a plagiarist. Everything one comes across- each incident, book, novel, lite episode, story, person, news clip- is a coffee bean that will be crushed, ground up, mixed with a touch of cardamom, sometimes a tiny pinch of salt, boiled thrice with sugar, and served as a piping-hot tale." This shows the brilliance of the author.

A long, long story with many stories in between. If you can endure that, this is just the right book for you!

Rating: *****/5

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


Book Review: Beaten By Bhagath by S V Divvaakar


On the jacket:


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

Review:

Beaten By Bhagath as is evident from the synopsis, is a tale of a man who is trying his luck as a writer, and wants to beat an established writer in this pursuit. An easy read, I would not say I did not enjoy reading the book. The author has very smoothly transitioned the events between past and present. Events can be easily identified with. 

It's funny how the author has cleverly twisted the names, specially in case of Ketan Bhagath and the various publishers. Events from the author's and Ketan's hostel life during their engineering days are quite entertaining. However, I didn't quite see the reason why the parody on a famous author had to be done. As a memoir of someone who made an attempt to be an author, the book makes absolute sense and can be identified by anyone, be it a journalist, a blogger or an aspiring writer. 

If you are planning to get published, that too in India, this book will give you a fair idea of how things do work. Being a professional editor since almost a decade now, it was interesting to read the protagonist's experiences with getting the transcript reviewed. The author has compared the book to a slut, which has offended some readers, I gather. However, the author is not very far from the truth. I we assess the Indian market for books by new authors, the books indeed are being pimped shamelessly by authors and their PRs. 

All in all, an easy read.

Rating: ***/5


[This is an author requested review, however, the review is unbiased and honest, in lieu of a review copy of the book.]

Les jus not be only friendz (1) by Vikash Sharma

Les just not be only friendz (1) is the first story of what is to be a trilogy and is written by debut author Vikash Sharma. The st...