Friday, April 18, 2014

This Week In Books - 18th April '14

So this week I had the privilege of reviewing a brilliantly written novel that is coming out in the last week of April, I chucked yet another Atwood and picked up the first volume in the Clifton Chronicles once again for a re-read.


1. Ruby by Cynthia Bond
Publisher : Hogarth
Pages: 352
Expected DoP: April 29th

The plot follows the life of Ephram Jennings and his childhood love Ruby. The two are driven apart by life, circumstances and prejudices. In a roundabout arc they find their way back to each other but neither is the same as when they were young. Will Ephram let her slip away once again?

Cynthia Bond is a writing force to reckon with. She crafts her characters with such strong authenticity, they leap out of the pages at you. The differences and outright bias that they extend towards each other makes you want to grab them by the ears and knock sense into them. This is a haunting tale, gruesome at times and cruel at others, compassion and love fighting for a chance against life's overpowering bullies. The narration will make you furious and sad, anything but ignore it.

The plot is set in a time when racial prejudice against people of black ancestry was at a peak in the Americas. The language slang is perfect and rings out musical, swears and all. Aside from that there is also a supernatural element running throughout, serving as the sole motivation for certain characters actually, that to me was a sore distraction at times. You might like it. Give this book a shot when it comes out and let me know if you think the voodoo is what makes it awesome.

2. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Vintage
Pages: 324
First published: 1986

I am not an Atwood fan. There, I finally admitted it out loud. Boy did I try to read her. I first failed with The Robber Bride and now this. My full-strength ploughing with the text did not help one bit.

My chief problem was the writing style. Atwood is a heavily acclaimed writer, beloved by many. It doesn't help the fact that I find her works absolutely unreadable. In a bookworm's world this makes me equivalent to the geeky nerd who steps into a new school in a new city neighbourhood, made to order bait dangling in front of all available bullies. Can't help. I still can't read her. Her sentences, especially this one Offred's make me want to pull my hair out. They sound like jumbles left out there to make whatever sense you'd like to make out of them. Perhaps in about 20years I'll have the patience to read one more page of this book and not swear the place down, but for the present, I chucked it and I chucked it hard. Too many books to read on the TBR to spend time swearing at just one.

For those adventurous souls out there, brave enough to want to give this book a shot, the plot is kinda terrific and spooky. It is about a possible future time when the government (of course the standard American government) is overthrown by religious extremists who have interpreted religion to their convenience and in general use women as child-bearing devices. Women basically get to do nothing, under fear of existence. The mere notion that Atwood made a fictional hypothesis (double negative, I know) of such a situation befalling women yet again, is super scary and if only she had chosen to write it straight, I'd have given it a shot. Check it out. Let me know if YOU like it!

Another version of this rant appears on my Goodreads page here.

3. Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer

After a double whammy of heavy reading with Ruby and my failed attempt with Atwood, I chose to turn to good 'ol Archer for some light reading. While not path-breaking Archer does write crisp, fast-paced and engaging stories. I'm re-reading the 1st instalment while the other three stare at me tauntingly from my bookshelf. This should be an easy read. Only time will tell...(see what I did there?)







Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Prisoner, Jailer, Prime Minister - Book Review

Prisoner, Jailor, Prime Minister is the latest thriller to hit the Indian reading market, written by Tabrik C and published by the house of Hachette. It is also one of those reads that has disappointed me greatly in recent times. The blurb makes the book sound ominous and interesting and given India's current dynamic political situation, makes you hope for a terrific reprieve that you would want to apply to reality. The book delivers nothing of that kind. It does tempt you with a terrific first chapter that introduces a maverick Prime Minister, Siddhartha Tagore who arrives to take his oath of office literally with a bang. You expect him to turn the country inside out and all enemies flying...perhaps he does in another imaginary version of the book but in this version Siddhartha lives, or should I say floats deliriously in his past while people and things continue to exist and happen without any logical reason or meaning in the present.

I'm just going to have to get down to the grading. 

As always, this review also contains spoilers so if you'd rather not know what happens, you should read the book first and then come here to compare notes.

What Did Not Work for Me
1. The plot - Er...what was the plot again? A young non-formulaic PM who wants to fight the fire of terrorism with fire and begins by openly challenging the super powers of the world...lithium...piano...Mozart, Mozart, Mozart, Night Music, Night Music, Night Music, Symphony 40, The Mozart Man, PM is in a coma, has to live in calm for the rest of his life. The End. 
I am not kidding or exaggerating. I did not find any story at all whatsover, or perhaps there were too many plotlines vying for the spotlight and the author was busy putting Siddhartha into a junkie Mozart daze to care.

2. Characterization - Siddhartha, the hero was unfortunately made into a depressed maniac as a singular excuse for his irrational behaviour in the political arena. Why? Why couldn't someone be equally irrational because of ambition, arrogance or simply anything else? 90% of the book delves into Siddhartha's past that supposedly screwed him over, things he had to run from, to be thrust into the political scene he did not want in the 1st place. None of these incidents or phases are even remotely convincing. The attempt at romanticizing Siddhartha's plight and choices failed completely in my opinion. Instead, he comes across as an utterly clueless, mannerless, brainless sheepish junkie who claims to be in love with a woman, screws her twin sister who seems to have gone to bed with him willingly, apologizes, the original twin is raving mad with him but in the next few lines they are back together again....I can't go on. This makes absolutely no sense.

None of the other characters are anything solid. Rukmini Devi, supposedly a dangerous intellectual threat to Siddhartha's political muscle is nothing but a pawn for Thor, who was Gregory back from Harvard, the one who is, with no other possible explanation raped by Sid. How did I finish reading this book?

There are a dozen other characters who come by like puppets mouthing cliched dialogues, are basically useless to the plot and fade away into oblivion. Maybe they are useful in that other imaginary version where Siddhartha is changing the world. 

3. Mozart references - Because I'd really not swear in a review, let me politely ask of you - Did Mozart write just two compositions? Night Music and Symphony 40? And isn't Night Music actually called A Little Night Music? If Siddhartha or anyone for that matter is to be called The Mozart Man, wouldn't it only be logical for that person to know every single piece of music ever written by the man by heart? Would someone be called Harry Potter man if he/she knew only the word 'Wizard?' Thanks to this book, I've developed an intense distaste for the words 'night' and 'music'. But here, Siddhartha plays 'Night Music' at every single instance and everyone melts and says stupid lines like 'Wow...I've never heard anything like it before!'. Well, you just did...five minutes ago when he played the same damn thing on the mouth organ before he went on to screw your twin sister! Sheesh!

4. Language, Narration and Editing - Poor and ineffective. 
5. Title - Prisoner - Who? Where? Why?
              Jailor - Eh? 
              Prime Minister - The bold and rash one who might actually make a difference? Oh yeah that's him there..playing that out of tune composition on the piano...ask him what it is and he'll tell you it is Night Music and then he'll sigh and utter 'Amadeus' 

Verdict
No further comments.

Rating 
1/5 - One star for the hope of a better democracy that Siddhartha briefly dreamed of in a lithium induced moment if clarity.


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

Do you agree with this review? Got more to add? Drop a comment..let's discuss.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Writing it right - Knowledge Is Great

Given a chance I would like to take up a course in creative writing in one of the best universities in the UK. This write-up is aimed at answering the Why’s.

Why Writing?

The written word for me goes beyond a mere channel for communication. It is the means that fits me best when it comes to articulating my thoughts and expressing my feelings. Added to this framework, a well-stocked bookshelf ever since I learnt to read and write naturally led me to the point of picking up my pen and having my say on paper. I have been writing since I was twelve, the thrill of having one of my first stories published in a children’s magazine, adding to the magic that I had already attributed to this wordy vent of mine. I continued to write articles, the occasional story and the everyday journal that kept getting fatter with each year.

I wrote my way through teenage, high-school drama, lots of moving around, heartbreaks, betrayals, and peer pressure. I continue to write my way through the reality of adulthood and the big bad world. Halfway through my post-graduation, a path that was supposed to land me a life-time career dressed in a lab coat, wading through the research portals of science, I woke up to consider a career in writing. I began writing my first book, a novel, whilst working towards an M.Tech degree and with each day, found myself being assembled on the other side, one piece at a time. When I graduated, I knew I wanted a future with words, something I wish I had realized sooner.

I took up a job in the content industry, where I currently work as an Instructional Designer and I know I chose right. I published my first novel a year ago and I read 100 books in one year for the first time in 2013. While the journey was fantastic, I understand it is but a mere step in the right direction. My induction into the world of literature can only be validated if I can nurture the spirit and love for writing within me. It is to this effect that I would like to take up a postgraduate course in Creative Writing in the UK.

Why study Creative Writing?

While being a blogger and a book reviewer gives me ample incentive to write, these regular bytes of script are capable of doing only so much justice to the art of writing which in reality is hard work. Being a writer, aside from possessing a rich imagination, takes tremendous discipline and commitment that the occasional blog post chooses to relax. I view a course in creative writing as the means to bridge the gap between wanting to be a writer and learning the nuances of being one.

A structured course in writing would set ground rules for the business, present a framework that I would need to weave a tale, one when I become accomplished I would have the liberty to challenge or bend. Writing, as a course would put my talent, potential and commitment to the grindstone; a test to prove I have what it takes to showcase my voice out there amongst others. A course in creative writing would also expose me to an extremely talented peer group, both tether and cut my inner writer-animal loose and instill in me the ability to look at and judge my work from multiple angles.

I would like to experience firsthand the genius that is the MA program in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, UK.

Why UEA?

What could be more prestigious and exciting than being accepted to one of the most sought after MA programs in the UK, one that was initiated by the legendary Malcolm Bradbury. The course was also recently awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education and with a stellar faculty, remains my number one choice. The school is set to conduct the third edition of its creative writing workshop in India, later this year. Aside from the elite alumni list that includes the likes of Kazuo Ishiguro, the course won me over with this description – “The MA should be viewed as a time of experimentation and play, an opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them.” The icing on this wonderful cake is the fact that Margaret Atwood and James Lasdun will be joining the teaching faculty as visiting professors beginning Spring!

These facts when combined with an automatic attraction towards the people and culture of the United Kingdom, born out of an inevitable history they share with my people, the wry British wit, the beautiful landscape, the diverse population and the plethora of career and learning opportunities available have indeed made me curiouser and curiouser!


I would love to be able to study writing in a country that is represented in the literary world by the likes of Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman and Zadie Smith. 


This post was submitted to the Knowledge is Great contest on Indiblogger. To know more about studying in the UK visit http://knowledgeisgreat.in/

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Book Review - Asura: The Tale Of the Vanquished

Ravana sees himself as the epitome of a complete human being; So, Rama may be seen as God but Ravana is the more complete man.’ Thus proclaims Anand Neelakantan’s take on Ravana’s story, Asura: The Tale of the Vanquished. I’m hooked by these lines right in the beginning that describe why Ravana was perceived as a Dasamukha, what the ten ‘faces’ denote. I am extremely impressed with the point of view and thoroughly excited about listening to the other side of the story, giving the fallen a chance to voice their reason. And then I go on to read a fantastic book that cements my secret vote for Ravana, justifying the benefit of the doubt that I have reserved for him all along. Right? You couldn’t be more wrong.  

While the idea of shifting the point of view from the popular to the villainous is completely laudable, the book reads like a punishment save for the 1st chapter that details Ravana’s final moments of contemplation. I am not happy hacking away at this one, but I wish to be fair to the reviewing process.

This review contains spoilers. If you would prefer not to know what happens, I suggest you read the book before you get to this.

What did not work for me:

1 – Editing
Terrible to the say the least and virtually absent at too many instances. If I were to dig deep, I’d have to quote about 95% of the sentences used in the book for bad grammar and sentence formation. My copy is marked up in ink from start to finish and not in a good way. There’s a sentence in this book that describes someone’s growth as ‘matured into a mature minister of finance.’ If this doesn’t rest my case, no issues, I can still give you a hundred more.

2 – Language and Narration
While an interesting plot cannot survive on its own, shrewd and tight editing has a strong chance at salvaging the best parts of what’s available. This novel has biting wit running through its pages that makes for some seriously enjoyable moments. But the narration & language in particular begin to sound jarring beyond a point due to switching tenses and it gets outright annoying, the editing not holding up the least bit. What takes off to a glorious start, left me cheated and disgusted, by the nonchalant attention paid to details or logic, I can’t quite decide.

3 – Stereotypes
Any point of view finds leverage in a fact, creating a protagonist or an antagonist to support. The author grounds his story on the unfair treatment meted out to Asuras by the Brahmins of earlier society, eventually phasing them out and making outcasts of them all. While this is a strong reason for rebellion, one you can logically assume Ravana to revolt against, the plausibility holds good only for a while beyond which it just becomes an open Brahmin-bashing fest, without backing arguments. The equivalent of Hulk saying ‘Hulk mad. Hulk don’t know why.’ Assuming you are okay with the bashing and maybe hope that the Asuras would have a solid system that works for them, you can argue for, you’d be sadly disappointed. Throughout the book, the Asuras, and that includes the protagonist Ravana, claim nothing but disgust for their clan of men and women who drink, dine and sleep around all the time and basically agree that they are not worthy of redemption. They remain that way until the end, Bhadra being the stellar prototype. What are we expected to support here exactly?

4 – Characters
I cannot sufficiently describe how disappointing this novel was without detailing why the different characters portrayed did nothing to earn my respect, but considering I’d run the risk of writing a novella out of it, let me try to be precise.

A – Bhadra: Never have I come across a more disgusting man in stories that I have read. This one’s a spineless, pride less, jobless drunkard specializing in debauchery and the lowliest form of unfaithfulness, to his king, to the women in his life, a man with zero ethics and a terribly confusing portrayal from beginning to end. He has a back story where he loses his wife and daughter to a Deva raid, and how I wish he’s been killed too. He suddenly proclaims Ravana as his king, literally behaves like a dog with him, then jumps ship, then comes back again, drinks, sleeps around, kills men, plots against Ravana, goes back to being faithful to Ravana, curses him, always has access to the palace, falls at Ravana’s feet and declares his undying love for him and finally kicks Ravana’s bones from his funeral pyre into the sea. What the f***?
And like I already mentioned, he is the classic example of how every single Asura behaves in this book. Bhadra never moves a muscle to find work, chastises the king for treating him like a beggar and then scrambles with other beggars to retrieve silver coins from the ditch to buy drinks. What was the author thinking?

B – Mandodari
One thing that has always stood out for me in the stories surrounding Ravana that I’ve heard is the love he shared with his wife, Mandodari. Don’t expect that here. Ravana’s arranged marriage is a joke, one he makes of it in the beginning, where he hates his bride and suddenly two pages later, he is in love with his wife, just like that, out of the blue! Those two hardly talk, practically yell at each other all the time and appear to be in pain when in each other’s company. He cheats on her, multiple times, even makes a kid and the relationship they share is so very disturbing you can’t help but think they need therapy. I don’t know if there’s even a point discussing this anymore but maybe I should tell you this – towards the end, all of Lanka is at war, Ravana wants to tell Sita that he is her father and Mandodari suddenly appears out of nowhere to put a hand on Ravana and tell him it’s ok. And get this, Ravana begins to undress her (the author’s words. Not mine.) And nothing works. He is sad that the passion between them is lost.
I was just stumped. I read on only because I wanted to keep my word about reviewing this book.

C – Ravana
This one will seriously turn into a full size novel if I begin listing how badly Ravana is portrayed in this book. The stories I’ve heard about him, depict him in a tyrannical light, yet mention what a fantastic ruler he was, caring about his people and building an empire out of nothing. He was a talented man, devout and principled and for want of better analogy, did things that were terrible, yet great. (Similar to Ollivander’s description of the Dark Lord’s actions in Harry Potter.) The Ravana in this book starts off as a disadvantaged teenager with ample reason to fight for his place in the world and overthrow it in the process. And just as you watch him, he turns out to be a whiny, talentless wreck, more interested in women and occasionally the arts as he claims, surrounded by people he can’t control, behaving like a teenager right upto his death, absolutely clueless about what he wants and what he should do to get there, trying to answer the why’s along the way. It’s pointless to even write about this any longer. If you have even an ounce of respect for Ravana, you’ll lose it if you read this version of what could’ve happened. I’m going to revert to my opinion of him gleaned from childhood stories, thank you very much.

5 – Logic
Logic takes ad-hoc vacations at so many points in this narrative. To name a few:

-  Maricha’s supposed skinning of a deer and fitting under its skin and jumping around like a deer
- Every single Asura army man boozes on the job, dozes on the job, sniggers at their king openly, doesn’t even bother to light candles in the durbar, never takes any threat seriously and the entire system is a huge security threat. Bhadra keeps getting into the fort as do a number of other people, there are so many traitors around and all Ravana does when he acknowledges these gaping issues is go ‘Grrr’ in his mind. Sheesh!
- Varuna, the pirate-king/ enemy suddenly gets promoted behind the scenes to Ravana’s best friend. Abracadabra!
- The Vanaras are described as a mixed caste of people, led to independence by Bali and only referred to as monkey-men due to their jungle ways. So when Hanuman holds court with Ravana and he orders for Hanuman’s ‘tail’ to be burned, literally, so that he can feel the pain when he sits, your cry of anguish isn’t all that unfair. Not back, not butt, but his ‘tail’. Sigh.
- This is the best one of them all: ‘Women were treated by Deva men as nothing more than commodities’ thinks Ravana when he attends Sita’s swayamvar and isn’t fond of the whole a –contest-for-the-princess’s-hand concept. As opposed to Asura men, including Ravana jumping at every single chance to ‘take women’ (the author’s words. Not mine.) Now isn’t that very honorable. What WAS the author thinking?

I’m going to stop here and just say it was a task getting through this book that seemed to hold such promise in the beginning. If I could sum up Ravana’s argument based on this read, it would go something like this:

Ravana: ‘Hey, what d’ya want from me man? All I wanted was to be Emperor. Can’t blame all the crap that went on around me that I didn’t know how to control. I lost interest midway, anyhow. So yeah dude, whatever. Should’ve taken up music or something.’

Rating: 1/5 for the novel idea of a different point of view.

Verdict: Enough said.


Did you like this review? Agree with the points discussed? Or not? Drop a comment. Let's compare notes :)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ring The Bell - Child Marriage


Women have been part of the backbone of change and development in this country for as far as one can trace back in history. While they have had to fight their way up at every single stop, it is quite disturbing to witness the baseless struggles that women continue to be subjected to, given the current state of empowerment we believe we’ve rightly earned.

To me, the glaring statistics presented with regard to child marriage in Bihar, only reiterate the difference I’ve always held between being ‘Literate’ and ‘Educated’. One of the long standing problems that this country is yet to find a solution to is a kind of stereotyping in the name of culture and tradition that has unfortunately been misrepresented under various circumstances and has not managed to undergo any positive form of evolution. It doesn’t help if a girl child in Bihar is taught to read and write when the practical education she’s going to receive from her societal setup is to obey what the family dictates, marriage being a part of the package.

So, the first step I would take in a ‘Ring The Bell’ gesture would be to create awareness about the difference ‘practical education’ can bring and sharpen the objective for the process. It is imperative that people first understand that there is a glaring problem, for them to be willing to work towards a solution. The parents of every girl child should be made to feel responsible for their ward as an asset and not as a liability warranting quick profitable disposal. A phenomenal change in attitude is called for.

Step two would be to create more exposure to the outside world, a term I use here loosely to denote the rest of India in comparison to the cocoon that girls in Bihar seem to be tied to.  A systematic education program can be included as part of schooling, to talk to female students about opportunities available, what they are capable of. They can be given material to read, watch and listen, on women achievers from around the world and quite simply on urban women who juggle work, family and ambitions every single day. They need to be made aware of the physical and emotional trouble that child marriage can bring in and counseled towards realizing their potential, taking responsibility for their own lives and making informed choices.

Step three would be to make noise. The cause could be projected as a brand and pushed forward to the common man, effort dedicated towards making people talk about it to a sufficient degree that Bihar would have no other choice but to sit up and take notice. The recent spot fixing issue has proved only too well how strong a wave of reaction we can create as a country of people together. For once, we could put our rage to better use. This article is my two cents and one voice, feeble as may be.  

Let’s ring that bell and bring about a necessary change.


This post was written as a part of the Ring The Bell initiative for IndiChange on IndiBlogger.inCheck out details here : Ring The Bell  Write a post and make some noise!

Friday, April 5, 2013

I read, therefore I review


       I recently reviewed two books back to back and ended up loving one and not favoring the other much. While as a bookworm that forms a part of my existence, relating to the written word on varying levels, it struck a peculiar chord with me as a reviewer. 
      I realized that when I agree to review a book, I’m not merely reading it, I’m judging it as well. And in this age of the Internet and heated tempers, not many take a diplomatic view when it comes to agreeing to disagree. It also remains that, with books, reputation is built by word of mouth and sometimes all it takes is one review to tip the scales for you either way. That said, here’s some insight on what I do as a reviewer and some pointers on how to choose the word you can trust the best.

What I Do:

1 – Choice of books: My reviewing commitments are spaced out. I make sure I have the time to focus on whatever I’m reading and ensure I finish a book before I form an opinion.

2 – Comments: I maintain a reading journal or atleast sticky notes throughout the book so that I can quickly jot down a criticism or appreciation or question as and when I’m reading.

3 – Favorites/Stereotypes/Pre-judging: I do not let prejudices get in the way of my review. Each review is subjective. That said, I do have certain expectations from different genres, like for example, nail-biting sequences in a thriller, but that’s only general. I’ve had books live up to my expectations and sometimes blow my pre-conceived notions through the wall. That’s what makes you grow. That’s the hallmark of good writing.

4 – Incubation: I don’t jump at my laptop to write a review immediately after I finish a book. I give myself atleast an hour or two, or overnight if possible to let the idea sink in. That’s my buffer time to get over mere reactions and move on to more proactive commenting. That is how I exercise responsible journalism.

5 – Categories & Clarity: I try my best to categorize my comments and provide as much clarity as possible. I prefer to be honest with my review than be funny to gain a following. I don’t trash for popularity. I’m an author too. I know what goes on behind the scenes, both before and after print.

6 – Openness: I don’t review to create an image, so I’m not looking to be a patronizing or a demoralizing figure who wields power. I’m merely just another bookworm blogger who loves to read. I don’t expect to have THE opinion, I only have AN opinion.  You are welcome to agree or disagree with me.

7 – Role: When I’m a reviewer, I play the role only of a reviewer. I don’t compare an author’s writing to my own writing. I do learn from every book I read and review but I know my place and I most certainly don’t criticize based on the fact that I too am a writer. I consider myself a blogger first and I adhere to the reviewing policy of whatever medium I’m doing it for. Some sites and platforms out there do not allow peer authors to review each others’ books.

Who should I believe?

When you decide to read reviews for a book, it helps to keep certain points in mind.

1 – The source: This talks about the credibility of the reviewer.  The Internet, being an open medium, allows both encouraging and damaging reviews to be posted virtually everywhere. There have been instances where rival authors try to taint each others’ images by posting reviews against a work. As a reader, it’s very important to know how credible the source of a review is.

2 – Be open: The best thing about the world of books is that there is no single blanket opinion that can be pronounced over a work. What someone loves, you might dislike and vice versa. Always remember that each individual is entitled to his/her opinion. Constructive discussions can be enlightening but blaming someone for not seeing things your way is just plain chauvinism.

3 – Choose wisely: What reviews/reviewers you choose to follow can be established with a little background work. Read as many reviews from a person as possible and find out if you and the reviewer agree on a majority of things you expect out of a book. This will help highlight what you focus on when it comes to a book. With any new review be prudent enough to accept that while you agreed on another write-up, there’s every chance you might not agree with this one.

4 - Be a sport: No matter what anyone tells you, there is no fixed rule to the kind of books or authors you should like. Reading is a privilege. How you go about it is your business. And in truth, what some reviewer thinks about your favorite author should not alter your opinion of him/her. Therefore, dismissing a reviewer’s opinion just because they don’t like your reading list or trying to get back at them by criticizing their works will not get you anywhere. If you think they are wrong, read the book yourself and judge it by your own standards.


These days it has become relatively easy to communicate with authors and with luck, they might read your reviews and actually listen to your pointers. Afterall, every writer knows his/her written word will always be a work in progress. :)



Read and review responsibly :)

Cheers!



Book Review - Tantra


            Tantra, is the latest book to hit the stores, in the Indian fantasy fiction genre. The author is Adi. I wonder if it was a PR choice to just go with a more personal version of his name straightaway. I don’t know how everyone else is taking it, but to me it just feels unconnected. I keep waiting for something to follow the name, a surname or a moniker. Something that’ll endear to me, the owner of the text I’m ploughing through.
And that also remains my strongest complaint about the novel. It just doesn’t connect.

           Tantra tells you the story of a vampire hunter who fills out for a transfer from NYC to Delhi. She has her reasons, vengeance being one of them. How she adapts to what is originally her country and a relatively lackadaisical hunting system, stumbles upon the bad guy who is trying to take over the world, albeit for reasons he thinks are legitimate and how she thwarts his attempt, form the gist.

           Reading the book, I felt like watching TV on a day where heavy rain has messed up the system and the picture is all but a cluster of dots and bands and lines on the screen, buzzing out every few seconds. You don’t collectively watch any program but you know it still counts as watching TV. That’s as best as I can explain my experience.  
Let me get down to the tough part, then.

What did not work for me:

Where do I begin?

1 – The heroine : Anu. Again, named to match the brevity of the author’s, is a very confused woman indeed.

She annoyed me to my limits and here’s why:

She calls herself badass
She is NOT badass

She tries to be sarcastic
She is oh so not sarcastic
She thinks she loved Brian
From her account of it, I felt Brian was more of an enjoyable sexual experiment. She did say ‘fuck me’ to him every single time they met and not once an ‘I love you’ or a confession.
She thinks grabbing mens' balls is badass
I think she is a sex addict who likes to play games. Not to mention the dozen other recollections and incidents involving flirting, blushing, grabbing, ‘fucking’ (her words, not mine) and even slapping a guy after making out. She needs therapy. She could’ve done well as a character on Gossip Girl.
She thinks she’s falling for Gaurav
Dude, protect your balls.
She thinks wearing leather makes her cool
I think she isn’t professional enough to adapt to her mission or atleast pretend to.

I think, a more diabolical name could’ve helped her image a little bit, if not salvage it. Something like Maya or Tara or Shakthi or even Tantra. I actually thought hence the title.

2 – Language & Narration : I have no solid complaint in the grammar department but the narration was not engaging at all. There was something missing, a hook maybe or style or perhaps execution. The plot is actually decent and has potential but it just did not work for me.

3 – Details : Too much at times, too little at others. Some of the characters are similar and a few others do not make any impact. Nina aunty was irritating, Smiti was a Xerox of Nina aunty. Chandra, Panditji, Dr. Sharma, Suresh and Karim sounded like each other, and the villain Senaka actually had very little part to play!

There was a lot of mumbo jumbo explanation that Anu wasn’t very interested in learning, so I took her lead and chose to be bored of them. I appreciate the idea but the final output falls flat.

This one line in the climax surprised me – Already, there are illogical bits happening, like Dr. Sharma doing a Dumbledore and trying to take on Senaka a.k.a Voldy here, and the two of them going on and on about their master (What villain waits patiently for his enemy to compare notes and distribute power? If it were me, I’d have had him at hi.) Then, Senaka actually says “...he was to be our guru, not a mindless Scrooge dancing to the fall of gold coins!”  Wait, did this guy just refer to Uncle Scrooge? Apparently, you can afford to take cartoon breaks while on the way to achieving spiritual enlightenment or conquering the world. Sounds fun. Sign me up! I’d love to know if Senaka likes Johnny Bravo.

What did work for me:

1 – The saving grace of the entire book : AMIT! I love that guy. Now, here’s someone who is sweet and funny! (Anu, take notes) I would not have read further if he had died towards the end. I suggest making him the hero and shipping Anu back to NYC where she can mope over Brian and grab balls in bars.

Which brings us to the fact that this is a book series so there’s more fare to come. I hope the author will find a better pace and connect, with the rest of the books he has planned. Less preachy choomantar and more intriguing tantra, please.

2 - I thought the bookmark idea was neat.

Oh and the demon in the cover – kinda off-putting. Vampires are good looking (No. Not THAT one you are thinking about. Try the Salvatore brothers) and the vampires even in this book are in human form, who blend with the crowd. If I saw someone who looked liked the cover-demon, I’d most likely think Halloween-costume-overdone. Hey, maybe Anu brought a souvenir back with her?

Verdict

A good plot that could use tighter execution and a different protagonist. 

Rating : 3/5 (For Amit)

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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Book Review - Behind the Silicon Mask



            The Indian contemporary fiction scene has steadily grown fatter in the past few years with a surge of new authors trying to make a point and find their place. Yours truly included. I’ve reviewed quite a few of these works on a regular basis and as much as they help me understand my peers, it helps me understand where I stand. There’s one thing I’ve maintained through all the criticisms I offer and that is being true to the fact that when I’m a reviewer I am a reviewer and I do my best to be as honest as I can get.

            Having bared my blogger soul in such a manner, Eshwar Sundaresan’s Behind the Silicon Mask was my Christmas gift delivered early! I had my skeptic cape on when I began reading this book, because language has long come to be my pet peeve while doing a review but I’d finally found my raison d’ etre in the world of words. This book also proved to me that I had been right all along – good writing can amplify reading experience by a gazillion notches. I was sold on this one when I reached this particular line ‘Osama was on top of everybody’s hit list and Obama was a spelling mistake.’ I rest my case.

           Behind the SiliconMask is a true to life account of the larger than life game that is the IT life. More so when IT began gaining ground to grow into almost a lifestyle in the present day. The novel moonlights as a murder mystery and while that isn’t one of the pillars holding up the tale, it isn’t a narrative trench either.

The run through quickly this time.

What worked for me:

1. The language, hallelujah! If I had been on a QA team sifting through this book for errors, I’d be raving mad at the Project team for making me look useless because I could come up with nothing bad.

2. Narration : The book goes by on a terrific pace and actually ends on a practical if a little abstract ending. I had to pinch myself to acknowledge that I didn’t plough through a sappy plot, no sir.

3. Characters : Keep your fingers free, you’d need them to keep count of everyone. But then, isn’t that exactly how the industry functions? Beyond a point new email IDs borrow numbered suffixes.

4. Humor/Satire : I was on the wall trying to take a side but then I conceded both these tones in the book were conveyed so beautifully and I appreciated them equally well.

5. Editing hallelujah, again! Phenomenal. It was so sharp, it actually hurt my eye!

What did not work for me:

For the sake of QA, I'm going to complain that the murder subplot only grazed the boundaries of convincing. Since everything else was terrific, I’m willing to let it slide but I’m going to make sure that goes into the appraisal report. Just because I can. Hah!

Verdict:

Before you read this, go buy a copy of the book.

I’m serious. Leave. Now.

Gift a copy of Behind the Silicon Mask to your friends who work in the IT industry. You’ll see their eyes grow bigger with excitement. When they are done, they’ll deny everything outright and pooh pooh your claims of having learnt the truth. But in their eyes, you’ll see what you wanted to see.

Rating : 4.999/5 (you know why)

Image Courtesy: http://www.westlandbooks.in/book_image/th3_front_behind%20the%20silicon%20mask.JPG 


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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Book Review - The Oath Of the Vayuputras


I write this review keeping in mind that with a great start to any work, comes the heavy responsibility of providing a fitting closure and in most cases, well begun is only half done. Amish Tripathi’s Shiva trilogy took the Indian reader base by storm and for good reason at that. The book series details the life of Lord Shiva as we know him, but focusing on what happened before he gained reputation as a God. 

Amish weaves an elaborate plot, beginning with the assumption that Shiva was born a mortal and was only as human as you, me or your irrational neighbor. The first two books talk about how and why Shiva comes to be chosen as the Neelkanth, the savior who would deliver his people from Evil. In the third and final book of the series, ‘The Oath of the Vayuputras’ we find out if Shiva manages to fulfill his destiny. 

This review focuses only on the third book and contains spoilers without apparent guilt.

To begin with, Shiva and his entourage at Panchavati learn how Brahaspati sprang back to life and in the explanation that ensues, Shiva puts two and two together and concludes that the elixir of Meluha, the Somras, is the root cause of everything that went wrong in the past few centuries. This includes a plethora of issues from the creation of Nagas to political unrest in surrounding kingdoms. Hence, Somras = Evil. 

With the definition finally drafted, everyone makes a choice and picks a side. They are either for or against the Neelkanth as and how their personal faith dictates. The end objective is to take the Somras out of the equation and the ultimate means is through war. The rest of the book is about how the offending and defending powers fight to destroy and protect and I use those terms with all the ambiguity they bring with them. That is the brilliance of the setup. What is good for you may not be so good for me.

That said, let me rant on why the book, while strong on so many points, still drew up to be a disappointing conclusion to the series.

Bones I’m picking on:

1 – Language : All hail the power of editing! Book 3 flows from start to finish, like the waters of the Saraswati, enriched by correct and simple language, free of annoying grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, clich├ęd dialogues, unnecessary lingo and  preachy prose. The text is a relief on your brain and you are free to focus on the plot and not break up now and then to roll your eyes at the author trying to act smart.

2 – Narration : This is an extension of the appreciation for point #01. Amish’s voice is honest and that was a striking feature throughout the book. His tone is free of gimmicks and his characters are well defined and sharply etched. They are clear about who they are so you could be clear about your opinion of them.

3 – The plot : To be honest, the plot isn’t path breaking. It follows a series of wars that need waging and for most of the time proceeds without shocking turning points or 180 degree flips. That said, it takes a serious turn towards unreasonable when Sati decides to march into Meluha and sign a peace treaty. The ambush, Kanakhala’s choice and Daksha’s foolishness fit in perfectly but then a bunch of Egyptian assassins swoop in and suddenly you find yourself reading about Sati being led to a gory death. This is where the book begins its journey towards being extremely disappointing. I assume Amish decided to finish Sati off in order to give Shiva a reason to use the Pasupatiastra, but the foundation does not sit well, at all. What should’ve been an enraged Shiva gradually losing reason and choosing vengeance, becomes a sorry tale of a widower. In a flash, he is no more the Neelkanth but a husband crying over his dead wife. This, in my opinion defeats the entire point of the series, that projects Shiva as a legend who fought for Good! It seemed like the book ended prematurely when Sati decided foolishly to take on the assassin army, due to guilt and the remaining pages merely came across as a mythological twist to a Nicholas Sparks plot.

4 – Contemplations : The dialogue between Shiva and Sati over the existence of Karma and God, and Parvateshwar’s choice were some of the best parts. That also is my favorite thing about this series. Amish allows Shiva to question without fear and agree to disagree. While other mythology titles most often end up as religious propaganda, Amish leaves the answer to faith open. Its all about perspective. Har Har Mahadev, indeed!

5 – Parvateshwar, the man : My respect for General Parva went up a thousand notches when he decides to fight for Meluha and not the Neelkanth, who still remains his God. Shiva isn’t able to digest it but I completely agreed with the General. It was such a beautiful digression that goes to waste in the climax. Beyond this decision, Amish gives Parvateshwar no role, except for a few war schemes. In the end, he just lets Parva and Anandamayi die in a quandary. If not for the sloppy ending, Parva could’ve been put to better use and maybe even had a more honorable and useful death.

6 – Daksha : This was one of those parts that left me in shock. This man, has just lost his daughter, the one he loved so dearly, the one that apparently had no high opinion of him and tries at every chance to win back her approval. He makes stupid decisions out of love and all that is justifiable. What isn’t is the last few pages he gets, to lament and he does it in reality TV style! There isn’t a chapter in the series that’s as disappointing emotionally as the one where Daksha merely looks out at a banyan tree and awaits his death albeit irritably while his daughter’s mutilated corpse rots outside the city walls. Two thumbs down.

7 - The Vayuputras : The book is named after them, but they hardly feature anywhere important, except as a crude sort of arms dealers. What was their oath again that deserved mention in the title?

In all, I enjoyed the series immensely, but the final book, the climax in particular, did not measure up. The Neelkanth is reduced to a brokenhearted man, who has lost sight of his mission thereby raising the question of why he received as much build up through three books as having been a living God. I loved Shiva’s portrayal throughout and the climax only cements my opinion that Sati could never have loved him, the way he loved her. Amishji, you broke the man too early!

All that said, I’d like to congratulate Amish for staying true to his voice and narration and not trying to pull a commercial success coup. Three cheers. I’d give five stars to the first two books anyday and a four star to the third one, only because I choose to ignore the climax and the crash landing. 

If the last few lines are any indication, Amish is due to bring out a retelling of the Mahabharatha and if he retains the same kind of transparency with respect to perspective, one that doesn’t get preachy on what is good and what is evil, my kids someday, would finally have an unambiguous account of Indian mythology to read about. Fingers crossed.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Chanakya's New Manifesto - Book Review


We belong to a country that has enjoyed a well-fought independence and over six decades of democracy which we pride ourselves on. But there are gaping issues that have been threatening to pull the threads of stability to breaking point and it is high time we addressed them. While as Indians we realize there are problems and we each argue passionately about the possible solutions, Pavan K. Varma rounds them up and stamps a Chanakya mark of approval on them.

Chanakya’s New Manifesto, details the pressing charges that hinder the progress of our country towards becoming a self-sustained global superpower. We got off to a promising start, as Mr. Varma highlights in the chapter 1947 and After, (“Nations seeking to fashion a future cannot do so without objectively interrogating the past”) but the machinery was never foolproof. With time and as Mr. Varma rightly points out, misguided governance, we as a country have fallen prey to the dissection of goals, and democracy is no longer the only pillar that can be expected to hold up our existence.

I particularly appreciate the tone that this book takes, one of calm introspection that chooses to identify the key areas that need to be addressed at the earliest, without being patronizing, guilty, sentimental, or outright accusing; what Chanakaya prescribed as mandatory when drafting a governance plan. Mr. Varma’s analysis of issues, in the chapter Crisis, leave you with no doubt, what numbers we don’t see or hear about in the news. He insists and verifies with Chanakya’s written recommendations that democracy requires the backing of shrewd governance, something we observe lacking in the political setup today. You cannot but agree with him when he points out that multi-coalition structures are not stable and only serve to divert the efforts of politicians towards sustenance in politics and away from the interest of the public that votes them into the setup.

The language that Mr. Varma employs to make his point is clear and reads like a well written report as opposed to a jargonized preamble for the future. This book deserves a thorough read and it is a trifle hard to discuss each point in detail because there’s so much to talk about. Some of the best opinions that I could relate to were with regard to democracy  being a factor that helps focus away from religious extremism, the argument that it is ‘diversity’ and not ‘unity’ per se that keeps the nation together and the fact that a politician is not by default a good governor.

Mr. Varma proposes corrective action, in terms of Chanakya’s prescriptions, to bring about a change in governance and take full advantage of the democracy that we claim is the greatest strength we possess as a republic. This book comes across both as a vision and a dream, fleeting yet achievable at the same time. If only.

Verdict:

Your copy of this book is sure to be filled with notes and comments as mine. A must read if you wish to understand the state of affairs as they were, and as they are. The ‘as will be’ is for us to create.

Rating: 4/5

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