review

The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer - A non-review

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‘The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer’  by Laxmi Hariharan - There were three things that intrigued me about this book and its titular character.

  • One - Though far from being an avid reader of the YA genre, I haven’t come across many books featuring an Indian female protagonist.
  • Two - To me, the ‘many lives’ phrase, indicated that much like the cat, the titular character too has a ‘track-record’  of frequently cheating death. This further piqued my curiosity.
  • Third - And this might just be me. As I’m now a part-Iyer by marriage (yes, I know it doesn’t work that way, but wouldn’t it be cool if it did?), I found the name rather cool.
 

Despite not reading Laxmi’s debut novel, ‘The Destiny of Shaitan’, I've come to enjoy her writing style courtesy of her various Facebook updates and her blog. And the snippets and the blurb further cemented my decision to read the book when it came out. So when Laxmi pinged me and asked me if I’d be interested in reading Ruby’s story in exchange for an honest review, I jumped at the chance. Despite my long-standing statement that I’m not really much of a book reviewer. As this strange book critiquing might explain.

 

Here is the Goodreads blurb :

A YA thriller, with strong dystopian undertones and a kickass protagonist, taking you on a white knuckle ride through a disintegrating Bombay City.
A girl desperate to rescue her best friend.
A cop willing to do anything to save the city he serves.
A delusional doctor bent on annihilation.
When Ruby Iyer's best friend is kidnapped by the despotic Dr Kamini Braganza, she will do anything to rescue him. Anything, including taking the help of the reticent Vikram Roy, a mysterious cop-turned-rogue on a mission to save Bombay. The city needs all the help it can get, and these two are the only thing standing between its total destruction by Dr Braganza's teen army. As Bombay falls apart around them, will Ruby be able to save her friend and the city? Will she finally discover her place in a city where she has never managed to fit in? And what about her growing feelings for Vikram?

In the interest of being honest, I must say this - as a lot of readers tend to do, I too had initially assumed Ruby’s life to be largely based on Laxmi’s life and her experiences. And despite having spoken to Laxmi about this and having had my assumptions set straight, I still had a lingering thought. To say I was wrong, would probably be an understatement.

Ruby is as unique as people get. She may appear to have all the rebellious streaks of a teenager - a problem with authority, a myriad of thoughts running through her head constantly and wanting to do it all. However she’s also uniquely different. From the ‘lightning tree’ scar that pulsates with energy to the way she throws herself into every situation, she has a spirit of her own. After reading then book, while I still cannot say if Ruby Iyer has traces of Laxmi Hariharan in her, I can confidently say this - Ruby seems to have written the book through Laxmi. No, I’m not taking away any credit from Laxmi herself. Detaching yourself from your characters is something that even extremely experienced authors with numerous books behind them, have struggled with. However Laxmi, as an author with whom I’ve had a fair few interactions and Ruby, who led me through her story at breakneck pace (a bit too rapid at times, for this old soul of mine), are as different as chalk and cheese.

I won’t go into too many details about the story, the plot and the rest. I suspect that’s been done a fair few times. As a character, Ruby Iyer is uniquely different, a tad eccentric and sometimes unrealistically stubborn. So much so that there are times when I felt the need to slap the very book over Ruby’s head. But truth be told, THAT is also the success of then book. While the story did fall apart for me at places (probably because of a mishmash of the thought process and too rapid mono/dialogues), the fact that Ruby sort of stays with you after you finish then took is a testament to both Ruby and Laxmi.

My only discontent with the book is something rather personal. The ‘YA’ genre is not really my cup of tea, and hence probably why there may be parts that I sort of wanted to skip. However it is also imperative that I say this - on the whole, the book is cohesive and well-written. Having never been a fan of the magical city of Mumbai myself, there were plenty of times that I felt that along with Ruby, I too was whizzing around through a dark and sometimes racy version of the ‘City of Dreams’.  The attention to detail is almost perfect (if a tad too much) and if you’re really looking for something fast-paced and a kind of ‘Fantasy meets YA’ genre, with a good amount of thrills and plot twists, this is a decent read.

The book is now available via Amazon.

 Note : This review has not been 'sponsored or commissioned' by the author, the book's publishers or anyone else. All the thoughts are mine and the book and cover image copyright remains with the author and the publishers.


 

About the author

A near life incident told Laxmi Hariharan to write. She never stopped.

Laxmi has been a journalist with The Independent and a global marketer with MTV and NBCUniversal. She is the author of the kindle bestselling, epic fantasy The Destiny of Shaitan (Bombay Chronicles, 1) and blogs for the Huffington Post among others.

London is where she creates. 

Bombay is what fires her imagination.

A spoonful of Mango Chutney - A review

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Of late, there has been a surge of anthologies by Indian authors. And if I'm honest, it scares me. Simply because I am yet to read one that has made me go “oomph! - That was exceptional stuff!” Another thing that I find slightly worrisome is writing reviews for anthologies. I mean, how does one actually review an eclectic collection of short stories - all by different authors, and edited by a completely different person? That worry multiplies many folds when you actually “know” some of those authors and worse yet, you are actually good friends with them too. I could of course do the easy job and just not review it at all. But then again, where is the fun in that! I first heard about Mango Chutney when I chanced upon a meeting photograph on Facebook. (You've got to love social media for this - makes information flow so much easier). A couple of familiar names were included in that meeting and needless to say, my curiosity was piqued. So along with the rest of the blogging world, I too eagerly awaited this “Anthology of tasteful short fiction”, as the publishers put it.

The book is flavourful -  I’ll give it that. It is probably one of the better anthologies that I’ve read. The stories are broad and diverse, both in terms of locales as well as the plots. While some tug lightly at your heart-strings, some others successfully manage to keep your interest till the end of the story. But as with every mixed bag, there are a few stories that slightly missed the mark for me. No, they weren’t bad - but when placed side-by-side with some of the others, they ranked slightly lower.

Out of the twenty-seven tales in the anthology, there are a few that definitely caught my eye, and I would probably recommend as a definite read. The most impressive ones of the lot for me were :

The Perfectly Poached Egg by Ramya Maddali  - It is a simple story, which is different yet something that a lot of us who have ever tried to cook an egg would have encountered. This also provides a perfect example of where the narration and the attention to detail can improve an otherwise uncomplicated plot.

The 37th Milestone by Abhishek Asthana - It is often difficult to pull off a short story which keeps you intrigued till the end. The 37th Milestone successfully does that, at least for me. Though the narration could have been slightly more detailed, it was an interesting read.

The Birthday Boy by Harsha Pattnaik - It was one of the few stories that I had to re-read. It wasn’t because I couldn’t understand it  - rather, I was compelled to read it again just to make sure I didn’t miss any part of it. The editor has mentioned in the acknowledgement section that Harsha Pattnaik is a 14-year old prodigy. And after reading The Birthday Boy, I would agree.

Sawai by Arjun Bhatia  - The story started of a tad too slow for my liking, but after the first page, it had my attention. A simple, yet moving tale of the protagonist Nand Lal from the village of Tilonia and the camaraderie he shares with his English teacher.

A few others that I’d like to mention along with the above four are Tainted Red by Aathira Jim, The Girl Who Owned Castles by Giribala Joshi, The Proof of Birth by Urvashi Sarkar, On the Other Side by Sakshi Nanda, Someone with Character by Alka Gurha and Prem ki Chashni by Sudhanshu Shekhar Pathak (translated by Harsh Snehanshu).

Before I got my hands on the book, there were two stories that I was extremely curious about - Vaman by Rohit Gore and Angels and Demons by Purba Ray. With Vaman, Rohit has managed to give a sci-fi twist to a story that a lot of us probably know a bit of. Was it successful? Personally, I think the concept was innovative and quite neatly done, though I’d have loved a bit more of a tighter narration. Purba Ray is someone I’ve known for a bit through the blogging world, and hence the reason for my interest. She is a well-known Twitter celeb and her wit and humour are simply exceptional. However I’ve never seen her write fiction (or it could be that I missed it) - all of these added to my curiosity. Purba’s story is one of the few in the anthology that has more than a handful of characters. What I loved was the fact that she managed to build up the characters well and the story was intriguing. The only bit that missed the mark for me was the narration and some of the dialogues. Having said that, it was definitely worth a read.

In my world, any review for a book would not be complete without some feedback about the book itself.

Positives:

  • Budding Authors: It has given a good platform for a lot of budding talent - some of whom I would probably have never known if it hadn’t been for this book.
  • The title: It is catchy and being someone who loves food, it will always remain my head.
  • The cover: One of the things that I’ve noticed with Indian anthologies is that the book cover is often way too complex with illegible fonts and garish colours. The cover for Mango Chutney is tastefully done.

As the adage "Two sides of a coin" goes, there are a few things that bothered me about the book too. They are :

  • Errors: The First edition (I’m assuming what I have is the first edition) is peppered with errors -  missing words, incorrect punctuation and spacing issues. Hopefully the subsequent versions should sort this part out.
  • Font-size: This could just be a concern of mine but the font-size really bothers me. Even if the font-size has been increased by 1pt, I think it would have made for much easier reading
  • Language: I’m not sure if this is something for the authors or the editing team (or both). Some of the stories have way too many long sentences and far too many metaphorical references (almost every other sentence at times). While I understand that these add a certain level of ”literary complexity” to an otherwise simple plot, it may put off a few readers.
My Verdict: The book is a one-time read. It does deliver a few tastefully tangy stories that both keep you intrigued and touch your heart - as promised. The opinions expressed in this review are  mine. I have not been commissioned to do one.

 

Private India : A critique

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If you are a fiction freak like me, a “collaborative “ project by two well-known authors is always bound to pique your interest. And that’s exactly what happened when I first saw the newspaper article about PRIVATE India, "an Indian extension" to James Patterson’s ever popular PRIVATE series of books. And then I saw who he was collaborating with, and I think my heart literally skipped a beat.If you look around my blog, you’ll notice that I’m not really much of a book reviewer. And I assure you it is not because I don’t like writing. It’s simply because :

  • I am quite brutally honest when it comes to reviews and feedback.
  • I often find it a challenge to write a review without revealing the plot. And it really angers me when some reviewers just give away the plot of the book without so much as a decent “Spoiler alert” notification before doing so. But then, that's my peeve.

I received a copy of PRIVATE INDIA by Ashwin Sanghi & James Patterson on Friday evening. I started reading it on Saturday and despite life getting in the way numerous times, managed to finish it by Sunday night. So needless to say, it’s quite a page turner.

About the authors:

Unless you've been living a cave (or under a rock) in a remote part of some god-forsaken land, I'd be highly surprised if you previously haven't heard the names of either or both of these talented authors. The other explanation, of course, is that you could just be a non-book lover. Or a non-reader (*Yes, I gasped loudly too, the first time I heard that term. But apparently they exist!). Ashwin Sanghi is one of India’s best selling authors specialising in mythological thrillers and historical fiction. Though I have found some of his books a bit too "information-overloaded", his research and attention to detail and background is as impeccable as it gets. And this shines through and through in the book. James Patterson, on the other hand, is someone who has penned numerous international best sellers and whose recent books have sold more copies worldwide than Stephen King, John Grisham and Dan Brown combined. (Okay, says TOI here).  I’ve always been a fan of James Patterson’s books and his trademark fast-paced plots and suspense have been weaved through brilliantly throughout the book.

 

About Private Series

Apart from his Alex Cross series, the PRIVATE Series has been one of James Patterson's most successful thriller series to date. Often dubbed as the world’s most exclusive detective agency, PRIVATE Worldwide is spear-headed by the suave and stylish ex-Marine and CIA agent Jack Morgan. With offices across the globe, they are often brought into play when the police hit a dead-end (or cannot be involved) and for cases where maximum discretion is required. Needless to say, the agency has tons of high-profile clients in every city, whose resources they unabashedly use to solve every case.

 

PRIVATE India (PI) - The plot (I promise - no spoilers)

When visiting Thai surgeon, Kanya Jaiyen,  is found strangled to death in the bathroom of the posh Marine Bay Plaza in Mumbai, Private India (PI), the Indian branch of the exclusive Private Worldwide, is asked to investigate. Working alongside the police department, PI, led by the brilliantly perceptive Santosh Wagh (whose fondness for alcohol reminds me constantly of Dr. Gregory House, M.D from the American medical drama HOUSE) and his elite team consisting of ravishing ex-cop Nisha Gandhe, the meticulous medical expert Mubeen Yusuf and muscularly-built technology geek Hari Padhi, are determined to crack the case before it's too late. However the killer soon strikes again and leaves little clues behind with the corpses, thereby enabling the PI team to deduce a pattern. With a couple of shorter sub-plots seamlessly weaved in, Private India is definitely a page turner that you will struggle to put down.

 

The Positives

Private India is exceptionally fast-paced and a thriller in its truest sense. At no point, did I lose focus nor find my attention wandering. And for someone like me, who often struggles to be attentive, that's a big plus point. Sanghi’s exhaustive research and historical knowhow is what makes the story and the city of Mumbai come alive for the reader. Throughout the book we come across familiar Mumbai landmarks and the vivid descriptions ensure that you picture them perfectly in your mind. The language is simple yet effective and largely un-marred by useless flowery references and comparisons. The authors have also managed to incorporate “present day topics and locations” into the story line almost effortlessly - such as ISI, the 2006 Mumbai bombings, Shakti Mills and so on. Overall, the collaboration gives an otherwise typical James Patterson thriller, a much-refreshing "desi-tadka", which will hopefully pave the way for more collaborative projects between Indian and Western authors.

 

The Misses:

One of the major misses for me was the lack of depth to any of the characters. In any book, I always look for a character or two, that I can take away with me. Someone who will remain in my head long after I shut the book. Though there is enough backstory provided for most of the characters in the book, I doubt I’d remember any of them in a few weeks. The otherwise simple narration is marred by the overuse of expletives - especially the F word - in the dialogues. Though I appreciate that the usage of the “F-word” is prevalent in most modern everyday conversations, I felt there were quite a few places where it was  unnecessary. Also, the execution towards the end was a tad bollywood-ish for my liking and the “reasoning” - a bit larger than life. The authors have also indulged in a few typical Indian stereotypes that could have been avoided. I won't expand on this because I can't without revealing some of the plot, but it should be glaringly obvious to most readers.

 

My opinion:

I’m not a big fan of rating books on a point or star scale. I would sum up the book as a fast-paced thriller with genuinely interesting and well-researched sub-plots  - definitely worth a one time read. If talented authors can continue to churn out books like these, I might also add that the future looks rather bright for the Indian thriller genre.

The Kill List - Forsyth at his undeniably best

The Kill List is master storyteller Frederick Forsyth’s latest addition to his long list of cutting-edge suspense thrillers.

The Kill List - Cover Image courtesy of Google Images

Plot Line:

America has a new enemy - The Preacher, who has just made it onto their short top hit list of people who are to be tracked down and killed at every cost. This top secret catalogue is known internally as “The Kill List”. The Preacher is masked figure with blazing amber eyes, who radicalizes young Muslims abroad to carry out high profile assassinations.
To hunt down the Preacher, the United States appoints one of its many classified organisations, blandly named as TOSA or Technical Operations Support Activity, who in turn passes the mission on to their star crusader, only known as the Tracker, who is an ex-marine.
Armed with very little evidence and unable to trust anyone around, the Tracker has his work cut out. And when one such radicalised youth, kills a retired Marine general, whose son happens to the Tracker, the hunt becomes extremely personal.

In my opinion:

It is a typical Forsyth classic - fast moving, action-packed and backed with excellent research. Whilst not in the same league as that of  “The Day of the Jackal” or “The Odessa File”, The Kill List does have its edge-of-your-seat moments.  Forsyth’s detailed research for all his books is what sets him apart from some his contemporaries, and it’s no different with this novel either. What I loved best about the book, apart from the well-paced plot, is the exceptional detail about the military, their impeccable execution under pressure and how the entire premise is very real-world-real-scenario based.
Yes, there are some minute flaws in the story line, the end-result is quite predictable and the final confrontation is a bit rushed. However  as some wise people have said in the past, “ It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey!”. And the “journey” that this book takes us on, from the deep, impenetrable mountains of Afghanistan to the vicious pirate-infested “Horn of Africa”, is an outstandingly well-crafted and enjoyable one.

Final Verdict:

The Kill List by Frederick Forsyth is an excellent blend of well-paced military action, the quintessential real-world hero, enthralling    writing and the archetypal Machiavellian bad guy. A definite read.

Overall Rating : 4 / 5

Bibliographic info:

Title                  The Kill List
Author              Frederick Forsyth
Publisher          Penguin Group US, 2013
Length              352 pages
 Genre                Fiction | Thrillers  | Suspense | Military

Aye aye Captain - A review of Captain Phillips

It takes a lot to make me write a review for a movie. Not because I do not take the pains to dissect it; purely because I'm inherently lazy. But not this time. This movie deserves every bit of the praise. Captain Phillips is an incredible dramatisation attempt by director Paul Greengrass (of the Bourne Series, Greenzone & United 93 fame) to recreate the "true" story of how the American cargo ship "The Maersk Alabama" was hijacked by Somali pirates back in 2009. With two-time Academy Award® winner Tom Hanks in the titular role and a  screenplay-to-act-for by Billy Ray (of The Hunger Games, State of Play, Shattered Glass fame), the movie should definitely be on any hard core movie buff's to-watch list!

Image Credit from the Wikipedia Website

As it is based on a true story, the plot itself is quite predictable. To put it briefly, it's about four young Somali pirates hijacking the behemoth of an American cargo ship, in the hope of making some money by holding them ransom. However it takes an immensely talented director to be able to keep us on the edge of our seats, with a story we know the ending to. Nevertheless, the director Paul Greengrass managed to do it with United 93, and has successfully done it with Captain Phillips too.

The plot itself has multiple layers, and people like me, who have a tendency to over-analyse will find much to feed our brains. Though in a nutshell, it is  a heroic survival tale against all odds, the plot also touches on a number of different issues from the plight of the fishermen in Somalia who have resorted to being pirate-raiders for the manipulative ring leaders to how globalisation has left as much as fifty people competing for one job.

Tom Hanks, as Captain Richard Phillips, lives and breathes the role of the eponymous merchant mariner to the letter. He sails effortlessly through every scene, be it the reserved and methodical Captain Phillips that we see at the beginning of the movie, or the sleep, water and food-depraved traumatic Phillips being held captive by the Somali pirates. Though he is splendid throughout, the last five minutes of the movie is when he truly delivers the performance worthy of another Academy Award®. You've got to 'see it to "feel" it'!

However it's not all the Tom Hanks show. He is matched step-for-step and act-by-act by newcomer Barkhad Abdi, whose electrifying performance of the pirate leader Abduwali Muse, has already gathered rave reviews. Perhaps the most enthralling scene the two of them have together is when Muse, after boarding the ship, looks dead-eye straight at Phillips and says  "Look me in the eye – I'm the Captain now!". As the ringleader Muse, Abdi portrays the perfect eclectic mix of intense determination and sheer desperation of someone who has gone way too far to turn back and has no other way out.

With a run time of 134 minutes, the movie starts off a tad slow, but soon has us gripped-by-our-throats with the suspense and tension. Greengrass makes good use of every available tool at his disposal, and be it the claustrophobic scene inside the "being-constantly-tossed-by-the-sea" lifeboat or the "unabated negotiations" between the US Navy and the pirates, he executes them with panache. Technically, the movie is exceptionally crafted and we find ourselves "virtually" present for every scene. The cinematography by Barry Ackroyd is exceptional and the riveting  background music by Henry Jackman adds to the overall mood.

As i said earlier, it takes a true genius to wring suspense from a screenplay that you know the end to. And once again, Paul Greengrass has done just that.

My final verdict: A pulsating survival story of the captain of an American cargo ship kidnapped by Somali pirates, executed brilliantly by Director Paul Greengrass and Academy-Award-worthy acting by Tom Hanks and debutante Barkhad Abdi.

P.S. I've not provided a detailed scene-by-scene description of the storyline on purpose. At the end of the day, it's a thriller, and though the story in its entireity  is available on the public domain, I'm of the opinion that its best if we just know the synopsis and "relive" the movie, as the director and actors meant for us to. 

Watch the YouTube trailer here for Captain Phillips by Sony Pictures:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEyM01dAxp8