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

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="">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