Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Book Review: Longbourn by Jo Baker


On the bracket:



If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah thought, she would be more careful not to trudge through muddy fields.

It is wash-day for the housemaids at Longbourn House, and Sarah's hands are chapped and bleeding. Domestic life below stairs, ruled tenderly and forcefully by Mrs Hill the housekeeper, is about to be disturbed by the arrival of a new footman smelling of the sea, and bearing secrets.

For in Georgian England, there is a world the young ladies in the drawing room will never know, a world of poverty, love, and brutal war.

Review:

I am a crazy fan of Jane Austen, to me, no one surpasses her. This, I am not saying just by reading her books. Her books are okay when just read. But when your Literature professor is explaining how the times were and how even long back Austen's writing was revolutionary, you want to embrace her books even more. This is why, as a rule, I have abstained from reading any book inspired by Austen's novels.

Longbourn's blurb is very very interesting, and surprising. I have read Pride & Prejudice so many times, but ever ever wondered about the staff of the house. This is what caught my attention and I simply had to read this book. And it had already got rave reviews. One thing kept going through my mind - Can this be better than P&P?  Well, no. But what it is, is that it is a very good and competent complement to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

Reading the story from the servant's point of view gave a whole new look at the Bennets. Whom we thought of as struggling and nice little girls, where actually quite spoilt. The servants spoken about in the book are five - Sarah, an intelligent girl who misses the her life from when her parents were alive, and longs to see the world outside of Longbourn someday; Mrs Hill the housekeeper, a very loyal one too, who is in charge of the day-to-day running of the household, keeping a watchful eye on everything; Mr Hill, the old and aging butler who isn't quite strong and able as he was when he was young; Polly the youngest of the female servants, she is an orphan who has always been a servant yet wasn't very good at it; and, James, the new recruit who is mysterious in many ways. James has an interest in Sarah, but is Sarah interested enough?

There is not part of the book which is not to love, it is a suitable tribute to Austen's original. And reading the much loved story from another perspective will only give more flight to your imagination and you will be spending more time with the Bennets.

Rating: ****.5/5

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book Review: Baramulla Bomber by Clark Prasad

On the jacket:


AN ANCIENT WEAPON FROM THE VEDAS & BIBLE 
ONCE HUNTED BY THE NAZIS 
POWERED BY THE SOUND OF UNIVERSE 
REBORN WITH HELP OF QUANTUM PHYSICS 
GOING TO BE UNLEASHED ON TO THE WORLD 
AND KASHMIR HOLDS ITS SECRET 

Multiple intelligence agencies are tracking Mansur Haider, a god-fearing aspiring cricketer from Kashmir. His girlfriend, Aahana Yajurvedi, is trying to locate her missing mountaineering team, who vanished after a mysterious earthquake strikes Shaksgam Valley. 
Investigating Mansur and the Shaksgam Valley incident is Swedish intelligence officer, Adolf Silfverskiold, whose only relationship to god consists of escorting his girlfriend to Church. 
A dual China-Pakistan battlefront scenario facing the Indian Home Minister, Agastya Rathore, whose ancestors carry a prehistoric secret linked to the stars. He is faced with the challenge of finding a lasting solution to the Kashmir crisis. 
Which Biblical Weapon was Tested in Shaksgam Valley? Why is Mansur Haider Important? Is There a Solution to the Kashmir Crisis? Can Destiny be Controlled? Does a Cosmic Religion Exist?

Review:

When BlogAdda first announced that Baramulla Bomber is up for review, I was curious. I mean, quite frankly, the title of the book is intriguing, isn't it? So I applied and I am glad, I was chosen to read this book. The book lived up to my expectations and proved to be a good read.

I love thrillers and mysteries, maybe more than romance and drama as well. And a spy thriller, if well crafted, has all the ingredients of a fine read. 

Baramulla Bomber is an espionage thriller, but with a twist of science fiction. For a while before I started reading the book, I actually sat with the book in my hand and wondered how and what the twist would be, how would all the ingredients spoken about in the blurb, be implemented into the plot. Not just science, but even sports!! Part one of a trilogy (Svastik trilogy), the plot of Baramulla Bomber also has a combination of the Vedas, quantum physics and Cricket. 

At the beginning of the story, a group of royal descendants meet. They are called Cho Skyong. While they are in discussion, there is a blast and most of the group dies. From the debris emerges Abhimanyu Kashyap who had managed to save himself and he vows to keep the secret discussed in the meet alive. And here on, begins the book.

The author has kept the book racy, and limited details to the limit so that the reader doesn't get confused. He's stuck to Indian English and one would imagine the descriptions very mother tongue influenced, but they are not. Prasad has done a fine job of presenting a science fiction, set in India, and read by Indians, very believable. The plot is based in India and Sweden and the book goes on to two more books which would complete the trilogy.

If I had to criticize and point something which doesn't work for me in the book, it would be that a lot has been attempted to be cramped into the plot. Spy, science, sports, films, Kashmiris - this book has everything. While you might like having them all, the plot could have done without so much also. Nevertheless, I would recommend this to all science fiction fans or those who experiment with genres.

Rating: ****/5

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!



Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Book Review: The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks

On the jacket:



In the tradition of his beloved first novel, The Notebook, bestselling author Nicholas Sparks returns with an epic story of two couples whose parallel love stories intersect in profound and surprising ways.

Ninety-one year old Ira Levinson is in trouble. Struggling to stay conscious after a car crash, an image of his long-dead wife Ruth appears. Urging him to hang on, she lovingly recounts the joys and sorrows of their life together.

Recovering from a break-up, college student Sophia Danko meets the young, rugged Luke and is thrown into a world far removed from her privileged school life. Sophia sees a new and tantalising future for herself, but Luke has a secret which threatens to break it all apart.

Review:

When I start reading The Longest Ride, I was reminded of Alfred Hitchcock's teleplay from 1955, Breakdown. Like with the protagonist in Breakdown, the book begins with Ira Levinson talking (thinking, actually) after he was involved in a car accident, and was lying in wait of some help to come. The plot of the book does take a different route from here on though.

While lying there, waiting for help or his end, whichever comes first, Ira thinks of the life he has led, his parents and mainly of his wife. He imagines his wife, now long dead, come hit by him and talk to him about the past and their love. Here on, we see two parallel love stories - Ira and his wife Ruth, and not very far from Ira's accident site, Sophia and Luke. A couple old and aged, and another young and unsure. Their stories will intertwine, and will come as a surprise, as it will in a way least expected. 

I belong to the school which firmly believes women write better romance than men. Until I pick up a Nicholas Sparks. And every time, I begin reading, I hope it will be a let down and I can go back to saying, "Men can't write romance." and every time I am proved wrong. Gleefully, I accept. Sparks writes romance like no one. He takes each string of your heart, plucks them, breaks them, mends them, ties them loosely, tugs at them - does everything that your heart will permit. While reading The Longest Ride, I have hugged the book close to my heart, the stories in it are so sweet. And, I have cried copiously, there is so much sadness. I have done nothing much for two days, but read this book. And paused in between to gather my emotions, to continue reading. 

Rating: 5/5

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


Friday, October 18, 2013

Book Review: Bankerupt by Ravi Subramanian

On the jacket:

A university is an institution for higher education and research. It can also be a place where academic brilliance leads to overinflated egos, bitter politics and finally, murder. Cirisha Narayanan, a professor at MIT Boston, who has risen meteorically, stumbles upon a cryptic message. Aditya Raisinghania, her banker husband, sets up a highly innovative financial hoax. Her profiteering father harvests Australia's largest bird, the emu in India. The US elections are on and the debate on gun control has reached a fever pitch. Set in Mumbai, Coimbatore and Boston, Ravi Subramanian creates an impeccably researched world where everyone has a motive to kill. Nothing is as it seems in this cunningly vicious thriller where the plot turns on a dime.

Review:

I have read all of Subramanian's previous books and I fancy myself to be a fan. So, this book was pre-ordered, though I finally got to read the book. And as expected, I was not disappointed. 

With banking as the background of the plot, Bankerupt is every bit of a fast paced thriller. conspiracies, getting framed for crimes not committed, ruthlessness, there is no slow point in the book. Another thing I love about Subramanian's books are the titles. I mean, take something pretty boring as banking and make sure marvelous titles to go with equally entertaining plots!

Subramanian is a master craftsman, he knows what he is writing and does full justice to it. The narration of Bankerupt is smooth, with surprise coming up at the most unexpected points. The book begins at the point where Clinton is mulling over Gun Control act. Here on, the story goes on in three paralles tangents. First tangent is about an Indian, assistant professor at MIT and the academic world involved with the Gun lobbying in Boston. Parallely, the MIT professor's banker husband who is in Mumbai and his involvement with a shoe manufacturer. Thirdly, the MIT professor’s father who runs a business of bird farming in Coimbatore.

Talking more about the plot The author has kept the plot tight and smoothly glides from one section to the other. Having read this unputdownable thriller while I ceremoniously ignored my chores all of yesterday, I now wait for Subramanian's next!

Rating: ****/5

[This is a personal read.] 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Book Review: Kaurava (The Aryavarta Chronicles, #2) by Krishna Udayasankar

On the jacket: 


Nothing left to fight for is nothing left to lose...

Emperor Dharma Yudhisthir of the Kauravas and Empress Panchali Draupadi rule over the unified realm of Aryavarta, an empire built for them by Govinda Shauri with the blessings of the Firstborn and by the might of those whom everyone believes long gone - the Firewrights.

Now the Firewrights rise from the ashes of the past, divided as before in purpose and allegiance - those who wish to use the knowledge of their ancestors for the greater good of the new empire and those determined to avenge the annihilation of their kin. Sinister plans are afoot, and no one, it seems, can stand in the way of the chaos about to be unleashed - not the Firstborn, not the kings of Aryavarta, and not Govinda Shauri. 

As a plot to destroy Govinda's beloved city Dwarka takes an unexpected turn, and Dharma Yudhisthir gambles away his empire, the tormented empress is forced into a terrifying exile and Aryavarta teeters once again on the brink of destruction.

Condemned by his own failures, Govinda is left a broken man. The only way he can save Aryavarta and the woman in whose trusted hands he had left it is by playing a dangerous game: He must betray a terrible secret that the Vyasa has protected all his life. A secret that may well destroy the Firstborn, and the Firewrights with them.

Reviews:

A sequel to the bestseller Govinda,in Kaurava the author has rewritten Mahabharata. Alongside a new take on the mythology, what is interesting is a backdrop of another story, a fight between First borns (Order of Vasishta) and Firewrights (Order of Angirasa). Kaurava begins where Govinda ended, with conspiracies brewing to bring down Dwarka as well as Indrprastha.

This tussle had begun in Govinda and is continuing in Kaurava. The main characters still is Govinda Shauri and many new characters like Duryoddhan (Syoddhan), Dussasan, Vidura, Asvattama, Jayadrath, Vasusena, Shikandi, Dhrishtadyumna, Dharma Yudhisthir, Bhim, Arjun (Partha) and Panchali join in. In her version of the Mahabharata, the author has rearranged the events and presented them in a more believable manner (eg) the part were Yudhishtir plays the game of dice with Duryodhan - he was not fooled or forced into playing it, but he played because he was a compulsive gambler. More believable right? A compulsive gambler will not stop at anything, like Yudhisthir didn't wince to higher the stakes to even making his wife a pawn.

Every character is described in depth and make so much more sense, their flaws and their strengths all put in front of the reader to assess. If you love mythology, you simply cannot give this series a miss. And if you haven't read much of Hindu mythology, here is a good and entertaining source to start from. 

Rating: ****/5

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

Book Review: Perfect by Rachel Joyce

On the jacket:


In 1972, two seconds were added to time. It was in order to balance clock time with the movement of the earth. Byron Hemming knew this because James Lowe had told him and James was the cleverest boy at school. But how could time change? The steady movement of hands around a clock was as certain as their golden futures.

Then Byron's mother, late for the school run, makes a devastating mistake. Byron's perfect world is shattered. Were those two extra seconds to blame? Can what follows ever be set right?

Review:

Perfect is about Byron and his friend James. And his mother. James tells Byron that two seconds were added to the clock, in 1972 and Byron believes him. There is no reason not to, James was the most clever boy in school. However, Byron knew that a difference of two seconds is not small things - something could have happened, and something could not have happened. 

One day when Byron was being driven to school by his mother, he saw the second hand of his watch go back. His mother didn't notice it though. He told James about it and together they hatched a plan, or Operation Perfect. With this, they try to take care of the repercussions to follow the time change.

Along with Byron and James, the story is also about Byron's mother. And there is a parallel story about Jim trying to cope with his mind. Very detailed, thought provoking and heart touching, Perfect can choke you with emotions at points. I am yet to read Rachel Joyce's first book The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, but now I want to - before her third book is out.

Rating: ****/5

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

Book Review: Thomas Quick: The Making of a Serial Killer by Hannes Råstam

On the jacket:



'I wonder what you'd think of me if you found out that I've done something really serious . . .'

So begin the confessions of Thomas Quick - Scandinavia's most notorious serial killer.

In 1992, behind the barbed wire fence of a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane, Thomas Quick confessed to the murder of an eleven-year-old boy who had been missing for twelve years. Over the next nine years, Quick confessed to more than thirty unsolved murders, revealing he had maimed, raped and eaten the remains of his victims.

In the years that followed, a fearless investigative journalist called Hannes Råstam became obsessed with Quick's case. He studied the investigations in forensic detail. He scrutinised every interrogation, read and re-read the verdicts, watched the police re-enactments and tracked down the medical records and personal police logs - until finally he was faced with a horrifying uncertainty.

In the spring of 2008, Råstam travelled to where Thomas Quick was serving a life sentence. He had one question for Sweden's most abominable serial killer. And the answer turned out to be far more terrifying than the man himself . . .

Review:

The Making of a Serial Killer by Hannes Råstam is probably the craziest of stories that have come from Sweden. Right from page one, Råstam has the reader hooked and with the level of writing only a journalist can achieve.

A story about a psychiatric patient who confessed to 30 murders across Norway and Sweden and rose to immediate fame. There was some doubt about these murders and here is where Råstam steps in to find out the truth. A story of a man who is deeply troubled and the authorities have not been able to help him either. 

Very well-researched and nicely documented, Råstam takes the reader through the research and has us glued to it. There are times when you are sure Thomas Quick (Sture Bergwall) did do all those murders. At other points, one wonders if he just confessed to get media attention. Only to find out how disturbed the man is. 

Rating: ****/5

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

Book Review: Love Potion Number 10: A Jana Bibi Adventure by Betsy Woodman

On the jacket:

In the newest Jana Bibi adventure from Betsy Woodman, Jana, Mr. Ganguly, and the gang are back as their small town in India is rocked by an espionage scandal and a homemade remedy that has love on everyone’s mind

The Jolly Grant House still welcomes all its visitors with the sign Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes hanging proudly outside its front door. Jana’s fortune-telling has brought a lot of attention to the small town of Hamara Nagar, and now that the dust has settled and the town is safe from the threat of being flooded by a government dam, all eyes are on the Scottish-born card-reader Jana and her feisty, loose-beaked parrot, Mr. Ganguly. Some people, though, are not to be trusted, and Mr. Ganguly finds himself the target of a potential kidnapping that puts Jana and her household on edge.

Meanwhile, love is in the air and, thanks to Abenath’s Apothecary, it’s also in a bottle. Abenath has created an intoxicating brew that he calls Love Potion Number 10, which seems to have Jana in a tizzy. While she explores her newest hobby, dream interpretation, her head is swimming with questions: Is a new love possible at age fifty-nine? If so, would she ever marry again? All around her she sees different kinds of love and connection—family, arranged marriages, chemical attractions, even intercontinental romance between people who have only met through letters—so when an old flame arrives and rekindles long-gone feelings, Jana begins to think that Love Potion Number 10 just might be the magic elixir its inventor thinks it is.

Review:

Have you read Enid Blyton as a child? If you have, you would recall how her stories about imaginary places, with endearing characters, pets with funny names, interesting characters and tales which you simple have to read from cover to cover? Yes? Betsy Woodman is Blyton writing for grownups, but with the same magical touch to her tales. Woodman's book was so impressive, I simply had to compare her to my favourite author, to just explain how much I love reading her!

This was my second read by Woodman, Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes being the first. I had loved the former and reading Love Potion No 10 was but an obvious decision. This book talks about Jana and her staff, along with her pet witness people of the village, Hamara Nagar, an imaginary place up north, survive a scandal (an espionage). 

If you loved the previous book, you will adore this one. Even if you haven't read the previous book, you will adore it. Woodman has a definite charm which she weaves into her books. While reading Woodman's books, one is transported to Hamara Nagar and a few pages into the stories, you are a part of the tale!

A quick, fun read with eccentric characters, a mystery, love potions, attempts of bird-napping, car chases and everything to keep you glued to your seat, grinning with glee. 

Review: ****.5/5

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

Author Interview: Akhil Khanna


Congratulations on such a huge success of the book! Did you expect it to be so well received?
The book Lets Talk Money – Road to Riches Made Easy is an honest attempt from my heart to impart financial knowledge to middle class readers from non-financial background, so that they are in a better equipped to decide the level of risk they would want to take with their hard earned savings. I was confident that anyone who would spend time and effort in reading this book would not be fooled into investing their money blindly in something which does not suit their risk profile. 
There are mainly two hurdles that prevent an investor from understanding the financial system, one is procrastination and the other is the belief that someone else out there in the world will make their life financially better or is actually interested in making them rich. Every investor has to realize that no one is more interested in your financial well being than you yourself and for that you have to devote time and effort to understand money and the rules of the game as they exist today and change from time to time.
Untouched topic, in a way. How high was the anxiety?
The anxiety level was pretty high as I never considered myself to be a writer till I started researching and began to understand the making of the Global Financial Crisis five years ago. As I did not have any experience in teaching, I thought the next best way to make people understand the severity of this financial turmoil was to write about it. Having written well appreciated articles on the financial crisis over the last four years, I decided to make an attempt in making investing simple for readers from non financial background and came up with this book which a high school student can comfortably understand and implement.
Tell us something about your struggle with getting published. We have a fair idea that it isn’t a cake walk. But how was the real deal for you?
This is my first attempt to write a book. A new author is rarely backed by established publishing houses. My manuscript was turned away by a number of publishing houses because it is a non-fiction book and not a topic of mass appeal. I am grateful to Times Group Books for the confidence they placed in my manuscript and their willingness to publish it.  I had made up my mind that in the worst case scenario I would go ahead and publish the book on my own as my intention to bring financial literacy to the middle class non financial background was bigger than the profit or loss made in publishing and marketing the book. 
Teaching people from non finance backgrounds, about their finances, in a simple, easy-to-understand language. Was it a difficult gamble to play?
There was never any gamble to the idea because I believe that if anyone older than a high school student from any profession takes out time to read the book “Let’s Talk Money”, he/she will be able to manage the individual savings in a better manner and enjoy a better standard of living in the long run. The only thing required to manage one’s money is the intention and willingness to do so. The whole financial system is much simpler than it is made out to be. We have to keep in mind that a normal investor is not out to become a financial wizard but is looking for enough information that helps one to broadly decide the level of risk one wants to take with the savings. Such a call can only be taken when an individual knows the level of risks associated with the different investment alternatives available. Moreover an understanding of the overall macro economy is important because there is no investment strategy that works at all times and it is necessary to change investments in response to the changes in the financial environment.
How and when did you decide to be a published author? Was it always a plan, or did you start thinking on the lines when you thought you had a plot with you.
Writing the book was never a plan. In fact I had never imagined myself as author in my wildest dreams. Things turned in the year 2007 when I was handed over the responsibility of managing the family portfolio of investments. I found that most people belonging to the middle income group invested in some asset class based on either recommendation of their friends and relatives or based on advice of the experts in the media. Following this investment method, a large no. of them lost a substantial portion of their savings after a period of few years. This led me to research about the reasons why an investor should invest in a particular asset class. My research led me to believe that a global financial crisis was brewing, which was likely to affect almost every human life on earth. I started writing articles on Global Financial Crisis in 2009 which were published on the net and were well received by the readers. 
I realized that people can better manage their savings if they understood money in a simplified manner without the fancy jargon thrown at them. Moreover if the middle class of the society were shown the bigger economic picture with logical reasoning, they would be in a position to take judicious decisions as to the level of risk they would like to expose their savings. The response to my articles gave me the confidence to write this book which explains money management to a non finance person using illustrations which they can relate to in their day to day lives. This book identifies and evaluates various investment options and tries to logically link the effect of the ongoing Global Financial Crises on these investments.

Is it difficult to write with a full time job?
As I run my own business, scaling down my commercial activities to pursue my objective of researching the Global Financial Crisis and writing the book was not much of a problem. 
What next? New genre; or you would want to stick to finance?

My main aim regarding “Lets Talk Money” was to simplify the basics of investing and the explanation of the ongoing Global Financial Crises to a normal investor as I believe that this unstable financial environment is going to be with us for the foreseeable future. Moreover the inherent weakness in the political systems and democracy prevalent today is likely to ensure that this crisis gets much worse before it gets better. I have tried to assign logical reasoning and highlight the key issues which led me to my conclusions.  The sequel of “Lets Talk Money’ is only likely if there is a change in the way the global central bankers and politicians tackle the ongoing crisis. Till then all the likely outcomes that I can think of are already covered in this book.
Who do you read, who are your favorites?
I used to be a regular reader of fiction thrillers since my schooling days which started with Hardy Boys and moved to Sidney Sheldon, John Grisham, Jeffery Archer etc and some others like the Dilbert series. In my thirties my taste in books changed to a variety of topics like Rich Dad Poor Dad, The Present, Who stole my Cheese, Many Lives Many Masters etc. Since I started researching the Global Financial Crisis five years ago, 1most of my reading time is devoted to financial news and blogs to keep myself updated on the developments in the financial world and the implications of the changes. 


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Author Interview: Disha Chhabra (My Beloved's MBA Plan)

When I read Disha Chhabra's book My Beloved's MBA Plan, I was left with mixed emotions; all positive ones, and recommended it to a lot of my friends who would be going through similar situations soon. How does one cope when they are all settled in life suddenly, one partner wants to go back to school? And inspirational book, all the way. Here is a conversation with author Disha Chhabra:

Congratulations on such a huge success of the book! Did you expect it to be so well received?
Thanks so much Samarpita. The response has been heartening, overwhelming and humbling. The book has been well received by people of all age groups. From my friends to their parents, from students to corporate professionals, everyone has loved the book. The motivating part is that everyone is already asking when my next one is coming out. I think the underlying theme of balancing career and personal dreams has struck well with the readers. I am thankful to all the readers who trusted a first time author and picked up their copies. The book could not have become popular without their support. 
Untouched topic, in a way. How high was the anxiety?
True. I did not want to write just another love story. I wanted to carve characters with whom everyone can relate to. The anxiety was all time high, given that it was my first book and a topic which people might find ‘niche’.  Even today, every time someone tells me they have read my book, I am anxious to know the feedback and keep my fingers crossed.
Tell us something about your struggle with getting published. We have a fair idea that it isn’t a cake walk. But how was the real deal for you?
When I started writing, I did not care if the work would indeed find a publisher.  I was writing because I wanted to write. At a later stage, despite a few publishers rejecting my work, I never lost hope. Back of my mind, I would think that even in the worst case, I still have the option of self-publishing. Fortunately, the editorial team at Srishti liked the manuscript and then there was no looking back.
Speaking to so many couples, getting them to talk about their trials, failures and learnings must have been tough. Was it a difficult?
I would say it was a big learning experience for me. Having spent so much time on campus with these couples, I really respected their trials. Some stories like that of ‘Vidhi & Gaurav’ , ‘Suraj & Priya’, ‘Geet’ made me cry. Some others like ‘Vivek and Divya’ , ‘Monali & Mangesh’ taught me the power of true love. Every time, I would interview such a couple, I would feel blessed to be knowing such people, where their love stands rock solid amidst all the challenges life offered to them.
Was this topic a conscious choice?
It just happened by chance. I was sitting at the college mess dinner table when I overheard a conversation between two friends of mine. One was telling the other how he was in IIM-C and his wife at IIM-A and how they were talking about ‘corporate finance’ over their dinner talks. This was something unusual. Instantly, I decided I will write a book on this topic and called up a friend couple for the first interview. The experience of interviewing them further strengthened my belief that I wanted to write this book and get these love stories to everyone.
How and when did you decide to be a published author? Was it always a plan, or did you start thinking on the lines when you thought you had a plot with you.
I have been writing poetry, articles and short stories since my childhood. My parents would support me and like my work. So, the idea of becoming a published author was always in my mind. I even had other plots in mind on which I was working on. Somehow I could never pull myself out of the inertia and would just keep postponing it. But when I decided my first plot would be on real life couples, there was no stopping.  I knew if it had to be written, it had to be written in the one year I spend on campus.
Is it difficult to write with a full time job?
Frankly no. 
I keep noting down whatever ideas come to my mind and write either on my way back or at night.
But there are times when I do wish and prepare myself for taking it up on a full time basis.
What do you do apart from writing? Give us a sneak peek into the real you!
I lead the Delhi Chapter of an NGO called, PickaFight. Every month or so, we pick up a social cause and fight against it. This month, we are working on the cause of disability. I feel a lot is to be done to make the world a better place. Everyone has to come forward to do their bit. If at the end of our lives, we have been able to make a stranger smile, it will all feel worthy.
On a personal front, I like to spend time with my mother who means the world to me. Her life is my biggest source of inspiration. 
On Sundays, I ‘torture’ my family, (especially my younger brother) with my cooking experiments.
What next? New genre; or you would want to stick to anthologies? 
My next one would be on a social cause. I am already working towards it. Hopefully, people derive learning from it and become more socially aware of their own responsibilities.
Who do you read, who are your favourites?
I like to read Robin Sharma, Dr. Stephen Covey,  Radhakrishnan Pillai (fondly known as ‘Chanakya Pillai’). Their writings give important learnings as food for thought and make me a better person.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Book Review: Soldier and Spice - An Army Wife's Life by Aditi Mathur Kumar

On the jacket:



For Pia, regular life is a thing of the past. She is now an Army wife. From ‘just Pia’ to an Aunty, a memsaab and – her favourite words in the whole wide world – Mrs Pia Arjun Mehra. 


At twenty six, Pia finds herself having to suddenly be more ‘lady-like’; focus on themed ladies’ meets, high teas and welfare functions; and deal with long (unexpected) separations from her husband, extraordinary challenges, a little heartache, and, well, growing up. 

In the mysterious and grand world of Army wives, Pia learns that walking in high heels is okay as long as you don’t trip on combat boots. She learns that ‘civil’ is also a noun, that JCO and GOC are (very!) different, that snacks are ‘shown’ and WTF is better explained as Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Yes, it really is a new world! 

Let this quirky, hilarious story of the first year of Pia’s Army-wife life show you that the spice to a soldier’s life is most definitely his better, very strong, bloody extremely elegant, never-cussing, witty, warm and passionate half, his Army wife.

Review:

I finished Soldier and Spice in one go yesterday evening and identified with it at so many levels. No, I am not related to the Army and I am not a newly-wed. But I am a wife, we are still in the honeymoon mode of our lives, and we are still falling in love with each other every day, adjusting to the people in each other's lives. And Aditi is the kind of writer I love to read. Honest writing, witty, entertaining - Aditi is a natural writer.

Soldier and Spice is about Pia, who has married an Army man, Arjun Mehra. The story begins a month after their wedding, when they reach Pathankot, where Arjun is posted. Every scene depicted is so life like, as if Aditi is sitting across the table, her feet up on the couch and narrating me an incident that just happened.

To tell you the truth, I had expected the book to be all about how awesome life in the Army is, and how poor the lives we civilians lead. Or, how tragic life of an Army wife is. Well yes, both are true but what I got in the book is a witty account of Pia coming from a non-Army life and adjusting into the role of an Army wife. All of twenty-six, Pia is one of us - used to being herself, and not used to minding her Ps and Qs at every step. Aditi has so smoothly and cleverly portrayed the goods and the not so goods about being an Army wife.

When our mothers had got married, even if not to the Army, they have had a decorum to follow. We have been spared all that, well, most of us. But the Army runs on schedules and etiquette. How did Pia, a girl from a non-fauji family, manage?

From being appalled at being called memsahab and aunty, to being in a cold war with Arjun's helper, to hating to cook, to making a fool of herself initially in front of the other wives of the unit, and so on, Pia had one roller coaster ride of a time. She made friends with Naina, her next door neighbour, who was just like her but sadly they belonged to different units - so their social lives were different. Socially, she befriended (Mrs) Sengupta, Singh and James.

In the plot, Aditi very smoothly added the angle of how Army daughters marry Army men, mostly and the pros and cons of both, in a friendly altercation between Mrs Singh, an Army daughter & wife, and Mrs Sengupta  Mrs James has a troubled marriage and confides a lot in Pia. Mrs Sengupta is sarcastic and funny. Amongst themselves, the girls gel well and Arjun has to listen to all the gossip from Pia.

Arjun gets sent away for a month and it was thirty days of misery for Pia. In between, friendships are strengthened, misconceptions formed, Naina stands up to her husband's CO's wife, a new Army wife brainwashes Mrs James against Pia and their friendship suffers. The girls end up attending an 'etiquette class' after Pia made a fiasco, When Arjun and his team is to return home after a month, there is an accident.

Arjun has a back injury and is restricted to bed for two months. It was so horrible, I could feel Pia's pain and shed a few involuntary tears. Probably the wife syndrome, but it is horrible to have to see your partner in pain. Arjun's career graph takes a dip after this, when his boss starts considering him a liability even after he has recovered.

From here, one sees Pia grow as a person. She becomes Arjun's strength and even learns to stand up for herself. I can go on and write a gyst of the entire book, but I would want you to read it. One kickass story and Aditi is one good story-teller!

Soldier and Spice is a refreshing read. Not to put a lot of pressure on the author, but I hope she maintains the high expectations she has built in her first book! The author blogs here.

Rating: ****.5/5

Mahalaya - the traditions and what it means to me

Disclaimer: I am a probashi bangali, I have spent all my life out of WB. My mother, a Calcutta girl, has tried very hard to keep me close to my roots, but my knowledge of it all is not 100 per cent correct. What I am about to write below might be disputed by someone learned, I do not claim authenticity. I am writing this blog post based on my own knowledge and more importantly, my emotions.

Pitru Paksha, the inauspicious period for Hindus, ends tomorrow. But for Bengalis, the last few days were auspicious - days filled with shopping and planning for Durga Pujas which officially begin tomorrow at dawn, with Mahalaya.

Now, while the entire country will celebrate different forms of Durga over the next ten days, Bengalis will worship and rejoice an altogether different form. For us, she is our daughter and she is coming her mayka. She, along with her four children, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesh (and his wife, the kolabou or the banana tree bride) and Kartik come visiting us and on Dusehra or as well call it, Doshomi, she goes back to her husband. Doshomi is a teary eyed affair and that evening, every Bengali goes home with a heavy heart. Durga, our daughter, has gone back to her own home and we won't see her for another year. Lakshmi stays back. She is worshiped a few days later (Kojagiri, as is commonly known) and then she too leaves us. Sad times. 

But, for now, every Bengali heart is only humming the happy tune. Because!! Pujo esho gelo je!! (Pujo is almost here!)

Tomorrow is Mahalaya, the beginning of Devipaksha. A day when all Bengalis world over will wake up by dawn, and listen to the radio broadcast of the one and a half hour long chandipath. Of late, television channels have come up with their own versions teaming the vocals with dance drama. These dance dramas are spectacular, no doubt, but the original, in the voice of Birendra Kishore Bhadra, beats everything else in the world. It's called Mahisasuramardini and began as a radio programme, which first began in the 1930s.


For me, Mahalaya is about memories. I can sleep through the early morning now, if I want to. Now my life is a mix of Navratri and Durga Puja. But I ensure I wake up and continue the ritual. When I was a kid, my father would be the first to wake up, brush his teeth, pick me up from my room, make me lie next to maa in their bed (yes, I'd been sleeping in my own room since I was 4 - my father's European influences), turn the radio on and go make tea for himself. Later, we would snuggle under the sheets and listen to the chandi path. For years, it made no sense to me, and at times I would dose off. But it was family time. A ritual. A ritual which was last lived in 1996 and stopped for a few years. It's back on. Maa is in a different city now, but we talk over the phone and connect. 

The year I was born, Sept 19 was Mahalaya and I was brought home that day. Co-incidence, but since then, my maa considers my birthday as the beginning of devipaksha for her. Sigh, that's a mother. She always wanted a girl, and she brought her own daughter home on Mahalaya. Big significance for her. Alongside, there are childhood memories of the three of us waking up at wee hours to listen to Birendra Kishore Bhadra on radio. My parents would tell me stories of their own childhood and how they spent the next 11 days of their lives. I think I will write individual posts about Mahashahti - Doshomi, yes, I will. 

If it interests you, you can listen to it here: 



Now, the link above is not just some song. It's a story. 

The Story of Mahisasura Mardini (this bit is taken from Wikipedia)

The story element speaks of the increasing cruelty of the demon king Mahisasura against the gods. Unable to tolerate his tyranny the gods plead with Vishnu to annihilate the demon. The Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswara (Shiva) come together to create a powerful female form with ten arms - Goddess Durga or 'Mahamaya', the Mother of the Universe who embodies the primeval source of all power.

The gods then bestow upon this Supreme creation their individual blessings and weapons. Armed like a warrior, the goddess rides a lion to battle with the Mahisasura. After a fierce combat the 'Durgatinashini' is able to slay the 'Asura' king with her trident. Heaven and earth rejoice at her victory. Finally, the mantra narration ends with the refrain of mankind's supplication before this Supreme Power:

"Ya devi sarbabhuteshshu, sakti rupena sanksthita Namasteshwai Namasteshwai Namasteshwai namo namaha."
Mahishasura Mardini Stotram or Mahishasur Maridhini Sloka is a very popular devotional stotra of Goddess Durga written by Guru Adi Sankaracharya (Sri Sri Sri Shankara Bhagavatpadacharya). This devotional verse is addressed to Goddess Mahisasura Mardini, the Goddess who killed Demon Mahishasura. Mahisasura Mardini is the fierce form of Goddess Durga Maa (an incarnation of Goddess Parvathi), where Durga Maa is depicted with 10 arms who rides in a lion or tiger and carrying weapons and assumes symbolic hand gestures or mudras.

------------

I need to write down more these memories. 
I should.
Since my biggest fear is that one day I will forget everything.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Book Review: The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine's Deepest Mystery by George Johnson

On the jacket:


When the woman he loved was diagnosed with a metastatic cancer, science writer George Johnson embarked on a journey to learn everything he could about the disease and the people who dedicate their lives to understanding and combating it. What he discovered is a revolution under way—an explosion of new ideas about what cancer really is and where it comes from. In a provocative and intellectually vibrant exploration, he takes us on an adventure through the history and recent advances of cancer research that will challenge everything you thought you knew about the disease. 

Deftly excavating and illuminating decades of investigation and analysis, he reveals what we know and don’t know about cancer, showing why a cure remains such a slippery concept. We follow him as he combs through the realms of epidemiology, clinical trials, laboratory experiments, and scientific hypotheses—rooted in every discipline from evolutionary biology to game theory and physics. Cogently extracting fact from a towering canon of myth and hype, he describes tumors that evolve like alien creatures inside the body, paleo-oncologists who uncover petrified tumors clinging to the skeletons of dinosaurs and ancient human ancestors, and the surprising reversals in science’s comprehension of the causes of cancer, with the foods we eat and environmental toxins playing a lesser role. Perhaps most fascinating of all is how cancer borrows natural processes involved in the healing of a wound or the unfolding of a human embryo and turns them, jujitsu-like, against the body. 

Throughout his pursuit, Johnson clarifies the human experience of cancer with elegiac grace, bearing witness to the punishing gauntlet of consultations, surgeries, targeted therapies, and other treatments. He finds compassion, solace, and community among a vast network of patients and professionals committed to the fight and wrestles to comprehend the cruel randomness cancer metes out in his own family. For anyone whose life has been affected by cancer and has found themselves asking why?, this book provides a new understanding. In good company with the works of Atul Gawande, Siddhartha Mukherjee, and Abraham Verghese, The Cancer Chronicles is endlessly surprising and as radiant in its prose as it is authoritative in its eye-opening science. 

Review:

Such are times that cancer is almost as rampant as common cold, around us. Maybe that is an exaggerated expression, but I doubt there is someone who hasn't lost a dear one to Cancer or isn't battling it themselves. And while this evil disease makes us helplessly sit there wondering why this happened, Johnson set to find out everything he could, when the woman he loved was diagnosed of Cancer.

When his wife Nancy was diagnosed of the rare uterine cancer, Johnson delves into the causes and all that accompanies the disease. Not many people know this, but cancer is not just one disease. I myself learnt this when my father was diagnosed of a rare kind of cancer and I was all of 16. When face to face with a life consuming disease, one doesn't know where to begin. But if a lay man has a tiny bit of information about what they are about to fight, it helps. 

This is not a handbook that will help you beat cancer. No. I wish it was so easy. What this book will do, is help you understand the ailment better. If you are a surgeon or a cancer specialist, you might say this book has nothing new. But, this book isn't for you. This book is for the likes of us - people, who when they read that a certain food helps avoid cancer, put all our hopes on that food item - never realising how authentic the information is. Can eating a certain food really help me stay away from Cancer?

Not just this, the book has some surprises and revelations - some details which do induce clarity about Cancer, to a large extent. 

Rating: ****/5

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

Book Review: Restaurant Babylon by Imogen Edwards-Jones

On the jacket:


What makes a restaurant hot? Whose name do you need to drop to get a table? Why is one place booked solid for the next nine months while somewhere equally delicious is as empty and inhospitable as the Gobi desert?

Welcome to the restaurant business, where the hours are punishing, the conditions are brutal and the Chef's Special has been languishing at the back of the fridge for the past three days.
This is an industry plagued with obsessives. Why else do some chefs drive themselves crazy in pursuit of elusive Michelin stars, when in reality all they're doing is 'making someone else's tea'?

Nothing is left to chance: the lighting, the temperature or even the cut of the salmon fillet. There's even a spot of psychology behind the menu. What do they want you to order? What makes them the most money? And why should you really hold back on those side dishes? 

In Restaurant Babylon, Imogen Edwards-Jones and her anonymous industry insider lift the lid on all the tricks of the food trade and what really makes this £90 billion a year industry tick. So please do sit down, pour yourself some heavily marked-up wine and make yourself comfortable (although we'll need that table back by 8.30 sharp).

Review:

This was my first read from the Babylon series and I now want to read the rest of the books in this series. Restaurant Babylon reveals some restaurant secrets which ideally every diner should know - some of these we do but ignore and some, as a reader, I was shocked to read!

Customers visting a restarurant place all their trust in the chef, waiters and management to get pure, unadultrated and healthy food on their tables. But there have been instances when this hasn't happened. We have heard takes of this, but never really paid head to it. The author talks about such incidents.

Unsuspecting customers have been tricked by reused sampling spoons, to even drinking soups with the chef's salive in then. Not only this, restaurants are more concerned about their reputation and earning more money, compromising the trust the customer places on them. If you are into eating out a lot, your opinion of restaurant food will change once you have read this book. Of all the incidences mentioned in the book, some are outrageous, some will make you cringe and at times, laugh out loud.

Restaurant Babylon is Edward-Jones' eighth book in the series, with Anonymous - which implies the various interviews she has done to get the book together. True events as told to her by the people she interviewed, put in to fictional 24-hour stories, the stories are narrated by a fictional restaurateur who owns three fictional restaurants in London. The events are about restaurants in London, of course, but I am sure the same, or even worse happens in kitchens worldwide! 

When short of cash, we overlook the expensive dishes and order the cheaper side-dishes. That's what the restaurant's management expects us to do. Order more of the cheaper dishes as they are cheaper to make, and this is where they earn more. Never thought of this, did you? This was just one of the milder things I realised after I read Restaurant Babylon.

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 Indian Tycoon's Marriage Deal by Adite Banerjie

On the jacket:


Dancing with the enemy

Krish Dev needs to find a bride—and quick! With a marriage arranged by his father looming, Krish finds the key to his freedom in Maya Shome, but is this dazzling beauty really all she seems...?

Maya has only one thing in mind: revenge. But when the host of the most exclusive high society party asks her to dance what is meant to be an innocent tango leads to an engagement to Krish—her enemy’s son!

Arranging their own marriage could work to their advantage…if they can resist mixing business with pleasure!

Review:

I am not sure how it is with the current generations but any girl who reads and has been a teenage till about millennium struck, has had a phase where they were addicted to Mills & Boons novels. So have I. My girl friends and I have bought, borrowed, sneaked in & out, begged for - in short, done everything possible to grab and read as many M&Bs as possible. Of course, there is a section of the society which looks down at them, but I say, they are just snobs. One can love their classics and their M&Bs equally.

Now, when sometime last year I first heard about M&B's Indian author collection, I was zapped. Frankly, it didn't sound exciting. I mean, Indian romance is always so cheesy and filmy!! But, I have read three titles so far, and I accept, that was a wrong mindset to keep. The standards have been maintained and while the characters and the backdrops of the stories have changed, the feeling remains.

The Indian Tycoon's Marriage Deal is a small pocket-edition of a book, and a quick read. A story about Maya, out to avenge her the injustice his father faced in the hands of tycoon KD, through the twist of fate, ends up married to KD's son Krish. Father and son are poles apart and hate each other. As is typical of M&B novels, Maya and Krish have a sizzling chemistry from the moment they meet, yet avoid each other like plague. 

I loved that Maya was not a typical journo or ad professional, but a landscape artist. I loved how Maya and Krish were not made to look larger than life, the best looking people on this earth. They were made to look as two attractive individuals, more realistic. What I also loved was how minimalistic, yet explanatory the characters' pasts were - like Maya was orphaned and had a tragic life ever since her 10th birthday, but that's all the author made it sound - sad, not dramatic. Only part of the book that I didn't like was the male protagonist's name - Krish somehow didn't go well, for me. 

The plot moves in a steady pace and the narration is perfect. Banerjie's years of experience shows in the book, she knows her craft well. 

Rating: ****/5

[The book was received as part of Reviewers Programme on The Tales Pensieve. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.]

#BookReview: Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

On the jacket: 'I find writing novels a challenge, writing stories a joy. If writing novels is like planting a forest, then writin...