Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Truly, Madly, Deeply by Faraaz Kazi

Truly, Madly, Deeply is a book about first loves and obsessions.

In his debut novel, Faraaz Kazi, whom I interviewed here, tells a beautiful story about two teenage lovers: Rahul, and Seema, and their touching and tragic love story. From the onset, I thought this was one of your typical love stories where a girl and guy fall in love in school and end up together forever in the island of dreams because everyone is too perfect (which was reinforced by the fact that both main characters were described as very beautiful and intelligent and with beauty that just refuses to fade away no matter how beaten-down they get) but I was happy to be proved wrong. Yes, this is your teenage romance novel. But no, this is definitely not your cliched 'love is a cure-all' novel that looks oddly like a bollywood film story. The story is quite refreshing in its story-line and particularly in its conclusion, which I really enjoyed. 

The story it tells is in a sense very easy to identify with, especially as a high school student, and though both the cases of the main characters might seem slightly over-the-top, I personally find it a very likely and plausible story. The characters are eventually quite well-written, especially Rahul, who tells this story and is as a consequence much more human and likeable compared to Seema, whom we mostly see from the point-of-view of someone who adores her and thus comes across as slightly insufferable. I like how the house struggles and personal rivalries come in the middle of their relationship, with two such strong personalities as the author shows. I also loved the minor characters, from Jai to Sahil, most of whom were nicely shown and portrayed, and thus added depth to the story. 

The writing style was crisp and direct, I liked the use of non-linear structure and different point-of-views to tell the story, it added some spice to a book that might otherwise have been slightly bland. The use of poetry abundantly in the narrative was probably uncharacteristic but really helped break the monotony of having one character mostly narrate his story. I like how the story gives you a sense of wanting to know more, which is exactly how most teenage relationships end. Its particularly well-written in the sense that it can be understood and yet has depth, which is probably really ideal for its target audience. 

Final thoughts: A beautiful, layered story of a teenage love turning into an obsession. Worth a read if you like the concept.

Click here to get an author-signed copy of the book. 

Other thoughts: This christmas I hope to remove my backlog, which means 4-5 reviews are waiting. I hope you all are having a very beautiful holiday season, filled with reading! :) 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Interview: Shivani Singh

Today, I've got on my blog Shivani Singh, the author of Discover Your Dharma, a book on discovering your life's purpose through effective journalling techniques, which I've reviewed here. Welcome, Shivani.

1. I'd like to begin this interview by asking you what kind of books are there on your bookshelf? What books are you reading right now? Which genre of books do you generally read? Which books do you re-read again and again? 

Hi Sakhi – thanks for interviewing me. I love reading your blog! I have all kinds of books on my bookshelf – from art and design to science, history, the classics, and spirituality. I still have books on my bookshelf that I had as a kid – the entire Dr. Seuss Collection, Calvin and Hobbes, Richard Scarry, and Anne of Green Gables. I think I have almost every motivational/new-age bestseller published – from the Celestine Prophecy to Eckart Tolle, the Magic of Thinking BIG, Napoleon Hill, and the Instant Millionnaire. Now, I read a lot of business books, inspiring biographies, and spiritual books – Autobiography of A Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda is a book I enjoy re-reading again and again. I like to read anything that has new innovative ideas, inspires me to be a better person, or that could teach me something useful – like cooking in 5 minutes!

2. Tell us something about your work before "Discover Your Dharma"? 

I had always dreamed of being an astronaut, and by the time I was 17, I had the great fortune to work alongside some of the most brilliant minds on the planet and Nobel Prize Laureates. But somehow, over time, I had become a downtrodden, invisible robot... going day in and day out, without any end in sight! I kept thinking, "There's gotta be something more!" So, instead of going to outer space, I got on a plane, and traveled from the U.S to India! For a couple months, I traveled to many ashrams, meditated under banyan trees, and went to the holiest places. I served food to leper colonies, and visited temples, slums, and bathing ghats, from Calcutta to Delhi. After a LOT of traveling on the trains across India I began to journal about my ideas, experiences, feelings, thoughts, and desires. In the process, I came to realize the power of using various styles of journaling to know what to do next with my life. Over the past decade, I’ve developed and shared these journaling techniques with thousands all over the world – from college students to entrepreneurs, and I’ve created easy-to-follow templates for anybody to discover their dharma now!

3. Did you always want to be a writer? How did you get into writing? What inspired you to write "Discover Your Dharma"? 

Yes! I’ve always loved writing, and everything to do with books, writing, paper, pens… the whole works. Writing is an art – an expression of a million things all at once – dreams, thoughts, ideas, fears, fantasy, opinions, reflections, inspirations, and it is share-able across time and space. But to me, I think what got me into writing is this revolutionary concept that I share in Discover Your Dharma – what you write isn’t nearly as powerful as the process of writing. When I first got into university, I was declared as a ‘Graphic Arts and Writing Major.’ After my first semester, before I got a chance to take an art or a writing class, I decided to do physics and Spanish literature instead. I didn’t want anybody telling me that I had to write or create for a grade! And so, that’s how I ended up pursuing another passion of mine - physics at NASA, instead of a writing degree. When I left NASA, not knowing what to do next with my life, I knew there was a book in me. I just didn’t know what I was meant to write at the time. After my own research of amazing people like Gandhi, Picasso, Disney, and Mother Teresa – I realized they all used journaling to figure out their dharma. Through the process, not only did I figure out my own dharma, but also the system that anybody else could too! That’s how I got inspired to write Discover Your Dharma.

4. What kind of people do you think this book will reach out to?

Discover Your Dharma is for savvy urbanites who know they could be successful at anything they are passionate about – if only they know what it is! It’s for the modern dharma seekers between 21 and 51 who are amazing and talented, who have a vision, a fire in their belly, and a deep sense of urgency to figure out what to do next with their lives.

5. What is your favourite thing about books and reading? How have books made an impact on your life?

My favorite thing about books and reading is the opportunity to expose yourself to new ideas, to find new ways to think about the same old things, or to learn new beliefs that could make you expand your own impact as a human being. But perhaps the most influential books in my life – from Dickens to J.K.Rowling – are those that strip you to the bare essentials, that whisk you away out of your own little world, that show you an alternative way of being, and when you’re done reading, you never quite see the world – or your Self – the same way again.

6. Quick take. Answer the following with the first words/phrase that comes to your mind, in five words or less: 
- Dharma – right action to do now
- Life – what you choose to share and experience
- Fate – pre-determined outcomes by choice
- Purpose – action with intention
- Books – world of ideas and knowledge

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Discover Your Dharma by Shivani Singh

Discover Your Dharma is not your average self-help book.

Discover Your Dharma

In fact, when I first saw this book, I was slightly skeptical. I don't believe a book will be able to help me become who I am. I think just reading is far too passive for that, and that discovering your life's purpose (which the book aims at helping you do) requires a lot more effort on your part. But that's just the thing. In this book, Shivani Singh does not give you a checklist to success. She gives you a basic framework to build your life upon, which might strike many as basic common sense but just as common sense is not so common, we often lead "lives of quiet desperation" even when the path to discovering your life's purpose is not so far away. 

In this book, Shivani Singh details her method of using effective journaling techniques to discover your life's purpose. While these range from the regular (like free-writing to clear your mind of junk) to the radical (writing with a different hand, writing outside the box), they are all quite different and worth a try at the very least. Shivani backs this up with her own music to help you write, her own experiences written, and with loads of examples and illustrations that leave you without much doubt. The book is written in a very simple, straightforward way, and you are immediately clear of the instructions as well as how the step is important in your life. She also details other tips to help you do better at this, including lighting incense or candles to build the atmosphere and embarking on the mission with a new diary. All this is done is a light, friendly, conversational style that holds your attention and does not bore you or impose on you. 

I'm sure there will be people who will find this technique radically impressive, and others for whom it will not work at all (after all, no technique can work for EVERYBODY) but I personally believe that this is at least worth a try by everyone, young or old. As Shivani herself points out in the book, it is never too late (or too early) to discover the purpose of your life. I like the use of journaling as a power technique because of my belief in writing, and though I have not finished every part of this book yet, I definitely find it interesting enough to continue.  This book is backed up by  a great deal of merchandise (from the indispensable music to a lot of other things ranging from Dharma Wheels to workshops, all of which may seem excessive to some people but certainly aids fans to perfecting their experience with this book. 

Final thoughts: An interesting, well-written book on how to know the purpose of your life (your dharma) through journaling your thoughts. Worth a go. 

Other thoughts: I am quite behind on my reviewing schedule, and have finished nearly four book since my last review: A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, A Suitable Boy, Emma and I am almost finished with Truly, Madly, Deeply. Expect a lot of reviews, and Shivani's interview on Tuesday. Until then, keep reading! :)

(Financial disclosure: Book source was the author.) 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Interview: Faraaz Kazi

Its been a long break due to a vacation and some internet troubles, but I'm back with a bang as I bring you my interview with Faraaz Kazi, whose debut novel, "Truly, Madly, Deeply" released December 5th and that I'm currently perusing and will be reviewing in the not-so-distant future. Welcome, Faraaz.

I'd like to begin this interview by asking you what kind of books are there on your bookshelf? What books are you reading right now? Which genre of books do you generally read? Which books do you re-read again and again?

I have been a ‘book worm’ all my life. Just the fragrance of paper-new or the yellowed rusty one (doesn’t matter) - smells like perfume to my nostrils. I read everything I can lay my hands on, mostly fiction though. As a writer, romance is my usual genre but I also do lay hands on fantasy and crime fiction. I stopped counting the books in my house-earlier on I used to take a monthly stock, though I was the only ‘member’ of my ‘house library’- after the count reached an unimaginable amount. My bookshelf is too small to contain all the books in my house and we had to stuff cartons of books and stock them in the attic. A large chunk of them also went into the old cupboards at my other home.

Having so many books and so little time, as I usually multi-task, I don’t often get the time to read each book twice (though I’d love to) because the goal is to read all the books I can lay my hands on. And trust me one life doesn't suffice. I usually make a list of all the books I want to read in a month. It’s pretty much like a forecast, keeping in mind my schedule and health. Currently, I’m reading the second novel of one my favourite authors, Anuja Chauhan. It is titled ‘Battle for Bittora’ and it appears to be even better than her earlier work. Once this is done, I guess I will pick up ‘In Arabian nights’ by Tahir Shah and after that Steig Larsson’s second book in the millennium

2. Tell us something about your work before "Truly, Madly, Deeply"?

‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’ is my debut novel. I had to struggle a lot like most first time authors so that it could see the light of publication. Though I have had a decent fan following as a blogger, writing on branding and marketing from an analytical point of view but it was a completely different experience as a novelist. I have written articles for a couple of media houses but nothing more than that. I guess it all changes after your first novel and more so, if it’s a success.

3. Did you always want to be a writer? How did you get into writing? What inspired you to write "Truly, Madly, Deeply"?

I guess as kids we all conjure up dreams- I want to be this, I want to be that when I grow up. I seriously don’t remember whether I wanted to be an author (I remember acting, medicine and cricket in my list of career choices though) but I did start writing at the age of seven. It was a silly adventurous novel about six friends who somehow reach a forest full of cannibals and dangerous animals. I remember it was a novel and not a short-story as most people would expect, because I filled an entire diary scribbling about it. Next, there were a few more fantasy fiction type novels, stemming from watching too many movies and reading too much of young adult fiction. It was not until two years back, when I had taken a break from academics and had time on my hands, so I decided to enrol for a creative writing course. It opened a dormant side within me and I realised somewhere I always wanted to be a writer (not quite a full-time one though. You don’t make much of a living that way unless you end up writing about someone’s points and spending nights in call centres and then make three mistakes in a couple of states) as I found my romantic short-stories to be applauded by the other 30 odd students around me. And then, that was motivation enough to try my hands on a novel. Luckily, for me I had a readymade plot.

‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’ stems from a short-story I had written for a national-level story writing competition in 2003’. It surely had the potential as it won the fourth prize at that level. That time it was fully autobiographical, now of course it is a mixture of fact and fiction. All I had to do was expand the story, keeping the plot in mind. Of course, there were some major changes made. And I actually could notice, the difference in my writing (seven years is a lonnnnng time!) I guess it’s a healthy experience curve after all.

4. What kind of people do you think this book will reach out to?

Being a marketer, I define my target as Sec A to Sec E, age group 16-40, reading fiction, MHI> (doesn’t really matter). From a writer’s POV, I can say that the book will appeal to each and every one, who’s passed through the funny stage of ‘adolescence’ and experienced the high of first love. But yes, in general, the book tends to deal with the extremes as it handles a fragile topic at its base, of infatuation turning into an obsession. So, I do expect some criticism and people talking about how it is unrealistic in certain parts. But then no one can separate fact from fiction.

The ultimate trust is between the author and the reader and I’m sure the reader will be able to identify with parts of the story, a similar journey he or she may have experienced in some part of her life, similar decisions which could have backfired and then they would have had to embrace regret. And my thoughts are echoed by none other than Mr. Tuhin Sinha, best-selling author of ‘Of love and Politics’ and two other popular books. This is what he has to say about ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’:

"A fascinating, roller-coaster tale of teenage love, Kazi’s book depicts the emotion in its raw, confusing form- just the way you’d have experienced it the first time you fell in love with someone. Kazi’s penchant for detail is impressive and makes the book an alluring journey for all die-hard romantics."

5. What is your favourite thing about books and reading? How have books made an impact on your life?

The best thing about books is that they take us to an almost illusion-like world, far away from the happenings of life. Mostly, when I’m in the doldrums, you’ll find me with a copy in hand, lying on the bed and soaking in the words. There’s no feeling in this world which can replace the joy of reading a good book on a rainy evening with some hot pakoras for company. Books have elevated me to an altogether different level. I have gained a lot of insight into human psychology through some extremely fine characters. My practical approach to real-life marketing also stems from reading Kotler, Levitt, Ogilvy, Seth Godin and so many other gurus. I appear knowledgeable to some, an unworthy show-off to some, a freak to the rest. But it doesn’t affect me anymore as my best friends (read ‘books’) aren’t complaining.

6. Quick take. Answer the following with the first words/phrase that comes to your mind, in five words or less:

- Love – Separates humans from the rest.

- Life – An illusion.

- The teenage years – Time machine, anyone?

- Innocence – Fake after a point of time.

- Books – Nirvana.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Warped Words for Twisted Minds: A Journalstone Anthology

This book (as might be evident from its title) is a chilling one.

JournalStone's 2010 Warped Words, for Twisted Minds

A collection of horror stories, ranging from authors around the world including compiler Christopher C. Payne (whose own contribution was a wonderfully thrilling story with a cool twist in the end), to Chandru Bhojwani (who I recently interviewed on my blog) - the book has a lot of different writing styles to offer. The book has stories that range from scary, to very scary, to don't read alone in your room scary, to nightmare-inducing scary, and each one is a work of art in its own right. In general, the quality of writing in this anthology is quite high, though naturally there were some stories and styles I liked better than the others. The book manages to retain the individual voices of the authors while still maintaining a fairly common tone throughout, which I think really adds to the book as a whole.

The book has stories to please many types of horror fans - stories in this collection range from stories about psychopathy, stories about ghosts, stories about zombies, and stories about tomatoes. (You have to read the last one to believe it. Trust me.) As someone who doesn't read much horror I cannot comment much on the plots, except to say that most of them seemed pretty ingenious to me, with a lot of twists that I found quite unexpected and a lot of different types of stories that managed to grip my attention throughout the collection. Some, like the ending of a story called 'Hips' gave me chills. Others made me re-read the story once. Or twice. Most of the endings in this collection are brilliantly written, actually, and definitely manage to leave you guessing about what happens next (as opposed to 'explaino' or 'tie up everything with a neat ribbon' endings, which I personally don't like and which I feel would never have worked with the style of this particular book.)

The length of the stories is quite well-chosen, and while some stories are longer than others, most are not so long that they turn you off and yet long enough to allow you to get an insight into the story itself. The authors are clever about what they reveal, and also about what they don't - it is remarkable how much of the book is actually about what the stories and characters don't say rather than what they do say. All in all, a book to scare the living daylights out of you, without any of the typical horror gore and violence that seems to desensitize rather than subtly scare you like these stories do.

Final thoughts: All in all, a collection of above par horror short-stories. Definitely a good-read if you are a horror fan.

Others thoughts: I've just finished A Hitchhiker's Guide to Galaxy and am reaching the conclusion of Vikram Seth's Suitable Boy. Since I'm going on a trip from the 27th to 4th (and will not be coming online in this time) I don't know how much of this I'll be able to review, but we will see. Until then, happy reading! :)

(Financial disclosure: Book source was the author.) 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Wedding Season by Katie Fforde

Wedding Season is a sweet, funny, human book.

Wedding Season: A Novel

Wedding Season is the story of a disillusioned wedding planner, Sarah; a multi-faceted make-up artist who must get away from her controlling boyfriend, Bron; a dress-maker who can make ethereal dresses but doesn't believe in her own beauty, Elsie; and two very frantic brides - Sarah's infuriating little sister, and Carrie Condy, starlet, who have happen to choose the same date, less than a few months away, and expect their perfect, fairytale weddings in this short period of time. And Sarah, of course, is given the delicate task of making all this work - from satisfying her own sister's huge demands on an almost non-existent budget to Carrie's own unrealistic demands and erratic moods - and give them both the wedding of this dreams. Add in a few hunky guys and a lot of romance, and you've got Wedding Season. While the book does fail a bit in the originality of plot or conflicts department, the story does manage to hold you interest due to the following factors.

The first is that the writing quality is good. Fforde writes a tight narrative with little or no crazy coincidences (the fact that both weddings are on the same day is clearly a plot convenience, but I guess we can overlook it for purposes of drama) and though the guys in the novel come across as pretty much jobless and helping the ladies for random stuff (and people do end up having a lot of surprising abilities) the story manage to flow along without becoming too unbelievable. The author writes at a fast pace that manages to tide over any plot issues and leaves the reader constantly turning the pages. She manages to avoid the crazy description and purple prose that often destroys such chick-flicks, and adds in just enough of each character to keep the reader entertained for a longer-than-average book as compared to other books in the same genre.

The second is that the characters, especially the three main ones, are very lovable. One can easily sympathise with Sarah, Elsie and Bron, and one or the other of their problems is sure to touch women everywhere. The supporting cast, especially the male characters, is slightly under-developed, as I pointed out above, but this fits in with the 'chick-flick' atmosphere the author is clearly going for. Highly secondary characters, like Sasha, the stylist, come of as highly-cliched and flat, mostly because the author spends little or no time with them and is moreover seeing them through the eyes of characters who don't have any reason to like these particular characters. Some, random characters, like the mother of Bron's boyfriend, are surprisingly touching and show a certain amount of depth that really adds to the beauty of the book as a whole.

Final thoughts: This book is a certified chick-flick, but within that it has an interesting (if somewhat cliched) plot, lovable characters, and tight-writing. Definitely readable.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns will touch your heart.

A Thousand Splendid Suns

This seems like too simple a statement for such a profound book, but then, the author himself using very simple and subtle language to convey these same profound ideas. Even when he talks about brutal violence and heart-breaking sadness in the midst of the turmoil in Afghanistan, he uses a tone that seems distant and even indifferent to the plight of his characters. Far from detracting from the book, however, this tone adds to the beauty of the book by touching the reader even more. This book - a documentary of the plight of Afghani women - is even more touching than Hosseini's wildly famous Kite Runner, and has the capacity to make even the sternest of hearts sympathize, and the more sympathetic ones cry. No matter who you are - young, or old, male or female, Indian or Afghani - this book cannot fail to move you.

This book is the story of two powerful women - Mariam, a plain illegitimate child who is married off to the cruel Rasheed at the tender age of 15 (when he is nearly 50), and Laila, a beautiful, vivacious, intelligent girl who dreams of becoming a teacher but eventually ends up married to Rasheed as well by a cruel twist of circumstances. The characters in this story are extremely well-etched. They are real, easy to identify with, and have beautiful interpersonal relations. As such, the dynamic interaction between these two characters, the unlikely bond that forms between Laila and Mariam, and the affection which they have for each other and their children, and finally the amazing sacrifices they make for each other, forms my favourite part of this book. Supporting characters like Tariq and Rasheed are also wonderfully portrayed and really support the story, but Laila and Mariam steal away the show.

Though a story about the cruelty and brutality of Afghan, the book does not fail to also emphasise the beauty of the place and what it means to those who live there. Even as they talk of the oppression by the Taliban (and the cruel, barbaric list of laws that they draw up for women, which I found ludicrous but which forms the reality of life for these women), the book is also about the culture in Kabul, and what damage has been done to it, and also about how it still survives after this. There is one line in particular in the book, a line by 17th-century Iranian poet Saib-e-Tabrizi about Kabul, which incidentally also serves the basis for the title of the book, "One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls"
- that haunts the reader not only till the last page of the book, but till a long time afterwards.

Final thoughts: A brilliant, beautiful, heart-breaking book on the struggle of Afghani women against the oppression of the Taliban and domestic oppression. A must-read for the subtle imagery, beautiful characterization, and well-written narrative.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Brighter than the Sun by Julia Quinn

Brighter than the Sun is your regular aimed-at-teenage-girls book.

Brighter Than the Sun

All the elements of the typical romance are there - the regency era; cool, hunky, rakish hero; the prim and proper but secretly naughty good-girl heroine; a marriage of convenience; loads of drama; loads of love; and the happily ever after. The question here is whether Brighter than the Sun rises above the cliches of the genre into something new and inspiring and different to read. It was with a hope of something along these lines from highly acclaimed author Julia Quinn that I picked up this book. I was hoping that Quinn would write something new out of this done-to-death story.

I was unfortunately disappointed.

Lets make this clear. This book is not bad for its target audience. To the girl who adores sappy love stories (and I will admit here that I can be a bit like that too, only its a guilty pleasure), this story will no doubt deliver. Quinn mixes enough humor, beauty and gaiety into her story to make it both entertaining and readable, weaves a narrative interesting enough to amuse, and creates characters that are just about complex enough to actually care about. There is a lot of love. There is a lot of adoration. There is the perfect-marriage-under-imperfect-circumstances fantasy that a lot of the target audience will really enjoy. The writing quality is actually quite good and it comes across that Quinn has studied her craft well. As a package, the book is not dull enough to be disliked, and there is a lot in it for someone actually looking for this kind of book.

But for the more serious reader, there are some serious pit-falls. The plot hinges too deeply on coincidence (starting with the hero falling from a tree right into the arms of the heroine). Moreover, the plot is quite transparently lacking in suspense. You know exactly what is happening even when the author goes out of her way to hide it. The characters are really mono-dimensional, character traits seem to be added in convenience and some of them are really cheesy. There is little or no depth and little or no growth in the character arcs. The romance is totally unbelievable, and seems to rely mostly on physical attraction even though the author goes out of her way to claim it is not. And as a package, the whole thing is a mess that will make most discerning readers drop the book.

Final thoughts: If you like sappy romances, read the book. Otherwise (and perhaps even if), this book is avoidable thanks the forgettable plot, flat characters and cheesy romance. Quinn fails to deliver.

Other thoughts: I'm a little behind on the reviewing as opposed to the reading - and therefore I have loads of books lined up to review, from The Namesake to the Thousand Splendid Suns, Wedding Season and then of course The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that I've just picked up, and The Color of Magic which I just found. Expect a lot of reviews in the next week.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Blue Moon Rising by Simon R. Green

Blue Moon Rising is an awesome, fun book.

Blue Moon Rising (Darkwood)

The story begins with Rupert, the book's amazingly endearing hero, out on a quest to kill a dragon at the end of the darkwood. His noble steed is a unicorn. Hes out to be a hero. Until this point, most readers will think, 'Wow. Stupid cliche fantasy plot #901123'.' And then the world explodes. You get to know that the unicorn is an awesome guy with a biting sense of humor and without a smidge of respect for his owner. (In fact, the Rupert-Unicorn equation is quite similar to the Loiosh-Vlad relationship in Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos books, which are also some of my favourite fantasy books ever.) And the book goes on to kill another list of fantasy cliches. The dragon hoards butterflies instead of gold, the second son is sent on the quest to save the kingdom from financial trouble, and the finally rescued princess couldn't be more of a mess. And the fabulous fix-it-all magic swords: well, lets just put it this way, even the worst human in this book wouldn't hold on to them. If you're sick and tired of the regular fantasy mush that novelists seem to serve up - well, pick up Blue Moon Rising right now.

The good parts of this book don't require a lot of explanation. The plot is interesting and complex, the characters are really well-fleshed out (except for the main villians, the 'demons', and even among them the Demon Prince is someone I'd really like to read more about), the suspense is quite hard to guess, and honestly the inter-personal relations of the characters, especially with respect to the choices they all have to make under pressure in this book are beyond description. One has to read this book to accept the enormity of the decisions that these characters make. The kind of books and authors who manage to make this work are really rare, and this book definitely works.

Final thoughts: A fun, and yet at the same time really deep book on how heroes are sometimes made from the most unlikely situations. Definitely a must-read for anyone who has read a lot of fantasy (and its cliches) and almost anyone with a sense of humor.

Other thoughts: Unfortunately, I didn't have internet for nearly a week. In the meantime I've finished reading Julia Quinn's Brighter than the Sun, finished about a quarter of A Thousand Splendid Suns, and acquired some more books to read this diwali. Look forward for a lot of reviews.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

New York: A Novel by Edward Rutherford

New York, by Edward Rutherford, was a phenomenally interesting book.

New York: The Novel

I guess one of the things that makes it so is that the basic premise of the story is so interesting. This book is a novel telling the story of New York, right from its conception to the 9/11 attacks that shook the city, and New York itself is such a fascinating topic that this book could not have been dull. However, the way the author handles the topic is superb. Rather than giving you a dry historical narrative, the author tells this story in the form of a novel by picking one major family, the Masters, and telling you the fortune of not only their family but also the various diverse families whose lives intertwine with those of the Masters. And the end result is definitely a masterpiece.

New York is a city full of many different cultures with their own complex histories, and I think the author tries and succeeds in showing a fairly human glimpse of many of the major cultures. One gets a feel of the big city and the people who make it what it is in this novel. And by showing you the points of view of many small people in the big web, and showing you how, knowingly or unknowingly, their lives meet, the author makes a narrative which is both interesting and enjoyable to read it. Certain objects, like the wampum belt (the inclusion of which made the book so much better) bind the entire narrative together (which I think works well in a novel of this scale, size and scope) and somehow the author manages to remain coherent even when many different storylines overlap.

All in all the book is really well-written. The characters are sometimes confusing (there are many people from the same family) but because the author writes each character so distinctly it isn't very hard to keep them straight in your head. And as each generation faces a new set of problems (and a new set of supporting characters) you are able to get a comprehensive view of a beautiful city - and its dirty underbelly.

Final thoughts: Beautifully written, well researched and extremely interesting. Definitely a must-read.

Other thoughts: As I suspected, all the books are ending now. I just finished Blue Moon Rising, too. Review tomorrow.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Prodigal Daughter by Jeffrey Archer

The Prodigal Daughter is my favourite Archer book.

The Prodigal Daughter

It is odd that of all the books I'm reading right now (I'm currently reading 4 at once, which explains the lack of book reviews here - and which also means I'm probably going to finish them all together and have a lot of reviews by the end of the month) the one I finished first was the one I'd already read. (I read it an awfully long time ago, though. It struck me while re-reading the book that there is a scene in the book where Florentyna, the main character, doesn't know what a virgin is - and when I read the book for the first time, I didn't really know what it meant either.) Anyway, I recently borrowed this book from the school library and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it even after so many years.

The Prodigal Daughter may be described as a sequel to Archer's wildly famous Kane and Abel, and is essentially the story of Florentyna Rosnovski - the daughter of Baron Abel Rosnovski of the original novel. Florentyna is an amazing character. She's intelligent, witty and kind - except when she rolls her fingers into a fist, which is when you have to watch out. And as it happens, she falls in love with one Richard Kane (son of William Kane in the original book) who just happens to be the son of her father's worst enemy. This book details everything that happens in her life - from her formative years to her years in college, to finally her affair with Richard and the subsequent drama that follows, and finally ends with her campaign to be the first female president of the united states of america.

The book, like every other Archer book, is extremely well-written. There is not a single dull moment, the dialogues are memorable, and the writing is very clean and masterful. The cast of characters is large (since this details the past and future of two families) but since each character is so unique (though not often very uniquely named) that is quite easy to keep them straight. Archer does not fall into the trap of having children with the exact characteristics of either parents and practically the same life, and therefore the book has a touch of realism that is really very useful. All in all, this book is masterfully plotted, the story is very interesting, and despite the large scale of the events the book is so delightfully human (and here the role of Florentyna as a character cannot be denied) that one cannot help but feel like the book is very human.

Final Thoughts: Excellently plotted, well-written, and with some of the most wonderful characters ever written - a book that no one should miss, though I recommend reading Archer's Kane and Abel first.

Other thoughts: Sorry for the long delay guys. But I'm almost through with New York, half-way through The Color of Magic, and also simultaneously reading some other books, so you can expect a lot of reviews in the near future. Until then, happy reading. :)

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

The Life of Pi's best feature is the basic premise.

Life of Pi: Deluxe Illustrated Edition

I mean, most writers claim that 'all writing is based on other writing.' That there is no such thing as a 'new plot' because nearly every plot in the world has been done to death. Not this one. Its actually a story about a guy stuck on a lifeboat with a hyena, orangutan, a zebra with a broken leg and - wait for it - a 450 pound royal bengal tiger. (Of course, to make it more believable, in the end its just him and one other animal on the boat - guess which one...) I first took this book on the recommendation of a friend, but the second part of what made me borrow this book from the library was, of course, the back cover. I don't particularly like castaway stories, or animal stories, but seriously - I just had to read this one to know what Martel could possibly do with it.

Moving on to the technical aspects of the story - the writing was good. I liked how the story was narrated by the main character, I like how there are interludes in the writing where the author shows the present-day scenario of the same man (I particularly love a heart-warming scene where Pi hugs his daughter and the author steps in to say, 'This story has a happy ending.' This is particularly fun as the next page begins with Pi being assailed by sharks). I enjoyed the end portion (the only part of the book I found laugh out loud funny is the conversation of the Japanese officials with Pi) and in general the writing is crisp and the book moves along smoothly. The characterization is impeccable (of the humans and animals) and I particularly liked the description of the religion and the other larger themes within the book. The story begins with a glimpse into Pi's childhood as a zookeeper's son that really helps you understand where he is coming from.

However, I do believe that the end of this book fell flat. The whole 'island scenario' is both unbelievable and odd, I don't understand either why it has to be put into the story or what it was doing it. As such, (despite the apparent correctness of the biological facts), this story is a little hard to swallow - but you manage if you suspend your disbelief a little bit - but the end just becomes incredulous and absurd and that is not the best of all experiences. Personally, according to me, the ending let-down the book. I could believe everything else but that was a little hard to swallow.

Final thoughts: A good book - great premise, well written, well narrated, well characterized. A bit of an unbelievable book requiring some belief, with a highly absurd ending. Borrow it from the library, I wouldn't buy it.

Other thoughts: I have got my hands on a LOT of books right now - The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, New York by Edward Rutherfurd, The Color of Magic by Terry Prachett (described as the P.G. Woodhouse of fantasy) and Blue Moon Rising by Simon Green. Expect a lot of reviews in the predictable future.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger is an important book.

The White Tiger: A Novel (Man Booker Prize)

I've heard a lot about this book, good and bad, but the most important things were as follows - that Balram Halwai (aka "The White Tiger") is a thoroughly unlikeable protagonist, that the story mostly works on selling India's poverty (like, according to me, Slumdog Millionaire did) and that is very badly written. From the other side of the table were people who said that it was one of the best books ever written in India, that it was thought-provoking, it was enlightening, and most of all that it was a book that I should read. It was with all of this in mind (along with a lot of heavy expectations) that I read this book, and one must assume that my reading of the book as well as my review is colored by the same.

My verdict? A lot of of this is true.

It is a thought-provoking and intelligent book - a statement on India and why we are the way we are. Even extremely patriotic Indians cannot be so ostrich-like that they ignore all that is wrong with India, and it requires a certain amount of hard-heartedness to ignore the plight of the poor people of India - the rickshaw pullers, the servants, the farmers. One cannot pretend that everything is alright with India, but with that in mind I don't think this book went out and targeted that group of Indians and foreigners who like to read about how India is a dirty country with nothing good about it (quite on the contrary). Also, it was different from Slumdog Millionaire in the sense that it actually had a story, and one that was not based completely on that elusive thing called luck but rather by extreme hard work and courage on the part of the hero.

According to me, Balram Halwai is not an unlikeable main character. Sure there were times when I really hated him and when I was disgusted by his thoughts, but there was no time when the writing became so slack that I did not want to know what happened further in his life. You see Balram from his childhood - you see him make some horrible choices and do some horrible things - but you also see the things that shaped him and made him the way he ended up to be and in the end I don't blame him. The secondary characters are also genius, sometimes slightly two-dimensional and not really multi-faceted, but some of them like Ashok come out from the page as real human beings - leaving you unsure on whether you like them or hate them or really on what is right and wrong.

The book is well-written. It is written in the form of letters to a visiting Chinese delegate, with frequent intervals and interludes from Balram Halwai. The writing is clear and crisp and the descriptions (like the chicken coop) are quite brilliant. Technically, I'm sure that no one can refute that Adiga is a very good writer, who has the talent of drawing interesting characters, a reasonable plot, well-described settings, and a good use of language.

Final thoughts: In the end, I found the book very interesting. I'm not old (or really, experienced) enough to know if all of what is written in there is true. I certainly do know that some of it is. The book is depressing, but its also about courage in the face of unbelievable odds, about taking difficult decisions and living through them, and about being a white tiger - someone who comes along just once in a generation. It is a book about change, and progress at its core - in a very uplifting way - and a book that I think all Indians should read.

Other thoughts: Expect a lot of reviews this week and next, because I've been reading a lot (currently reading The Life of Pi by Yann Martel) and have loads of plans for reviews, as well as some time.

You Might Also Like

Related Posts with Thumbnails