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Showing posts with label book reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book reviews. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

My Top 5 Reads in 2015 !

A big thanks to Narasimha Sharma Vetturi for floating this idea about sharing the books that one read in the year just gone by. Well, for one you had me thinking about my ever growing collection versus the problem of limited shelf space. To be honest, I have added quite a lot of books to my ever burgeoning library. And speaking even more honestly, I covet my books to such a degree that it almost borders on obsession. But not wasting more time going on and on about my love for the written word, this is the list of five books that had me thinking for a long time -

1. All The Light We Cannot See ( Anthony Doerr )

This is one of the most moving books that I have ever come across. The rich imagery, the vivid descriptions and most importantly the strength of each and every character is overpowering. Love can take on many forms and this is what one gets to see in this book. After reading this gem of a book, you can only agree to the fact that there are good books and then there are superlative ones. But a very few have that magical quality of touching one's soul and that feeling gets etched forever in memory even though some of the words get blurred with the passage of time.

2. Mrs Funnybones : She's Just Like You and a lot Like Me (Twinkle Khanna)

Bollywood actress are dumb. Period. Now, when a ex-actress like Twinkle Khanna pens a book, we are pre-programmed to judge it based on our prejudices. And with the kind of movies that Mrs Khanna acted in, one kind of assumes the worst. But her keen sense of observation and often self-deprecating sense of humor shines through. Yep, this book has found its place on my bedside table and I pick it up for a quick mental detox when I am feeling low. 

3. Asura; Tale of the Vanquished ( Anand Neelakantan ) 

This is the best mix of mythology and philosophy that I have ever read. And I can re-read it any number of times. It is one of those life changing books that one should pick up when one is overcome by prejudice and unable to think rationally. Good and Bad coexist in every culture but history is always colored by the victor's perspective, the author tells us. And proceeds to introduce one a Ramayama written from the vanquished Ravana's perspective. 

4. The Invention Of Wings ( Sue Monk Kidd )

Hope is the greatest weapon of all. This beautiful tale about the unlikely friendship of Sarah Grimke and a slave girl Hetty clearly reiterates that. Based on slavery, this book is enormously powerful and thought provoking. I could not put this book down even for a moment till I reached the end . So engrossed I had become with these characters, that I was literally felt like living and breathing with them. Some of my favorite lines (of course you can relate better only if you read the whole book) -

"There was a time in Africa the people could fly"

"It was his way of telling me. I could not have him and myself both." 

5. Dead Souls ( Nikolay Gogol )

This one is on the list due to the sheer brilliance of the author which has ensured that it never goes out of relevance. Sharing a favorite paragraph from the book to justify why I have put it in the top 5 reads.

"It is much easier to depict large-scale characters: there all you need do is fling the paints on to the canvas unstintingly - dark, burning eyes, beetling brows, furrowed forehead, a black or fiery-crimson cloak thrown over the shoulder - and the portrait is done. But if you take all these other gentlemen, of whom there are many in the world, and who greatly resemble one another in appearance, yet in whom, as soon as you look more closely, you will perceive many highly elusive traits - such gentlemen are dreadfully difficult to portray."

Brilliant lines that refuse to be erased from memory.

Felt so good writing and sharing baout these books. In fact I think we should make it a habit to publish a list of the books read at the end of each year !!

Note : In case you want to read the full length reviews, please check them on my other blog Booksopinionsandbull .

Monday, January 11, 2016

Book Review : Ramayana - The Game Of Life - Stolen Hope (book 3) ( Shubha Vilas )

Have you grown up reading Amar Chitra Katha, the beautifully illustrated series that depicts the tales of various Hindu God, demigods, sages (rishis) and demons (rakshas ) ? Well, I have been lucky enough to have access to the series during my childhood days and the first half of this book felt like I was revisiting those memories. The glorious tales of the numerous combats between good (Gods/sages) and evil (rakshas) are described in such vivid manner that I did not even miss the wonderful illustrations that made Amar Chitra Katha so unforgettable. As with his earlier books, the author has put up very useful footnotes on each page which helps the reader to understand the finer nuances of the story.

The story of King Nahusha is one such story that I read a long time back. The pious human king got a chance to ascend the throne in Heaven when Indra lost out due to a sin committed by him. But the corrupting thing that power is, it gets the better out of everyone except for the best. Getting drunk on power, Nahusha soon starts coveting Indra's wife who reaches out to Brihaspati, the Guru of the Demigods. The Guru devises a scheme which entails that Nahusha would have to reach the queen's Palace by riding on a palanquin carried by most exalted sages. The Guru cleverly ropes in sage Agastya who is famous for his legendary temper. Goaded by the lust filled Nahusha for moving faster, the fearsome sage lost his temper and threw back the words that the king had uttered in haste. While 'Sarpa' is usually taken to mean snake, it also means 'faster' in Sanskrit. An engrossing tale indeed ! And this book is just replete with such examples.

This book describes the journey of Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana though the Dandakaranya forests where they meet many of the sages who pour out their sufferings to them. They move from one ashram to another, gathering the blessings of many and at times releasing others from a spell or curse. Settling in picturesque and apparently peaceful Panchavati, they come across the demoness Supanakha ( the one with broad long nails ) who fancies Lord Rama. Given his cool demeanor, the Lord initially indulges her but when her obsession takes a violent turn, he asks Lakshmana to stall her advances. This triggers a major war with a huge army of the demons descending on the trio.  A bloody war is fought and Lord Rama emerges victorious.

This sets off a chain of events which lead to the kidnapping of Sita. The manipulative Supanakha seduces Ravana's line of rational thinking by waxing eloquent about Sita's unmatched beauty. The demon king beseeches his uncle Maricha to help create a web of deceit to kidnap the hapless Sita, more to satiate his lust rather than to avenge his sister's insult. The elderly demon tries his best to dissuade Ravan from advancing towards his impending doom but fails to do so.

Most of us would be very well acquainted with the next episode that follows. 'Sitaharan' or the kidnapping of Sita is one of the most well known parts of the epic and one has much to learn from it. Succumbing to material desires and doubting a genuine well-wisher are some of those. The kidnapping is followed by the fight with the valiant Jatayu who loses his life while trying to rescue Sita from the clutches of Ravana. One is also introduced to the Vanaras for the first time at this stage. Shubha Vilas has done a fabulous job in detailing even the minutest of events that occur during Ravana's flight to Lanka and I learnt quite a few details that I was not aware of.

Lord Rama is distraught once he discovers that Sita is gone. Searching for her, he meets the old and frail Shabari who leads him to Sugriva.

[ To be continued in the next book .... ]

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

Monday, June 29, 2015

Book Review : Scion of Ikshvaku (By Amish Tripathy)

As mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts, the book reviews will now be published on my new blog Pigeonholenomore . 

Buy it online on Amazon.

Read the review HERE.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Book Review: Yagnaseni - The story of draupadi ( by Prativa Ray )

[This book was originally written in Odia by author Prativa Ray. She won the Moorti Devi Award in 1991 for 'Yagnaseni' and was honored with the Jnanpith Award in 2011. This is one of the few books to be written about Draupadi, one of the central female characters of Mahabharata. The author has, by her own admission, included some imaginary episodes in the narration. This review is based on the English translation]

History is replete with many a kings who have had harems full of women. Yet, they have been heaped with liberal praise and their achievements have never been overshadowed by their personal lives. The women on the other hand have never been so fortunate. The moment she takes another man, she is ridiculed in the unkindest terms. But since I read this book with the intention of unraveling the psyche of such a woman, I have tried to retain my objectiveness and have refrained from being judgmental at any point.

When I first picked the book, I wanted a fresh look a Mahabharata, one from a female perspective. Well, these days there is a lot of talk about it and it is touted as one of the reasons for inclusion of women in the boardroom. Now most men would support such a move for the fear of being branded politically incorrect if they choose to look the other way. Some would even say that they would support their spouse should she choose to work. But how many would lend her a helping hand when it comes to domestic chores ? Doing the kids homework ? Not many, I guess. And that is what makes a world of difference. So, the keyword here is 'empathy' and not 'sympathy'. 'Empathy' for Draupadi is what the author is trying to achieve through this book.

I loved the fact that Yagnaseni, meaning one who is born out of the sacrificial flames, is portrayed as a normal woman. She is shown as a carefree young woman who has a crush on Krishna. But circumstances lead to a Swayamvar and she gets betrothed to Arjun, the third Pandav. She is shown as idolizing him and treating him as a hero. She is every bit the shy new bride with stars in hers eyes till she is forced to marry all the five Pandavs due to a misunderstanding on the part of Kunti, her mother in law.

From this point, one sees her as a tormented woman who has to live up to the expectations of five husbands, each of whom is as different from the other as is chalk from cheese. She is shown to possess a soft corner for Arjun, her first husband and her hero whom she does not want to share with Subhadra. Though she is wise and learned, all these qualities take a back seat as she gets on with her domestic duties. At times, I felt that the five Pandavs are portrayed as being too conceited.

The author meanders into controversial territory with Draupadi's fascination with Karna. The latter is shown to nurture a grudge after being turned down at the Swayanvar. The few interactions between the two are beautifully narrated and are among the memorable parts of the book. Despite Karna's thinly veiled hatred, Yagnaseni seems to be attracted towards him.Though it seems jarring, it has to be viewed it in the light of Karna being an equal of Arjun ( as Krishna quotes in the later part of the book ). Maybe one should suspend one's rationality by a few degrees while reading this book and consider everything to be a part of Krishna ( who actually holds the Universe within himself ) and his scheme.

The book ends with a journey to heaven that Yagnaseni undertakes with her five husbands. But sadly it ends with her fall on the golden dust of the Himalayas. It is attributed to the negative thoughts in her mind. At this point, none of her husbands come to her rescue. Though it seems cruel, it has to be viewed in the light of one's accumulated Karma and the resulting ramifications.

Overall it is a good book but one that has deep spiritual connotations. It took me more than a month to get over with it as one tends to read a chapter, mull over it and then go back and read it all over again.

Buy it online @ Amazon .

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Review: Warrior (by Oliver Lafont)

When it comes to fiction, I usually rate a book by the shortest possible time taken from start to completion. It boils down to a ratio like number of pages divided by the number of days. Anything that scores more than hundred is top dog. And it took me just 2.5 days to chow down the entire 375 pages on this one :):).

Coming to the storyline. An immortal son of Lord Shiva. The imminent End of Days. Space travel. A heavy does of quantum physics. And a rag tag team of soldiers facing an unknown enemy. Imagine the endless possibilities that can arise when one decides to throw all these components together into one heady cocktail. It can either make one land flat on one's face or one can end up with a sparkling read that is a sure shot winner. And trust me, this book falls into the latter category.

Oliver Lafont is a fine story teller. He adds elements of mythology, science, human emotions and heroism into the narration and yet does not allow these numerous elements slacken his grip at any point. The language is easy to grasp and yet at par with international authors. Since this is his debut novel, I would rate him to be much better than quite a few of his Indian contemporaries who are in the business of churning out one hopeless plot after another.

But at the same time, there are a few flawed bits. Some parts could have been left out or modified to add substance to the plot. For example, some of that banter between Saam and his girlfriend which lacks chutzpah, the meeting of the Peerless which looks contrived and even the first meeting with the geeky IIT professor which seems too gory without a proper reason. But then there are some bits like a parallel Kurukshetra war fought in another world (aka another dimension of time and space ) which make one wonder if the concept of good and evil are anything but absolute and need to be calibrated in terms of relativity. Nonetheless, this one slowly grows on you and keeps you captivated till the end.

This is a book that allows one's imagination to take a lot of wild twists and turns which may or may not be a good thing for some( personal preference ). Not going to spoil the suspense by revealing more of the plot. Grab a copy of this one and you won't regret it.

Buy it online from Amazon.

Do read the author's interview here .

[DISCLAIMER - A copy of the book was provided by the author's publicist but that has not influenced my opinion in any manner.]

Friday, March 20, 2015

Book Review : Ramayana - The Game of Life (Shattered Dreams Book 2)

Perhaps the greatest injustice done to our epics have been relegating them to the place of worship. For they contain the wisdom that is meant to be handed down over the generations instead of being locked up in the name of religion. Sage Valmiki's Ramayana is no exception, for every episode and every character is a case study in human and quantitative psychology. How unfortunate then that something so valuable is now considered uncool by the current generation !!

It then takes someone like Shubha Vilas to narrate it in a language that resonates with the youth of today and bring it back into popular imagination. A sequel to the first book 'The Rise of the Sun Prince', this book traces the events in Rama's life that precede his planned coronation, the bitter twist of fate and the initial days of the exile. Now I must admit that I have not read the first part though I am aware of the good reviews. I did pick up a fair portion of the Ramayana from my elders during the growing up years and had not thought of reconnecting with the epic since. Plus the feminist in me is forever up in arms against the 'Agni pareeksha' episode that Sita had to endure. But that has changed with this book. Now I am planning to order 'The Rise of The Sun Prince' and all the sequels as and when they hit the stalls. I am especially looking forward to the chapters that revolve around Sita and how sensitively the author handles them.

When the aging Dasaratha is besieged by nightmares and wishes to relinquish power and anoint Rama as his successor, the shallow minded Keikeyi devises a shrewd plan to exile the latter and to put the ropes into the hands of her own son. At this juncture, one can almost draw the parallel with India's aging politicians who suddenly find themselves out in the cold. This episode iterates the need for a leader to step down while he is still at the peak of his power and any signs of weakness are still undetected. For opportunists like Keikeyi, any sign of failing (which in the case of Dasaratha was his lust for the much younger and beautiful Keikeyi) signals an opportunity to grab power.

Deeper into the narration, one comes to know that Dasaratha was under the influence of a curse for having killed Shravan kumar and causing much distress (and ultimately death) to his blind parents. While his intentions might have been sabotaged by the devious Keikeyi, the seeds for his sorrow were already sown in his past. It goes to show that one has to bear the consequences of one's action and others can only act as a medium for it.

Some of the other memorable lessons in this book are the faultless arguments put up by Sita and Lakshmana who decide to accompany Rama to the forest , the first night of the exile and the story of the boatman . Of course there is an interesting chapter on Ravana's life too !

The footnotes included at the bottom of each page are quite useful. They provide detailed explanation and in most cases add to the narration with relevant facts without actually breaking the flow of the plot.

All in all, this is a great read. A big thanks to BlogAdda for giving me the opportunity to read and review this masterpiece !!!

This review is a part of the biggest http://blog.blogadda.com/2011/05/04/indian-bloggers-book-reviews" target="_blank"> Book Review Program
for http://www.blogadda.com" target="_blank">Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Monday, February 23, 2015

HiFi in Bollywood - Rishi Vohra (Book Review)

Now I have to say that this is 'hatke' (slightly different) book than the types that I usually read. The protagonist Rayhan is a guy who is besotted with Bollywood and dreams to making it big . His father on the other hand is a guy who thinks that a respectable career in finance and a future in America is what his son should be looking at. In purely filmy style, Rayhan lands up in Mumbai without the knowledge of his father. And needless to say the incidents that follow have a very filmy flavor to them. Right upto the climax. Yes, this book is an ode to the Hindi Film Industry and the millions of dreams that it has inspired.

Along with our hero who is a guy with a Finance degree, we have a small time goon who aspires to be the first Catholic villain and a dark skinned girl who wants to become a heroine. It speaks volumes about the lure of celluloid which spares no segment of society.

Throughout the book, the Hindi film industry is refered as 'HiFi' instead of Bollywood which is a welcome relief given the Tollywood, Sandalwood, Ollywood type crappy names that it has spawned. The author has covered a lot of aspects of the film industry like having the importance of having the right contacts, the egos of the big stars that always need assuaging, the fact that actresses have a limited shelf life and the general insecurities that folks from the industry possess. Darker aspects like the casting couch and drug abuse also get a mention. It also gives a detailed insight into the work environment on the sets and the amount of hard work that is put in by everyone who work behind the scenes.

This book is a lighthearted read that should be picked by all Bollywood fans. Or even those who want a quick insight into the ways of this industry.

[And no I would not compare Rishi Vohra to Chetan Bhagat as I never think of comparing the latter to Paulo Coelho and Khaled Hosseini. It is just like people do not compare a Rohit Shetty movie with a Sanjay Leela Bhansali one. Take a chill pill and enjoy the diversity.]

Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Review : Adultery (by Paulo Coelho)

'An attractive woman in her mid thirties is terrified of her humdrum but rather privileged existence. She keeps sinking into the abyss of depression till she meets an ex-boyfriend who is super successful. Predictably a torrid affair follows and then she is possessed by guilt. But it ends on a placid note when she gets back to her husband who accepts her with open arms (and heart). '

The above paragraph is a short summary of what the book is all about. While it opens with a great setting which sets off the mood for the affair that is to follow, it actually fails to strike the right chords with the reader. Not what I would expect from an author who gave us something unforgettable like 'The Alchemist'.

The opening lines certainly raised my expectations (and that of my female friends too). 'Every morning, when I open my eyes to the so-called "new day", I feel like closing them again, staying in bed, and not getting up. But I can't do that.' Then we are exposed to the turning point in Linda's (main protagonist) life. It is a question that changed her life. You feel good at that point as quite a few of us would have experienced that kind of a moment.

But then the story progresses to her first meeting with her ex-boyfriend (Jacob) where she transforms herself into some kind of a porn star. It gets a little jarring because at this point you realize that it is not emotional security that she is after. It is the sheer thrill of living on the edge that drives her. From then it is one crazy roller coaster of emotions which gets to a point where she devises of a scheme to plant drugs to get Jacob's wife out of her way.

It is a little incredulous when she finally attains enlightenment during a paragliding expedition( why of all things in this world ??). The ending of the story is quite lame and certainly very disappointing. It is a little too convenient as if the author just decided to finish the book one fine day and gave it a "lived happily ever after" kinda climax.

Rating 2.5/5 (only for the sake of those awesome opening lines). Read at your own peril.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Thousand Splendid Suns (By Khaled Hosseini): Book Review

Buy it online on Flipkart.

A moving story about two women who share a relationship which can be described as mother-daughter, best friends, love-rivals (being married to the same man) and more. Mariam and Laila are heroines in the true sense of the word despite the abuse they put up with. Set in the backdrop of the socio-political changes that have completely altered Afghanistan, this one is another gem from the author of the best seller 'The Kite Runner'. It describes in striking details how war or social unrest affects the plight of women and children.

It starts on a relatively calm note. An illegitimate child or a 'harami' who lives on the outskirts of society looks forward to the monthly visits of her father whom she idolizes. In a strange turn of events, her father's spinelessness is revealed when her mother commits suicide and she is forced to marry a much older guy Rashid.

This guy too has a past of his own and one almost feels sorry for him until he starts to reveal his chauvinistic side. "A woman's face is her husband's business". Things get worse when she suffers the first miscarriage and then disintegrate further as there follows a series of those. Domestic violence rears it ugly head but the stoic Marian takes everything in her stride and shoulders on.

Laila on the other hand, has a more privileged and protected childhood. Her father is a teacher and an intellectual and she grows up in a rather liberal atmosphere. Her life is shattered by the sudden death of her brothers and a rocket attack that kills both her parents. Deeply in love with a neighborhood boy (and pregnant with his child), she is then forced to join Mariam's household. Another negative characteristic of Rashid is revealed at this point as he manipulates the fifteen year old into marrying him. A lot of intriguing events take place before the climax (which is a happy ending for those who really want to know). Most noteworthy however is initial skirmish between the two woman (which remind one of the MIL & DIL clash in the Indian telly soaps) and the failed escape bid of the two women and the repercussions that follow. I am not going to reveal more and spoil what can be the perfect read during the Christmas and New Year vacations (if you are the type who prefers to chill out with a book rather then party all night).

'A Thousand Splendid Suns' outraged my sensibilities, made me cry and yet having read the last page, it lit something akin to the glimmer of hope in my heart. Sorry, but you cannot just close this book and get it out of your mind for it continues to haunt you for days to come.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Book Review : God is a Gamer (Ravi Subramanian)

"Indian teams of multinationals these days are just expected to execute not think".

Ravi Subramanian literally manages to hit the nail on the head. Even for someone who has been following him ever since the days of 'If God was a Banker', it comes across as quite 'tongue-in-cheek'. For me, this is a coming-of-age book for the guy who has actually been through the innards of the corporate world.

A plot that is entangled in greed (after all Bitcoin is money even though it is virtual), gaming, cyber-terrorism and politics, this one had me hooked till the end. Alas, all good things have to come to an end. But sometimes an encore is also a possibility (thank God for that) as in case of this book. I am reading it for the second time even as I pen down the review.

The plot that begins with two top notch bankers lobbying with an influential Senator who has the ear of the US President. There is a fleeting mention of Wikileaks which is used as a ruse to introduce the reader to the concept of Bitcoins, the virtual currency which was darling of the tech world till the collapse of Mt Gox in Feb 2014. Mt Gox was a Japan based exchange for Bitcoins that transacted over 70 percent of the virtual currency. Ravi has done a fair job of describing how Bitcoin works in layman terms. He even includes a website Cotton Trail ( does the term 'Silk Route' ring any bells ? ) that trades/accepts payment in Bitcoins in the book.

It is only when the Senator gets assassinated and a phishing scam happens that things start to heat up. The reader is exposed to the power play that takes place in Corporate boardrooms and politicals corridors. We have a female head of a powerful bank who is involved in money laundering, dalliances with a Finance minister and finally ends up dead ( is it a suicide or a murder ??).

The gaming angle and Facebook are given ample coverage. The role of social media in marketing anything and everything (whether it is a game or a even blog like "Confessions of a Hooker") is brought under the lens.

Plus there are the situations which cater to the Indian mindset too. The meeting between a father and a long lost son, the son helping the old man out with his latest venture, the father's unshakable faith in the son's ability to deliver, a romantic angle, an honest man getting bumped off because he chose to depose against a powerful figure, US investigators using guile to get past the famed Indian red tape in the course of their investigation are some of those.

There is a new revelation in almost every chapter and that is what sustains one's interest throughout the book (Ex- Do you know what Satoshi Nakamoto stands for ? ). This is difficult to keep the facts out of your head. One keeps working out the plot over and over while making amendments as and when new facts show up. But it is the twist in the end which delivers the knockout punch.  A must read if you are crazy about thrillers that draw heavily on technology.

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