a blank slate

a blank slate

Tag: indian contemporary

The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh

This is a scary book; and the more I think about it, the scarier it gets. I like it, now that I’ve read it: the writing style, the evocative descriptions, the peeking into people’s souls: but I’m still not sure I should have read it. It has some freakish stuff in it, which has been crawling around in my mind for two days. I want to not have read this book and I want to not have liked this book, and you may think I’m overreacting (which I probably am) but all my melodrama doesn’t make that story any less creepy.
Summary: The back covers says: “Off the easternmost corner of India, in the Bay of Bengal,
lies the immense labyrinth of tiny islands known as the Sundarbans, where
settlers live in fear of drowning tides and man-eating tigers. Piya Roy, a
young American marine biologist of Indian descent, arrives in this lush,
treacherous landscape in search of a rare species of river dolphin and enlists
the aid of a local fisherman, Fokir, and a translator, Kanai. Together the three of them
launch into the elaborate backwaters, drawn unawares into the powerful
political undercurrents of this isolated corner of the world that exact a
personal toll as fierce as the tides.”

Another story runs parallel to this one: that of Kanai’s uncle, Nirmal. On finding a diary, addressed to her nephew, belonging to her husband, now dead, whose dream it had been to become a writer; Nilima invites Kanai to her home in Lusibari, where she, as a much loved social activist, runs a local hospital. Kanai, who owns a translation service in Delhi, reluctantly accepts the invitation. The journal reveals to him the darkest secrets of his aunt’s marriage, along with a disturbing account of the plight of the settlers.

My thoughts: Sundarbans. Wow. When I bought this book, I had it all planned out in my head. In An Antique Land made me want to jump out of bed and rush to Egypt, The Sea of Poppies convinced me to visit the Ganga-Sagar and with this book, I was already mentally packing my bags, off to a swampy wildlife-filled adventure. Then, a year later, I read The Hungry Tide. Now I wish the trip had already happened in the year between, because I’m not so sure I want to go any more. Too frightening.
The thing that sticks to my mind, predictably, is that thing about wildlife: tigers – protecting them, to be precise, instead of protecting the people they kill. Piya, as an outsider, and a nature researcher and lover finds the way the people of the village talk about tigers uninformed. The superstitions, fear and hatred associated with the animal seem irrelevant to her. Her reaction and his aunt’s worry over them venturing into the deeper jungle leads Kanai to pose that haunting question. Who rightfully deserves the earth, a classic man versus the wild; except it’s not a matter to debate over coffee but more of a who-kills-off-whom-first and which-death-should-disturb-you-more and what-does-it-say-about-me-that-i-am-more-affected-by-a-dead-tiger-than-a-dead-man.
Like my sister brought up: the story shows that people tend to behave in similar ways, no matter where they’re from or how they spent their lives: Kanai immediately identifies with Moyna, the ambitious girl who wants to make something of herself, get an education, get ‘ahead’ in life; while Fokir and Piya drift automatically closer. Those serene wordless scenes between Piya and Fokir are so aptly portrayed. The relationship between them is fascinating. The striking themes are communication and language. The story is about things left unsaid, and stereotypes and judgments and self-justifications: and understanding each other despite them, which the characters, not unlike us, tend not to.
I’ve come to love Ghosh’s flitting timelines and switching narratives, be it in In An Antique Land or The Calcutta Chromosome – and he is just really good at giving each of his characters a distinct voice. I love Nirmal’s conflicted mind, his inner struggle that makes him your typical unreliable narrator. I love the delicate relationship between Kanai’s uncle and aunt, her practical dedication contrasted with his poetic, if over-idealized, notions of revolution. And I like her love for Nirmal, which, because it lingered despite everything could be called unconditional, which I would rather call habitual. 
But: Nirmal’s voice does get too wordy and there are often furious bursts of information where none would have sufficed. Most of the purple prose occurs when referencing the local legends. While the lore about Bon Bibi intrigued me, it could have done without the exoticizing. The Hungry Tide is inspired and the right atmosphere would have been captured without resorting to those tricks that invariably crowd Indo-Anglian writing.

Love and Lokpal by Pooja Wanpal

After a very unwanted two-week break from blogging, this week will be flooded with reviews. Some time last week, this book finally arrived on my doorstep (there were some issues, I live in an annoyingly inconspicuous neighbourhood, that no one ever finds.) I finished Love and Lokpal in one swift sitting, and if not anything else, it certainly made for a well spent afternoon! Love and Lokpal by Pooja Wanpal has a pretty self-explanatory title. That’s just what the book is about: it is a college romance with the whole frenzied Lokpal Bill movement as its backdrop.


Summary: Shlok Kulkarni, an architect by day and an Assassin’s creed
junkie by night is being bombarded with eligible girls by his matchmaking mama.
In a bid to escape her and maybe check out a few hot girls while he’s at it,
Shlok flees to Delhi, where a massive protest for the Lokpal Bill has been
building up. Kaveri Gokhale has been searching for a cause her whole
life. When the winds of the Lokpal blow through the country, she eagerly catches
the next train to Delhi to witness history. When Shlok runs into Kaveri at Jantar Mantar, the sparks are
undeniable. As their relationship blossoms, Kaveri discovers a dark secret that
leaves her devastated… and endangers the fate of billion others. Will
Shlok and Kaveri’s love wither or will it withstand the uncertainties of the
corrupt politics? Can love truly conquer all ideologies?

My thoughts: I have mixed views about this one. The one question I ask myself when I am on the fence about a book is if it has a point. When it comes to Love and Lokpal; for all the minor irritants, the book is hardly pointless.

What I liked: You know how some books have like a wide, epic-sy scope? This book has the exact opposite, and that is a good thing. Having our heroine fight for an apparently huge, inspiring cause while still bristling over boyfriend troubles has an incredibly homey feel to it. The story sticks, mostly, to the every day reality of a young Indian. The characters are lovable stereotypes and the situations they’re put in are quite easy to imagine and relate to, from the college politics and twenty-something colleagues with their crazy boss, to a typical mother trying to trick her son into an arranged marriage. The relationship between Shlok and his sister has a cozy, personal quality that suggests some (welcomed) borrowing from reality, as do the college friendships. 


If the writing weren’t as funny, I have to say, the book would have been dull. The language is at once mature and quirky, the descriptions are vivid and detailed. The protest in Delhi is described with much fervour and it has that ounce of dramatic passion that characterizes Kaveri. You can tell the author has done her research, without there being any unwanted information dumps. The love story itself is sweet and never overly mushy. And the point of the book? The answer to the question posed on the back cover, “Can love truly conquer all ideologies?” That’s something I’d rather not spoil; except perhaps to say that the story concludes on a nicely re-conciliatory note rather than pushing any sort of agenda. 

What I didn’t like: The biggest problem I have with the book is that it just doesn’t manage to fully explore any of the issues it so promisingly brings forth. It is just too short a story, wrapped up much too quickly, before it even has a chance to really begin! As a consequence, the relationships between many of those admittedly nice characters haven’t been allowed to flesh out either. Carrying the story a little further, and stretching out the beginning would have made the plot a lot smoother, the ending a lot less abrupt. There are few editorial errors, but the tenses frequently go kind of wonky and the switching narratives seem a bit repetitive and unnecessary – I think the book could have worked just as well with a single third person perspective.


Overall, if you were a part of or religiously followed the whole Lokpal protest movement business (which is more than I can say for myself), you would find heaps to relate to. If you like cutesy college romances, this one is perfect. For me, the fact that Love and Lokpal by Pooja Wanpal reads like a debut is a teeny bit of a problem. She should write another book, and I have a feeling I’d like the next one more.

Beaten by Bhagath! by S. V. Divvaakar

Summary: I’m sure you can do a much better job than Bhagath!’ When BB hears these inspiring words from his sexy lady boss,
his staid life as a successful analyst in an MNC goes into a tailspin.
Bitten by the ego bug and smitten by her, BB sets off on his
quest to write a book that’s better than India’s greatest writer Dr.Bhagath’s
blockbusters. Nothing unusual about this for BB, who likes a good fight. Except
that he and Bhagath had been classmates and friends at college.
What follows is a roller-coaster voyage of the debutant
author and his book, with all its twists and cul-de-sacs. Brushes with
publishers, celebrities, retailers, book chains, and competition with the
alliances among giants, mark the challenger’s journey, upping the stakes at
every stage.
Will BB catch up with his famous friend?  What will their encounter be like?
Written from inside the ring, ‘Beaten by Bhagath’ is a
gripping tale …the first-ever about the unseen side of the wonderland of
Indian fiction.
My thoughts: Here’s a fair warning: this review is about why I didn’t like the book. To be honest, you might like it and reading the rest of this might be a good way for you to find out. By the end, if you wholeheartedly disagree with every word I say, Beaten by Bhagath! by S.V. Divvaakar is just the book for you! If you stopped by simply for a structured and concise review, please, excuse the rant.
Beaten by Bhagath! by S.V. Divvaakar has received quite a load of good reviews on Goodreads. Browsing through them, I realized all over again why when I receive that rare review request from an Indian author and it says, “you’re one of the top Indian book bloggers”, I conclude that it’s an impersonal formatted and thorough suck-up. Because, I’m not. I rarely accept books by new, popular, upcoming Indian authors for review, and the reason is, I generally don’t like them. Since this book was about those very new, popular and upcoming Indian authors and the pathetic desi publishing world, I couldn’t relate to it. The book made some rather interesting points, provided me with pieces of information I wouldn’t have come across on my own, and I’m sure a lot of effort went into creating the book; the timeline certainly made it detailed. I suppose it just didn’t hold my interest.
See the problem with the book, for me, was that it was intended for an entirely different group of readers: those who’d nod their heads, amused at the mention of their possible guilty pleasure Chetan Bhagat and his huge fanbase, or perhaps those who want their books to have a “dictionary-free” language (whatever the hell that means.) The book talked about and starred these so-called aspiring authors, who view themselves as the next Chetan-Bhagats and those who do achieve that ‘standing’: but these are people I haven’t once considered reading! The only thing CB has managed to create, in my opinion, is a world where just about anyone decides to become a writer, likely out of sheer boredom.
That’s not necessarily bad. But I don’t like to read books which are written expressly for people who don’t like to read; for people who find Dickensian descriptions long-winded and boring; who underline words out of library books for about thirty pages and then evidently just give up the effort! I don’t yearn for stories written in a ‘simple language’, I want them written in an apt manner, and if that requires words I haven’t heard before, then that’s okay with me. I think “the gibbous moon” sounds delightfully better  than “the moon, which was more than half, but not quite full”. I like to read well-written books; I want writers who express themselves in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible, I don’t mind the occasional running to the dictionary: in fact, I love all that. If people think that words that they consider ‘big’ are unnecessary or weigh a language down, then they just don’t love language like I do, they don’t quite understand the nuances of rich vocabulary, or get its charm. They read for entertainment and a variety of other reasons that are as important to them as language is to me. 
If you are one of those people who thinks Chetan Bhagat is capable of telling stories just as vividly as (let me pick an Indian author I like:) anyone from the oldies like R. K. Narayan to Amitav Ghosh; go ahead and read this book, you’ll probably like it. If all being a writer means to you is ‘beating the metaphorical and real Bhagath’, if you think there can be more to writing advice than a tough-loving “Just sit down and write.”, then this book might actually help you. Despite all its misplaced humour and Hindi-coated English, it does provide that behind-the-scenes look into the publishing world and all its problems.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Wow. I don’t know just what to say, except maybe that I am eternally thankful for having given so many Indian authors a try in the past year. I did not expect to like this book, but I suppose I shouldn’t trust my biased expectations any more. It is a fabulous book. And it certainly won’t be the last I read by the author.
One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni opens with Uma, a Medieval Lit student and someone I could instantly connect to, sitting in the lobby of the Indian Consulate Building, waiting to get her Visa done. It is dull and slow, the employees in no hurry to get things done on time, a typical Indian office maintaining its charm even in the middle of America. There are a number of people there, a Chinese woman and her granddaughter, an African American man, an old couple, the Indian staff and others. Everything is dull, that is, until an earthquake strikes and the group is trapped in the building, which soon becomes a suffocating cage and there’s tension between the people. Then our heroine, the Literature buff with a copy of The Canterbury Tales in her bag has a predictably wonderful idea: telling each other stories to avoid panicking. Every story is the one life-altering experience each of them has ever had. The tales and the characterization are the essence of the book. From a love story set in Calcutta’s Chinatown to an ex-soldier seeking redemption, the stories continue to thrill, touch and haunt you. Even as the building slowly starts to flood and crumble, you are sucked into the lives of the people and the panic and urgency is replaced by an odd hope. 
It is the last story and the ending that will decide your view of the book: Being enraptured throughout by the people’s stories, I thought the ending was perfect. A stroll through Goodreads made me realize that many were actually disappointed by it! Hence this warning: if you like the focus to be on the plot, if you don’t like short stories, if you need concrete explanations and conclusions; you may not like the meandering prose.
The writing does become a bit too wordy at times. But the tales never lose their touch of mundane, regular, familiar. The book is simple and profound in its simplicity. The author manages to find magic in things that are ordinary, worldly. And she really makes you think: about your life, about the people in it and about that one amazing thing that you may have experienced. A beautiful book and definitely worth a read!

Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra

You know how you read this enormous book and when you’re finally done, you still don’t want to put it down? I went back and re-read my favourite parts, savouring them just as much, all over again. Very few books have that effect on me.

Set in the criminal underworld of Mumbai, the book is the story of the intertwining lives of Marathi gangster, later dubbed the ‘Hindu don’, Ganesh Gaitonde and Sikh inspector Sartaj Singh. The book opens with Sartaj Singh, who has only ever heard of Gaitonde and the G-Company getting an anonymous tip-off of Gaitonde’s current location. On reaching there, Singh finds Gaitonde in an inaccessible bunker. After a quick chat, as Sartaj tries to get inside, Ganesh Gaitonde kills himself. Inside the bunker, the police find, along with the dead man, a woman, also shot. The investigation that follows is led by Sartaj Singh, who has to report to a mysteriously large national-international agency. The narrative is divided into the current investigation, led by Singh and the gangster-spy Gaitonde telling his own story. It’s not just the story of these two men, that the writer provides, but a full and intricate world, with stories and back-stories for a every character and a unique voice for most. In various inset chapters, the writer develops stories for seemingly minor characters; making me look at them not as characters but as people. Which makes me say: Sacred Games not just a book, it is so much more. There are a few things that I realized could have been better: the fact that there wasn’t a glossary present (but, I mean, really, how hard is it to figure out slang!), not to mention, the sheer size of the book (800 pages and counting.) The cheesy “the game always wins” tagline on the back cover didn’t help. Things could have been edited out, of course, some of the insets didn’t add up to much, but almost like with a Stephen King book, though I had to slog through the dull parts a bit, I barely recall having done so in the end. It just doesn’t matter!

Here’s what I liked. The book is honest. It gives a real, no-holds-barred picture of India, dirty slums and corruption included. But it does so with the eye of an insider; with Katekar complaining about the population, the police letting a few crimes go to catch a few bigger criminals, the successful bribing of all the cops, the squatters, the beggars expertly targeting the helpless foreigners, the addiction with Bollywood fame and the garbled Hindi-Marathi-English of Mumbai, not to mention, Gaitonde killing people with an unsettling ease. It has a lot of violence, swearing, all made realistic by putting them into a historical contest. It has the offensive religious debates and discrimination characteristic of the country. It has as much social criticism as the ever-so-famous, Booker winning White Tiger, except it rings true. My problem with White Tiger is this: it is impossible to imagine a man who’s part of the system look at it from such a strikingly objective view. In Sacred Games, the social critique hits you even harder as the characters are more convincing. The book makes you think of Mumbai as a living being with a disease, instead of providing you with the text-book knowledge of the rift between the rich and the poor and other problems faced by the country.

It is a good picture of India, for whoever’s interested. Not only because it shows the evil, the kind that can make you tremendously queasy; but because it shows you the truly good things about India. It captures the spirit of the place; I could imagine myself strolling through the city with all the descriptions of people humming old Kishore Kumar-Dev Anand songs, car-radios blaring, the fashion, the typical Mumbai chai and food, and the descriptions of the sea-side. I have noticed many Indian authors using native words in italics, carefully explained by footnotes, most likely to create an exotic atmosphere. What I loved with Sacred Games is that the author has incorporated the typical English words and phrases you’d regularly hear here: people casually deflecting thank yous with a “Mention not.”, declaring a movie too ‘filmi’, describing someone as wearing a ‘checked shirt’ and the moderately fancy restaurants having ‘rexine sofas’. There’s a lot of Hindi swearing, though, but I don’t see how the book could have done without that, a bunch of Mumbai gangsters saying ‘bastard’ won’t quite have the same effect.

Ultimately the book is a Bollywood movie, a good one, anyway, which is something I never thought I’d use as a compliment; in that, it’s classic and just stereotypical enough to work really well. It makes a point, and gives you an at once funny, thrilling, touching time. If you expect a book with a clean linear plot, with a start, a middle and an end; this book, not being very organized, may disappoint you. Read the book expressly to be entertained, shocked and surprised and I’m sure, you will be.

Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry

I couldn’t remember which was recommended to me, and picked Rohinton Mistry’s Family Matters at the library, instead of A Fine Balance. I wonder if, had I chosen the latter, I would have been awed as promised. I started reading Family Matters late in the evening and finished it in the middle of the night. Interesting and at times painfully beautiful, though the book was, it did leave something to be desired.
Set in Bombay (Mumbai to some of us) Family Matters is the story of a middle-class Parsi family. The story opens in a little household. We meet Nariman Vakeel, once a professor of English and now, a Parkinson’s patient living at Chateau Felicity with his step-children, Coomy and Jal. The opening scene: Nariman announcing his intention to go out for a walk, Coomy complaining about having to take care of her sick step-father, Jal with his hearing-aid struggling to keep up with the conversation. The very start brings out the deep, inner turmoil brought on by Nariman’s sad, scandalous past, which haunts each of them throughout the book. When Nariman’s breaks his ankle on one of his walks, Coomy must do everything from giving him the bedpan to changing his sheets. Resentful of what he’s done to them and their mother, Coomy plots to send Nariman to live with his real daughter, Roxana, who lives with her husband, Yezad and two kids, Jehangir and Murad in a tiny apartment in Pleasant Villa. As the Goodreads blurbs says, Their decision will test not only their material resources but, in surprising ways, all their tolerance, compassion, integrity, and faith.” Taking care alone of her sick Pappa, struggling to maintain her husband’s happy routine, managing the household with the money problems and raising the two monkeys, who love and take care of Grandpa forms Roxana’s tale of love, devotion, responsibility and everything in between.

In the first few pages, the book seemed to promise a delicate drama, but it was all too much way too soon. By the time I’d read a hundred pages, the endless graphic descriptions of bed sores, urinals and bowel movements made me queasy to the point where I had to, not reluctantly, stop reading during dinner. They were, quite frankly, rather unnecessary. It was realistic, I get it, we’ve had sick to attend to too, but I could have done without the nausea, thank you. The book was melodramatic, as was to be expected, affairs of the family are rarely anything else, but what disappointed me was how little was left for us to realize. Every feeling was described in detail and ruined. There were little moments in the book, where the writer managed to restrain himself, perhaps, and he sort of let the subtle love wash over us. Jehangir feeding Grandpa soup with a responsible air about him was one of those touching scenes, Roxana observing and alluding to it then and later, explaining how the little action should make a us feel, was unnecessary. There was little magic in the book.

The book had a nostalgic air to it and the descriptions of Bombay fascinated me. (It so contrasts the Bollywoodian Mumbai of Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games.) Of course, I appreciated how it was more a love for a home one has had or a haven one has built that seeped through the pages, than the love for just a particular city. There were different aspects of the Mumbai world in the book, from being attached to the old name Bombay, playing Matka, the local trains, the hot, greasy weather, children dreaming of Enid Blyton’s   scones and porridges, and the politics bubbling in the city. The way it affected and inspired every person differently was just lovely. Yezad’s frequent outbursts of rage against the “goondas” and their racism (which he claimed to be above) blotted the pages and were, or so it seemed to me, rather biased, or maybe they just didn’t appeal to my bias. The only Marathi people in the book spoke in this ridiculous continuous tense (of the “we are thinking that you should do this” kind), while everyone else was very literary in their dialogue, but let’s not get into that.

The prose is a bit overdone, so verbose. But sitting here with the book in my lap, it’s funny, how opening to any page at random brings up a bit of wisdom, fabulously quotable.

“I think emigration is an enormous mistake. The biggest anyone can make in their life. The loss of home leaves a hole that never fills.”

“Little white lies are as pernicious as big black lies. When they mix together, a great greyness of ambiguity descends, society is cast adrift in an amoral sea, and corruption and rot and decay start to flourish. (…)Everything is disintegrating because details are neglected and nothing is regarded seriously.”


“If Bombay were a creature of flesh and blood, with my blood type, Rh negative – and very often I think she is – then I would give her a transfusion down to my last drop, to save her life.”


“Yezad approached the sanctum again. The fire was burning vigorously, the flames leaping with joy, and the room was a dance of light and shadow. He stood absorbed for a few moments, then felt is was churlish – churlish to refuse to bow before a sight so noble in its simple beauty. If he did not bend now, for this, what would he bend for?”

The ending employed what most literature freaks love to hate, and an abrupt, convenient change in the unsolvable situation led to a clean resolution of all problems. Till then, the characters were all blacks and whites (very few grays). With the epilogue, five years later, Yezad had changed, the children were older and a few grays emerged; the ending succeeded in making the one-dimensional characters more real. At the same time, with Yezad disapproving of Murad’s Marathi girlfriend, the book showed how things, even over a span of so many years, rarely change at all.

I really don’t know how to conclude, except to say that, for me, the book had a combination of goods and bads. I certainly didn’t love it. I can think of many people, though, who might really like the book for the very reasons I didn’t: the fairly poetic prose, the often ostentatious drama and the sentimentality.

Jacob Hills by Ismita Tandon Dhankher

I’m glad this wasn’t a review copy, because now I can just rant, without having to bother about a review structure or ratings. Those who do care about the review structure and ratings would be happy to know that I though it was a pretty good book! It’s fast paced, but you should know, there’s little action (not the fighting and killing kind, anyway) and there are not many clues or detectives, either. 


Here’s the blurb, which gives a pretty good idea about the book, without giving away any details (as must have been intended and saves me the trouble of writing a summary)


It’s just another evening at the Tiller’s Club. 
Near the bar, Capt. Rana, the Young Officer undergoing training at the War College stands among his course mates, consciously avoiding his pregnant, Muslim wife, Heena. Rumour has it she had forced him to marry her because of the baby. 
Saryu, village belle turned modern babe, drink in hand, chats up a YO. Her husband, Maj. Vikram Singh, shoots angry glances at her. She isn’t bothered; the question is, who will she go home with tonight? 
Pam and Gary, the flamboyant Sikh couple, chat merrily with the senior officers, charming as ever. Who’d ever guess that they lead the infamous Key Club, an underground swinger couples’ club. 
And in one corner stands the Anglo-Indian wife of Maj. George Chandy, Eva, who finds herself at the heart of a murder mystery when a woman’s bleeding body is discovered at the old church under the black cross. The murdered woman’s body is covered with cigarette burns. A six-year-old girl’s wrist is similarly marked. Another little girl shows signs of severe abuse.
Jacob Hills: an army station that houses the War College where young officers receive training. A world of army officers and genteel conversation, of smart men and graceful women. Set in the 1980s – in an India that was at the cusp of tradition and Westernized modernity – this is the story of the ugliness that lies beneath the garb of Jacob Hills’s beauty and sophistication. An ugliness the Chandys find themselves confronted with. Will they uncover the truth behind the woman’s murder? Will their love survive Jacob Hills?”
I really wanted to read Jacob Hills, because Ismita’s debut book (Love on the Rocks) was special to me. It was the first review copy I ever received. The blog and I have come a long way since and after devouring her book in just a day, I can say with confidence, so has the author. When it comes to the writing style and the narration (alternating first person views of many characters), the books are quite similar. Not to mention, the characteristic cute little title sketches for every chapter and the bits of fine poetry have comfortably snaked their way into the story, like in the first book. Both the books are murder mysteries, and at the same time, a series of character sketches that tell a lot more than the story. And despite all the glaring, uncanny similarities, Jacob Hills ends up being a much better book than Love on the Rocks. That’s a good thing, because that was a debut and this shouldn’t and doesn’t seem like one. Jacob Hills is more refined, more structured and you get a feeling that it’s not written to please someone. Love on the Rocks had a bit of that clumsy, trying-to-impress vibe to it that shouted “Debut!” and being the debut reviewer that I was, my review definitely screamed that too (it probably had phrases like “character development” and “plot arc” shoved in there.) Jacob Hills was mature and showed experience.
The difference in the plot arcs (for lack of a better term) is that while Love on the Rocks ended up with a rushed, unexpected bang, Jacob Hills has a sort of slow waltzing finish. That makes it a lot less about solving the mystery and lot more about what’s bubbling underneath it all. Ray Bradbury said that a good story is a metaphor, or something to that effect, and this one is. You have the chance to take things at face value and then dig deeper with some of the characters (the more sensible ones like George or the oddly naive ones like Eva) and then you can dig even deeper all on your own. When in Jacob Hills, the author makes a point, racy and bold though the book is, the point made is subtle and unbiased (although I am not even sure if that’s intentional.) You are not told what to think, you are only told that, maybe, it’s time to think for a bit. The mystery, who killed the woman, who abused the child, those are pieces of a puzzle that gradually fall into place. The helpless “that’s it?”, the shocked “really?” and the hopeful “what now?” that follow are left for us to chew on. 
Here comes the reviewer in me: The prose is spirited and fun and keeps you entertained. All the different perspectives give you an insight into the world that a lone narrator could not have managed. It is a delicate topic, especially with all that’s been in the news lately and it has been handled carefully and I guess, correctly. Along with giving a serious message, the book is also humorous, which keeps it from becoming a complete drab. The book could have used some finishing touches, a little smoothing out of the plot at places, but those are things I found only when I really went looking for faults. My only huge problem with the book is, I suppose, that it’s short. I would have loved it if the author had dug deeper into the world. The book had the potential to be a big fat novel and I was disappointed with what was just a little glimpse of what could have been. Since Jacob Hills is already over, I wish the author decides to write one of those longer, deeper stories soon. I’d certainly read it.

I didn’t initially like the book cover, by the way. Now I kind of do. The contrasting colours represent a sad and desolate background with something ludicrous and dramatic emblazoned on it, trying and failing to hide what’s underneath. It’s tragic, pretty much like the book, and also very up-front, almost provocative, like a chall.. wow, I’m reading too much into it, aren’t I? I should get some sleep, I have been buried in this book all day.
Meanwhile, why don’t you go buy it?

There May Be An Asterisk Involved by Vedashree Khambete

Note: I’m sorry if this ‘book review’ is little more than a gushing rant, that happens sometimes with books that surprise me.
Very few people appreciate a well-written footnote. Most of my favourite parts of the Discworld books lie right in those wittily worded footnotes. They’re also where the narrator’s voice really comes out, and in any book by Terry Pratchett, that is most welcome. (Also a book with funny, comfortable, page-long footnotes: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.) Vedashree Khambete has managed to sneak into her book some truly wry, mocking commentary through the regular footnote asides. They top the list of reasons I adored There May Be An Asterisk Involved.
At the risk of sounding like a judger-and-labeller, I don’t generally read books by Indian authors, especially debuts. So I was mildly surprised when I read the blurb on the back of this book that my sister (who stays somewhere in the US – I’m bad with names) sent me to have it sent to her, because the book’s not available on Amazon. It sounded too interesting. I was also mildly surprised and curious by the lengths she went to acquire this tiny book. So I did a little sleuthing (I asked my sister) and found out that the book was written by a blogger (and, clearly, a book nerd, which gives her brownie points) whom she regularly read. The blog was entertaining and I couldn’t wait to get started on the book. For you, the blurb:
Ira Bhat, copywriter by day, sleep-deprived copywriter by
night, has only one goal: to not go utterly bonkers as she negotiates the
perils and pitfalls of a career in advertising. These include, but are not
limited to: comma-obsessed clients, award-obsessed bosses, obnoxious marketing
executives, high-strung creative types, impossible deadlines, obscure briefs,
fiercely competitive colleagues, the death of many a big idea…and the
ever-present danger of falling in love with the new account planner. Sounds doable,
but is it? Because, when it comes to advertising, somewhere, hidden in the fine
print, there may be an asterisk involved…”

I don’t believe I’ve read any book with good punctuation humour before. Now that I think about it, I haven’t read a single book by an Indian author (not that I have read many at all) that was humorous to the core. I’m often wary of reading things people find extremely funny; they don’t usually seem that way to me. I’m also not very fond of long-winded satire and don’t like scathing sarcasm. This book was somewhere between the two (three?) and it was fun. The writing was breezy, lighthearted, the plot seemed aimless and precise at the same time and it was just corny enough to be good. That doesn’t mean, of course, that there was nothing that bugged me.
The story was predictable. There was some almost pompous name-dropping that I would generally frown upon. The lead character had this Inkheart-ey air about reading: the assumption that no one else does it. Things like “Please, you’re so dumb, I read Hemingway, Calvino, Rand” were slightly annoying. That I like (or once liked) every one of these authors made it okay. The characters were stereotypes, both the nice and the obnoxious ones. Not to mention, every character including the omniscient narrator (yes, that’s the Lit student in me talking; no, I haven’t glanced at the books in a while, so I may be wrong) sounded the same: however, they did all sound comfortably witty, you know, not too slapstick, they didn’t drop Hindi words or cool urban slang in their talk and they were nothing like the LOLCats, which is to say, they didn’t make deliberate disturbingly non-funny grammatical errors. So, yeah, the fact they were all alike was better than even one of them not being that way just to be ‘realistic’.
This isn’t going to be the best book you’ve ever read, nor make you think a lot. But the book is a fairly good package. If not anything else, it will give you a delightfull time. It has romance, glamour, some inevitable drama, just enough advertising know-how, a lot of creativity and a narrator who can make just about anything sound interesting. It’s also short and reasonably priced. So, I don’t see why you shouldn’t just go grab yourself a copy
And before I forget, this is the author’s blog.

Update: Turns out a Kindle edition is available here

The Krishna Key by Ashwin Sanghi

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!

Summary (from here.) The Krishna Key follows Ravi Mohan Saini, a historian, who has been accused of the murder of his childhood friend Anil Varshney. To clear his name and save his future, Saini must look to the past and uncover the truth about a serial killer that believes himself to be Kalki, the final avatar of Krishna. Saini has to travel from ancient ruins to Vrindavan temples in an attempt to discover one of Krishna’s treasures and stop his friend’s murderer.


(Krishna, by the way, is a Hindu god, who is supposed to be an incarnation of Vishnu, the preserver of the universe.)

My Thoughts: If I didn’t know better, I would have called Ashwin Sanghi’s The Krishna Key a fan-fiction. He is supposedly known as the Indian Dan Brown and it is apparent throughout the novel whom he draws his inspiration from.

It is one thing to be inspired by someone and entirely another to imitate someone. The author’s style is clearly inspired by the likes of Dan Brown, Robert Ludlum and others who write these kind of action-packed thrillers. Sure, he adopted someone else’s style, but he also made it his own. It was maintained throughout the book and did not seem out of place. I actually liked the writing. What I didn’t like was how weak the plot and characters were: mere shadows of characters created by others. The characters and their back-stories were too typical and it didn’t seem like the author had put much thought into creating them. The whole story seemed, at some points, like a framework the author designed to effectively write about his extensive research without making it a non-fiction book (which, come to think of it, I may have liked better.)

I loved the way the story was interspersed with accounts from Lord Krishna’s life, told by Lord Krishna. I’ve read reviews where people have said that they didn’t understand what that had to do with the plot, but I think it is a nice parallel that the author has drawn. On the one hand, they are trying to prove, today, that Krishna actually existed, and on the other, we have the Lord himself narrating what “actually happened.” It may not be what the author intended, but I could almost imagine the playful dark-skinned youth smirking as people ran around looking for his true story. That being said, had I ever thought about it, I would have imagined Krishna to have a more informal and fun writing style: I guess, it would have suited him more; but again, that’s just me.

I have to say, despite the problems I had with the plot and the characters, it’s a nice book. It’s not very filmy, there is no Hindi in the English (though there are the frequent errors that I’m going to blame on the editor) and it isn’t about today’s increasingly depressing urban life. The book is quick and not too long and to tell you the truth, whatever the author has copied, he has done it surprisingly well (copying can be done quite badly too, and we have a whole bunch horribly remade Bollywood movies to prove it.)

Indian mythology (or as the book seems to suggest, history) is very vast, fascinating and for anyone who hasn’t had to listen to stories of Krishna since they were two, it’s also very exotic. This is definitely a book that would interest anyone who likes historical fiction and quick paced, action-packed thrillers.

Grab your copy right here!