Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Along Came a Spider by James Patterson: Alex Cross Mystery #1

Along Came a Spider is the first novel by James Patterson featuring Alex Cross. There was a movie based on it starring Morgan Freeeman as the protagonist which I never had a chance to watch. My expectations were a lot from it as Patterson went on to write around twenty more books featuring the Cross.

The novel starts when Cross, a black detective and a doctor of psychology, involve in a murder investigation of a black family. He is furious when he is pulled from it to investigate the kidnapping of two children from high profile families. His adversary is a master criminal, cold blooded, brutal and ready to go to any length for becoming United States' biggest criminal. What folows is a cat and mouse chase were Cross finds every thing that he valued in life at stake, even his sanity.

As the starting book of the series, Along Came a Spider works in establishing the premise and characters. The setting of the novel is Washington DC. On one side there is the posh neighbourhood of affluent movie stars and politicians, while on other side there is the black  neighbourhood where poverty reigns. Cross stands as a bridge between these two contrasting worlds. Though the writer tries to play down the racial undertones of the premise, it shows beneath the surface. In Gary Murphy Alex Cross gets a worthy adversary.

Still there are a few blemishes. The romantic side track makes the story dragging. It is essential to the plot as revealed in the climax, still it dampen the atmosphere of suspence. Also, though Cross is a professional shrink as per the story, we don't find many instances where it is used in the narrative.

Along Came a Spider works ok as a suspence thriller and the character of Alex Cross as a conflicted investigator is worth reading once.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Parental Troubles of Darth Vader...!

My disinterest in sci-fi movies might have developed after watching a totally incomprehensible Star Trek movie in a theatre in Hubli when I was a teen ager. I sat through first hour without understanding a single shot of the movie (which was a first for me) and the second hour was passed by carefully observing the correlation between back ground score of the movie and the lights glowing on the space craft on screen, thanks to an observation by my friend while half time.
 
My only knowledge about Star Wars came from a couple of movie posters and trailers and for me these movies were always ‘the ones were dudes fight using tube lights’.  But now I know they are Siths and Jedis fighting with Light Sabers, thanks to two cute comic books that are a reimagining of Star Wars. After reading them back to back I used Wikipedia to find out more about the series and even watched a full movie till end, the one in which Luke Skywalker is revealed his true identity, that he is in fact the son of the much feared Darth Vader, the antagonist of the series.
 
Darth Vader and Son show a tired Vader raising his 10 year old son Luke. In 64 pages illustrator Jeffrey Brown fills humorous imagined situations that can arise. Vader’s Little Princess is a follow up book which shows the bonding between Vader and Princess Leia from her adolescent till she is a rebellious teen ager. Both books use several dialogues from movies into these situations creating hilarious moments.
 
Both these books are driven by a single line concept- showing a popular antagonist in very normal situations and inducing comedy. Writer has not bothered to go beyond this, but still these books are definitely worth a look, especially for fathers with young kids, who have grown up watching the Star Wars.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Malayalam Movie Drishyam: Realistic & Entertaining Thriller

Malayalam movies are in the grip of new generation fever these days. Multi layered stories, new visual language, bold plots, liberal usage of sleaze and obscene language mark these cinematic ventures. Some of them, like Amen managed to break barriers, while some of them, I feel are just average. Like Neelaakasham Pachakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi, which though had beautiful visuals and good narrative style, failed to touch me in an emotional way.

On the other side of spectrum there are movies that tread the same old formulae. They rely on a central heroic figure- larger than life,  master of all trades and with skills bordering on super natural abilities. The plot is an excuse to show off these capabilities of hero. Most of them bit the dust as audiences rejected them outright. One exception is the recent movies of Dileep, thanks to mindless comedy. But rarely a movie is made that reminds us the joy of watching a good story unfolding on screen with the help of competent direction and some decent acting. Drishyam, directed by Jithu Joseph is the recent example.

Drishyam is a movie that has a simple, realistic plot but provide wholesome entertainment. It is the story of an uneducated villager who stands against an oppressive system and beats them in their own game. Georgekutty, a cable tv operator has very little formal education, but is world wise. Thanks to his business, he has developed an addiction to movies and he uses it to solve everyday problems of his family and others around him. One fine day someone enters his family with the intention to destroy it and ends up dead. The rest of the movie deal with how Georgekutty prepare his family to face the consequences, fight and win.

Drishyam is directed by Jithu Joseph, who has made Memmories, a very decent thriller starring Prihviraj recently. With this one, he has definitely reached the next level. The movie starts very slowly. It takes its time building the characters and situations. Once its turning point is reached, it never turn back. Whatever we saw till then gets arranged like a jigsaw puzzle by the time movie climaxes. Drishyam does another service to movie goers. It makes us remember how good Mohanlal is, in portraying a character that has some depth and plants the feet on firm ground. Special mention to Shajon for his chilling performance as the antagonist.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat is a book written by eminent neurologist Oliver Sacks. In this book he describes the case histories of some of his patients who have neurological disorders that are quite perplexing to comprehend for ordinary people like us. These are people who live among us and whom we consider arrogant or devoid of manners and never realize their behavior is due to a medical problem. Sometimes they themselves never realize they have a condition.

The book constitutes of twenty four essays that are divided into four segments, each of the segment dedicated for a particular kind of disorder. The title essay is about a man who sees the world as geometric patterns and once during an appointment mistook his wife for his hat. The most pathetic fact is that, like some other cases in this book, he never realizes he has this problem. There is a story of another man who is 70 years old, but is stuck in his youth and behaves like a young intelligent 30 year person. A lady one fine day starts hearing music playing in her head with all its minutest of details. There is an essay about a pair of twins who seems mentally retarded, but can do complicated mathematics in their heads and their favorite pass-time is exchanging prime numbers of highest levels.

Oliver Sacks, while narrating these stories, treads a thin line. On one side there is a danger of sensationalism and on the other side, that of the text becoming too dry, devoid of any compassion. But to his credit, the writer has made these accounts with enough humanity and subtle humor that the reader feels genuine interest and empathy for the protagonists. While reading this book reader finds out what a unique instrument human brain is and also how fragile it is. That is, I feel the success of this book.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

NOS4A2 By Joe Hill: Horror-Fest

Before I started reading NOS4A2, the blogger friend to whom I asked the opinion about the novels of Joe Hill answered me that she had read only The Horns and that book was crazy. So when I picked it to read, I was almost aware what was waiting for me. For the uninitiated readers, Joe Hill is the son of master of horror stories, Stephen King. Now, I had read only one novel of King, Insomnia, and was not impressed. I am sure my start was wrong, but I never felt like picking another of his after that. After reading NOS4A2, I am planning to read more of King.

NOS4A2 is the story of Victoria "Vic" Mc Queen, who, as a kid has the supernatural ability to find lost things when travelling through an imaginary bridge on her Raleigh cycle. These journeys take high toll on her, physically and mentally. Once she stumbles upon Manx, a man who kidnaps kids from troubled houses and takes them to Christmasland, a horrible place he created inside his mind, in an old Rolls-Royce Wraith, with a number plate NOS4A2 (a reference to the old movie Nosferatu, a Dracula remake) and makes them prisoners for life. Manx kidnaps her, but she becomes the only kid to escape from his clutches, causing his arrest in the process. Years later Manx escapes from prison for taking his revenge. He succeeds in taking Vic's kid Wayne for hostage. Vic who has outgrown her Raleigh, follows Manx to Christmasland in an old motorbike along with her husband Lou. Will she be able to rescue Wayne from the eternal prison of Christmasland?

NOS4A2 is the first proper horror novel that I read after Dracula. (It is tall praise, but the fact is that I have not read many horror novels yet.) Joe Hill succeeds in making the reader to glue in with the proceedings. The plot is a bit complicate, but worth the effort from reader. The book follows a non-linear narration till around half its length. The narrative is creepy and convoluted. The details are gory and graphic. The atmosphere is totally dark and gloomy. The length of the book is huge, but the pace of the story keeps the reader engaged. The characters of the protagonist and antagonist- Vic and Manx will involve the reader very much. Other characters are also good, but all of them seem severely mentally unstable.

Even if the story spans 700 plus pages, NOS4A2 manages to be a good page turner. I would recommend this book to any reader who will care for a good old, creepy horror story.

Book Review: End of Story? by Arjun Shekhar

A few weeks back while in conversation with a very senior fellow book lover, I was commenting on the sudden boom in Indian Publishing arena. These days, being the author of a published book is considered a glamorous add-in to the personality and being a full time author, as a real profession. Numerous kinds of books- from travel to chick lit to paranormal to spy novels by Indian writers have started adorning the book shelves of stores. Authors are bravely experimenting with new kind of narratives with varied results. I have received many books by new Indian authors in last 2 years for reviewing and I would say regardless of their eventual success or failure, it is this experimentation that has made me excited and say yes to these books that are offered to me, the latest one being “End of Story?”.

End of Story? by Arjun Shekhar is a thriller told in the background of visual media and NGOs. It is narrated by Shukrat a news anchor of Khulasa, a news channel that serves sensational stories for ‘the bottom of the pyramid’. A nationwide ban on advertisements due to a new breakthrough in the field of manipulative subliminal ads has caused a decline of visual media and has rendered him jobless. His ex- boss Shh is murdered and the story is narrated through a document that he has prepared on the previous day of his hearing as a witness. His story starts with the day his daughter Q went missing. Slowly reader is made aware of his decaying family and professional life that is manipulated by his wife and boss and wife respectively. His wife leaves him due to his addiction to drinks, which she seems unable to bear. He is offered a chance to redeem himself when he is selected to cover the story about the ghost of a farmer in a debt ridden village in interior Maharashtra. He finds out there is more to it than what appears to eyes and is determined to uncover the truth causing a domino effect of events that wreaks havoc.

This novel is a bit dark, much humorous and thoroughly gripping. It may not be a thrilling or pleasurable experience throughout, but once the reader reaches the end, the built up of many sub plots becomes relevant. This makes the story enjoyable. The characterization of the protagonist, Shukrat is top notch. His transformation from a weak, manipulated man to someone who is prepared to go deep to find the truth is effectively told, devoid of any heroics. Other characters, most of who portrayed very colorfully when compared to the dull Shukr, supports the plot adequately and keeps the reader interested in the proceedings,
which turn slow at times. The chapters of the book are headed as questions, thereby stressing the importance of inquisitiveness in every aspect of life, which is the moral that I feel the author wants to convey.

End of Story? Written by Arjun Shekhar and published by Hachette India is an interesting read due to the relevance of its plot to the contemporary issues and also due to the plotting and narration that is quite thrilling.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

It AAPened in Delhi...!

Political thinkers are scratching their heads and wondering what really happened in Delhi. A political outfit that was formed merely a year before has achieved the unthinkable. It not only contested in election, but has managed to defeat the ruling party, Congress with a considerable margin and upset the BJP party that came first place by denying it the majority needed to form Government. AAP with Arvind Kejrival at its helm may seem to have become a force to reckon overnight. But I feel there is more to it.

Indian voters never had a choice for decades. The political party system that they are enduring is becoming a vicious circle. Every political party regardless of its ideological stand has only one immediate aim- to come to power. The power so attained can be used for physical gains. We are sending political midgets to govern us and they in turn loot us by joining hands with corrupt forces. This trend alienated middle class from polling booth. 

Many of you may be remembering the campaigns for null votes- if a voter doesn't want to elect any candidate, he can give a null vote which has a zero count. What Kejriwal has done in Delhi is basically assimilating these null votes and channeling them into the account of AAP.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Book Review: Tall Man Small Shadow by Vipin Behari Goyal

Tall Man Small Shadow is the debut novel by Vipin Behari Goyal who is an avid reader, an award winning documentary movie maker and a Fiancial Advisor in the Government of Rajasthan by profession. The author tries to explore several existential dilemmas by telling the life story of some complex and inter related characters. He try to make the reader think deeply on the topics of coincidences, human behaviour, kindness and relationships.

Tall man small Shadow is the story of Alya who is doing her research in Literature and of Salil, an IT employee with a past and in love with a shadow. It is also the story of Anupam, Alya's father , who is a loner and sometimes takes up the mantle of the narrater and her mother, Sulekha who is mostly silent and ill most of the times, but reveals to be a lot more than what meets the eye by climax. There is another couple who is integral to the story- Seema, a childless woman who happens to be the research guide of Alya and her husband Paul, a theater personality. Alya and Salil meet up early in the story and an affair develops naturally. Anupam notices it. Parallely she develops a physical relation with Seema, her guide. Sensing the sorrow of Seema, Alya decides to help her and enlist the help of Salil.

I have read a few European existential novels, that of Kafka, Kundera, Camus, Snow by Orhan Pamuk and have got inspired by them in various degrees. In this novel, I could feel a strong influence of Kundera's Laughable Loves, especially in the narration style. In that book protagonists who are very normal people, gets into situations where they are forced to realize unknown facts about life. Writer tries to attempt something similar here with not so good results. I know, pitting a self published debut book against that of a literary giant like Kundera is not fair. So I will try to evaluate its individual merits.

The book is quite simple to read. It is short and all the chapters are just couple of pages long. All the philosophical parts are quite well written. These comes in the parts narrated by Anupam. The problem lies in connecting these nuggets with the story. It is not at all convincing and the twist in the climax negate the whole build up. The story is narrated from the view points of different protagonists. The parts of Anupam is told in first person while others' view points are in third person. I never felt any dire need for such a technique, but it is ok or me as it gave some novelty to the otherwise grim story. The problem is that writer seriously confuses his first person and third person segments a couple of times. Just some good editing could eliminate these issues as well as some typos occuring in regular intervals.

The characters of the book are interesting, but the plot let them down seriously. The situations never get serious and even serious points get trivialised and fails to create an impact like that of sperm donation or lesbianism. Finally I would say this novel has very less to offer for a well informed reader.

<p style="text-align: left;">The book was received as part of Reviewers Programme on <strong><a href="http://thetalespensieve.com/reviewers-sign-up/">The Tales Pensieve</a></strong>.<strong> </strong></p>

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin: Inspector Rebus Series #1

Knots & Crosses is the first novel featuring Inspector Rebus that I read. It is also the first Rebus novel in the series by Scottish writer Ian Rankin. The series is much acclaimed and spans across some 17 books. I was just waiting to get my hands on the first book. Though the book is tagged as crime fiction or murder mystery, Ian Rankin had clarified that he had no intention to write one. Infact he never knew anything about crime novels. That contributes to the reading pleasure as the plot is refreshingly different from the standard fare available.

The story is set in Edinburgh, Scotland. When young girls are abducted and found murdered by a serial killer, a team is formed to nab the killer, of which John Rebus is also a part. Rebus is a longer in the department, aloof, chain smoker, hard drinker, womenizer and a divorcee. He is according to his boss, a good officer, but not the best. At the same time of killings he gets several mails with knots and crosses made of strings and match sticks along with messages that he cannot decipher. By the time he realize that these messages are clues about the murders and his mysterious past in army is far deeply involved with the murders than he thought, it was late. Will he be able to race against the ticking clock to prevent a looming personal disaster and nab the killer? Read the novel to know.

Knots & Crosses is a novel skillfully crafted with great style. Ian Rankin succeeds in baring the dark under belly of the tourist city of Edinburgh to the readers. The dark setting, looming terror and ominous atmosphere is captured realistically. Another master stroke is the characterization of John Rebus. He is not made a standard detective hero and has enough flaws and shades of grey around him to make him even a potential suspect in the minds of readers. The subplot involving his hypnotist brother also works as a wonderful layer on the main plot.

(Spoiler alert) As I told first, Rankin did not write this as a mystery novel. This is evident because Inspector Rebus does not actually detects the killer by himself! He turns out more to be a pawn in the game of Knots & Crosses played by a villain from his suppressed past. Also there is no scope in the story for the reader to do a guess work about the identity of the killer as he does not appear in the story before his is revealed as the killer. But these points in no way effects the thrill of the novel. After reading Knots & Crosses, I have decided to read all the successive Rebus mysteries. Hope they are as good...

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri is one of the most anticipated books of the recent times. After the release of three highly acclaimed books, Interpreter of Maladies which won a Pulitzer, Unaccustomed Earth and The Namesake, readers all round the world were waiting with bated breath for the next book from her. Another reason for the excitement is the news of The Lowland being short listed for the prestigious Booker Prize. An author of Indian origin living in the USA, the plot of her previous novel and stories invariably deals with the life of Indian immigrants in the USA. But in The Lowland, she tries a much more bigger canvas.

(Spoiler alert) The Lowland starts by introducing readers to a pair of brothers living in Tollygunge, Calcutta, who physically resemble each other, but are as varied as chalk and cheese in character and temperament. Subhash, the elder one is a mother's boy and rather the shy kind, but Udayan is more outgoing and is the risk taker. Still they are inseparable in their childhood, with Udayan dragging his brother into all the adventures that he partake. Growing up, studying in different colleges, they starts moving away from each other- Subhash goes to US for further studies and Udayan takes an active interest in politics and is drawn towards Naxals. They interact through letters and Subhash comes to know that Udayan, against their parent's wishes, is married to a girl whom he loved, Gauri.

When Subhash knows that Udayan is killed by police near the lowland behind their home in full view of his parents and wife, he returns to India. When he sees the wretched condition the pregnant Gauri is in and the complete apathy of his parents towards her, he marries her and takes her to US. The novel then goes on to describe how this decision effects generations of their family.


I had read Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth, a collection of short stories and had loves the way she wrote without any clutter, in simple but elegant prose, taking great care to fully transfer the emotions of characters to the reader at the same time without bearing us down with them. In The Lowland the same style can be detected. Each sentence is very vivid and written with great beauty. The atmospheric descriptions, whether of Rhode Island or Tollygunge, makes us feel we are right there in that place. So precise.


Inspite of all these good things going for this novel, there are a couple of short comings that really marred my enjoyment of this book. The story goes great till Subhash and Gauri reaches US. Then onwards it starts dragging, without much solid to offer. The characters just alters their behaviour quite irrationally. The change in Gauri is quite perplexing and feels forced. Another serious trouble is with characterization. Lahiri is able to make all her characters three dimensional, complex and much deep. But ultimately they are all quite boring. With most of her characters, I won't be interested to spent time for even an hour, then how can we feel or root for them? Udayan had the potential to become an exception, but he is not developed enough and conveniently tagged as Naxalite and sidestepped. In most of the second half of the novel, which spans decades, the characters just spends their time (life) silently, subverting their agonies and private thoughts so much that even a small shout from a character towards the end was a huge relief.

My conclusion about The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri is that, though it is written beautifully, the indifferent and uninspiring characterization plays spoil sport in enjoying it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Book Review: My Journey by A P J Abdul Kalam

First things first, let me express my gratitude to Rupa Publications for the review copy of My journey, Transforming Dreams Into Actions by A P J Abdul Kalam. This is probably the best book I ever got for reviewing. The writer is someone who does not require any formal introduction. Any Indian living anywhere on the globe will be well acquainted with his marvellous accomplishments in various fields. He is one of the pioneers responsible in leading India into the Space Age and raising the nation to an atomic super power. He proved that Indian presidency is not a rubber stamp post. He inspired a generation of youth with his words, actions and books.

In My Journey, Dr Kalam takes a look back fondly to his past and shares with readers some events from his life that has contributed to his growth. But this cannot be called as an autobiography, he has written a detailed one already. This book is more about his aspirations and dreams. It is about the people who guided and inspired him into a successful future. The book starts in Rameswaram, a small coastal temple town in Tamil Nadu where Kalam was born as the son of Jainulabdeen and Ashiamma. His father was a religious man, who imparted in Kalam a mind that is spiritual and tolerant to the beliefs of others. He was a boat owner and also an imam. Kalam recounts how his father's calm demeanor was instrumental in inculcating good principles in his mind. He goes on to recount his first job, as a newspaper delivery boy, thereby contributing to the meagre income of his family along with continuing his studies.

Then he goes on to record several anecdotes about many persons who contributed to his life- his cousin and later brother in law, who answered his queries about nature in his childhood and later guided him to face life, his mother who taught him about sacrifice and kindness, his sister who stood behind him as a pillar of support in times of trouble, his first mentor of his career Dr Vikram Sarabhai and many others. There is a chapter dedicated to the books that influenced him, which as a book lover, I appreciate. He also tells about testing times of his career, like when he was unable to become a pilot which was his dream career or when his lab was destroyed in an explosion rendering him and a colleague injured. But all these anecdotes inspire readers never to abandon their dreams and tread on with life, constantly improving it.

My Journey is a small book, just short of 150 pages, but is an inspiring read. It makes us aware that lessons from life and improving is an essential part of transforming our dreams into results. My Journey is a must read.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Book Review: Baramulla Bomber

My favorite thriller novels are those which invests most of its length to built up the plot and then culminates in an unexpected climax. That is the reason why I love Dogs of War by Forsyth and The Runaway Jury by John Grisham. There are lot of thrillers by Indian novelists getting published these days and most of them that I read recently are reasonably well written. But the above said quality is lacking in all of them. Baramulla Bomber by Clark Prasad (pen name of Suraj Prasad) is an exception and I feel, by far it is the first Indian thriller novel which can truly compete with its international counterparts by not being a cheap imitation of them.

Baramulla Bomber is the first part (Eka) of Svastik Trilogy. It is tagged as a Science Fiction Espionage thriller. It follows the destiny of a young man, Mansur Haider from Kashmir who turns from an aspiring cricketer to the Baramulla Bomber. Something mysterious occurs in Shaksgam valley, POK. Someone has tested a weapon that works with the ancient technology from Vedas and Bible and has plans to use it to their end. Intelligence agencies throughout the world are trying to find the truth and everyone's search seems to end in finding Mansur. Indian government and Home Minister Agastya Rathore are facing a dual threat from two neighbouring nations and the only way out is to solve Kashmir issue, by hook or crook.

What makes Baramulla Bomber an exiting read is its multi faceted plot. It combines various subgenres of thriller and fuses them in a near perfect way. It has espionage, science fiction, mythology, religion, politics, technology, sports and even a UFO is thrown in somewhere there (the mystery of which the author has promised to resolve in one of the sequel). The plot is intriguing, fast paced and laden with twists thrown at the reader in regular intervals. It manages to keep the reader in suspense throughout as the motives of most of the characters are kept under wraps till almost to the end and it is difficult to determine where the loyalties of them lies while reading. Another positive about the novel is that it makes the reader interested in the different subjects covered in it- like mythology or archeoastronomy. The author makes sure that anything alien to readers that appears in the novel, and there is quiet a lot, is explained as convincingly as possible within the frame of fiction.

One minus point that I felt while reading the book was the absence of a really terrifying negative character. While the good characters are strong and portrayed quite convincingly, there is no one quite good to take them on. There are an identical twin pair of killers, but I never felt them menacing enough. Due to this, the climax also does not have that punch that such a novel really deserved. One more point that I have to make, not as a negative one, but rather a caution to readers is that the plot is a bit complicated and a bit confusing at times.

This book deserves a careful reading to savor and appreciate it fully.

This review appeared in bookchums.com

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Book Review: English Bites! By Manish Gupta

Acquiring proficiency in a new language is a difficult task. It becomes more tough when the language in question is one that evolved through centuries and spoken in every nook and corner of the world acquiring vagaries of its own all the time. In case of mastering English language, it also is a matter of survival, especially for us Indians as English binds our country that is divided into numerous different small territories speaking different vernacular in each and also because English is the medium for higher studies in any discipline. It is quite common that many students score less academically and doesn't reach the heights of career professionally which they are otherwise destined, just because they started their studies in vernacular and were not able to cope up later when the medium shifted to English. But it is not impossible to reverse the outcome as the life story of Manish Gupta, author of English Bites! My Full Proof English Learning Formula, demonstrates.

Manish Gupta never used to be fluent in English. Instead of blaming his education or circumstance, he worked hard to improve himself and is continuing to do so. English Bites published by Penguin Books is the story that explains how Manish Gupta transformed himself from a shy boy studied in vernacular to a smooth talking banker. The book, though an autobiographical account of his struggles to become fluent in the language, aims primarily to help others- students, professionals or just language nuts, to use his method and achieve success instead of reinventing the wheel. The book has fourteen chapters. The first chapter is about his troubles with English when he joined for Mechanical Engineering. Then as each chapter progress, the reader comes to know different techniques to get fluent with different aspects of the language like usage of mnemonics and GK trivia, so that words and their meanings get fixed in memory to use in the appropriate situation. Some of the final chapters take a particular topic and covers the major words associated with that. Liberal use of trivia, humor and anecdotes keep the reader interested and engaged throughout the book.

The best feature of this book is the liberal sprinkling of tough and confusing words, highlighted in bold, with the meaning and detailed explanation given as footnotes right below the page. I feel it is really helpful in developing the vocabulary. The book really helps readers to understand many idiosyncrasies of English. More than that it will interest and motivate them to explore the language more deeply and helping themselves with more new words thereby increasing the vocabulary.

English Bites! is a book that can be helpful for students and professionals to know, explore and master English language. But just reading this book won't do. An attempt from the side of reader is essential to use the techniques for his benefit.

Book Source: Author

Monday, September 9, 2013

Book Review: The Guardian Angels by Rohit Gore

When I read the back cover of the book The Guardian Angels by Rohit Gore which I received to review a few days back, I remembered the classic Malayalam novel by writer M Mukundan, Adithyanum Radhayum Mattu Chilarum (Adityan, Radha and Others). It was the story of a unique relationship shared between rich Adityan and Radha, a middle class girl. In case of The Guardian Angels, the name of the protagonists are same and even their background is strikingly similar to the Malayalam novel. Even some elements of the plot like their reluctance to tag their relationship according to the accepted norms of society appears in The Guardian Angels. But the similarity ends there. While Mukundan's two decade old novel is a tightly crafted and multi layered masterpiece, told in non linear narrative, The Guardian Angels remains a run off the mill conventional romantic story, well narrated with lot of emotions.

The Guardian Angels tell the story of Aditya, son of rich industrialist parents and Radha, daughter of a trade union activist. We follow their life story from their first meeting during teenage when Radha save Adi from bullies troubling him to the time they turn to their thirties. We follow their troubles, ambitions, victories, failures and the times when their paths entangle changing them for good every time. What stops them from being a couple is the vast social gap between them, Radha cannot identify her home in a huge sprawling bungalow named Sammriddhi which happens to be Adi's home and Adi cannot relate to the struggle Radha participate in as it invariably portrays his parent's empire as anti- people. They belong to parallel universes but cross their paths whenever one of them is in a peril, saving each other, till they recognise they are each other's guardian angels.

The best thing about The Guardian Angels is the characterization. While the two protagonists are portrayed as complex, three dimensional entities who matures believably as the time progress in the story, the writer has ensured that other minor characters too are given equal care in developing enough so that the reader remembers them and their influence in the twists in the plot. Some examples are Heena, sister of Adi and his parents. The narrative does not stand still anywhere. It flows with enough twists and turns to keep the reader engrossed throughout the 300 plus pages. At the same time none of them seemed to be forced making the flow natural and essential to the plot. I also liked the emphasise given to social causes in the story and making it an integral part of the plot.

The Guardian Angels by Rohit Gore is a very readable and interesting romantic novel with some great characters inhabiting it. I would recommend a try for all.

<p style="text-align: left;">The book was received as part of Reviewers Programme on <strong><a href="http://thetalespensieve.com/reviewers-sign-up/">The Tales Pensieve</a></strong>.<strong></strong></p>

Monday, September 2, 2013

Book Review: Beaten By Bhagath! By S V Divvaakar

There was a time when Indian English writing used to be considered elitist, with only urban elite consuming them and themes that were related and interesting to upper class of society. A considerable change happened after Chetan Bhagath entered the arena. Many authors like Anurag Mathur had paved the way before, but Bhagath, armed with subjects appealing to middle class youth and simple story telling method without gimmicks caused a huge change. The affordable pricing of his books was another factor that contributed to his popularity. From just a popular author, he went on to become an icon of Indian youth. Chetan Bhagath's success caused an avalanche of aspiring novelists in market, with varying degrees of success. Some of them could emulate his success, but many misinterpreted his success formula and fell along the way. Beaten by Bhagath! A Tale of Two Writers by S V Divvaakar is a novel about such an author.

Beaten by Bhagath! is the story of BB, who is suggested by his beautiful lady boss to try his hand on fiction writing as she felt he can write much better than the Bhagath guy, Ketan Bhagath or K10 as his good friends call him. She never knew K10 used to be the best buddy and room mate of BB and both took part in many adventures together in college days. BB inspired by her words starts writing a novel with the sole intention of beating Ketan in his game. The writing of the book, struggles to get it published and attempts to make it a best seller takes toll on his life. Slowly his family life, career and financial position takes a beating. Will BB finally succeed in his attempt or will he be beaten again by Bhagath? Find it out by reading this delightful book.

I had seen this book in many book stalls and I felt it was a humorous take on novel writing judging its title and cover. But though it has a strong undercurrent of humor in it, the core is not humorous. The story concentrates on the book writing and publishing process in India. It may serve as a practical guide of sorts for new and aspiring writers. Most of the challenges faced by new writers is detailed in this novel- balancing family life while writing, handling criticism and disinterest by friends and family, finding a publisher, getting a celebrity for book launch, promoting it, dodging frauds and letting it go once it is decided a failure, to move on with life.

Beaten by Bhagath is an easy to read book, just less than 200 pages and is written in simple prose. The book is tagged as reality fiction. Narration is very realistic for most of the parts but turns a bit like a fantasy towards the climax. As I told earlier, there is a touch of black comedy throughout the plot. Though most part of the story is tragic, the author makes sure that he does not emphasize too much on it to make the reader depressed. I would recommend this book for all and especially for aspiring writers (well, who are not these days).

Book Source: Author

Friday, August 30, 2013

Chennai Express: A Ride To Nowhere

I too watched Chennai Express. Its not good when a movie becomes a record breaker in such a short time period and you are the only one left to watch it. So I did it. The last blog post I made about a Hindi movie was the post titled The Crime of Bol Bachchan. It was also a Rohit Shetty movie, like Chennai Express. Its natural that people will think I watch only his movies after reading my posts. That's not the case.

The fact is that when Mr Shetty makes a movie, how much big trash dump it happens it to be, he makes sure absolutely no one escapes falling in it. For me Bol Bachchan happened because it was tagged as a Golmaal remake. I am not implying his movies are trash. What I meant is that he makes and markets them in such a way that finally many ends up watching them and even getting entertained by them. When his first movie Zameen released, I liked it. Fights were cool, some of Ajay's scenes were excellent though meant strictly for front benchers and at that time any movie were Bipasha appears fully clad in a saree was definitely way ahead of times. Even Singham and Sunday were entertaining. Golmaal was watchable, but subsequent parts were too loud and confusing.

Speaking about Chennai Express, it does not have a tight plot, cars fly in action scenes, have characters that are loud and are stereotyped caricatures, have situations that serves only for baffling viewers and not to move the story forward and no sensibility is shown for the feelings of old, disabled or people from South- very much Rohith Shetty. Shahrukh walks through the entire movie making faces- very much Shahrukh. He makes faces at Deepika, Sathyaraj, the main villain, all other minor characters and even at the camera, wondering all the while why he is not getting the girl and why so many people are behind him, all eager to bash him up. Deepika is the surprise package- her character is Tamil, but her Tamil no where near passable, her accented Hindi is much worse. Songs are ok, action is good, sets are fine, picturisation fabulous. I laughed out loud exactly 10 times making the movie significantly better than Bol Bachchan. But ultimately I enjoyed the movie (like how such movies are enjoyed usually) though it was mostly pointless and kind of dragging at middle.

Book Review: Don't Think of a Blue Ball by Malti Bhojwani

There was a time when I used to read lot of books about personal development- self help literature, as they are generally termed. There are two types of self help books. Some of them tries to teach you techniques that has to be practiced for changing your behavioural patterns. Others teaches you the basic principles to lead a better life. One is a totally practical approach and the other one is more theoretical. There are some books that tread the fine line between them and I always felt that I benefited more from them. When I got a mail asking my willingness to review Don't Think of a Blue Ball by Malti Bhojwani, I was interested to find out in which category I can place it and what will it offer me new.

Malti Bhojwani is a professional Life Coach, NLP practitioner and founder of Multi Coaching International. She was born in Singapore, had lived in Jakarta and Sydney and is now settled in Mumbai. Don't Think of a Blue Ball is her second book and it aims to make the life of the reader more fulfilling. The book is based on the Law of Attraction- what you focus on is what you attract into the life, good or bad. That is, to get favorable results you have to change your focus, your thoughts into that direction. This refocus is what the writer calls Plugging In to the Source. Each chapter is designed to make the reader become familiar with this concept of Plugging In with the Universe and tapping the full potential of themselves and those around them. Malti gives insights on living a harmonious, prosperous life that attracts health, wealth and affection from the Universe. Each chapter ends with simple but powerful exercises and techniques that aids the reader to take the next step.

Don't Think of a Blue Ball is an interesting book. There is nothing new in it, concept wise. But it is written fluently and has the tone of a personal conversation. Malti uses stories and experiences from her personal life to underline the points she want to make. Her sincere retelling of the most personal events in her life- many mistakes she made in past and the things she learned from them, making her what she is now, builts the confident of the reader as we feel she is a person who walks her talk. The exercises in the end of each chapter is simple enough to incorporate into any busy schedule. The writer covers most of the aspects of our daily life were Plugging In with the Universe can be used to enhance our lives by achieving our desires. The book definitely maintain the balance between theory and practice.

One difference between personal conversation and written text is that, it takes lot of motivation to engage a reader than a listener however enticing the writing style is. In case of books dealing with such subjects as personal development, the need of motivating the reader is more because it needs efforts from his side also. So in most of such books you find repeated clear messages throughout the book about the purpose of the book and the tangible benefits to the reader once he incorporate the message of the book into his life. This book lacks it. The writer moves to the heart of the subject right from first chapter, but I feel it would be helpful if the reader is made prepared to take the plunge along.

Don't Think of a Blue Ball is an interesting book on personal development that can help the reader immensely.

"This book review is a part of The Readers Cosmos Book Review Program.
To get free books visit thereaderscosmos.blogspot.com."


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Book Review: The Redeemers by Suresh Taneja

One major problem plaguing India is rampant corruption. We find this Frankenstein's monster attacking us more or less in every walk of our social life. The public is so frustrated of this evil that any movement that tries to curb it gets tremendous support. People are ready to back any politician of any ideology if they can guarantee corruption free governance. Still no one is any where near rooting out this evil from our country as the roots are so strong and deep inside our core. Moreover if anyone tries to come out of this vicious circle, dark elements of our society puts so much pressure on them, that they eventually buckle.

Suresh Taneja, through his debut novel The Redeemers, tries to put forward a positive plan to eliminate corruption from society. The Redeemers is the story of four youngsters who are destined to start a movement that takes India to the most prosperous of the world nations. The story is told in flashback, when the kids of G4, the collective name of four people who are responsible for this feat, demands them to tell how they achieved it. Vikram, Yuvika, Akshay and Manisha are four smart youngsters who wants to enjoy their vacation together. But destiny intervenes and a cycle of events make them see and experience some really dirty scenes of corruption in grass root level of society. They are shaken to the core, but decides to do something to change the situation. The story is about how they, with the help of a TV show host, starts a movement that changes the future of a country for good.

The Redeemers is the second book of Taneja. In fact it is a elaborated re-telling of his first novella with certain changes to make it more interesting. Author claims his intention is to catch the attention of youngsters who as per him holds the key to a bright future for the country and the world. The Redeemers is a feel good novel, which can inspire and entertain its target audience. One major incentive to read this novel is the writer's good intention. It put forward the virtue of nobility, the necessity to do the right thing, even when everything around us tries to deviate us from it. It does it without being overtly preachy, which I feel works tremendously in its advantage.

In the minus side, the characterization leaves a lot to be desired. The author spoils the potential to make his four protagonists interesting. All four of them talks, behaves and acts in a similar way! Compared to them, I feel their parents are etched more deeply in my mind due to their realistic and convincing portrayal. The plot of the novel is also very simple, where every obstacle seems to be lifted off the path of protagonists very easily. No nail biting moments here. All their adversaries don't even wait to hear the outline of their full plan to become their advocates!

Still I think the plan given in this book to root out corruption is really genius. Instead of starting from topmost levels of hierarchy, the idea to confront corruption at the basic building block of the society- the family, is a very convincing proposal. My thumps up for that, though the result may not be as easy or complete as discussed in The Redeemers.

Book Source: Author

Monday, August 12, 2013

Narendra Modi- The Man, The Times by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay

These days in any article or news report on Narendra Modi, there has to be a statement about the acute polarization the man has caused in the society. The extreme reactions caused by the CM of Gujarat is unprecedented. The situation is like either you are with him or against. On one side many abhor him as the perpetrator of mass murder and a dictator in making. Others consider him a visionary, messiah of Gujarat and the only person capable of taking India forward. One natural aftermath of this is that readership of articles and books on Modi, for or against him has increased. Everyone are cashing in on this trend and are writing and publishing more on him. This, I think will explain the sudden demand of biographies on Modi.

Narendra Modi, The Man, The Times is an unauthorized biography by the journalist Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay. Though the author is a critic of Modi for events during and after Godhra riots, he has assured readers he will not be writing a prejudiced piece and the book will be rather an attempt to look into the mind of Modi in a balanced way. The book gives a historical background of the political ideology based on Hindutva that Modi believes and endorses. After that it describes the childhood of Modi, his education, how he was attracted to Sakha, joining in a tender age and then the ups and downs of his political career, which he has pursued after leaving his family, wife (?) and village, till 2012.

The book tries very hard to analyze the enigma about Modi through the interviews with him, his colleagues and adversaries, through countless media reports about him and observing his personal life and interests. The biography succeeds in making the reader acquainted to the personality of Narendra Modi. It gives a clear picture of political and social situations in Gujarat that lead to the ascend of Modi to power and his sustaining it. And to his credit, most of the times the author tries to balance his aversion to the ideology of Modi and Sangh Parivar and succeeds. There is no slandering, no sensationalization or mud stinging to be found in the 400 page book.

But there are some passages in the book, that can pose doubts to a careful reader. After organising Ekta Yatra, Modi was forced to stay away from Gujarat. Keshubhai Patel, then CM of Gujarat, as per the author was a total failure due to corruption and inefficiency. When the party decided to take him down, as per the author, Modi had pulled the strings. But there is nowhere mentioned any proof for it. There are times when the prejudice against Modi comes out in the most silly manner. Like, when detailing his routine, Modi claims himself a workaholic and says he sleeps only 4 hours a day. Author is quick to exclaim it is his hunger for power that makes Modi work hard! Another instance is the quick conclusion that Modi's childhood experience in acting on stage is the basis of his oratory skill and all that he does on stage is a carefully planned act.

One more peculiar aspect that I noticed while reading this book is that most of the criticisms  quoted against Modi comes from his discontent ex-colleagues like Sanjay Joshi or Keshubhai Patel or some other source who wants to remain anonymous. While lot of criticism is heaped on Modi, quite convincingly by rival party members and media, Mukhopadhyay uses them sparingly. Is it part of the balancing act? Narendra Modi's biography by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay is beneficial for readers who want to know more about this man who is grabbing headlines like no other politician in the country has ever done recently. I would recommend a little reading between the lines though.

*This post is not for or against Modi, its just about the book and what I felt after reading it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Book Review: Fire in the Rain by Surendra Mohanty

When I received the request from Mr Surendra Mohanty to review his debut novel Fire in the Rain, I did a google search on it. I had my apprehensions when I noticed that it is a self published work. Even the cover design was not particularly appetizing. Only silver lining was the endorsement by Ruskin Bond. In his mail Mohanty had mentioned that his novel was a thriller about a serial killer, like the book that I had reviewed previously- Compass Box Killer by Piyush Jha, which was a solid thriller. So I decided to try it out, and now after reading it, I feel it was a right decision.

Surendra Mohanty's serial killer is a genius, who strikes precisely without giving any scope for police to intercept his movements before the murder of his unsuspecting victims. His victims invariably are young, beautiful, independant working ladies. He kills only on Friday the thirteenth and that too in a diffrerent city every time, assuming a totally different identity, which makes the task of Police all the more difficult. But ACP Kale of Mumbai Police is hell bent on preventing any more murders. What he never knew was that the last intended victim Richa, will prove to be the one destined to tame the wild horse.

Fire in the Rain is a small novel, a story spanning just 140 pages. Mohanty writes up to the point, never wasting a single word on trivial things. It is a well woven tale with a tight plot. As the murders happen across many cities, Mohanty gets ample chance to show off diferent backgrounds for the incidents happening in the plot. He does it in a very realistic way. How the writer touches on varied subjects like police procedures, criminal psychology, horse racing, dog show, parties for taking the story forward is commendable!

I don't have any serious negatives to point out about Fire in the Rain. It is good as it is. But I really feel that some more elaboration, some more character development and some more deep peek inside the psyche of the antagonist would have made this book much more enriching read (in the lines of John Grisham or Ian Rankin). Another 100 or 150 pages would not have harmed the novel and I am confident Mohanty could have held his fort well.

Fire in the Rain is a tiny novel, readable in a single sitting. The thrills are god, the story tight and premise interesting, though oft trodden. I would reommend it for an easy read.
Book source: Author

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Product Review:: mint-O Ultramintz

Last Friday I received two packs of mint-O Ultramintz, the new premium brand of mint from ITC mint-O, for reviewing. This is the first time I am reviewing something other than books. In case of books, when I read it from cover to cover I get a clear idea about what to write. For reviewing mint-O Ultramintz, from last four days, I am roaming around with one box of it in my pocket, having one mint every hour that I am awake. I just wanted to be sure that when I write about this product it has to be as accurate as possible because best judgement comes from experience. It was only today that I am able to clearly structure my thoughts around Ultramintz and write this review.

The major reasons for using mint flavored lozenges are for the refreshment to mouth and throat due to its chillness and for freshness of breath. There are many brands of mint available in the market as lozenges and gum, but what separates Ultramintz is its branding as a premium product. Compared to regular mints, this one is attractively packaged and quality wise much superior (strong) due to the usage of better ingredients. It is also marketed as a healthy alternative as it is totally sugar free. It is a bit expensive price wise, costing INR50 per box, rather limiting its customer base. I hope this gives an overall picture of the product.

It was a delightful scene when the courier cover was removed. There were two packs, each containing a small tin box of 60 mint pellets each (50gms). As you can see in the photo, the gift packaging was quite unique and sure to make anyone proud to receive it. The tin boxes that contain mint pellets are attractive to say the least, with some great eyeball grabbing graphics on it. The boxes resemble snuff boxes a bit. To take out the mint from the box, there is an opening and contrary to what I felt initially, it was very easy to pop out small mint pellets, one each, from the box. Now one thing that I felt bad initially was the size of the mint. One pellet is not even one forth of the size of a regular mint, that usually has a life saver shape. I found out the reason for the minute size of Ultramintz is when I popped one into my mouth!

The mint has a strong taste. After a few moments, the chillness starts to spread throughout the mouth and throat. The taste is not very sweet like other mint brands, but a bit bitter, in a good way. It really is a strong mint but finishes very fast. But the effect it leaves back is much more than any other mint. If you use two pellets at a time, the experience is too good. Once after using a whole box, I feel the pricing is also not an issue because one box will come for a long time, as the effect does not wear out too soon. Secondly, the tin packaging makes it comfortable to carry around and the nice graphics on the box is sure to get you some attention. My only regret is that, they chose this rainy season to send it to me for review. I would rather loved to have this one around with me last hot summer time.

For those who have a habit of using mint, I would recommend trying out mint-O Ultramintz. It is strong, trendy, sugar free and come in a great package that is comfortable to carry around.

"I am reviewing&nbsp;mint-o Ultramintz&nbsp;as a part of the&nbsp;Product Reviews Program&nbsp;at BlogAdda"

The above review is done for BlogAdda after using the sample of the product send by them for giving a factual review. Reviewer has not taken any remuneration for posting it. As a tocken of appreciation, they have promised a gift voucher worth INR2000&nbsp;
from Wills Lifestyle once the review&nbsp;is posted.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (J K Rowling)

From last few days the major news that shook the world of literature is the discovery that J K Rowling who is the bestselling author of Harry Potter series has written a detective mystery under a male pseudonym. Robert Galbraith's debut novel The Cuckoo's Calling received good reviews from critics and sold a few thousand copies. Then the news came that Galbraith was none other than J K Rowling. May be the reason for writing under a pseudonym was that her previous novel The Casual Vacancy was unfairly compared to Harry Potter books and suffered a bit from critics and fans. I would say this move is a master stroke from her which proved her versatility as a writer without the pressure of expectation from fans and also ensured good publicity for the novel.

The Cuckoo's Calling introduces a new Private Investigator, Cormoran Strike into the already overcrowded universe of detectives. Cormoran Strike used to be a military intelligence man, who served in Afghanistan and had lost a leg in an explosion. Now he has set up an investigation agency without any success, is neck deep in debt and is homeless after getting himself kicked out of his girl friend's house. His fortune changes the day Robin, a temporary secretary assigned to him by a staffing agency enters his life. He bags the high profile case to investigate the death of a super model, Lula Landry, which the police has tagged as a sure incident of suicide. Beautiful Robin proves to be the resourceful sidekick indispensable in every detective story. What begins as a disparate attempt to generate the much needed cash flow for his firm, turns into an encounter with a maniac and ruthless killer.

J K Rowling weaves a plot that is rich with clues that are thrown at the reader which joins together at the climax like a solved jigsaw puzzle. Conventionally, the detectives are shown detached emotionally from the case they are investigating. Most of the times they don't even react to the social environment of the novel. But here the author successfully integrate the investigator with the society in which the crime occurs. In some parts of the novel we can deduce strong social commentary embedded to the plot were the writer satirize the class division that exist between rich and poor and even between different professions. The characters , even minor ones are given sufficient time and space to develop into three dimensional entities.

The narrative slows down a bit towards the middle and there are many repetitive descriptions about the murdered girl and other characters, as though the writer want to help readers who have attention deficiency syndrome, by stating obvious conclusions again and again. But once that phase is over, the novel picks up pace and terminates wonderfully. The novel never defies conventions of the genre, but the rich plotting, brisk narrative and wonderful characters makes The Cuckoo's Calling a fantastic
read.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Three Laugh Out Loud Books

A good book of humor is the best medicine for any stress related issues. After a day's hard work, reading a good joke book can be refreshing and relaxing. I recently read three books that are most suitable for the situation. All three are genuinely funny, easy reads with lot of LOL moments.

 Any teacher out there will agree that checking exam sheets is a monotonous work. But the gem of answers they sometimes come across makes the whole effort worth while. I remember an article that collected such comic answers that was published more than one and a half decade back in a Malayalam newspaper that was so widely read that even now people quote them. These days there are lot of forwarded mails and pictures with similar content that are circulated through social media and email. F in Exams: The Very Best of Totally Wrong Test Answers is a such a compilation by Richard Benson. The collection of the most craziest answers categorized into different disciplines- Maths, History, Geography, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, is one laugh riot from start to end. It is printed in the style of real exam sheet with printed questions and handwritten answers. Even the evaluator's remarks and marks can be seen in some. At first I felt they are authentic, but close observation reveals the handwriting of all answers very much identical. I would recommend this book heavily.

 There are two kinds of people in the world- book readers and others. When the others venture inside a book stall crazy things occur. Weird Things Customers Say in Book Shops, by Jen Campbell recounts many real enquiries- wierd, perplexing and out right crazy that bookshop salespersons had to face. We can observe that these questions arise due to different reasons- idiocy, lack of knowledge or plain mischief. Someone asks about the books written by Jane Eyre while some other want to know if Charles Dickens has written anything fun. Read it and have a good time.

 How to tell if your cat is plotting to kill you?... This is the name of third book. Written and sketched by The Oatmeal (of theoatmeal.com), it is the collection of humorous comics from his site. This book, as the name indicates, is a commentary on feline behaviour which is funny on most of the parts. It is a small book, which can be read with in half an hour. To tell the truth I was not much impressed by it, though it is an amusing read. May be because I am not a cat person or it may be my fondness to Garfield, who makes a more interesting cat than any other.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Micro and Andromeda Strain: The First and Last of Micheal Crichton

The one popular writer about whom I had heard a lot but had never read any works of was Michael Crichton. The first time I read his name was in a newspaper article at the time when Jurassic Park movie released and eventually after watching the movie I was mighty impressed. After that periodically movies released which were based on his novels- Rising Sun, Congo etc. Every book stores, secondhand book shops, libraries that I visited had at least a rack dedicated to his books. Still I never chanced on any one of his works. These were my thoughts when a couple of weeks back, I stood at the library browsing for my next read. I was standing near a stack of books authored by Crichton and finally decided on Micro, his last endeavor.

Only after grabbing the book and getting out of the library did I saw the writing credits shared by Richard Preston. A quick check in internet confirmed my worst fears. The novel was started by Michael Crichton but after his death completed by the other writer. I always had bad experiences with such books. The first two Robert Ludlum novels that I read were Deception Point and Ambler Warning. Both were trash and I was wondering how this guy achieved such success. Then I came to know they were incomplete manuscripts, published after his death using ghost writers. Chancellor Manuscript and Bourne Identity confirmed my theory, never to expect much from novels completed by someone else. After reading, I found that Micro is no exception. Micro is a novel written according to a formula. We have seen many times such concepts in books and movies. A bunch of youngsters get trapped in a foreign environment, and get killed one by one. The only way to get the best of this concept is to make the characters believable and interesting and make us cheer at them fighting against odds. In worst cases I had wished the lot of them get killed sooner and faster and end the misery- the reader's (viewer's in case of a movie) misery, I mean.

In Micro a bunch of researchers get shrunk to the size of millimeters and then get trapped in a rain forest, were they are killed one by one by insects and ants and such things. The group is assembled in such a way that every stereotype usually found in such stories are represented. And each one is equipped with a skill set that can help the group survive the horror, which invariably helps them at one point or other. But characters are so silly and situations so predictable, we never feel for any one and sometimes feel good that some of them gets dropped dead on the way. But the novel scores high on the description part. The scenery of the forest is described wonderfully throughout the novel, making us to experience the alien scenes, sounds and even smells of the insect world. I feel the novel was definitely written with a high profile movie in mind- an adult Honey I Shrunk The Kids.

Just to feel how an actual Michael Crichton novel feels, the next time I decided to read Andromeda Strain, which was the first hit novel of Crichton. Andromeda Strain is about a satellite that falls back to earth with a highly toxic and dangerous alien virus in it, which wipes out a whole town. A bunch of scientists, specially prepared for such an eventuality, assembles in an underground layer and tries to find out ways to contain the pathogen. Now this novel is a fine example of how with minimum setting and strong base of science a great techno thriller can be made. Of course the thrills are a bit dated when we read it now, still the characterization and thick plotting makes it a delightful read.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Book Review: Compass Box Killer

There is class fiction, there is mass (pop) fiction and there is pulp fiction. Though never acknowledged in main stream, cultural impact of pulp fiction on society is well studied by academics. Indian pulp fiction works are mostly written in regional languages, in a shoddy way and marketed chiefly for people in lower strata of society, emphasizing more on sleaze and gore than good story telling. This makes it difficult for urban youth to access and enjoy it. Piyush Jha is attempting to follow the conventions of the genre, but at the same time make it enjoyable for every class of readers through his second book Compass Box Killer. The book is published by Rupa.

Compass Box Killer is the story of a serial killer who leaves back a message in the area of crime about the identity of his next victim in (no points for guessing) an old, rusted compass box. The killings are planned so ingeniously that it is evident the killer is a man who is having in depth knowledge and technical expertise. To further add his difficulty, Inspector Virkar has to dodge intrusive media assaults, an unsupportive boss and some one powerful trying to sabotage his investigation. But when he goes deep into the investigation he find out the real motives behind the murders which points to an unsolved death of a young expatriate that happened years before. Read Compass Box Killer to find out if Virkar can solve the mystery of compass box messages and prevent more ruthless murders from happening.

It is interesting to check out how faithfully the writer follows the Pulp novel genre, how much he deviate and how effective it makes the novel. Sleaze and gore are two major and recurring elements of any pulp fiction. Here Piyush Jha scores a jackpot- there is sex related murder in the prologue itself. First chapter feature another murder and body count is taken to two. As the novel progress thanks to the serial killer plot many bodies fall. And also there is some intimacy shared between Virkar and the femme fatale Raashi Hunerwal. But the author makes sure that the detailing of these aspects in his novel never cross the border of vulgarity, unlike the regular ones of the genre. Another positive aspect that the writer has adopted is the relentless pace with lot of twists in the story. For pulp fictions this is a necessity because as they are produced cheap and are intended for quick consumption, a lot happen over a few pages. Compass Box Killer is also a compact novel with one thing or other happening in each of its pages but the story is woven with much rigidity compared to its counterparts. While pulp novels use the moral ambiguity of its protagonists for inserting more sex and blood into the story, in Compass Box Killer Piyush Jha uses it for creating complex characters.

My only complaint about the story is its lack of suspense. The motives and the identity of the killer could have been revealed towards the end of the novel. Otherwise Compass Box Killer is a taut thriller, with a good plot and decent characterization. It is an easy read. If you are in for some escapism find it here.

The book was received as part of Reviewers Programme on The Tales Pensieve.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Authorised Biography of James Bond: Humanizing a Secret Agent

After writing the much successful biography of Ian Fleming, his long time secretary John Pearson stumbled on an old photograph and found out James Bond is a real secret agent, presumably in retirement due to work related trauma. Pearson was recruited by MI6 when they found out their well kept secret is out. They authorised him to write a biography of James Bond and send him to Bermuda were Bond was living. Pearson met Bond, who is fifty and quite healthy but a bit worn out due to pressure. Bond recounted his troubled childhood, tragic death of his parents, his education, days in military service and his eventual transformation to the ruthless, cool secret agent whom we are all familiar with. When the Russian secret organisation Smersh wanted to eliminate him and became almost successful , his mentor Ian Fleming, with the consent of his boss M., plans to write fictional novels about his adventures and confuse the Russians. The plan is more successful than they ever thought it would be, making James Bond an icon for generations. Based on his numerous interviews with Bond over several lunches, dinners and gallons of Bourbon, Pearson wrote James Bond: An Authorised Biography in 1973.

This is the basic plot of the novel James Bond: An Authorised Biography by John Pearson. I had watched most of the Bond movies, but read only very few Bond novels- From Russia With Love and Diamonds are Forever by Ian Fleming and For Special Services by John Gardener. I found them a bit shallow for my liking and anyway after reading John le Carre there was no point in reading James Bond any more. But biography of Bond had a different appeal. Because he was always so impersonal while on his missions and as all his novels and movies invariably happens during his missions, I felt it will be a great opportunity to get a peek into his mind.

The book is quite interesting in many levels. The prose, narration and characterization is far superior than Ian Fleming's novels. Even if you have not read any James Bond novels before this novel can be read and enjoyed. The back stories of other characters is convincing, but the master stroke is the entry of Ian Fleming as a major character. The book mentions most of the plots of Fleming. Some of the more improbable novels like Moonraker are told to be a trick by Fleming to further confuse Russians and make them believe Bond a man of fiction. To add to the credit of author, the humanizing of Bond in no way takes away the aura from him. It makes him more endearing to readers.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Around India In 80 Trains With Monisha Rajesh

Years back I had a wish to just get in the local compartment of a long route train and travel around without any plan. To take a break for a month from everything and live with just a backpack. Unfortunately at that time, like so many other fabulous wishes, this one too bit the dust. When I picked up Monisha Rajesh's book Around India in 80 Trains, I probably wanted to see my long back abandoned wish realized by someone else.

Monisha Rajesh, a British journalist of Indian origin, had lived in India in her childhood for a very short period with parents. They weren't comfortable with the living conditions and had returned back. After years she decides in favor of returning to take up a journey across India in 80 trains- clearly inspired by the classic adventure novel Around the World in 80 Days. She even calls her photographer travelling companion Passpertout! Just like the Passpertout in the novel there is a phase in the journey were he abandons Monisha 'Phileas Fogg' Rajesh, only to rejoin her later and finish the task on hand.

To her credit, Monisha has travelled extensively and in most of the variety of trains running in the sub-continent. From toy trains to locals to luxury coaches she has covered it all. But more than just travelling in them, she has inter-acted with passengers belonging to varied social strata, gender and professions and she then goes on to write about them in a funny yet touching way. What makes the book reach a higher level than many similar travelogues is the writer's background. Her bad experiences with living in India during her childhood has caused a cynicism to the general attitudes of Indian living. Her constant efforts to come in terms with this adds depth to the book. This is a book written with lot of honesty and good amount of wit.

On the flip side, some parts of the book seemed to be written in a rush. She doesn't write much about most of places that she visited. Of course whatever is there- temples of Karnataka, Golden Temple, Simla- are great to read. The book is more of an account of people she saw on the course of the journey. There are a few parts where her cynicism irritated me a bit. She knew what to expect when she took up this journey, then why to crib so much about insensitive beaurocracy, intrusive public, unclean surroundings...?

I would recommend Around India in 80 Trains to all who like travelling. It is a well written travelogue, honest and witty.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Malayalam Movie Shutter: Movie With Moral

As I told in my last post about Amen, Malayalam movie industry is in a rediscovery mode, churning out products that are out of the box. Major players who brought these changes are youngsters who are reluctant to abide all tried and trusted formulae and are willing to experiment with themes, plots and treatment. A similar phase occurred in mid 80s when many youngsters made such brave attempts to redefine movie making. Suddenly portraying the grey spots that inhibited the fringes of society like prostitution, extra/ pre marital affairs, slums and poverty became no more taboo. One such movie was Amma Ariyan, directed by legendary John Abraham (not to be confused with the Bollywood hero) which is among the 10 best Indian films selected by British Film Institute. Joy Matthew, the protagonist of that movie, who went on to become a veteran theatre personality of Kerala has made his debut movie as a director with this social thriller named Shutter. It was interesting to watch it and find what is brought on the table of New Generation Cinema by someone who has a first hand experience of the movies of 80s.

Shutter is a movie that is satirical of the present social system existing in Kerala. It narrate the story of a man trapped inside an unused shop with a prostitute for a night and a day. The movie portray his angst and his anxiety about the impending humiliation when his family find out about the embarrassing situation. But his adventure inside the shutter broaden his narrow mind and eventually help come from unexpected quarter changing him for good. The story mentions several social evils existing in present day Malayali society like alcoholism, moral decay, betrayal, underage marriage, corruption, indiscipline and distrust. To the credit of the director, he does not go overboard and present a bird's eye view of everything. The package is neat and slick, suspense is gripping and the absence of sleaze and foul language even with the subject matter movie is trying to deal with, is commendable. The major difference between Shutter and other New Generation Malayalam movies lies in its emphasize on a strong moral base. It delivers a strong message on morality very subtly.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Malayalam Movie Amen: A Visual Fable

Movies are basically a visual form of art like a painting or a sculpture. What makes movies different from paintings is the scope to add to it other artistic expressions like a piece of music or literature for enhancing the effect of the viewing experience. But practically what we find is that while making movies, more importance is given to a structured story (it may be even an absurd one were a hero can fight singlehandedly with scores of men simultaneously dodging countless bullets and in the next scene romance the heroine on the top of Alps) and movie making is reduced to a level of simple story telling following the route of a live drama (in fact most of the plays that I watched recently, tries and transcends the limitations of stage gloriously, making them much better than any average movie). We, the viewers are so much conditioned to the story-centrist approach of movies that any variation in it will cause us to reject the movie labelling it as self centered, indulgent or arthouse making it commercially not viable to make movies that fully utilise the potential of movie making.

Recently Malayalam movie industry is on a self discovery stage and several attempts are being made to take movie making out of its comfort zones and deliver results that defy conventions. So it was quite natural that a talented movie maker decided to make a movie that is not mere story telling. Amen is the third movie by Lijo Jose Pellissery. The movie does not have much of a plot or great characterization in the conventional sense. It is told in a very leisurely pace, ensuring that each shot is aesthetically good but never compromising on the overall coherent structure. It explores ways to make the movie watching a visual experience and everything else- acting, plot, dialogue and songs contributing to enhance it. The movie is a fine balance between commercial and artistic cinema. It performed well in theatres. Amen is a director's movie with a basic underdog plot and dominated by beautiful individual shots that unfolds like a dreamy fable.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia by S.Hussain Zaidi

The underworld of Mumbai and its modus operandi are familiar to people outside Mumbai through newspaper reports, crime features in media and many gangster flicks churned out regularly by Bollywood and other film industries of the subcontinent. Dongri to Dubai is an attempt by veteran crime reporter Hussain Zaidi to chronicle the birth and rise of the monster that is Mumbai mafia in the past six decades. As the key player of the game is Dawood Ibrahim, it is just natural that his story occupies the major portion of the book. Even the title mentions his rise from a small time law breaker in Dongri to the kingpin of an international enterprise indulging in several illegal activities with its pivot in Dubai and its tentacles spread world over.

The book starts with a telephone interview that the writer had with Dawood, which in itself is a rarity and a priceless scoop as the Don is rather reluctant to come out in public after the infamous blasts. Even any of his recent photographs are not available in the public domain. The story then go back to pre-independance years and describe the formation of several small gangs operated by immigrants from North India. After detailing the plight of many minor gangsters and their eventual fading into oblivion, caused by fighting among themselves or by the long hands of law, we read about the rise of one man who is responsible for the first criminal empire in Mumbai- Haji Mustan. Mustan, who used to be a coolie on the docks, took up smuggling for the extra monetary benefits. Soon he built links with Gulf countries and graduated to an established gold smuggler. The other two gangsters who joined hands with Mustan to form a troika of money, muscles and network were Varadarajan Mudaliar, the South Indian illegal hooch king and Karim Lala, the powerful leader of Pathan gang.

Ibrahim Kaskar was a police constable who maintained good relation with all major gangsters. His son Dawood clashed with Pathan gang and was aided by Bombay Police to form his own gang and quash the Pathan power. Police wanted to use Dawood for their own aid, but he had other plans and was using police support for his own benefit. Soon gang wars raged on the streets and Dawood emerged the lone survivor, sidelining even Mustan and Karim Lala. After the Bombay blasts, Dawood and his aides had to leave India. Still his clout was maintained and Mumbai mafia was remote controlled from Dubai. Fallout between Dawood and Chhota Rajan, how Dawood ended up in Karachi and the relationship of Bollywood and D company are the other major episodes in the drama.

Dongri to Dubai has an exhaustive subject scope with lot of details. The writer should be given full credit for exploring it with such passion and vigour. He covers a lot of ground and yet manages never to bore or confuse the reader throughout the narrative. The language of street with liberal sprinkling of expletives adds the authenticity. For those of us who are aware of many incidents and characters described in the book, it serve as kind of a solved fill in the blanks puzzle. The revelation of motives and hidden agendas behind incidents that are embedded in psyche through newspaper reports (like the attempt on Chotta Rajan's life or Chotta Shakeel's innings in Bollywood that ended in a debacle) were interesting to say the least.

One issue that I had with the book is its attempt to sensationalise the issues. The description sometimes descends to tabloid quality. Also the human angle is never presented, causing the narrative to never rise above the level of a nineties Bollywood revenge thriller. Also the writer describe the links between mafia and film industry in length, but surprisingly is quiet about its connection with cricket. Nowhere the name of a cricket player is mentioned. Inspite of these, Dongri to Dubai is a wonderful book. It serves as a compelling and necessary read for all, as terrorism and mafia is engulfing our ordinary lives in many different ways. For example it was shocking for me to realize that the profit from selling of pirated DVDs in the subcontinent is used for funding terrorism! No more grey market DVDs for me.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Number One Ladies Detective Agency: Flavor Botswana

The Number One Ladies Detective Agency: I am not sure why I picked up this book to read! From some time I had noticed the books of this series on the shelves of my friendly neighborhood library and many book stalls. I am always reluctant to choose a book that is part of a series. Still I chose The Number One Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. May be I needed a relaxing and easy read then, which the cover art of the book promised.

The story is set in Botswana. Mma Precious Ramotswe is the proprietor of the country's (probably even whole Africa's) first private detective agency run by a lady. After escaping an abusive marriage, she sets up her agency with the help of an inheritance. Initially no many clients approach her but soon business improves thanks to her sharp intellect and sincere approach. She solves many cases involving missing husbands, dishonest teenage kids, fraud imposters and so on. She finds a good friend in the neighboring motor mechanic and feelings start to develop. There is parallel track concerning a missing kid who is probably kidnapped for the purpose of witch craft.

The novel is an easy read. It captures the living conditions and culture of Botswana beautifully. The lead character is the main reason to read the novel. Mma Ramotswe is portrayed as a no nonsense African lady with huge respect for the culture and tradition she had grown up in. She has a very good sense of justice which she uses in her profession to help others. The social conditions of the continent- superstitions, gender bias, cultural differences between several ethnicities, traditions and traditional values are portrayed in a picturesque manner. But if you are looking for a conventional mystery, you are in for disappointment. The pace here is more relaxed and the plot is a bit disjointed. Unlike other detective fiction, this novel does not even have a central mystery for the detective to solve.

I liked the book and would recommend it if anybody wants a light read. But I am not sure if I will ever try the follow up books.