Thursday, January 31, 2013

Book Review: The Invitation by Anne Cherian

Title: The Invitation
Author: Anne Cherian
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 304
Price: Rs 350
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary fiction
Rating: 8/10
Format: Paperback

I am a cover page person. I do judge a book by its cover. Though in this case, I was not drawn by its cover page, rather I picked this book on a whim, without any expectations. And this book sure took me by surprise. This immigrant fiction is about a group of four friends, complete with their imperfections, the hidden truths, their insecurities and everyday real issues about family.

Frances, Jay, Lali and Vikram, all Indian immigrants, meet at UCLA. The author takes time to dwell into the lives, present and past, of each of these characters. I was instantly drawn to their stories.

Frances and Jay (or Jayant Bakshi) are college sweethearts who married right after finishing college. They have three children – Mandy, Lily and Sam. Frances is a real estate agent, while Jay works in the middle management for a computer company. The couple, who considered themselves the best during college, is struggling to provide a decent lifestyle to their family while also trying to understand the dramatic change in their first born, typical of teenage years.

Vikram, the prodigious son of a farmer, starts his own computer company after completing his course at UCLA, and is a successful entrepreneur. Though successful in terms of money, he is battling his own childhood issues, imposing his aspirations on his MIT graduate son Nikhil. He is married to Priya; their marriage arranged by their parents.

Lali married Jonathon, a cardiologist and has a son Aaron. The perfect harmony in Lali’s marriage is troubled by Jonathan’s sudden interest in his religion. She finds herself distanced from her husband due to his new-found passion. As is beautifully put in the narrative “… he had parted the curtains to his own religion, and she found herself offstage.” This growing distance momentarily clouds her judgement and she starts corresponding with an ex from college. She is also peeved about her son’s decision to take a break from his course at Harvard.

The individual stories lead up to the party that Vikram is throwing to celebrate his son Nikhil’s graduation from MIT. All of them are going to meet after 25 years, so they are apprehensive about their relative success or failure in their personal and professional lives while also extremely curious to know about each other.  

For most of the book, I loved the way the author has let the characters unfold for her readers. I found the writing rich and nuanced, while the narrative was engaging.
The ending seemed a bit hurried though. There were quite a few unanswered questions and loose ends.
If you have not read the book, skip this part and explore for yourself because I don’t want to cloud your judgement; but if you have read the book, read on to see if your thoughts echo in mine. A few questions which came to my mind at the end:

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Book Sale: Discounts Alert January 2013

This discount offer has been going on for a while now at the Landmark Bookstores. They have a huge collection of books available under "3-for-2", which means that you can buy 3 books by paying for 2 from the books on offer. And this is a really good offer because several popular titles are available on offer.

Besides, Penguin India has been celebrating 25th anniversary. So, I also found 25% off on Penguin Titles at Landmark stores. But this was sometime back so it needs to be validated if the offer is still running.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Books Round-up: 2012 in Books and 2013

Non Fiction
Though I read only 21 books (not counting the various Parenting books which I used as reference since I did not read them start to finish) last year, yet it was a good year. I was focused on reading and reviewing books, as I have eliminated TV from my life completely. Had it not been for reviewing almost every book that I read, I would have actually read many more. Till the time I review the book, I usually do not proceed to the next one. 


For 2013, these are the few things which I have decided to do:

  • I am targeting 48 books - technically 4 books every month. On the face of it, it looks completely doable.
  • I have also decided to do 40 or more book reviews. 
  • I would focus on the books which I really want to read, and not pay any heed to other voices
  • I would focus on diverse subjects and explore new authors in literary fiction. There are several authors I have never read before - from Naipaul to Rushdie, from Ruskin Bond to Vikram Seth - there are many explored territories.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Book Review: The Shadow Throne by Aroon Raman

Title: The Shadow Throne
Author: Aroon Raman
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pages: 332
Price: Rs 250
Genre: Fiction/Thriller
Rating: 8/10
Format: Paperback

Of late, Indian writing has come to epitomize a different kind of genre rather than what it used to. I remember I had an ‘Indian writing’ phase in reading. I would read Indian authors because I could connect to their stories better and felt at home. Shashi Deshpande and Jhumpa Lahiri were favorites; they still are! But of late I had stopped enjoying the popular fiction genre in Indian writing. It did not add any value to my reading. But it seems things are changing for better. Interesting books are flowing out of different publishing houses.

Well, to cut the long story short, this book offered an interesting premise, unlike anything we have seen recently in Indian writing. ‘The Shadow Throne’ is a fast-paced thriller built around a very topical issue - nuclear attack and are we ready to deal with it. The language was pretty good yet easy to read. The book is actually of small size and it reminds me of the Pocket Books my Dad used to read (a la Surendra Mohan Pathak).

‘The Shadow Throne’ offers enough teasers to pull you into the story – a mysterious murder at Qutub Minar; a victim straight out of antiquity; the uncertain and murky world of Pakistan’s ISI and India’s RAW; a journalist (Chandrashekhar), an inspector (Hassan) and a history professor (Meenakshi Pirzada) find themselves in a conspiracy of a potential nuclear attack on India; and a race against time to save the nation while not knowing whom to trust in the run.

The book begins on an interesting note where Chandrashekhar is reminiscing about his dead wife Yamini. But in no time we find ourselves entranced in a gripping tale of murder, conspiracy, deceit and questionable loyalties. A body is found at the foot of Qutub Minar. The Inspector-in-charge Syed-Ali-Hassan calls in Chandrashekhar, a journalist with whom Hassan has worked in several cases. Chandrashekhar pulls in Meenakshi Pirzada, a history professor and Chandrashekhar’s deceased wife’s best friend, to help him find out more about the victim. This incident spirals into a conspiracy involving RAW and ISI and stretches beyond Indian borders, to Afghanistan.

On the other hand, there is a small group of aborigines in Afghanistan, assumed to be extinct, who are working towards ascertaining their place in the world, at Bamiyan Valley. OK, I admit getting tiny-winy bored in the details of this part. But, overall, the author has been successful in constructing an interesting plot together and creating an exciting spy-thriller that would keep you guessing till the end. A few things were surreal but could be overlooked in favour of an enjoyable read. It sounded so much like a film that I wouldn't be surprised if it got made into one.

I also got a feeling that this could turn into a series. Towards the end, there is a hint that Chandrasekhar could be called anytime if need be. I would certainly look out for the author’s second book.

Image source: Amazon

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Book Review: Drop Dead by Swati Kaushal

Title: Drop Dead
Author: Swati Kaushal
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 321
Price: Rs 250
Genre: Fiction / Thriller / Crime
Rating: 7/10
Format: Paperback

‘Drop Dead’ is the third book by the bestselling author Swati Kaushal. But unlike the earlier 2 books, this one is a crime mystery novel. This book is supposed to be the first one in the ‘Niki Marwah Mystery series’.

In this book, the author introduces Niki Marwah, the Shimla Superintendent of Police. Young, attractive, charismatic, tough, sharp and level-headed; she has all the makings of a promising central character. She does not consider living it up with stylish clothes and driving a flamboyant 2X2 SUV frivolous for a cop. Priyanka Chopra in Don is definitely a benchmark because we often find her references. (Niki also reminds me so much of Nancy Drew!).

This book is about only three days during which a dead body is discovered, an enquiry is conducted and the case is solved. Rakesh Mehta (also known as Rak), President and CEO of Indigo Books India Ltd., is putting up at the luxurious Lotus Resort, Sonargam (a fictitious place near Shimla) with his team for a corporate meet. Rak Mehta is ruthless, shrewd and opportunistic. He is flamboyant and quite a ladies’ man. On the verge of making an important announcement, he is found dead at Jharna Point, near the Lotus Resort, apparently due to a fall from the cable car. Niki Marwah takes charge of the investigation with her team, and soon finds out that almost everyone could have a motive to kill Rak.

Since there is an intention of a series, so one would find a few seemingly unnecessary parts and characters. Niki’s friend Kam or Niki’s big Punjabi clan, even a potential romantic angle have not been explored in this book but I am sure they would have relevance in the coming books from the series. Niki’s subordinate Shankar Sahay is a likeable character though his casual banter with Niki sounds more like that of a younger brother rather than a junior who has just started out.    

The title is catchy, and seems ironical when you read the book. The cover page is in line with the author’s previous two books. I found the publishing industry setting pretty interesting. But the book lacks in-depth characterization. Even Niki’s character is not too fleshed out. The book is actually a chick lit married to a thriller; so apart from pursuing the case, Niki also has her moments of meeting single men, dodging the marriage question and fantasizing about shoes and clothes.

The other issue with the book is finishing the story in haste towards the end. From taking every suspect’s statement to nabbing the killer, there should have been a logical connect. However, it certainly is a page-turner which should appeal to anyone who is looking for a fast-read and favors thrillers. Young Adults is another potential audience for this book. We also get a glimpse of the second book in Niki Marwah mystery series towards the end - ‘Sweet Cyanide’.

Image courtesy: Amazon