Friday, July 24, 2015

Book Review: The Invention Of Wings (By Sue Monk Kidd)

As long as the mind is enslaved, the body can never be free. Psychological freedom, a firm sense of self-esteem, is the most powerful weapon against the long night of physical slavery 


My favorite line from the book - "It was his way of telling me. I could not have him and myself both."
Spanning a period of about 35 years, this is the story of two female protagonists, Sarah Grimke and Hetty Handful and their tryst with broken dreams, heartbreak, personal loss and finally liberation (the so called wings).

The opening chapter introduces you to the character of the slave girl Handful who listens with rapt attention to the stories narrated by her mother, the best seamstress in Charleston. "There was a time in Africa the people could fly". The seeds of freedom from slavery are sowed in the little one's mind even before she realizes it. "It was later that I saw what she meant. We could fly all right, but it wasn't any magic to it."

The next chapter introduces us to Sarah, a eleven year old who devises a slogan for herself. "If you must err, do so on the side of audacity.". This proclamation combined with her refusal to take a waiting maid, sets the tone for things to come. Her love for books and her desire to become a jurist was in stark contradiction to her times which was about "polite education for the female mind", a course course in needlework, manners, drawing, basic reading, penmanship, piano, Bible, french and "enough arithmetic to add two and two". The early stirrings of feminism are very much evident in her character.

The readers are exposed to every aspect of a slave's life as the two girls set on a journey of breaking one taboo after the other. There are moments of humor like one where it seems that they are burning down the house, another moment of tenderness when the girls enjoy some tea on the roof and exchange secrets. There is downright indignation when Handful's mother is subjected to a most horrifying punishment. The change in latter's character is quite evident after the incident as she "had stopped stealing and taken up safer ways to do harm and wreckage".

As the girls grow up, Sarah suffers a heartbreak which leads her to the religious way. At the same time, we are introduced to the character of Denmark Vesey, who is shown to be linked with Handful's mother. As the plot advances, his character grows more and more prominent.

There are more characters introduced later in the book, the most notable of them being Angelina, who is Sarah's youngest sibling. She turns into a godmother for her, and wants to live her unfulfilled dreams through her. The reader is obliged when towards the end of this book, the sisters actually come together for a cause.

A beautiful tale that deals with slavery and women's empowerment, this is a book that grows on you as you move from one page to another. The unlikely bonding between a girl from a aristocratic family and her slave girl takes many a twists and turns before culminating in a befitting climax. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Book Review: Asura - Tale of the Vanquished (by Anand Neelakantan)

Some books do not end even when you have read the last chapter and have put it back on the shelf. The pages continue to be turned in your mind and some part of you wishes to go back again and read that particular chapter(s) or even a particular page.

And this particular narration of the Ramayana is just one of those. Ramayana has been told and retold but never from the perspective of the vanquished. And we all are aware of the fact that history is always biased, singing paeans of the victor and demonizing/denigrating the losers. So while Lord Rama is worshiped as the epitome of manhood, Ravana is degraded to the status of the evil villain who kidnapped the former's wife. Thankfully, the author has put a fresh spin on it and after reading this book, one will never look at the Ramayana is the same way as one did earlier. Meet Ravana, the complete man with his ten emotions (baser ones included) instead of the demon with ten heads .

The book opens with a grievously injured Ravana awaiting his death in the battlefield. In the final moments of his life, he takes us though his story, his childhood, his journey to the throne of Lanka and the final defeat at the hands of a enemy. As his story plays out, we are also privy into the private life of one of his foot soldiers Bhadra. A very effective ruse adopted by Neelakantan to showcase the divide between the rich and the poor, and how the change of a regimen hardly affects the miserable existence of those perched on the bottom rung of the social ladder.

"Fortunately, our citizens had yet to reach those heights of civilization when they stone women to death."

" I saw Brahmins in filthy clothes, thumping their walking sticks sharply on the ground to drive away any polluting castes. People conducted their business in the market place with elaborate rituals so no one would touch or pollute each other. But they also spat red pan juice all over the street and walked over it. People openly defecated but were still scrupulous about not touching each other.Had it not been so pathetic and ironical, it would have been comical. "

"We will cast away the evil society of the Asuras under Ravana, when men thought that merit and hard work alone could assure them happiness."

Though this book refers to an age that we have left behind, a lot of it is still very much relevant.

One discovers a Ravana who is haughty, egoistic but at the same time aspires to become a great administrator. There is much that our politicians can earn from him. He is, as Bhadra puts him "I understood why Ravana would never be deified. He was too humane to be a God."

If I had to rate this, I would give it a 5/5. Anything less would be injustice to Anand Neelakantan, who has given us this brilliant piece of literature. Truly unforgettable.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Book Review: Half Girlfriend (by Chetan Bhagat)

(Buy online Here)

Oops....he did it again!!! Chetan Bhagat's latest could easily be another Hindi blockbuster. Hardly surprising for a guy who is quoted to be the largest selling English language novelist in Indian History. He thrives on mass appeal. Something which the Dan BrownsJeffery Archers and the Sidney Sheldons lack. They do not touch the soul of the Indian reader simply because the plot, the settings and even the English is so alien. Bhagat has his finger on the pulse of the average Indian who just like Madhav, the lead protagonist, thinks first in vernacular and then translates it into English. Akin to providing the proverbial icing on the cake, he intersperses English with Bhojpuri, sometimes even crass stuff like 'Deti hai to de, varna kat le'.

The story which moves between Delhi, Bihar and New York, is a poor boy meets rich chick plot with a very realistic twist. "Rich chick falling for a poor guy?? Dude that happens only in our Hindi movies". A standard reaction. But what makes this convincing is that the chick, who is portrayed as being commitment phobic, does not fall for our poor Bihari guy until the end. She agrees to be his half-girlfriend but no more. The reason behind it revealed much later. For a story that is largely narrated in flashback, Bhagat maintains a good grip on the plot.

The main protagonists meet in college as teenagers. Their love for basketball brings them close but their bliss does not last. Both take off their separate ways to pursue individual dreams but destiny has other plans for them. They meet after three years, both older and wiser. Only to be separated by another twist of fate. They meet yet again in the climax, this time to end up together.

The book has quite a few sparkling moments including one when Madhav, the Bihari guy who has always nursed a complex about his English, delivers a speech (a section of which is impromptu) in English in front of Bill Gates and bags a grant from the Gates Foundation. Both the leads are flesh and blood characters who have 'hatke' dreams and are not afraid of pursuing them.

Bhagat has fleetingly touched upon a lot of sensitive topics including child abuse, marital abuse and secondary status of the girl child in society. But in typical Bhagat style, he does not dissect them. No intellectual reflections. No philosophical views. Highly recommended (even for those folks who rather prefer his movies)!

If you have any reservations about Bhagat's English which sounds rather juvenile given his pedigree, read this article (click here). English elitist's eat your heart out. The rest of India is catching up and how.

Book Review : Adultery (by Paulo Coelho)

'An attractive woman in her mid thirties is terrified of her humdrum but rather privileged existence. She keeps sinking into the abyss of depression till she meets an ex-boyfriend who is super successful. Predictably a torrid affair follows and then she is possessed by guilt. But it ends on a placid note when she gets back to her husband who accepts her with open arms (and heart). '

The above paragraph is a short summary of what the book is all about. While it opens with a great setting which sets off the mood for the affair that is to follow, it actually fails to strike the right chords with the reader. Not what I would expect from an author who gave us something unforgettable like 'The Alchemist'.

The opening lines certainly raised my expectations (and that of my female friends too). 'Every morning, when I open my eyes to the so-called "new day", I feel like closing them again, staying in bed, and not getting up. But I can't do that.' Then we are exposed to the turning point in Linda's (main protagonist) life. It is a question that changed her life. You feel good at that point as quite a few of us would have experienced that kind of a moment.

But then the story progresses to her first meeting with her ex-boyfriend (Jacob) where she transforms herself into some kind of a porn star. It gets a little jarring because at this point you realize that it is not emotional security that she is after. It is the sheer thrill of living on the edge that drives her. From then it is one crazy roller coaster of emotions which gets to a point where she devises of a scheme to plant drugs to get Jacob's wife out of her way.

It is a little incredulous when she finally attains enlightenment during a paragliding expedition( why of all things in this world ??). The ending of the story is quite lame and certainly very disappointing. It is a little too convenient as if the author just decided to finish the book one fine day and gave it a "lived happily ever after" kinda climax.

Rating 2.5/5 (only for the sake of those awesome opening lines). Read at your own peril.

Book Review : God is a Gamer (Ravi Subramanian)

"Indian teams of multinationals these days are just expected to execute not think".

Ravi Subramanian literally manages to hit the nail on the head. Even for someone who has been following him ever since the days of 'If God was a Banker', it comes across as quite 'tongue-in-cheek'. For me, this is a coming-of-age book for the guy who has actually been through the innards of the corporate world.

A plot that is entangled in greed (after all Bitcoin is money even though it is virtual), gaming, cyber-terrorism and politics, this one had me hooked till the end. Alas, all good things have to come to an end. But sometimes an encore is also a possibility (thank God for that) as in case of this book. I am reading it for the second time even as I pen down the review.

The plot that begins with two top notch bankers lobbying with an influential Senator who has the ear of the US President. There is a fleeting mention of Wikileaks which is used as a ruse to introduce the reader to the concept of Bitcoins, the virtual currency which was darling of the tech world till the collapse of Mt Gox in Feb 2014. Mt Gox was a Japan based exchange for Bitcoins that transacted over 70 percent of the virtual currency. Ravi has done a fair job of describing how Bitcoin works in layman terms. He even includes a website Cotton Trail ( does the term 'Silk Route' ring any bells ? ) that trades/accepts payment in Bitcoins in the book.

It is only when the Senator gets assassinated and a phishing scam happens that things start to heat up. The reader is exposed to the power play that takes place in Corporate boardrooms and politicals corridors. We have a female head of a powerful bank who is involved in money laundering, dalliances with a Finance minister and finally ends up dead ( is it a suicide or a murder ??).

The gaming angle and Facebook are given ample coverage. The role of social media in marketing anything and everything (whether it is a game or a even blog like "Confessions of a Hooker") is brought under the lens.

Plus there are the situations which cater to the Indian mindset too. The meeting between a father and a long lost son, the son helping the old man out with his latest venture, the father's unshakable faith in the son's ability to deliver, a romantic angle, an honest man getting bumped off because he chose to depose against a powerful figure, US investigators using guile to get past the famed Indian red tape in the course of their investigation are some of those.

There is a new revelation in almost every chapter and that is what sustains one's interest throughout the book (Ex- Do you know what Satoshi Nakamoto stands for ? ). This is difficult to keep the facts out of your head. One keeps working out the plot over and over while making amendments as and when new facts show up. But it is the twist in the end which delivers the knockout punch.  A must read if you are crazy about thrillers that draw heavily on technology.

A Thousand Splendid Suns (By Khaled Hosseini): Book Review

Buy it online on Flipkart.

A moving story about two women who share a relationship which can be described as mother-daughter, best friends, love-rivals (being married to the same man) and more. Mariam and Laila are heroines in the true sense of the word despite the abuse they put up with. Set in the backdrop of the socio-political changes that have completely altered Afghanistan, this one is another gem from the author of the best seller 'The Kite Runner'. It describes in striking details how war or social unrest affects the plight of women and children.

It starts on a relatively calm note. An illegitimate child or a 'harami' who lives on the outskirts of society looks forward to the monthly visits of her father whom she idolizes. In a strange turn of events, her father's spinelessness is revealed when her mother commits suicide and she is forced to marry a much older guy Rashid.

This guy too has a past of his own and one almost feels sorry for him until he starts to reveal his chauvinistic side. "A woman's face is her husband's business". Things get worse when she suffers the first miscarriage and then disintegrate further as there follows a series of those. Domestic violence rears it ugly head but the stoic Marian takes everything in her stride and shoulders on.

Laila on the other hand, has a more privileged and protected childhood. Her father is a teacher and an intellectual and she grows up in a rather liberal atmosphere. Her life is shattered by the sudden death of her brothers and a rocket attack that kills both her parents. Deeply in love with a neighborhood boy (and pregnant with his child), she is then forced to join Mariam's household. Another negative characteristic of Rashid is revealed at this point as he manipulates the fifteen year old into marrying him. A lot of intriguing events take place before the climax (which is a happy ending for those who really want to know). Most noteworthy however is initial skirmish between the two woman (which remind one of the MIL & DIL clash in the Indian telly soaps) and the failed escape bid of the two women and the repercussions that follow. I am not going to reveal more and spoil what can be the perfect read during the Christmas and New Year vacations (if you are the type who prefers to chill out with a book rather then party all night).

'A Thousand Splendid Suns' outraged my sensibilities, made me cry and yet having read the last page, it lit something akin to the glimmer of hope in my heart. Sorry, but you cannot just close this book and get it out of your mind for it continues to haunt you for days to come.

Book Review: Yagnaseni - The story of draupadi ( by Prativa Ray )

[This book was originally written in Odia by author Prativa Ray. She won the Moorti Devi Award in 1991 for 'Yagnaseni' and was honored with the Jnanpith Award in 2011. This is one of the few books to be written about Draupadi, one of the central female characters of Mahabharata. The author has, by her own admission, included some imaginary episodes in the narration. This review is based on the English translation]

History is replete with many a kings who have had harems full of women. Yet, they have been heaped with liberal praise and their achievements have never been overshadowed by their personal lives. The women on the other hand have never been so fortunate. The moment she takes another man, she is ridiculed in the unkindest terms. But since I read this book with the intention of unraveling the psyche of such a woman, I have tried to retain my objectiveness and have refrained from being judgmental at any point.

When I first picked the book, I wanted a fresh look a Mahabharata, one from a female perspective. Well, these days there is a lot of talk about it and it is touted as one of the reasons for inclusion of women in the boardroom. Now most men would support such a move for the fear of being branded politically incorrect if they choose to look the other way. Some would even say that they would support their spouse should she choose to work. But how many would lend her a helping hand when it comes to domestic chores ? Doing the kids homework ? Not many, I guess. And that is what makes a world of difference. So, the keyword here is 'empathy' and not 'sympathy'. 'Empathy' for Draupadi is what the author is trying to achieve through this book.

I loved the fact that Yagnaseni, meaning one who is born out of the sacrificial flames, is portrayed as a normal woman. She is shown as a carefree young woman who has a crush on Krishna. But circumstances lead to a Swayamvar and she gets betrothed to Arjun, the third Pandav. She is shown as idolizing him and treating him as a hero. She is every bit the shy new bride with stars in hers eyes till she is forced to marry all the five Pandavs due to a misunderstanding on the part of Kunti, her mother in law.

From this point, one sees her as a tormented woman who has to live up to the expectations of five husbands, each of whom is as different from the other as is chalk from cheese. She is shown to possess a soft corner for Arjun, her first husband and her hero whom she does not want to share with Subhadra. Though she is wise and learned, all these qualities take a back seat as she gets on with her domestic duties. At times, I felt that the five Pandavs are portrayed as being too conceited.

The author meanders into controversial territory with Draupadi's fascination with Karna. The latter is shown to nurture a grudge after being turned down at the Swayanvar. The few interactions between the two are beautifully narrated and are among the memorable parts of the book. Despite Karna's thinly veiled hatred, Yagnaseni seems to be attracted towards him.Though it seems jarring, it has to be viewed it in the light of Karna being an equal of Arjun ( as Krishna quotes in the later part of the book ). Maybe one should suspend one's rationality by a few degrees while reading this book and consider everything to be a part of Krishna ( who actually holds the Universe within himself ) and his scheme.

The book ends with a journey to heaven that Yagnaseni undertakes with her five husbands. But sadly it ends with her fall on the golden dust of the Himalayas. It is attributed to the negative thoughts in her mind. At this point, none of her husbands come to her rescue. Though it seems cruel, it has to be viewed in the light of one's accumulated Karma and the resulting ramifications.

Overall it is a good book but one that has deep spiritual connotations. It took me more than a month to get over with it as one tends to read a chapter, mull over it and then go back and read it all over again.

Buy it online @ Amazon .

Book Review: Warrior (by Oliver Lafont)

When it comes to fiction, I usually rate a book by the shortest possible time taken from start to completion. It boils down to a ratio like number of pages divided by the number of days. Anything that scores more than hundred is top dog. And it took me just 2.5 days to chow down the entire 375 pages on this one :):).

Coming to the storyline. An immortal son of Lord Shiva. The imminent End of Days. Space travel. A heavy does of quantum physics. And a rag tag team of soldiers facing an unknown enemy. Imagine the endless possibilities that can arise when one decides to throw all these components together into one heady cocktail. It can either make one land flat on one's face or one can end up with a sparkling read that is a sure shot winner. And trust me, this book falls into the latter category.

Oliver Lafont is a fine story teller. He adds elements of mythology, science, human emotions and heroism into the narration and yet does not allow these numerous elements slacken his grip at any point. The language is easy to grasp and yet at par with international authors. Since this is his debut novel, I would rate him to be much better than quite a few of his Indian contemporaries who are in the business of churning out one hopeless plot after another.

But at the same time, there are a few flawed bits. Some parts could have been left out or modified to add substance to the plot. For example, some of that banter between Saam and his girlfriend which lacks chutzpah, the meeting of the Peerless which looks contrived and even the first meeting with the geeky IIT professor which seems too gory without a proper reason. But then there are some bits like a parallel Kurukshetra war fought in another world (aka another dimension of time and space ) which make one wonder if the concept of good and evil are anything but absolute and need to be calibrated in terms of relativity. Nonetheless, this one slowly grows on you and keeps you captivated till the end.

This is a book that allows one's imagination to take a lot of wild twists and turns which may or may not be a good thing for some( personal preference ). Not going to spoil the suspense by revealing more of the plot. Grab a copy of this one and you won't regret it.

Buy it online from Amazon.

Do read the author's interview here .

[DISCLAIMER - A copy of the book was provided by the author's publicist but that has not influenced my opinion in any manner.]

Book Review : Ramayana - The Game of Life (Shattered Dreams Book 2)

Perhaps the greatest injustice done to our epics have been relegating them to the place of worship. For they contain the wisdom that is meant to be handed down over the generations instead of being locked up in the name of religion. Sage Valmiki's Ramayana is no exception, for every episode and every character is a case study in human and quantitative psychology. How unfortunate then that something so valuable is now considered uncool by the current generation !!

It then takes someone like Shubha Vilas to narrate it in a language that resonates with the youth of today and bring it back into popular imagination. A sequel to the first book 'The Rise of the Sun Prince', this book traces the events in Rama's life that precede his planned coronation, the bitter twist of fate and the initial days of the exile. Now I must admit that I have not read the first part though I am aware of the good reviews. I did pick up a fair portion of the Ramayana from my elders during the growing up years and had not thought of reconnecting with the epic since. Plus the feminist in me is forever up in arms against the 'Agni pareeksha' episode that Sita had to endure. But that has changed with this book. Now I am planning to order 'The Rise of The Sun Prince' and all the sequels as and when they hit the stalls. I am especially looking forward to the chapters that revolve around Sita and how sensitively the author handles them.

When the aging Dasaratha is besieged by nightmares and wishes to relinquish power and anoint Rama as his successor, the shallow minded Keikeyi devises a shrewd plan to exile the latter and to put the ropes into the hands of her own son. At this juncture, one can almost draw the parallel with India's aging politicians who suddenly find themselves out in the cold. This episode iterates the need for a leader to step down while he is still at the peak of his power and any signs of weakness are still undetected. For opportunists like Keikeyi, any sign of failing (which in the case of Dasaratha was his lust for the much younger and beautiful Keikeyi) signals an opportunity to grab power.

Deeper into the narration, one comes to know that Dasaratha was under the influence of a curse for having killed Shravan kumar and causing much distress (and ultimately death) to his blind parents. While his intentions might have been sabotaged by the devious Keikeyi, the seeds for his sorrow were already sown in his past. It goes to show that one has to bear the consequences of one's action and others can only act as a medium for it.

Some of the other memorable lessons in this book are the faultless arguments put up by Sita and Lakshmana who decide to accompany Rama to the forest , the first night of the exile and the story of the boatman . Of course there is an interesting chapter on Ravana's life too !

The footnotes included at the bottom of each page are quite useful. They provide detailed explanation and in most cases add to the narration with relevant facts without actually breaking the flow of the plot.

All in all, this is a great read. A big thanks to BlogAdda for giving me the opportunity to read and review this masterpiece !!!

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Book Review: The Lives Of Others (By Neel Mukherjee)

[Buy online HERE]

Poverty. Suicide. Murder. Domestic tussles. Incest. Adolescent minds. Worker unions. Red Tape. Marginalisation of widows. Prejudice over skin color. Drug abuse. Text book revolutionaries. Exploitation of tribals. Naxalities issues. Torture. 'Lives of Others' has all this and more. Neel Mukherjee has tried to cram in as much as he can. And with a wonderful flourish as the guy seems to have a remarkable talent for detailing.

It starts on a tragic note with a mass murder and a suicide by a impoverished farmer. But in the very next chapter, we are introduced to a rich family with the ladies of the house deliberating over what to wear during those five days of Durga Puja. In a stark contrast, the story moves along two parallel worlds, the bourgeois Bengali family residing at 22/6 and the marginalized farmers residing in the countryside. These two world are bridged (at least though a series of letters that have never been posted) when the pampered grandson of the family along with his revolutionary mates, leaves the material comforts of his home to become one with the farmers. But Supratik is no hero. He takes out his frustrations on his simpleton mother, ignores his brother who is sinking deep into drugs, feels outraged when lectured by the domestic help and finally ends up framing the poor man. His shocking untimely death makes one feel that he died an unsung hero. But redemption comes in the last chapter when a young Naxalite remembers the Pratik-da who invented the technique to dislodge fishplates on the railway tracks. The author should be given credit for providing such deep insights into two radically different worlds.

The Ghosh family is headed by the now-ailing patriarch Prafullanath who has built a fortune from the paper mills in the early 1900's. The story centers around his sons and daughter-in-laws who are now trying to grab on to the bigger share of the family fortune which is on a decline (thanks to labor unrest and a plant modernization gone kaput). Interestingly, the station of each member in the four storeyed house mirrors their position/status in the family hierarchy. Most heart-breaking is the fate of the widow of the youngest son and her children, who are relegated to the servant quarters and subsist on leftovers. Another heart wrenching plot is the fate of the only unmarried daughter of the house. Though well-educated and blessed with a golden voice, marriage has eluded her because of her being dark-skinned and cross-eyed. Her relationship with Priyo and jealousy towards her lower caste sister in law make for some thought-provoking episodes.

But it is the power struggle between Charulata (MIL) and Purnima (DIL) that provide some of the most sparkling moments on the domestic front. One such gem is the when the elderly woman silences the garrulous Purnima by threatening to withhold the family's heirloom jewelry from the latter' daughter's wedding trousseau.

The beautiful descriptions of Durga Puja, a girl's obsession with a imported pencil box and her cruel manipulation of her mother's lack of English skills, the episode when Chhaya spills nail-polish on Purnima's clothes or the time when she cleverly exposes her niece's escapades with the neighbor's son, Priyo's obsession with coprophila and the episode involving a prostitute, the family's mollycoddling on the youngest child Somnath and his inflicting torture on hapless insects and animals are memorable on the domestic front.

The sequence of letters which interrupt the happenings on the domestic front expose the inner turmoils of Supratik and his first hand experience of country life .The intricate detailing of the rice cultivation process and the back-breaking labor involved, the abject episodes of poverty, a village fair, the murders of Harekrishna Das and Senapati are very well narrated.

In short a very powerful and well-chronicled account by Neel Mukherjee. It goes on and on in your mind even after you have finished reading it( currently reading it for the second time and enjoying it even more than the first ). A must read.

[ The Lives of Others has been nominated for this year's Man Booker Prize ]

Book Review : First Family by David Baldacci

But it on Amazon.

First ladies come in all shades but none can beat Jane Cox. She is sharp, ambitious and totally ruthless. At times, she mirrors a former US first lady who choose to stand by her husband even when he was besieged by a sex scandal that lead to his impeachment. Just another example where a writer has drawn inspiration from real life. And she almost succeeds but for an unlikely nemesis in a plantation owner, a guy driven by his pursuit of justice. He is meticulous and has the patience to boot. He hatches a very audacious plot, unleashes a chain of events that lead his victims to him and then waits for them to walk into the trap.

The story starts with a high profile B'day celebration which promptly turns into a nightmare with a murder and a kidnapping. The investigators are called in but initial leads turn out to be false. The life of the First family and their ways are described in such detail that one almost starts to sympathize with the rich and the famous politicians living under the media glare . While the actual plot is not very new, the narration and the web of suspense built by Baldacci makes it a winner. The most brilliant aspect of the book is the turning point where the good guys and the bad guys actually swap places.

There are enough sub-plots and minor revelations to keep the suspense alive till the very end. Most of the characters are very human and hence prone to their own share of failings. Baldacci has nicely tied a lot of loose ends and created a memorable book.

The lead pair of Baldacci's novels, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell are in top shape apart from the personal problems plaguing Michelle which shape up into an impressive sub-plot. Given that this book is a through and through suspense thriller, I wont' be volunteering more details. Read it for you wont' regret it !!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Not-so-ideal Idols !!!

Image courtesy :

One of the biggest tragedies of growing up has been the loss of idols. And I am not talking about those stone/metal or even terracotta ones. They abound in plenty and crop up at every nook and corner, even in places where you have least expected it. Such that it becomes too tedious to pay obeisance to them every time you pass one. But fear not for I am talking about those flesh and blood ones. The folks that we looked up to in our younger days.

Sadly, they have been falling off the pedestal faster than I can manage to install their successor. Nothing as spectacular like the 'Fall of the Titans' but a fall from grace nonetheless. Maybe I expected too much or maybe they were much too affected. It feels strangely empty though not very uncomfortable. I guess as Anand Neelakantan puts it, each one of them is "too human to be considered a God".

None of their follies can be considered anywhere near criminal. One of of them might have just been plagued by something as minor as complacency to the point that it appeared a violation of ethics while another could not resist the lure some moolah ( which I felt he should have denied on principle). Yet others have turned out to be manipulators, sycophants and even worse. Maybe it is just my fault that I had considered they guys to be above petty things such as money and status.

On seconds thoughts, all of these folks who had achieved some greatness must have worked hard to get there. It is very much possible that they made mistakes. But the momentum of success is such that it snowballs one's achievements and blinds others to any signs of failure. But once the momentum is lost, the failures look stark and even glaring. Of course, these folks try every trick in the book to hold onto their position/power and in the process, appear even more deplorable.

While I did feel a little lost initially when all my idols did their vanishing act, I realized that there is an idol in each one of us. Our everyday struggles, the trials and tribulations for survival, the small but significant success stories, all of it add a little bit of sheen that can only be discerned by our near and dear ones. We may not shine as much as a few amongst us, but that does not make us anything lesser. For now, I am going to enjoy my freedom from the shackles of aspiring greatness that I got in exchange of my idol worship . Maybe I will just pray to the inanimate ones for a change. Atleast till the next one comes along.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Book Review: Intervention by Robin Cook

Buy on .

This book is a fine example of how writers take inspiration from their contemporaries and try to capitalize on popular sentiments. The timing of this book coincides with the mass frenzy that gripped the popular imagination following the release of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code.

Unlike the usual gripping medical thrillers Robin Cook churns out, this plot for this one relies heavily on Christian beliefs, mainly the mystery surrounding the Virgin Mary and the birth of Jesus. The imagery included in this section, mainly that of the Vatican, is impressive.

Alternative medicine provides another major support for the storyline. The author has done a very good comparison of the points where it scores over traditional medicine while adequately highlighting the risks or drawbacks that accompany it.

The personal sufferings of the main protagonist Jack Stapleton also find a mention in the plot. And it is his relationship with his old college buddies that binds the story together.

The initial chapters are mediocre with the story starting to gather steam towards the climax but the unexpected gives it a incomplete feeling not unlike one of a cliffhanger.

Interestingly, Robin Cook explores the presence of extremist groups within the folds of Christianity. Most of us would associate fanaticism with Islam but the author debunks that myth. His irreverent approach almost makes one wonder about his religious loyalties which almost border on atheism.

If you are a hardcore fan of the medical stuff that makes Robin Cook click, better skip this one.

Monday, July 6, 2015

B for Blood

He was bathed from head to toe in that warm viscous liquid, his lungs cried out for oxygen and yet he could not breathe.

She waited with bated breath for any sound to escape his lips.

Slap. The shock of it made his natural reflexes kick in and he inhaled a lungful of air before emanating a forceful scream.

She sighed with relief, after all, it was her blood coursing through his veins. 

Image courtesy -

Sunday, July 5, 2015

A for Apple ( Five Sentence Fiction Challenge )

It had firmly ensconced itself in the depths of the sticky warmth.

Thriving on the nectar and feeding on the sweet flesh of its host, it had grown from strength to strength.

"Swish" came the end, abrupt and out of the blue, leaving its twitching body in the throes of a cadaveric spasm .

"Tsk, Tsk", exclaimed the lady looking at the rotten halves of the apple.

"It is tough to fathom that something so exquisite on the outside can harbor such decay inside."

Image Courtesy -

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Togetherness (Love Haiku)

Walking down the memory lane,
we talk about all those promises made.
Some fulfilled, others long forgotten !

Book Review : The Mahabharata Quest - The Alexander Secret (By Christopher C Doyle)

Buy online on Amazon .

Man has sought immortality since times immemorial. And the very ambitious Greek conqueror Alexander was no exception. But what secret does the Mahabharata hide that can bestow this ultimate boon on the emperor ??

This is one of the best suspense thrillers coming from an Indian author. It combines Greek history with a radical new interpretation of Indian mythology and spruces it up with a generous dose of science. The narration fluctuates between the present day and during the time of Alexander's reign while the action moves between Greece and India.

A discovery at a Greek tomb and a fire at clinical trials laboratory in Delhi spark off the action. Apart from a Greek archaeologist, a team working for the Indian Intelligence Bureau and an Indo-US task force is also sucked into the vortex of events that follow. A secret cult is out to get them before they unravel the mystery.

There are numerous twist and turns to keep one hooked. Plus the language used is really simple and the narration is fluid. Every chapter unearths some new and thankfully it all comes together seamlessly. While there is a romantic angle, the author does not dwell upon it for any longer than is appropriate for a thriller novel.

The worst part ? The story does not end with this book and one is left with a "To be continued...".

Not going to spoil it for you by revealing more. Do read this if you like suspense thrillers. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Book Review : Sepia Leaves (By Amandeep Sandhu)

Buy it online on Amazon.

"Who you are is overshadowed by how you are perceived by one another, controlled and distorted by expectations of how we ought to be."

"The filth keeps changing form, and we software engineers keep hiding from it in the cool environs of our codes and projects; as if the degradation of the city has nothing to do with us."

"Rain is good on wedding days, rainy marriages last a long time. But will they be happy ? The rain cannot wash the wounds formed by dislike, which fester in loneliness."

A story told in flashback. A schizophrenic mother, a hapless but loyal father and a lost childhood with its share of adolescent awareness. The story is set in 70's in a small town, Rourkela. Built around the Steel plant, it has an interesting cosmopolitan mix of migrants from various states. A child grows up in a nuclear family with a mother who is distant and he keeps wondering whether she loves him. Not realizing her illness, he ends up comparing his own unkempt house with his neighbor's and eventually his parents with the neighbors. In those childish thoughts, one can find a glimpse of their dysfunctional family life.

The lonely child's friendship with a stray dog, a newspaper vendor and a housemaid are very well detailed. It is an everyday story with those brilliantly narrated mundane details which eggs on the reader. 

There is a brief mention of the Emergency and how if affected everyone. Then there is the child's stint at a boarding school which raises issues like sexual abuse and ragging prevalent in such institutions. Small details like a brush with chickenpox, the grand Dusshera celebrations in Rourkela, a visit to Punjab, and the father's fondness for ghazals and poetry add a brilliant and realistic touch to the story of a child who struggles to come to terms with the tragic reality of a living in a decaying household.

This book is a must read !! Savor it at your own pace for it will occupy your thoughts for a long time...