Book Review, Indian authors

Unladylike: A memoir by Radhika Vaz

To all the unladies out there who refuse to be bound by the rules of feminity.

A short-haired woman in red lipstick adorning a white tutu sitting in a majestic brown leather couch with her waxed legs wide apart sporting a ‘f***k-all’ expression like she doesn’t wp-image-973029516give a rat @$$ is a sight to behold on a book-cover. It’s a total badass, bold statement! Simply that and a tiny excerpt of the introduction and I was sold (thanks to an Amazon discount sale). I had known nothing else about the writer apart from that she is a comedienne. And women with a slick humor sense is something I always appreciate.

So, lo and behold. Here’s a woman who is in a constant repartee with her self, her sexuality and the society as such. The memoir starts in a classic childhood, teenage, adolescence, adulthood mode. Radhika Vaz started a confused kid and is over being confused as hell. And, the confidence she has gained with years spills from cover to cover. This is her way of dealing with her identity crisis- something she is in constant battle with and has come out unscathed. She writes of her tryst with body image issues, and with gender stereotypes. Her first period, her first kiss and the first time she watched porn- all make for good reads. It’s funny, honest and devoid of any voyeuristic pleasures. She is refreshingly brash, open and doesn’t give a fuck about the official ‘sanskaar’ brigade.

Her first period, her first kiss and the first time she watched porn- all make for good reads. It’s funny, honest and devoid of any voyeuristic pleasures. Enter adolescence and she bares her boy-girl stories with a clinically precise comic timing. It’s devoid of too much emotion-just enough to keep you interested. The chapters where she deals with her decision to not have a child if for every woman to read. If you have had a child, or are planning to, or are considering being childless or what not, you simply have to read her POV because it’s amazingly refreshing to know that people aren’t always pining and whining for kids! She just casually lets you know that it’s ok to secretly and not so secretly hate noisy and bratty kids!

At the end of the day, this ad agency exec-turned-comedienne has written a book that is easy to read. It has something for a wide variety of women. Read it if you are looking for a light, soft, easy-breezy book that’ll keep you company for a sound 3hrs, this is it!

Verdict: A tongue-in-cheek memoir of an identity crisis tackled successfully. If you are a teenager this book will help you know that you are not alone.

Continue reading “Unladylike: A memoir by Radhika Vaz”

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Book Review, Indian authors

In the Name of God by Ravi Subramanian

Banker-turned-writer Ravi Subramanian’s 2017 release has nothing to do with banking. After a successful series of financial and banking thrillers that ensued the literati since If 

In the name of GodGod was a Banker, Ravi Subramanian is stepping out of his forte to deliver a crime thriller on the lines of John Grisham and James Patterson. His new novel, In the Name of God begins and ends in the capital city of Kerala, where I call home- Thiruvananthapuram. But in the span of 400 pages, Ravi Subramanian takes you on a whirlwind across continents before the suspense and thrill are put to rest.

The novel is mainly fiction. However, the story is largely based on real places, people, and incidents.Since Thiruvananthapuram is fondly named after the deity, Sree Padmanabhan is a sentiment to the natives. Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple stands tall at the heart of Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala. The temple houses 6 vaults (A to F). The vaults to  F have been opened numerous times under supervision and most of the riches in the vaults have been cataloged recently. However, the and vaults in the temple that have not been opened or cataloged for centuries and this has been a wire topic here down south. While the real-life incidents are a developing story back home, Ravi Subramanian’s thriller borrows quite a lot from the newspapers to be fictionalized. His story is that and lot more.

I haven’t read any of the author’s previous works and hence had no frame of reference

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Image courtesy: thirtysixandcounting.wordpress.com

or expectations from Ravi Subramanian. If anything, I was slightly apprehensive as this novel is based on places I still call home. But, Ravi did not slightly bit disappoint. He is often quoted saying that he would love to be known as the John Grisham of banking or finance thrillers. Who am I to judge! But I would definitely count on this thriller to be on the lines of a James Patterson – for keeping up the thrill and pace. Kabir Khan, the additional director for CBI who is played up as ‘India’s finest’ in cutting through bureaucracy, prejudice, and red-tapism is your run-of-the-mill detective with near to nil character detailing. You hardly “see” or “feel” his character through the pages. And for that reason alone I don’t see this novel being drawn into a ‘Kabir Khan’ series of investigations in the future. Interestingly, Kabir Khan, the officer in the Culture & Heritage crime dept who walks in to investigate a crime involving a temple is the son of an inter-religious couple. I was instantly amused at the clearly conscious choice of name for the officer and his placement in a religiously charged backdrop. Last but not the least, I found the book cover designing

Last but not the least, whatever happened to creative and attractive book covers! The plain and unimaginative cover art is the single-most off-putting aspect of the book. And apart from that, the book is quite an engaging, fast paced thriller. Written in the simplest of language the narration is a no-brainer, meaning puts no pressure on the reader. So, I don’t know about John Grisham, but I do think Ravi Subramanian is India’s James Patterson for his easily digestible thriller.

Verdict: For a book of 400+ page this one is a fast-paced easy to read thriller. It’s meant for the casual reader who loves thrill and adventure.

Continue reading “In the Name of God by Ravi Subramanian”

Book Review, Indian authors

Sita Warrior of Mithila : Book 2 of Ram Chandra Series by Amish

Yada yada hi dharmasya glanirbhavati suvrata|

Abhyuttthanamadharmasya tada prakritisambhavah||

O keeper of righteous vows, remember this,

Whenever dharma is in decline, Or there is an upsurge of adharma:

The Sacred Feminine will incarnate.

Amish’s Ram Chandra series had its debut with The Scion of Ikshvaku 2 years ago. Fans have been waiting for the release of Sita Warrior of Mithila since then. I do not claim fealty to Sita_Warrior_of_Mithila_coverthe fandom, let me confess, I haven’t read The Scion of Ikshvaku beyond a few chapters. I left it alone since I found it dragging in a manner familiar to me from Amish’s The Oath of the Vayuputras from the Shiva Trilogy (don’t get me wrong, I liked the book, the climax even). The slow place was acceptable to me there because it was the end of a series I had so dearly followed. Besides the characters in the narrative had all felt fresh and real. The Scion of Ikshvaku felt like it was merely riding on the fame and anticipation the Shiva Trilogy has caused in its splendor. However, the trailer and the cover of this book did not fail to appeal to my senses. Inspite of that, I began reading Sita Warrior of Mithila with ample apprehension and timidity. And then, the first chapter of the book happened!

After the first chapter I literally closed the book and said, “Amish, you have me hook line and sinker!” In here Sita is a badass! She is a warrior worth her salt. She is intelligent, smart and pragmatic. And yes, she means business! The story revolves around her cause and the means she adopts for it. She constantly reminds you of a modern working woman who has to balance her work and personal life, albeit with a very supportive and understanding partner who shares her goal. It’s a relationship in perfect harmony. *sigh* The story here has a pace, quite comfortable to any reader. The language is simple and comprehensible. But, that’s the thing with Amish! His works are known for the freshness of the plot than decorative language. Though in this case, the language is also overly descriptive and screenplay-ish, which is quite possibly intentional given his eye for detail.

AmishThe story here has a pace, quite comfortable to any reader. The language is simple and comprehensible. But, that’s the thing with Amish! His works are known for the freshness of the plot than decorative language. Though in this case, the language is also overly descriptive and screenplay-ish, which is quite possibly intentional given his eye for detail. He subtly touches contemporary debate points like meat-eating and Jallikettu. But fails to make a decisive statement anywhere. At some places, Amish seems to be struggling to defend certain characters in alignment to how we know them from the popular epic, Ramayan. And, throughout the narrative, his politics seems to be diplomatic. I would have loved a little more bravado, but still not complaining.

Amish explains his style of narration in this series as multi-linear, i.e, the first three books will respectively be in Ram’s, Sita’s and Raavan’s perspectives. All these three books start and end at the kidnapping of Sita by Raavan. The fourth and last book in the series will be the conclusive one that’ll take the story ahead and tie everything neatly with a bow. This means that a lot many parts of the story will be repeated in all three books. So, for readers intending to read the books one after the other may be at a disadvantage. But it also means that no matter where you start reading the series, between book 1 to 3, you do not miss out on the story.

 

Verdict: It is fresh, and fast! This Sita is to watch out for. Ram Chandra series is picking up with this installment of the story. So if you are a fan of the genre, you might not want to miss this.

Continue reading “Sita Warrior of Mithila : Book 2 of Ram Chandra Series by Amish”

Book Review, Indian authors

Olympus: An Indian Retelling of the Greek Myths

Very few writers incite in me the urge to reach for their books at the devdutt_660_041113063104mere sight of their names on the cover and Devdutt Pattanaik is one of them because, according to me, he is the master of retellings. His works, Jaya and Sita have been revelations to me; and The Pregnant King is still one of my favorites. His stronghold seems to be his ability to stay subjectively objective in drawing from mythology what is relevant to the ever changing modern scenario. He is not a puritanist bogged down by the conservative traditionalist. Neither is he dismissive of the western view on Indian mythology. He understands that it is important to stand firmly grounded on the cultural nuances to understand and interpret Indian mythology. So when such a reasonable and learned man shifts his gaze to Greek mythology, and you love reading mythology, you follow suit.

olympusOlympus: The Indian Retelling of the Greek Myths comes to me in my near total ignorance of Greek Mythology, but for a few stories here and there. And, because I read from cover to cover, the Author’s note required atleast three reading of me because I believe that is the most important part of the book. It prepares you for what follows by giving you a briefing as to what Greek mythology came about geographically, politically, socially and culturally. The book is later divided into 8 books each for a Greek God and the mythical stories surrounding them.

Pattanaik, as expected of him, doesn’t stray from drawing parallels between Indian and Greek Mythologies. He finds parallels between characters, incidents, and ideologies. This book, like any good book, has worked up my curiosity about Greek mythology.

Pattanaik’s writing is simple and straightforward as always. The stories are almost journalist and to-the-point and the notes that follow are where he lets his analytical and reasoning brain at work. This is the kind of book you go back to for light reading. The stories are prophetic, pragmatic and sometimes cringe-worthy-all of what is beautifully handled by Pattanaik’s simple language that keeps him an observer and narrator, at a safe distance from all action. I would go as far as calling him a modern day Sanjaya, the commentator of the Mahabharata war to the blind King Dhritarashtra.

P.S. I would love for Devdutt Pattanaik to turn his gaze towards South Indian folklores, which otherwise seem to be largely neglected. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know his fresh and progressive views on the myths down south?

Verdict: This book is for Greek mythology neophytes and can serve as your crash course in the same.

Continue reading “Olympus: An Indian Retelling of the Greek Myths”

Book Review, Indian authors

The Rise of Sivagami: Book 1 of Baahubali – Before the Beginning by Anand Neelakantan

‘Why did Kattappa kill Baahubai?’, the most asked question in these 2 years, only begins 911wBYUAMAL.__BG0,0,0,0_FMpng_AC_UL320_SR208,320_
to gauge the wide public interest in the Baahubali franchise. While the answer to this question might evade us till the end April this year, when Baahubali 2 -The Conclusion releases, clues to it might be hidden in plain sight within the pages of The Rise of Sivagami, written by Anand Neelakantan. SS Rajamouli and Anand Neelakantan were well ahead of their game in marketing Baahubali franchise and the book by releasing Chapter 2: Kattappa ahead of the book release to pique interest. The book was up for pre-ordering on Amazon and it hit the stands on 15th of March, 2107. I caught hold of a digital copy from the Kindle store on the D-day.

The very first few pages into the book told me that it will need more than my Anand-Neelakantancursory attention. All the main characters are listed with their brief description before the story begins. This gives you an insight into what is in store for you. It also gives you a sense of the magnitude of the plot. This fictional political drama focuses on Sivagami’s story. How from young orphan she turned into the powerful bureaucrat she seems in the first movie of the franchise. The characters seem well thought out and by the end of the book you see a lot of them evolve into full bloom. The plot twists and turns tend to shock at times and sometimes get predictable. But, this book only starts to lay a ground for the plot twists and turns that could be possible in a story of this magnitude.

Anand Neelakantan had announced his arrival with his book Asura: The Tale of the Vanquished. And, in true Anand Neelakantan style, there are no black and white characters here either; every character has a gray shade, with the exception of Kattappa and Mahadeva. But, Neelakantan, a fan of the A Song of Ice and Fire series himself, assures us that the plot will only thicken as the series proceeds.

Verdict: If you have enjoyed Baahubali, the movie and the mini-series on Amazon Prime, then you are definitely going to love and enjoy it. This book serves in thickening the plot and getting you further immersed into the world of Mahishmati. 

 

Continue reading “The Rise of Sivagami: Book 1 of Baahubali – Before the Beginning by Anand Neelakantan”

Book Review, Non-Indian authors

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

A century before A Game of Thrones,

two unlikely heroes wandered Westeros.

This is all it takes an ardent A Song of Ice & Fire/ A Game of Thrones aficionado to buy a george-r-r-martin_a-knight-of-the-seven-kingdomshardcover copy of A Knight of the Seven Kingdom. (It would’ve cost me an arm and a leg but for the ol’ savior, Amazon.in.) This book is a collection of three short stories, by George R R Martin written as a prequel to A Song of Ice & Fire series, which are. It is predated to the series by about a 100 years and revolves around the adventures of Dunk and Egg. This book is a collection of three stories, The Hedge Knight, The Sworn Sword, and The Mystery Knight.

Now, let me get into a bit of the premise of the three stories. Dunk used to squire for Ser Arlan of Pennytree, a hedge knight. Ser Arlan passes away in illness after knighting Dunk. He is now Ser Duncan the Tall who is, later in the series, known as Ser Duncan the Tall, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard during the reign of King Aegon V Targaryen. Egg, one of the two protagonists, is revealed to be Prince Aegon Targaryen himself, son of Prince Maekar Targaryen. Egg who is better known to ASOIF fans as King Aegon V Targaryen or Aegon the Unlikely, grandfather of King Aerys II aka the Mad King. This book marks the humble beginning of Dunk as Ser Duncan the Tall and how he meets Egg. It marks the beginning of the many adventures Dunk and Egg will venture into together.

In the spirit of keeping this spoiler free, I would rather not dwell into the individual stories of what transpires between the covers. But, as fan of the books and the television series I can tell you that these stories do give you insight into many characters, some alive in the time frame of ASOIF and some introduced to us through the narrations of others. Brynden Rivers aka Lord Bloodraven, Hand of the Kings Aerys I and Maekar I Targaryen,  is one of the such reccuring characters. (For the uninitiated Lord Bloodraven is the Three-eyed raven.) Lord Walder Frey, the man behind the Red wedding, is another. You will also come across members of several great houses familiar to you if you have been following the ASOIF series. All this will give you great insight into the workings of Westeros and the people-smallfolk, lords and lordlings. A recurring theme of the subtext in these stories is also the triviality of war and disputes as compared to the cost paid in blood. It goes on to tell us how somebody’s inflated ego and the hunger for power costs someone else gravely.

The three novellas here are all previously published in other Anthologies are now being compiled in a set of three. There is no telling as to how many Dunk and Egg novellas there will be as GRRM is rightly of the opinion that “there will be as many novellas as it takes to tell their tale, start to finish.” but how many ever there that will be known to us only after he delivers The Winds of Winter. GRRM plans to write the novellas

More details and updates on George RR Martin here.

Verdict: George RR Martin takes us deeper into the world he spun for us in the Song of Ice and Fire series. And the good thing is these are novellas but just as juicy as the novels. Hence, this is not to be missed by any Song of Ice and Fire series fans .

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Book Review, Indian authors

Asura: Tale Of The Vanquished

Asura : Tale of the Vanquished has been on my to-read list for asuraquite some time and I decided to finally get my hands on it when I came across it in
a Kindle deal. This is also part of my read-more-Indian-authors campaign for myself.

By the time I got to the book-4 years too late- the author Anand Neelakantan has already written books based on Mahabharata and has signed on to write 3 books as a prequel to Bahubali, the big budget, multi-lingual movie. Until after I finished the book and did some research I didn’t even realize that the author is a Malayali (though I suspected so from all the Kerala references). He is an engineer from Thripunithura, Kochi.

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Anand Neelakantan

Every Malayali worth one’s salt is aware of
the version of Ramayana in which Sita is Ravana’s daughter. In this book, Anand Neelakantan explores this interpretation of the story through the eyes of two men, Ravana and Bhadra.

The story is presented to us through the eyes of Ravana who is at his death bed. Ravana needs no introduction whatsoever and has always been portrayed as the quintessential villain- the hot-headed, immoral, greedy, lustful, yet learned, artistic and mighty Emperor of Lanka. Yet, Anand Neelakantan paints a more human picture of Ravana, who is virtuous yet flawed.

The biggest tragedy of life was that we grow up and achieve our boyhood dreams.

-Ravana, Asura : Tale of the Vanquished

He is brave and courageous but isn’t immune to fear. He is passionate and compassionate, but also jealous, competitive and selfish at the same time. He is a victim of his own ambitions. He is ideologically progressive, yet practically regressive. This Ravana is by no means the villain, but neither is he the hero.

Another person who narrates the story to us is Bhadra, an Asura commoner. He introduces himself to us thus-

I’m a non-entity- Invisible, powerless and negligible.No epic will ever be written about me. I have suffered both Ravana and Rama- the hero and the villain or the villain and the hero. When the stories of great men are told, my voice maybe too feeble.

Yet, spare me a moment and hear my story, for I am Bhadra, the Asura, and my life is the tale of the loser.

-Bhadra, Asura: Tale of the Vanquished

Though he calls himself ‘a non-entity’, Bhadra is quite pivotal to the story. Not only does he appear at decisive moments of the story, but he also functions as the third-eye whose sole purpose in life is to survive inspite of the many disappointments, betrayals and humiliations thrown at him. To us he adds a different dimension to the story by being the all-seeing-eye. He is representative of how the battle between the Devas and Asura has affected the Asura population. He is representative of what caste system, or any other discriminatory system of rules, can affect the lives of the population. He is representative of the hollowness of war and the trail of destruction it brings forth.

This book though fall into the genre of mythological fiction, but is socially and politically relevant. It raises serious questions on castism, racism and misogyny. By the end of this reasonably long book you will find yourself posing serious existential questions. This book made me question my concepts on victory and success. It made me question my concepts of a hero and a villain as this story has neither a hero nor a villain or maybe it has a hero and a villain in more than one character. It made me question morality and it sheds light over the distance between concepts like good and evil, God and mortal. It also shows you how the gender divide is the elephant in the room that you can’t ignore.

Rating : 4/5

Verdict: If you are anything like me, who loves mythology and its different interpretations, you have to read it one. But, expect to feel the wrath of failure, the sting of betrayal and heaviness of loss as you turn the last page. And, also, expect to question concepts that you have long taken for granted. Continue reading “Asura: Tale Of The Vanquished”