Friday, 30 November 2012

Brajesh's Review: Life of Pi

Yann Martel's - "Life of Pi" has been on my bookshelf for over 2 years. But I finally decided to read it, just before watching the movie - since we firmly believe that over 90% of the time, the books are better than their movies.

When I was done reading, I felt quite bad about not reading "Life of Pi" earlier. Truly a masterclass.

The simplicity of words and the power of the message is so beautifully woven in an impossible situational story line. The movie makes a brilliant attempt in taking the core of the book and turning it into a spectacle which in my guess will take a minimum of 4 Oscars this year.

I recommend to every person who has seen the movie to read this book and submerge oneself in the beautiful discourse on religion and food :) Those were the two parts which connected with me best. Since food is nothing but God's grace on earth ;) ;)

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Brajesh's Review: The Affair

I picked this book up, after I saw the trailer of the latest Tom Hanks movie where he plays Jack Reacher (releasing in December). I must say I was pleasantly happy with the book, since I don't read thrillers regularly.

The flowing style, lovely setting descriptions and great situation building kept me involved. Story line is good but nothing unusual and the suspense is average. But those are not the reasons you should read Jack Reacher. It is the beautiful character portrayal along with the voice and the thoughts of Jack which keeps you turning the pages.

This book is set 6 months prior to "Killing Floor", the first Jack Reacher book and he hasn't yet turned into a drifter and works for the army as a captain. If you are looking for a new franchise to dive into or if you are a thriller fan - go right ahead and order a Jack Reacher book .

I am going to order either "Killing Fields "or "61" very soon

Rating : 3.5 / 5 

Click on this link for our other Lee Child - Jack Reacher Reviews

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Kim's Review : Song of Ice & Fire - Storm of Swords (Steel & Snow, Blood & Gold)

Part 3 of George R R Martin's epic Song of Ice & Fire is the Storm of Swords and is often sold as 2 separate books : 1. Steel & Snow and 2. Blood & Gold

Storm of Swords is shocking. There are so many surprises and twists at every turn, especially in Blood & Gold that it left me wondering how the story would continue and where the tale was headed to next.

So many main characters are killed that I wonder who is going to replace them as main characters in the coming books.

Daenerys is now Queen across the water with an army of her own.

The war rages on. Deals are struck. Traitors are executed. Joffrey's wedding with Sansa is called off in favour of an alliance with Margaery Tyrell - Renly Baratheons widow. But Sansa's relief is short lived.

Arya keeps thinking that she is getting closer to reuniting with her mother, but circumstances continue to keep them apart.

King Stannis comes to the rescue of the Nights watch, but will there be a hefty price to pay?

Who is the mysterious coldhands?

Part 3 closes with more questions than tidy endings and the cast of characters has swollen to 50 pages including the House Frey with its numerous children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Also see my review of :
1. A Game of Thrones
2. A Clash of Kings

Brajesh's Review: Daylight Robbery - Surender Mohan Pathak

Only people who grew-up in the cow belt around the 80s will understand the role Surender Mohan Pathak played as a window to the world of crime :)

He was a key influencer in shaping our world-view of things. So when I saw an English translation at a Landmark sale, I couldn't resist picking it up. Reading this after so many years was still as satisfying, and it is reflected in my rating.

I liked the quality of translation as well as print. However what really surprised me was how engrossed I was in a story which was set in the 80s and completely outdated in many ways. I could clearly understand the reasons which made SMP such a phenomenon. Fast paced story, neat clever tricks, detailed character building, usage of North Indian landscape and an easy free flowing narration, no wonder he rocked the 80s.

I will probably pick-up another one of his translations soon. Don't miss the pop art cover of the book (couple of B&W ones from other books are also a part of this print).

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Kim's Review : Song of Ice & Fire - A Clash of Kings

A Clash of Kings is the second book in George R R Martin's saga - Song of Ice & Fire after Game of Thrones.

This book was equally captivating as the first in the series, with a lot more war, politics, religion, betrayal, factions, and cliques added to the mix.

A new God - Rhillor - God of Light - finds more priests and followers in Westeros. Primary priestess of importance to the tale is Melissandre - the Red Woman - who after captivating Stannis Baratheon's wife, now directs his movements and decisions.

Robb Stark is crowned King of the North and engaged in battle with Lord Tywin Lannisters forces. Sansa Stark is a virtual prisoner of Queen Regent Cersei & King Joffrey Baratheon. Arya has escaped and is living the life of an anonymous orphan boy. Bran and Rickon Stark are at Winterfell.Catelyn Tully is with her ailing father, brother Edmure and son Robb at her fathers seat at Riverrun. Jon Snow is with the Night's Watch at the Wall.

Bran gets 2 new companions at Winterfell in Meera & Jojen Reed - Crannogmen from the North who are more to his liking than his mothers 2 new wards- Big & Little Walder Frey. Meera & Jojen help him get closer to his direwolf - summer.

Tyrion Lannister is acting as hand of the king in place of his father Tywin Lannister who is on the battlefield and Jaime Lannister is imprisoned at Riverrun.

Theon Greyjoy  - son of Balon Greyjoy - King of the Iron Islands - was being fostered by Eddard & Catelyn Stark at Winterfell -  becomes another main character in this book and his is one of the narrative voices in A Clash of Kings. I loved the character of his sister Asha and I hope she gets a more prominent role later in the series.

Jon Snow is on an expedition beyond the wall with 200 other men of the Nights Watch to investigate the strange goings on of wildlings and the appearance of others, wraiths, giants, mammoths and other creatures that haven't been seen for thousands of years.

The tale surrounding Stannis Baratheon and Melissandre is told through the eyes of a smuggler turned Lord - Davos. trusted by Stannis Baratheon from saving him and his people in a seige during the war with Aerys Targaryen.

A Clash of Kings is told from the perspectives of Catelyn Stark, Arya Stark, Sansa Stark, Bran Stark, Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, Theon Greyjoy and Daenerys Targaryen.

Rating : 4 / 5

Also see my review of :
1. Game of Thrones

Brajesh's Review: Draupadi Ki Aatmakatha

Manu Sharma's Mahabharata centric autobiographies of various characters have always been my favorites. His 7-Part Krishna story is what I am gathering courage to read, since awhile. Draupadi's story is the shortest book in the series, as it was intended to be a textbook for schools.

The beauty of this book is the neutrality with which he starts to look at Yagnaseni, and very soon you realize how heavily her character has been laced with envy, passion and revenge in popular myth. But in Manu's story, Draupadi is the one who upholds "Dharma" at every moment and in every crisis. In fact she is the one who upholds Dharma even more than Yudhishtir. Yes it is not the conventional good at all cost Dharma, but a more real, more rational, more doable and practical Dharma. We all know Panchali is one of the most complex characters in Mahabharata and this version is another beautiful rendition in Hindi of this beautiful character.

Rating : 4 / 5

For more takes on Draupadi, do take a look at : Palace of Illusions, Yudhishtir & Draupadi and Yajnaseni.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Kim's Review : Song of Ice & Fire - Game of Thrones

My sister had started recommending these books to me way back. I had read the sample chapter and watched an episode or 2 of the HBO mini series in Canada last year, and I did find it quite gripping. But when they started showing the series in India, somehow the story line seemed to be jumping all over the place. That was when I realised that the scenes that were being cut for Indian television had important dialogues that were essential to the flow of the story.

Reading the books seemed like a Herculean task at 800+ pages per book, so I got my hands on the unedited first season and watched it straight through across little more than a day. The story turned out to be even more gripping than I had originally thought it would be. But through this all, my sister kept telling me to read the books.

So given that I had a bit of reading time coming up, I finally started the series by George RR Martin this month and I have to agree with my sister - "The books are even more gripping than the tv series." While the tv series has been quite faithful to the story line, the books provide a much keener insight into each characters personality and what drives them.

While the prologue of "Book1 from a Song of Ice and Fire - Game of Thrones" is captivating, the next 50 or so pages are hard to get through because of the sheer number of characters being introduced. And while the index at the back is helpful, I was more comfortable drawing out my own family/relationship charts to get a grip on the characters.

If you can get through these first 50 pages, then you will be completely and thoroughly hooked.

My only problem with having watched the tv series first is that the actors playing their roles are now stuck in my mind when I visualise the characters.

In the first book, the main characters are the new King Robert Baratheon (also called the usurper) his wife Cersei Lannister. Their children Joffrey (his protector Sandor Clegane, also known as the hound), Myrcella & Tommen. Cersei's father Tywin Lannister (ex Hand of the old King Targaryen), her twin brother Jaime Lannister (called Kingslayer, for killing Aerys Targaryen and knight of the kingsguard) and her dwarf brother Tyrion.

Robert's best friend who helped him win the throne is Lord Eddard Stark, his wife Catherine Tully. Their children are Robb, Sansa (betrothed to Prince Joffrey Baratheon), Arya, Brandon & Rickon and his bastard son Jon Snow. Each of the 6 children has a pet direwolf (puppies from the same mother who was found dead in the woods). Lord Eddards Brother is Benjen Stark - a man of the Night's watch that guards the Wall.

Catherine's sister is Lysa Tully who was married to Lord Jon Arryn who had fostered Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark in their childhood and who was hand of the king (Robert Baratheon) until his death at the start of the story. Their only surviving child is Robert Arryn, a sickly boy.

The other important characters in this part of the story are the Kings brothers Stannis (Master of Ships) & Renly Baratheon (Master of Laws). And his other Council members : Grand Maester Pycelle, Lord Petyr Baelish (Master of Coin - fostered by Lord Hoster Tully - father of Catherine & Lysa Tully), Ser Barristan Selmy - Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, Varys - a eunuch who is the Master of Whisperers.
Sandor Clegane.

The last king was Aerys Targaryen, who was killed along with his heir Rhaegar Targaryen and his young family. Aerys' wife died giving birth to their daughter Daenerys in exile and only their children Viserys & Daenerys survive of their line. Viserys marries off his 14 year old sister Daenerys to a Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo in hopes of using Dothraki army to win back his fathers crown.

If you think this is a complicated character list, then dont attempt to read the books. These are just the most prominent characters.The cast of important characters is about 20 pages long for this book and gets longer with each subsequent book.

This first book is narrated from the perspective of Eddard Stark, Cateyln Tully-Stark,  Sansa Stark, Arya Stark, Brandon Stark, Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen.

I'm not going to reveal much of the plot of these books while reviewing them, but just enough information to put the story line in perspective.

Halfway through the book King Robert Baratheon is mudered, Prince Joffrey Baratheon comes to the throne with his mother Queen Cersei Lannister-Baratheon as regent, Lord Eddard Stark is executed as a traitor and this plunges the region of Westeros into civil war with Lords declaring themselves as kings of their own domains. So at the close of this book the claimants to the iron throne of Westeros, are King Joffrey Baratheon, King Stannis Baratheon and King Renly Baratheon. Given this confusion, Robb's bannermen declare him King Robb Stark - King of the North.

And by the end of the book, 3 dragons make an appearance, even though dragons have been extinct for thousands of years.

If you love sagas and fantasy or tales of war, I would recommend this series very heavily.

Rating : 4 / 5

Brajesh's Review: Toba Tek Singh Stories

I really thought multiple times before rating this collection of short stories by Manto. After reading the book I was totally emotional. I also felt shame that it took me over 40 years of adult life to discover Manto (yes if you haven't yet, you are making a big mistake) secondly I didn't really feel adequate to rate a legend. But what the hell, if I am giving 5/5 what's there to worry.

Dark, emotional, perceptive and totally real, the stories in this collection revolve around horrors of partition and we can really experience the pain, Manto felt on the same. Strangely after reading this, I felt the style of Mohsin Hamid (Moth Smoke) was probably influenced by Manto. Now eagerly looking forward towards discovering more of Manto, hopefully soon.

Rating : 5 / 5

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Brajesh's Review: Illusions - The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

What a flight of fantasy and what a narrative! I am normally extremely critical of self-help, modern philosophical writers and picked this up with sufficient skepticism. But by the time I was through with it, I was a total fan of Richard Bach. Johnston Livingstone Seagull is coming in the mail soon.

The concept of a modern messiah is difficult in itself, Richard takes it to greater heights by adding miracles, book of truths and a simple rural American setting. This book has the ability to change lives and it has deeply impacted me on a personal level.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Brajesh's Review: Escape from Camp 14

The story of Shin's escape is a blockbuster in itself, Blaine Harden takes a thriller of a storyline and makes it a legend through this book. Little is known to us about what goes on in North Korea, and to be honest before this book I also didn't care.

However this book changed my outlook completely. The situation in political prison camps of North Korea is far worse than any Nazi concentration camp, and Blaine’s ability to educate us about the atrocities while simultaneously handholding us to understand a society which is virtually unknown to most of us, is quite amazing.

I am quite sure this book will cause shock-waves in Western societies, given that this is one of the first books in English to tackle this issue. A must read for anyone who enjoys non-fiction, and for everyone who wants to read a story more fascinating than any fiction I have read in recent times

Rating : 4 / 5

Friday, 23 November 2012

Brajesh's Review: Who Let the Dork Out?

After the first 2 books, I was so eagerly waiting for the 3rd part and pre-ordered it. Unfortunately, the book turned out to be a big disappointment :-(

The humor is repetitive and lacks freshness, I think Sidin got trapped in the success of his first 2 books. The build-up to the climax, as well as the diary entries were fairly predictable. This coupled with repeated and excessive use of expletives just didn't let me flow with the story.

Robert “Einstein” Varghese [REV] remains one of my favorite fictional characters and I hope he delivers better in the future.

Rating : 2.5 / 5

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Brajesh's Review: The Krishna Key

Ashwin Sanghi's latest. For me, the story in the book is totally incidental. He could easily have written this as a research paper and I would have still read it.

However I do understand Ashwin's need to weave a crime thriller around this mystic-mythical-historical narrative. Ashwin's unique takes on the mythology of the Mahabharata and more importantly Vedic History are fascinating and extremely interesting.

I am sure this will be an important book in the rapidly growing genre of mythological fiction. The Symbology in Krishna's Key is nothing less than in a Dan Brown novel, but the story is what pulls the book down. I still feel Ashwin's best has been Rozabal Line and he is constantly struggling to beat his own best – “The Gabbar Phenomenon".

Rating : 3 / 5

Also see my review on Chanakya's Chant

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Brajesh's Review: Tutankhamun - The Last Secret

I loved Christian Jacq's Ramses series so much, that I was quite excited when I got my hands on this book. I guess my big expectations from the book is what let me down.

However on a stand-alone basis, this is an interesting approach to tell the story of Egypt's freedom movement. The backdrop of the story has characters like Nasser, King Faroque, Suez Canal, CIA and Egyptian Intelligence services. The other story is around the myth of John Howard and Tutankhamun's legend. The myths, magic and mystery kept me engaged, but the end really let me down :( .

As I said, this book probably let me down on expectations and so did the ending. I still remain a big fan of Christian Jacq and I'm sure I will delve into his books at regular intervals given my interest in Egyptian History & Mythology

Rating: 3 / 5


Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Brajesh's Review: Kitnay Aadmi Thay?

This is a landmark book for me. This is the first time I have got an acknowledgement by the author and I can tell you, I felt awesome when I accidentally discovered the same.

Dipto is a dear friend, & I was eagerly looking forward to this book, after his previous one on Cricket - I pre-ordered the same :-). I must say the joy of discovering your name in print is an unmatched feeling, and in my case this has inspired me to do a book of my own :) Diptakirti Chaudhuri, I will hopefully reciprocate this acknowledgement one day.

Thank You Diptakirti Chaudhuri :) You are a gentleman and a friend I will treasure always.

Now back to the book content, being written by a friend I obviously have not rated the book, but any self-confessed bollywood fan MUST own this one. The book is constructed like a mosaic of trivia and that adds to the discovery and journey. What makes this book unique is it does not get caught in the clich├ęd lists and I must say the books gets better post intermission.

The second half has more commentary, the authors point of views on lists which are very hilarious and these make second half better.

Not Rated

Kim's Review: The Second Empress - A Novel of Napoleons Court

The Second Empress is Michelle Moran's latest offerring. Her second in the Europe series after Madame Tussaud and her 5th novel, 3 of which Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen and Cleopatra's Daughter are set in Egypt. Having read 4 out of her 5 books, I can definitely say that her books set in Europe are more realistic than her historical fictions set in Egypt and are eminently more pleasurable to read.

Personally, with my exposure to Egypt and its history, I feel Michelle tries to impose a European sensibility even in her Egyptian novels and that doesn't sit right for me, but may work well for her European readers.

Her next 2 books are set in India and the next novel is based on Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi.

I found the Second Empress as pleasurable as Madame Tussaud. The book is well researched and well written.

I have just a passing knowledge of European History and I just knew the bare bones about Napoleon except for his raiding of Egypt. The facts I knew about him, could be summed up as
1. short stature
2. conquered large parts of Europe and North Africa
3. loved his wife Josephine
4. was exiled to Elba (this because of the palindrome "able was I, I saw Elba")

Before I read this book, I did not even know that he had married a second time, after divorcing Josephine (who had a son & daughter from a previous marriage).

The Second Empress centers around Maria Lucia - Archduchess of Austria who is forced to marry Napoleon and transform herself into the French Empress Marie Louise to save Austria from being re-attacked by France after the already humiliating Treaty of Schonbrunn.

Napoleon was much older than her, he was hated in Austria for the humiliation he heaped on her father the Duke and the Austrian people, his first wife Josephine was loved by the French masses who considered her to be Napoleons good luck charm, his divorce from Josephine was not recognised by the church, her aunt Marie Antoinette had been beheaded just a few years before by the French public, she was already in love with Count Adam Neipperg, she was being groomed to be regent when her father died as her brother sufferred from some kind of mental illness and she had been brought up to hate France. Inspite of all this, Marie Louise finds herself forced into marriage with Napoleon.

The other voice in this book is that of Pauline Bonaparte - Napoleons sister. As ambitious as him, if not more so. By the time the book starts Pauline has already buried one husband, taken numerous lovers and is married again to an Italian noble. She however only dreams of ruling Egypt as her brothers wife.

The final voice in the tale is that of Paul Moreau, Pauline's Haitian chamberlain who is in love with her. He provides a commoners/slaves point of view to the tale.

Napoleons family is as headstrong as him and constantly give him grief from their behaviour. Jospehine's daughter is forced to attend to Marie Louise and Pauline constantly tries to convince her brother to return to Egypt to rule with her.

The book covers Napoleons days of glory, his defeat and exile to Elba, his second bid for power and Marie Louise's subsequent independence from him.

The history in itself is fascinating and Michelle has woven an even more riveting tale through the facts with emotions and a humanising of the historical characters. While it is slightly in the Historical chicklit genre, there is a lot of history and facts that are revealed through the tale. Most women would enjoy this book, but I'm not so sure if men would. Honestly, Madame Tussaud is the only one of Michelles books that I would recommed to my husband, knowing the kind of books he prefers to read, but I'd unhesitatingly recommend The Second Empress to all my female friends.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Monday, 19 November 2012

Brajesh's Review: Moth Smoke

Mohsin Hamid has written one of the darkest books I have read in a very long time. The book uses the protagonist’s journey into darkness as a backdrop to bring nuances of characters and society into spotlight.

As usual the construction and body of the book is a joy in itself, but the way this books reaches out to the dark spots and leaves you with the gut wrenching familiarity of pain is classic. When you start relating to the darkness in a plot, it is a very uncomfortable feeling and I went through the same almost through the entire read.

Just a small example : the way he uses "Pajero" as a symbol of evil money-power in Pakistan, left a Pajero owner like me cringing. . . . While his Reluctant Fundamentalist has got more publicity, this is a classic one should not miss.

Rating : 4 / 5

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