Sunday, 30 June 2013

Brajesh's Review : The Visitor

Finally a Jack Reacher that gets 4.5. I broke my own record of giving 4 to all Jack Reacher books. Well I was forced by the plot of this page turner to give "The Visitor" a higher rating.. I HAD to finish this, over a 3 day break (read it at every possible opportunity I got) This one has all the ingredients of a thriller - Serial Killer, Murder Mystery, FBI - Army conflict, Length and breadth of US, Romance, Flings etc.etc.

This is the Perfect Book  if anyone wants to take the Jack Reacher/Lee Child franchise past the first Hollywood attempt with "Perfect Shot". Classic Whodunit with clues sprayed around for you to figure, but done very smartly. I had my own theory on "How" it was done and it turned out to be true , but not before I reached the last 10 pages and the "Who" part was a classic straight from whodunit 101. Must read for every Reacher fan, as this is the only time that he is actually anchored with a house-car-girlfriend in his life, though not for long. If I write anymore in this review, it would need spoiler alerts so I will stop.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Brajesh's Review : How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

The characters have no name, places are anonymous. The narrative of Mohsin Hamid's - "How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia" is that of a self help book, BUT once you start this book it won't let you go till the last page.

You will feel for each character (without knowing their names). You will cringe and feel uncomfortable when Mohsin Hamid describes rural and urban settings (he makes them universal by not naming them). Even the character of the young goon who appears and dies in 4 pages leaves a mark. Net-net Mohsin has done it again.

Reluctant Fundamentalist was breathtakingly fast, Moth Smoke was scarily real but undoubtedly this is his best work. Universal in appeal , stark in honesty and most importantly posing questions for every emerging economy of the world.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Also see my reviews of:
The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Friday, 28 June 2013

Brajesh's Review : Inferno

If a fan of Dan Brown, myth, mythology, symbology & history gives this book a 3.5 you should know that something isn't quite right. I was let down by Inferno with respect to the Dan Brown genre.

I felt the book actually is a tourist advertisement for Florence, Venice and Istanbul. Not that any of these beautiful locations (and Venice in particular being among the most visited tourist destinations) needed any more publicity.

The basic issue of solving population explosion through a violent intervention is stretched a little too far in the narrative. While Dante and his Divine Comedy holds some amount of mystique and forced me to read more about the poet. Rest of the chase along with Robert Langdon and his mysterious partner through 3 architecturally rich cities doesn't hold much. Would recommend only to tourists who are returning or planing a trip to these 3 cities.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Brajesh's Review : Ranthambore : 10 Days in the Tiger Fortress

I speed read this part journal - part photo book at a dhabha cum bookshop between Jaipur and Ranthambore . The book chronicles a 9 day holiday of Valmik along with his family and some friends.

Disappointed by the situation around Tiger conservation, Valmik a grass root warrior for the tiger cause for 3 decades had decided never to write another book on tigers (post 1998). He vowed that he would only break this promise if he saw some dramatic turnaround in the situation.

In his own words, during this 10 day holiday in April 2008, he observed just such a miracle at Ranthambore. The book has many rare photos of tigers - posing in the beautiful settings of Ranthambore Fort and Jogi Palace, a full sequence of a fawn kill, 2 cubs on hind legs playing, around the famous banyan tree etc. etc.

The narrative isn't half as fast paced as the photos are and could have had more insights, but as I said before - this book is part journal and part photo book.

I would not advise this photo-book to people on their way to Ranthambore as this will raise your expectations sky high and totally unreasonable. I doubt any normal person (without the clout of Valmik Thapar) can have such a range of exciting and rare sightings within 10 days at any game park in India.

BUT I must say (having interacted with him last year) that nothing short of dramatic and magical would have made Valmik break his vow, and pictures in this book are testimony of the same. So enjoy the book but keep your expectations rooted.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Also See my review on Valmik Thapar's - Secret Life of Tigers

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Brajesh's Review : The Missing Queen

"The Missing Queen" calls itself a "speculative thriller". I would prefix "mythological" to make it complete.

Samhita Arni's book is set 10 years post Sita's banishment by Rama. The twist comes with the time landscape. This book is set in a period which feels like 1990s but with a little imagination could very well be any decade post Independence.

This is my first "mythological speculative fiction" and I must say that I am already a fan of the genre.

Samhita obviously has a great command over epic retelling, as her earlier titles indicate. In "The Missing Queen" she raises a host of questions, relevant for modern society against the Ramanyana backdrop. This is her real success, as I always felt Ramayana was a little too moral and too correct a narrative to be made relevant for Kaliyug in comparison to the Mahabharata.

This book shattered that belief for me and gave me an exciting peek into the possibilities Ramayana also has in store. If you belong to the section that gets offended by "Ramanujam's - 300 Ramayanas" kind of essays then this one isn't for you.

I totally loved it.

Rating : 4 / 5

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Brajesh's Review : Ashok Banker's - Epic Love stories

2. Ganga & Shantanu - A love story written on water

3. Satyavati & Shantanu - A love story made possible by a son's sacrifice

4. Amba & Bhishma - A love story that was never meant to be

Three novellas from a 5 part series by Ashok Banker, are soft and romantic in the narrative and pick up episodes from the early history of Mahabharat. I found the description of Ganga's life and battle of Bhishma with Shalva particularly fascinating. This is an excellent attempt by Ashok Banker to hook the modern young reader onto the greatest story ever told. Keeping romance at the core, with beautiful graphics on the cover and an easy narrative, contained in 75 pages is just right for the young readers. Though I feel these could have been priced at sub 100/- MRP (currently at 125/-) to wean young readers away from Chetan Bhagat & Ravinder Singh !!!!

Rating : 3 / 5

Monday, 24 June 2013

Kim's Review : The Claidi Journals - Wolf Tower, Wolf Star, Queen of the Wolves, Wolf Wing

Tanith Lee is the first woman to win the British Fantasy Award best novel award (also known as the August Derleth Award), for her book Death's Master. Having read the first 3 in her Claidi's Journals series, I was definitely not surprised to learn this.

Tanith Lee, is not an author I had heard about, when I was growing up. However at a recent Strand exhibition, I chanced upon "The Claidi Collection" -  the first 3 of the Claidi Journals. I picked it up to gift to a friends daughter because the series seemed interesting.

We normally only gift books to kids, and mostly they are books and authors that I have already read. However, when I pick up a new author, I do like to skim through the book before gifting it to a child, to make sure that the content is age appropriate.

But once I started skimming through Wolf Tower, I was forced to slow down and read it in detail. I actually read all 3 books at a stretch and finished them in a day and now I'm wondering how to get my hands on the 4th in the series - Wolf Wing, which does not seem to be available in India.

The books are the journals of Claidi, who has stolen a book and sporadically writes in it, in the hopes of corresponding with a reader seperated by time and space.

In Wolf Tower, Claidi starts out as a serving girl to the spoilt Lady Jade Leaf (daughter of Princess Shimra) at the palace-city called "The House" where life is governed by an elaborate series of rituals. Everyone who lives in "The House", believes that the land outside their walls - "The Waste" - is poisoned and dangerous and that is where people who do not respect the important Rituals of "The House" are exiled to.

One day a handsome stranger - Nemian - arrives at "The House" in a hot air balloon and since he comes from "the Waste", he is immediately imprisoned and Claidi's life changes forever. Claidi is commissioned by one of the Old Ladies (the most ancient Princesses) - Princess Jizania Tiger to rescue Nemian and accompany him to his own land. She also reveals to Claidi, that she is actually the daughter of a Princess of the House, who was exiled for falling in love with her steward and having a child with him - Claidissa Star. Her parents were exiled to the waste and the child was sentenced to a life of harsh service.

Claidi, embarks on the journey with a sense of adventure and having rescued Nemian, finally sets foot beyond the walls of the House and the Gardens and enters "the Waste".

Since Nemian's balloon was damaged they have to find new ways to commute and their journey takes them to strange lands. Like that of the Sheepers who communicate in the same language as their sheep, the Feather tribe who worship birds, the Peshambans who worship their clock, Alligator Riders and the bandits.

A large part of their journey is along with the bandits and Argul, the Leader of the Bandits falls in love with her. But Nemian makes a last minute desperate plea to Claidi, to not leave him and continue the journey onwards to his own kingdom - "The City"

However, "The City" is not at all what Claidi had expected and Princess Ironel Novendot tells her that she was brought there for a reason - to be the interpreter and keeper of "The Law" - The "Wolf's Paw".

I'd rather not add anything more about the story line from here, because it will ruin the pleasure for someone who hasn't yet read the books.

Wolf Star and Queen of the Wolves, take Claidi into even stranger lands and she keeps discovering more about herself and her identity.

In this series, Tanith Lee take religion out of its normal real world constructs and creates an entire series of religions for each group of people that we encounter on Claidi's journey. So the debate on religion takes an entirely different twist and its easier to debate without falling into familiar patterns of normal religious debates. This is one of the features that has been praised by critics of the series.

The books are also a great way to start a dialogue on morality. Because not all the characters are purely black or white. Most of them have shades of grey. Tanith Lee gives insight into their motivations and this can further aid discussions on morality.

Even if you do not want to get into such discussions, the series are filled with magic, technology and fantasy, so they can be easily read as just another absolutely fascinating tale. Her attention to details regarding construction of housing, costumes, language just add layers of depth to the story without getting too descriptive - a fine balance to achieve.

What I really loved about the books was that, while Claidi is naive and easily misled, she is also extremely strong willed once she decides on a course of action. So she is quite a strong role model for young girls who are the target audience of this series. Claidi's reactions to events and situations are believable and heroic when needed.

The writing just flows and takes the reader on a fantastical journey, with more bombshells being dropped every few chapters, so it really keeps you turning the pages.

I heavily recommend this book for young teenage girls. There is a little romance in the books, but its dealt with very well, so the books can be read by young teens and enjoyed by older teens as well.

Rating : 4 / 5 (for the target audience)

Brajesh's Review : Chronicle of a Death Foretold

JLF 2013 introduced me to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This is the first of his books that I have read and the second one has already reached home. How can a story hold you for 120+ pages when the plot is laid out completely within the first 5 pages itself ? This is the marvel of this inverted narrative.

Opening up layers and layers of human behavior through rapidly moving side stories is an interesting construction. Though this got a little heavy for me, due to complex Colombian names and my unfamiliarity with the context.

Anyway one feels inadequate to critique the work of a Nobel Laureate, so 4.5 it is . Can't wait to start "Love in the Time of Cholera".

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Kim's Review : Oath of the Vayuputras

The Final installment of Amish Tripathi's Shiva trilogy.

For me, this books focus was overly skewed towards Geography and war strategy.The story seemed to take second place to these themes and the tying up of all lose ends. I guess the problem was that I was hoping for another Secret of the Nagas where the story telling moved forward at a brisk pace and was completely engrossing.

While all the lose ends were effectively closed, I kept wanting more. There was nothing missing in Oath of the Vayuputras, but it just doesn't live up to Secret of the Nagas.  I guess this is the problem with trilogies and series, not every author can be a George Martin or Tolkien whose each book keeps surpassing the previous one.

The best part about Amish's stories is how he adapts legends and twists the stories to make them more plausible. The best example of that is in this book, in the episode on how Sati dies.

Part 3 is not as enrapturing as part 2, but its definitely worth reading, because whatever said and done he is a good storyteller. So its a good thing that Amish has already signed up his next book deal, even though he isn't sure what he is going to be writing about.

On a side note :
It seems the translations are equally good. Brajesh's parents are currently reading the series in Hindi and are eagerly awaiting the translation of Oath of the Vayuputras.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Also Read:

Kim's Reviews :-
The Immortals of Meluha
Secret of the Nagas

Brajesh's Reviews:-
The Immortals of Meluha
Secret of the Nagas
Oath of the Vayuputras

Friday, 7 June 2013

Kim's Review: Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai

Last month, Rishi Vohra contacted me about his first novel "Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai" and requested if I could review it on our blog. I took one look at the cover and was immediately apprehensive that it was just another one of the "love stories" being churned out by debutant Indian authors today. While the genre is extremely popular and sells well, it is not a genre that I choose to read.

Rishi, assured me that his book did not fall in that category and sent me a copy. Being busy for the last month, I just did not have any time to read. But I started reading "Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai" last evening and ended staying up half the night until I finished.

The main protagonist is Balwant Srivastav - Babloo - who has multiple psychological issues including Attention Deficit Disorder, autism, psychosis, schizofrenia and a second voice inside his head (that hasn't graduated to a split personality), but for me the setting of Bandra was an equally dominant character in the tale.

I hope a lot of young high school and college girls read this book, because they need to realise that not all men out there are dashing young knights on white horses waiting to sweep them off their feet, there are quite a few Sikanders in this world too and caution is good.

The writing style is easy to read. The first few chapters start a little slow, but then the book really picks up speed, veering off in unexpected directions.

My only criticism of "Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai" are that Babloo's second internal voice hardly appears twice or thrice in the story and the ending is a little too neatly tied up to be realistic, which was a little unsettling, given how well Rishi has captured the gritty reality of life in average middle class Mumbai.

It is easy for the reader to sympathise with Babloo, Vandana and in a strange way, even with their respective parents. It speaks of a skillful author who can make the reader sympathetic to multiple points of view.

"Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai"is a well told tale, very realistic and it exposed a part of Bandra which was a completely new revelation for me - right from the Railway officers colony, to what happens along the railway tracks - inspite having traveled on the Mumbai locals during the 2 years, across multiple stints that I've lived in the city.

Its a book that's easy to read, even if English is not your first language. Its ideal for carrying along when traveling or reading under the desk in a college classroom :)

Rating : 3.5 / 5

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