Thursday, May 31, 2012

Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Laini Taylor


ISBN - 978-1-444-72266-6
PAGES - 432
GENRE - Young Adult
BINDING - Paperback
SOURCE - Publishers

AUTHOR - Laini Taylor

[From the book cover]


The note was on vellum, pierced by the talons of the almost-crow that delivered it. Karao read the message. "He never says please", she sighed, but she gathered up her things.

When Brimstone called, she always came.

In general, Karao has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she's a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in Elsewhere, she has never understood Brimstone's dark work - buying teeth from hunters and murderers - nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn't whole.

Now the doors of Elsewhereare closing, and Karao must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

EXCERPT - She held her coffee mug in one hand and clutched her coat closed with the other. An artist's portfolio was slung over her shoulder, and her hair - loose, long and peacock blue - was gathering a lace of snowflakes.

Just another day.

And then.

A snarl, rushing footfall, and she was seized from behind, pulled hard against a man's broad chest as hands yanked her scarf askew and she felt teeth - teeth - against her neck.


Her attacker was nibbling her.

FL Speak - Wow! First of all, the cover of the book makes you want to pick it up and read it. And then when you see that Patrick Rothfuss mentioned that he wished he wrote this, you know you're in for a treat.

I generally tend to avoid YA novels. They have less substance, less imagination and far more romance [well in most of the books that I've managed to complete]. But, I was hooked to Karao from page 1. She is brilliant, she's weird, she's mysterious, she's an artist, she has blue hair and lots of tattoos, she's hilarious and she may not be human.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone takes you on a wild ride of emotions, laughter and imagination. She's young and an art student in Prague. She also does some errands for Brimstone, who is like her surrogate father. But Brimstone is a chimera, which is something of a nightmare for normal folks like you and me. Half human, half vivid-imaginative-animal, they're enough to stop your heart just be looking at them. But then, they're Karao's family. Demons they might be, but you can tolerate them until ofcourse you think that they are vile and cruel and have tricked Karao into slavery with mumbo jumbo sorcery. So to know that, you have to read further.

On a personal note, I liked Brimstone and the other Chimeras. Anyway, getting back to the story, Karao was raised by Brimstone and one day while on an errand for him, she's attacked by an angel. Yeah, a real life handsome frigging angel. Apparently Angels and Chimeras are sworn enemies, which makes Karao a collaborator with the enemy. But what the angel Akiva, didn't realize was that the puny mortal Karao had enough power in her mysterious tattoos to stop him.

And thus begins the fascination for Avika and start of troubles for Karao. The gateway to the other world is permanently closed (again thanks to those angels) and the war between the Chimera and Angels is reaching a conclusion. As Avika and Karao get to know each other, layers of Karao's unknown parentage and the world of Chimera are peeled in front of her eyes. And the truth may shun Avika away from her life or lead to his death.

Laini Taylor has written a spellbinding tale. The eternal war between Angels and Chimera rages on but Avika and Karao might be the central point on how the war might end. If it ends. But a final revelation by Avika may have already doomed whatever future there might have been. I'll stop here. There are just so many amazing things to say but unless you read it, you won't feel it. Am not going to give you the end.

I'm telling you now to go and pick up this book. And then thank me later for giving you this review. Laini taylor reminds me of Deborah Harkness. Both have written a stellar first novel of a series/trilogy. It would be exciting to see how Karao and Avika fare in the coming conflict. And hope, if there is, is fleeting.

My Rating - 4.5 stars

INR 350/-

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Raiders From The North - Alex Rutherford


Book 1 of "Empire of the Moghul"

ISBN - 978-0-7553-5654-6
PAGES - 500
GENRE - Historical Fiction
BINDING - Paperback

AUTHOR - Alex Rutherford

SYNOPSIS - [From the back cover]

1494, and the new ruler of Ferghana, twelve-year-old Babur, faces a seemingly impossible challenge. Babur is determined to equal his great ancestor, Tamburlaine, whose conquests stretched from Delhi to the Mediterranean, from wealthy Persia to the wild Volga. But he is dangerously young to inherit a crown and treasonous plots, tribal rivalries, rampaging armies and ruthlessly ambitious enemies will threaten his destiny, his kingdom, even his survival.

FL Speak - I had this book with me for the last 2 months but somehow always shied away from starting it. The problem with reading a new series is that you want to complete it in one go and yet at some point of time you get frustrated by the tale. When UCV started reviewing the "Ramayana" series, I thought of starting this "Mughal Empire" series of sorts as well..

Raiders from the North is the first book of the epic "Empire of the Moghul" series and it spills the untold tale of Babur. Although most of the incidents and charcaters of the book are recorded in Babur's own biograpy "Baburnama", some of the characters are fictional and the author has given names to some characters that are referred in Baburnama but without a specific name.

Most of my knowledge of the Mughal dynasty came from the pages of my history book during school days. For the first time, it was sheer pleasure reading one of the greatest rulers of the Mughal dynasty. The book starts with a 12 year old Babur claiming the throne left by the sudden death of his father in the kingdom of Ferghana (now in Uzbekistan). With the sudden deah of his father, Ferghana became the easy pickings for his power hungry uncles. So it was no surprise when the ruler of Samarkand decided to claim Ferghana as his own. Babur, young as he might be, never did shy away from his destiny. He rallied his troops to the kingdom's defence and by a stroke of good luck, the ruler of Samarkhand fell to the invading Uzbeks as he was on his way to Samarkhand. With no heir in Samarkhand, Babur claimed the kingdom as his only to lose it within 100 days as his hometown, Ferghana was snatched by his half brother. As Babur rode to save his mother and sister, another cousin with the help of his bastard half brother, snatched Samarkand while Babur was away.

Within days, the king is without a throne. With both Ferghana and Samarkand lost, Babur had to live his life as a bandit and bid his time till he had enough army to reclaim his lost birthright. Meanwhile the barbaric Uzbeks are annexing one kingdom after another and by another stroke of miracle, Babur was offered the kingdom of Kabul after his uncle passed away. With a stable base, Babur decided to grow his empire following the footsteps of his ancestors, Ghenghis Khan and Timur.

Twice, he recaptured Samarkhand again only to lose it again within a couple of months. It was at that time he met a young market boy of his age, Baburi, and together they forged a friendship that stood the test of time and loyalty.

Babur was a just ruler and also a stern one. His word was law and people disobeying him was put to death. After sitting idly in Kabul and watching his sons grow, Babur grew restless and determined to conquer what his ancestors couldn't. Hindustan. India was an unknown land at that time. And Babur faced the might of the Indian army under Sultan Ibrahim Lodi in Panipat. The battle of Panipat and the battle with the Rajputs a few months later were to be his last of conquests. In Hindustan, he named his dynasty the Mughal empire.

Alex Rutherford has churned out a compelling tale. The relationship between Babur and his son Humayun as well as with his friend Baburi are some of the high points. Also the enmity with the Uzbeks make a fascinatting read. What you should know that THIS is history as it is, but with a dash of excitement and adventure to race the blood in your veins. For the first time in your life you're transported back in history in the royal family of the Mughals and watch history unfold in front of your eyes.

My Rating - 5 stars


P.S| With this, I complete 100 reviews :D

Mini Book Review:The Goat,the sofa and Mr Swami

Author:  R Chandrasekhar
First published in 2010
Price:INR 250
Published by: Hachette India
Source:Personal Copy

                           I had read a couple of short stories by the author which prompted me to buy his first novel.This 290 pages book published by hachette india,turned out to be a genuinely funny one.
                           The Goat,the sofa and Mr Swami is the most hilarious book that I have read in recent times.It is the kind of book which you can read in one sitting.Though the book has got shades of 'Ji Mantriji',R chandrasekhar's work is mostly an original one.The book is a satirical take on the present day Indian coalition politics and is un doubtedly one of the best desi satires to have come out till date.
                           The Pakisthani PM,Shah decides to invite himself to a cricket series to be played in India.India's elderly PM,Motwani who is more into steamy item numbers has no time for matters as insignificant as the Paki Premiere's visit.So it is the turn of Mr Swami,a tamil Iyengar by birth and the secretary to the 'Old Man'(Motwani) by destiny to take care of the diplomatic hullabaloo that ensues.
The Final Verdict: I am giving five on five for this brilliant satire.A Must Read!

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

AUTHOR: Charlotte Bronte
Genre: Autobiographical Fiction
ISBN-13: 9780393975420
PRICE: Rs.295 (Norton Edition)

EXCERPT:  "If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends."

SWARNALI SPEAKS: "I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will."- This line completely summarises the protagonist of the book.

The story begins with the protagonist Jane, a 5 year old, an orphan living with her deceased uncle's family. The narrative deals with Jane's journey to find an identity,love and her deserved place in the worldWhat is remarkable about the book is the detailed understanding of the characters,especially the protagonist. Nowhere does it get sketchy. Despite her plainness, Jane cannot be ignored as an ordinary character. The strength of character and her resolute and well-thought decisions make her unforgettable. She is clever enough to keep herself restricted within the boundaries stated by the society and yet in those confines emerging as an independent and successful woman.

The only character that I found wasn't given the correct share of dialogues was Bertha Mason. I wanted her to speak for herself but the only dialogues or rather appearance in the book she gets is during her growling and snarling snippets. We come to know of her character only through a second person perspective,through Rochester.

Another very good feature of the book is how Bronte plays with the Gothic theme throughout the book,yet not completely making her novel a Gothic in the real sense. A sense of the supernatural always stays in the borderline with sudden appearances in the form of dreams or voices or through the references to Bluebeard's castle. The best part of the book,according to me is Bronte's analysis of Jane's psyche. Its is really remarkable how successfully she understands and interprets the importance of dreams much before Freud's works were published.

The only thing i didn't like about the book is that it gets a tad bit boring halfway through the book. The narrative gets too detailed and stretchy but then again it gains its pace.

MY RATING: 4 / 5

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Beyond the Shadows - Brent Weeks


Book 3 of 'Night Angel' Trilogy

Read about the previous books HERE

ISBN - 978-0-316-03366-4
PAGES - 708
GENRE - Fantasy
BINDING - Paperback

AUTHOR - Brent Weeks

The Way of Shadows, The Black Prism

SYNOPSIS - Logan Gyre is the king of Cenaria, a county under siege, with a threadbare army and little hope. He has one chance - a desperate gamble, and one that could destroy his kingdom.

In the north, the new Godking has a plan. If it comes to fruition, no one will have the power to stop him.

Kylar Stern has no choice. To save his friends - and perhaps his enemies - he must accomplish the impossible: assassinate a goddess.

EXCERPT - Kylar had never started a war.

Approaching the Lae'knaught camp required none of the stealth he'd used to approach the Ceurans. Invisible, he simply walked past the sentries in their black tabbards emblazoned with a golden sun: the pure light of reason beating back the darkness of superstition. Kylar grinned. The Lae'Knaught were going to love the Night Angel.

Without provoking anyone, Cenaria had been invaded from the east by the Lae'knaught, from the north by Khalidor, and now from the south bu Ceura. It was about time some of those hungry swords met each other.

FL Speak - [contains spoilers]

Beyond the Shadows brings about the concluding tale of the Night Angel trilogy and the life of one, Kylar Stern. And as the previous two books hinted at, the finale was exhillarating. This by far, is the best book of the series.

Kylar and Logan resume their friendship. However Kylar is not merely a wetboy anymore. He's the Night Angel and that means needing to do things that even Logan will not approve of. So when Logan orders Kylar not to murder the Queen, Kylar nevertheless goes ahead with his plan so that Logan takes the crown and save Cenaria from disaster. Love for his friend on one hand and a sense of duty and justice on the other, Logan orders the death of his best friend Kylar for the murder of a sovereign knowing fully well that Kylar would've wanted that as well.

But killing the Night Angel is not so easy as Kylar has this knack of coming back to life again and again. However what he didn't know was that every time he is killed, a loved one dies. Meanwhile Elene finally meets Vi and they somehow forge an odd friendship even after knowing that Vi has bonded with the man Elene loves. Dorian, the prophet, takes over the crown of Khalidor even as the Ceurans and Cenarians and the Aliteran's forge and unlikely alliance in the face of a devastating evil.

There is more of Vi in this book and we get to see her good side this time around. Kylar realizes that Durzo Flint is alive and more history behind his master is slowly revealed. Again we get to see less of Elene, her character was never fully developed to play an important role, unlike Vi, who came later into the series and made a name for herself. The gaps in the greater story line are finally plugged and Weeks does an exceptional job of delivering it to the ruler.

A final battle, a champion gone astray, and an ultimate sacrifice for love in the end draws the trilogy to a close.

The trilogy is overall a very good read. Similarities can be seen with Sanderson's Mistborn, however on a larger scope, both are different. Kylar is impressive as hell, specially after he becomes the Night Angel. Do give this trilogy a read.

My Rating - 4.5 stars

PRICE - INR 274/- [Homeshop18 Price]

Sunday, May 27, 2012

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American Gods

Publisher: William Morrow
ISBN: 0380789035
Genre: fantasy fiction
Pages: 656
Bestsellers: Stardust, American gods

Nightflier Speaks: 
When I moved to America, I took my gods with me.* A ganesh idol, a sai baba photo, an om shaped incense stand. Strange how we travel/move into new places with our beliefs. How we plant our beliefs in the lands we live or locate to. Out of the holy places that I visited during my stay there, I remember visiting a few cathedrals. But America is populated by people of mixed races belonging to different cultures and lands. What is the true myth of America? What is the unified deity that the people who have 'settled' there believe in? Pray to ? Hope from? I have never thought about it personally.

Neil Gaiman's American Gods, though a story about our 'melancholy' hero Shadow and his weird life on the surface, deep down tackles the same question. It is in search of America's soul, its roots. Through the beliefs of the people who live in that land. At no level it raises questions about the reader's belief in god or the 'myth'. It is so unassuming. Its point is to tell the mythological history of America in its own quirky way.

The book opens in a jail, travels all across America, with Shadow and Wednesday (the king of gods), tells you of an impending storm, of a war, introduces you to the most weird folk gods, most of whom reside there through African tribes and the Indians. All this is interspersed with folk lore and tales from the past, manifestations of beliefs and devotion. And the current state of affairs in the land of opportunities. The technology revolution, the worship of credit cards and liquid money and material gratifications. Of course all this is very subtle with allusions so fresh, that Gaiman's imagination does get to you.

Somewhere along the way I also thought about why isn't Shadow reacting to any of the weird things happening to him. Why aren't all these gods and their existence bothering him. But as the book progressed and characters developed, I realized it's all in the belief. If you believe you will react. If you did not it won't matter to you. May be. And since Gaiman manages to play with your psyche as well, for not letting you wander about the mere authenticity of the plot, I think its a writing triumph. There are many subplots and subtexts to the allegories. And its all open to interpretation depending on your belief.

A very not so ordinary read. One of Neil Gaiman's finest. Apparently a lot of research has gone into this book. To not read it will mean missing out on that research at least!

* Of course what I truly believe in is something not suitable for the book review. But I do carry my beliefs (gods) wherever I roam.

Added as a postscript: the ebook I read also had excerpts from the online journal of Neil Gaiman. For anyone who is into serious fiction writing should go through it for the author's creative process. Quite a fun read! (added this after I read it)

Rating: 5/5
Price: 215 Rs. {flipkart}

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Artist of Disappearance

Author: Anita Desai
ISBN: 978 81 8400 155 6
Publisher: Random House India
Copy courtesy: Publisher
Price: INR 350
Pages: 156

I’ve never read an Anita Desai work before. Strangely enough, I don’t recollect having read even one article about her. Either I’ve missed out on it, or the media has never painted any glorious pictures of her. She is not scandalous, Kamala Das-like; she is not glamorous like a Shobha De; nor is she controversial, in the manner of Arundhati Roy. (Or is she?) The Wikipedia page on her is woefully lacking. Apart from the fact that she is a Sahitya Akademi winner, I know nothing. When I started this book, I knew not what to expect. But having finished ‘The Artist of Disappearance’, I want to know who Anita Desai, the person, is. What person writes like this? From whose pen flow words with the terrible beauty of death wishes? But she won’t give in easily. I must perhaps re-read the book, look carefully again between the lines, to understand the source of such enigma.

Yes; ‘enigmatic’ is the word that best describes ‘The Artist of Disappearance’. It is a collection of three novellas – ‘The Museum of Final Journeys’, ‘Translator Translated’ and ‘The Artist of Disappearance’ – stories of strange internal worlds, stories of crumbling, lost people and places. It is as if Anita Desai found the beautiful in the broken, and captured their fall as one would with slow motion photography. You will find it its pages an old IAS officer reminiscing about a an old curator of a forgotten museum, a middle-aged, middle-class teacher on an odyssey of translating a quaint book, and a hermit-artist living in the charred remains of his house, creating strange patterns in nature.

Unhurried – that’s Anita Desai’s writing. Beautiful, slow and sure amidst hoards of books that move so fast, there’s no time to think. I picture this writer, who has emerged from a 7-year literary hiatus with what is probably her last book (God forbid!) with stories about dwindling. She is weaving the emptiness of her own aged world into these pages. Sometimes her lines are labored, with the kind of effort an arthritic person makes when climbing the stairs. But there are so many breathtaking moments too. Especially in those magnified descriptions of nature. There are the kinds of observations people with the luxury of time or the love of nature make. I imagine the 70-something author as having them both. And what exquisite results they yield for the reader.

I don’t know how it is with her other books, but with this one Anita Desai takes time to grow on you. She doesn’t snare, she doesn’t tease, she doesn’t titillate. She grows surreptitiously on you like moss on rocks. Now she isn’t there, now she is. In the first few pages, you don’t know where the story is going or what the point of the story is. In fact, if you are looking for a traditional end, you may not find it even at the end of the story. Because her stories have no end. They are leisurely strolls through forgotten roads of old towns. Embark on ‘The Artist of Disappearance’ only if you can slow down and breathe deep.

Rating: 3.5/5

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Among Thieves - Douglas Hulick


Book 1 of 'Tales of the Kin'

ISBN - 978-0-330-53620-2
PAGES - 417
GENRE - Fantasy
BINDING - Paperback

AUTHOR - Douglas Hulick

SYNOPSIS - There is no honor among thieves...

Ildrecca is a dangerous city, if you don't know what you're doing. It takes a canny hand and a wary eye to run these streets and survive. Fortunately, Drothe has both. He has been a member of the Kin fo years, rubbing elbows with thieves and murderers from the dirtiest of alleys to the finest of neighborhoods. Working for a crime lord, he finds and takes care of trouble inside his boss's organization - while smuggling relics on the side.

But when his boss orders Drothe to track down whoever is leaning on his organization's people, he stumbles upon a much bigger mystery. There's a book, a relic any number of deadly people seem to be looking for - a book that just might bring down emperors and shatter the criminal underworld.

A book now inconveniently in Drothe's hands...

FL Speak - Douglas Hulick's debut is one of those novels that made other fantasy authors take immediate notice. Among Thieves is a sword and sorcery novel set in a fictional city of Ildrecca. Ildrecca is run by the Emperor who is immortal. He dies, but he has 3 reincarnations and each of them comes back to rule.

However, the Underworld is ruled by various leaders of the Kin. They operate the streets and our hero, Drothe is one of them. Little did he know, that he would stumble upon a relic that will bring the whole of the Empire and the Kin against him. The search for a relic while working for Nicco brought Drothe to the Ten Ways, an area of the Ildrecca that is filled with the Kin. But while hunting for a clue leads assassins to Drothe, he realizes there is much more at stake.

Foraying into the Ten Ways brought Drothe back to his old life. It also made him face to face with the dreaded White Sashes, who hunt the kingdom looking for people dabbling in Imperial sorcery and the terrible Gray Princes, the shadowy figures of the Underworld that even the Kin tend to avoid. And Drothe has to find a way that keeps the Empire away from the Kin, outwit the Gray Princes and survive the wrath of his bosses while trying to stay alive.

The plot looks almost similar to Brent Weeks' "Night Angel" trilogy, they have the same Underworld scene. Whereas Kylar is an assassin, Drothe here, is a thief, or maybe an informant (whichever way you look at it). The friendship between Drothe and Bronze Degan makes for a fun read with some quality humor in it.

Half the time you'll probably stumble around wondering what the hell was happening just as Drothe was doing. Drothe had actually no idea where everything was leading him and even the readers will feel the same thing. But Douglas Hulick manages to tie the plot at a crucial time and the impending implications nearly throws you off. What was merely an intelligence gathering in the first place almost brings about the cleansing off the city by the mad Emperor. The "Kin" is referred to the the thieves, bashers, cutthroats as a family. And its a fabulous life in the city of Ildrecca.

The ending is yet another surprise, that neither me nor Drothe ever expected!

My Rating - 4 stars

PRICE - INR 325/-


TITLE: Ravana – Roar of the Demon King

GENRE: – Graphic Novel

PUBLICATION:  – Random House

AUTHOR:  – Abhimanyu Singh Sisodiya

ART:  – Sachin Nagar

SYNOPSIS:  - The demon-king Ravana, born of a union between the holiest of mortals and a demon princess, has risen from an obscure beginning at a hermitage to conquer not just hell but heaven too. No less than a god to his own people, he is the sheer embodiment of evil to his enemies. This arrogant demon brooks no hindrance to snatching his heart’s desire, and his terror seems unstoppable to gods and humans alike. But he makes a mistake when he abducts the wife of Lord Rama, the exiled divine ruler of Ayodhya. 

Ravana is a story of a demon who dared to challenge the gods, and almost got away with it. Ravana’s tale is one that will incite awe and fear simultaneously. Whose side was this enigma on, good or evil? The obvious answer seems to be but one: his own. Or was he really? This graphic novel seeks to explore that question, and others.

WRITING REVIEW: - One recent trend that really excites me is the interest that is being generated amongst the present generation for our mythologies. And I believe the whole credit for this must go to Amish Tripathy, as The Immortals of Meluha was the harbinger of this new genre of re-inventing our myths.
Indian myths and mythical characters have always intrigued me. In fact that applies to all mythologies. And I enjoy mythologies mainly because I’m agnostic, and hence have a neutral view towards them. Reading Mahabharata would bring the same effect to me as reading LOTR would.
Abhimanyu Singh has done an immensely good job with his research. The story of Ravana in this book is extremely detailed. The characterization is also done well, and good justice has been done to all the characters.
A unique approach in this book is that it is narrated from Ravana’s point of view. However, this acts to be as much of a con for the author as a pro. This is because at a few places I felt that the author is trying to divulge all the data he has about Ravana. And though this would have seemed fine had the narration been third person, in first person you tend to feel Ravana is talking too much about himself. The author, maintaining the first person narration, could have used better ways to give out certain information, rather than just having Ravana talk about himself.
Story wise, it is pretty much the retelling of a known mythology, with a few parts that would not be known to all. But the flow of the book is decent.
I haven’t yet read the Ravanayana, which is another series of graphic novels on Ravana, so I am unable to put a comparative review here. But if I have to compare this with the Sandman series of Graphic novels by Neil Gaiman, then I can say that the author has a lot of scope to mature his script.

ART REVIEW: The art by Sachin Nagar is mesmerizing enough to make you keep going back to the book only for its graphics. Some images make you stop and keep staring at them. If this book is to be adopted into a movie by keeping the look same, a la 300 of Frank Miller, then it would truly be kick-ass.
Sachin Nagar quite easily transports you into his imagination, which indeed is quite unique from the regular Ram Ravana images we have in our mind (think Arun Govil)
Each and every character and each and every expression has been sketched with masterful detail. Hanuman, Ravana and Indra’s portrayals are truly eye catching because of their uniqueness. Even Shiva in his special appearance has been sketched beautifully. Ram and Laxman, being the most boring characters of Ramayana (no offense), are their usual cliched self. Sachin could have experimented with their looks and appearance.
Kudos to Sachin.

RATING: 3 / 5 for Writing. 4.5 / 5 for Graphics.


TIP FOR ALL ONLINE BOOK SHOPPERS: There is a new website called which is dedicated to online book shoppers in India. It gives you the price of a book across all the sites where it is available, like indiatimes, flipkart, landmark, homeshop18, etc. I cheated on flipkart and bought this book from HomeShop18, because it was for 117 INR over there. Check it out.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Thread - Victoria Hislop


ISBN - 978-0-7553-7776-3
PAGES - 480
BINDING - Paperback
GENRE - Literary Fiction
SOURCE - Publishers

AUTHOR - Victoria Hislop

BEST-SELLERS - The Island, The Return

SYNOPIS - Thessaloniki, 1917.

As Dimitri Komminos is born, fire devastates the thriving Greek city where Christians, Jews and Muslims live side by side. Five years later, Katerina Sarafoglou's home in Asia Minor is destroyed by the Turkish army. Losing her mother in the chaos, she flees across the sea to an unknown destination in Greece. Soon her life will become entwined with Dimitri's, and with the story of the city itself, as war, fear and persecution begin to divide its people.

Thessaloniki, 2007

A young Anglo-Greek hears his grandparent's life story for the first time and realizes he has a decision to make. For many decades, they looked after the memories and treasures of the people who were forced to leave. Should he become their next custodian and make this city his home?

FL Speak - The Thread is the story of a seamstress, her life during the two World Wars, her life during the Nazi invasion, her story of faith and courage in times of deepest grief and despair.

Thessaloniki is a town in Greece. The author makes it clear that although the characters are fictional, the occurrences around the town of Thessaloniki are true. The story revolves around Katerina, a small girl, who makes her way to the town of Thessaloniki, Greece after being rescued by a soldier during the war with the Turkish. During the mass fleeing of Christians from Smyrna, Katerina gets separated from her mother until a soldier rescues her and sends her on a boat which is taking refugees to Greece. Eugenia, a mother of two twin daughters, takes on Katerina as they make their way to Thessaloniki.

It is where they eventually sette even as Katerina's search for her mother continues. Katerina, still a young child of 12, meets Dimitri Komminos, a boy of her age who lives nearby. As they grow older, their social differences separates their childhood days. Dimitri joins college, much to the displeasure of his father, who wanted him to follow in his business footsteps. Soon, the Italians invade Greece and Dimitri joins the Greek Army. Even though they return victorious, peace is short lived.

Thessaloniki was once a beautiful town where Christians, Muslims and Jews all lived together in harmony. With the war with the Turkish, the Muslims fled the city for fear of reprisals among them. Things were still okay as Christian refugees made their way to the city. But the invasion of the Nazi's left a hollow in this once beautiful city. Katerina's neighbors, once well-loved and respected found themselves cornered before being promised a new life in distant Poland. That new life turned out to be gas chambers where they were mass slaughtered.

The Thread is more than just a book that depicts the brutality of the Germans. In fact, it has less of the German regime than most other books. This book is about the city of Thessaloniki and why it means so much to Dimitri and Katerina. This book is about finding hope in a city in the backdrop of war, poverty and rebellion. It is so much more than it depicts. A haunting story, a brilliant write.

My Rating - 5 stars

INR 350/-

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Sea Watch - Adrian Tchaikovsky


Book 6 of "Shadows of the Apt"

Read about the previous books HERE

ISBN - 978-0-330-51146-9
PAGES - 703
BINDING - Paperback
GENRE - Fantasy

AUTHOR - Adrian Tchaikovsky

BEST-SELLERS - Empire in Black and Gold, Dragonfly Falling

SYNOPSIS - [from the back cover]

A shadow is falling over Collegium.

Despite the tenuous peace, Stenwold Maker knows that the Empire will return to his city. Even as he tries to prepare for the resurgence of the black and gold, a hidden threat is steadily working against his people. Ships that sail from Collegium's habor are being attacked, sunk by pirates. Some just go missing ...

Lulled by the spread of lies and false promises, Stenwold's allies are falling away from him. He faces betrayal on every side, and the Empire is just waiting, for the first sign of weakness to strike. But the Empire is not the only power that has its eyes on Collegium. And even the Wasp-kinden may not be powerful enough to stave off the forces massing in the darkness and turning hungry eyes towards Stenwold's city.

FL Speak - [contains spoilers]

I just cannot have enough of this series. When you are reading an extremely long series, there comes a time when you need a break and start afresh. While reading "Shadows of the Apt", I've gobbled it up as soon as possible. If that doesn't tell you how wonderful this series is, nothing else will.

Just as Book 5 was solely Che and occasionally Thalric, book 6 is our own spymaster Stenwold Maker. And Stenwold Maker's character has grown by leaps and bounds as he grows older. If you've discovered this series, then the name of the book itself will give you a clue about what to expect. Yes, its about time the sea-kinden made themselves known.

Collegium is in relative peace mode now that the war has paused for the time being. But palpable tension is in the air as the Imperial army has conquered the distant city of Khanaphes and some of its army is in marching distance towards Myna again. But more than the war with the Empire, the city of Collegium faces threat among its own. On top of that reports are flying in that ships are mysteriously vanishing around the port of Collegium. As Stenwold looks into the matter, he discovers another betrayal among his allies. The Spider-kinden Teornis has other plans for Collegium and the once allies now find themselves opposite each other of the sword.

When Stenwold and Teornis decides to face off in a diplomatic way, the are attacked and kidnapped and find themselves in an impossible place - the hold of the sea-kinden. I will not even bother explaining the different sea kinden, suffice to say that they are vast. Just as the land-kinden includes Beetles, Ants, Bees, Spiders, Wasps, the sea-kinden has its own exotic types. And although they may not have reached the same technological level of the land-kinden, the sea kinden are huge and immensely powerful. Faced with the threat of the Wasps, the Spiders and now the sea-kinden, Stenwold Maker must find allies in the unlikeliest places if he is to save Collegium from the brink of destruction.

The Sea Watch took the ever-growing series into a far greater level and now Adrian Tchaikovsky must deliver the best of the best in the last 4 remaining books. This is a fantastic series, something that comes once in a couple of decades and then sweeps you in awe with its originality and execution. Non-stop adventure, intrigue, double-crossing and the threat of war keeps everyone on their toes, including the readers as they are transported to a world where they feel they are a part of it.

Not many new characters, Laszlo and Jodry Drillen may still appear in the remaining books, unless ofcourse someone kills them [which is entire possible]. Another betrayal at camp Maker and if you try hard, you can almost guess who it might be since only a few of them are alive.

Great book, impressive writing, this is one series I'm proud to read.

Rating - 5 stars

INR 195/- [Homeshop18 Price]

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Prince of Ayodhya - Book One of The Ramayana

Author: Ashok K Banker
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN-13:  9780143033332, 978-0143033332
Pages: 552

So, I’ve taken upon myself the reading of the seven-part Ramayana series by Ashok Banker, which has gathered considerable acclaim since the time the first book was published. I will be reading the series alternating each part with another novel to avoid fatigue. Not that Banker’s writing is tiresome; but there’s only so much one can endure of the same style. So the book reviews will also come in that alternating sequence, and in reviewing them, I will treat each book as an individual entity rather than as part of the series.

Of the two great Indian epics, the Mahabharata is a clear favourite of many because of its complex layers and the imperfect hence ‘real’ characters. In the Ramayana everyone, save the villains, seems to be doing the right thing. At least on superficial reading, the characters of the Ramayana seem all black or all white, and the story the same old good versus bad. It is much easier to identify with the Mahabharata than with the idealistic Ramayana. It is so much easier to love a flawed Krishna than a perfect Rama. It was because of this irritating perfection that the Ramayana never got through to me. 

My little knowledge of the epic was based on the Ramanand Sagar production aired on Doordarshan so many years ago when I was a little girl, and through snatches of the popular stories that are part of the great Indian collective consciousness. For me, Ramayana could be summed up in 7 sentences.

1. Rama marries Sita.
2. Goes to a 14-year-old exile with wife and brother in tow because his stepmother wished and his father said so.
3. Ravana abducts Sita.
4. Rama and his wanar sena defeat Ravana.
5. Sita is banished, has two sons in forest, reunites with Rama after a while.
6. Rama asks Sita for a ‘faithfulness’ test; Sita passes test, but is so pissed with Rama, she kills herself.
7. And the sundry lived not so happily ever after. The end.

But I knew there was a lot more to the Ramayana than the version in my head. And without knowing that I was waiting for a version of the Ramayana that was equally accessible and exciting, I was waiting for it. As for all things mytho-religious, I realised my hunger for it once I heard about Banker’s series last year. I let my hunger grow, and bought the whole series once the seventh and the last book was out. I am not disappointed.

The Prince of Ayodhya is as pacy an epic as you will ever see. Written in a style that will conjure graphic novel images in your head, the story moves fast. Characters from the far-removed Treta Yuga come alive speaking Banker’s modern tongue, with a smattering of Hindi. The use of Hindi words seems to me as unnecessary and at best, eccentric. His easy English is good enough to transport a reader to the Aryan city of Ayodhya and beyond.

But what is most admirable about the book is the depth with which the characters and the plot is explored. That Rama and Lakshman went on a demon-slaying mission with Maharishi Vishwamitra right at the beginning of the Ramayana is something I’ve never heard before. That Dasarath was a typical Aryan king with a healthy sexual appetite and had many concubines apart from his three wives is another fresh bit of information. Popular mythology laced with religion tends to tone down and gloss over many such details. Rama also, for example, has been portrayed in some places as a perfectly normal teen. There is also a healthy dose of magic and sorcery, which in some places reads like an LOTR or a Harry Potter.

That said, if Banker’s claim of replicating the original Ramayana in the most part is to be believed, then this series is a good place to start for those looking to savour the epic in its entirety. I am certainly looking forward to starting book two of the series.

Rating: 3/5

Friday, May 18, 2012

Theodore Boone : The Accused - John Grisham


A "Theodore Boone" novel

ISBN - 978-1-444-75719-4
PAGES - 288
PUBLISHER - Hachette
BINDING - Paperback
GENRE - Legal Thriller/Under-18
SOURCE - Publishers

AUTHOR - John Grisham

BEST-SELLERS - The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Rainmaker

SYNOPSIS - [From the back cover]

Theodore Boone is the thirteen-year-old who knows more about the law than most adult lawyers. He certainly never expected to be a victim of crime himself. But then his bike is vandalized, he's attacked while doing his homework. and, worst of all, framed for robbery.

When stolen computer equipment turns up in Theo's school locker, the police start leaning on him hard. And he is the only suspect. What if he's found guilty? What about his dreams of becoming a lawyer?

In a race against time, aided by his renegade uncle, Ike, Theo must find the rel felon and reveal the true motivation behind the crimes of which he stands accused.

FL Speak - Oh my God! If I read another one of this "Theodore Boone" series, I'll kill myself!! Absolutely NOT what I expected from John Grisham, but lets be clear, this series is meant for those kids who haven't met Hardy Boys yet. I mean yes, its a legal thriller (it says it is), but actually, its more of a mystery novel that your friendly neighborhood Famous Five can solve in a couple of days.

Theodore Boone or Theo or even "cute Teddy" is a exceptionally bright kid who has lawyers as parents. And at 13, he already knows most of the law. So its no great secret that he dreams of becoming a lawyer himself. The book begins well, we have Theo in a court room where he is watching the trial of a murderer. The accused doesn't appear in court and is presumed to flee the cops.

Now normally, when you read such a beginning, you tend to get excited, knowing you are reading Grisham. Sadly, all hopes are dashed as you proceed. Suddenly Theo's bike is vandalized, someone throws a rock at his window, and stolen computer goods are found in his school locker. The police get an anonymous call and boom! Theo is suspect number 1. Okay, still good, I was waiting for classic Grisham to combine the court room drama and Theo's situation together. What I got instead was an immense headache!

The pages are filled with Theo worrying and having nightmares of being in jail to people calling him "jailbird" to losing respect in front of his friends. And the torture never ends. We find Theo asking his friends to do a bit of snooping, which turned to be completely crap. Nevertheless, they find the thieves, thanks to his uncle Ike.

John Grisham. I have immense respect for that guy. Few of his books are one of my all time favorites. But this, this is like reading a story to a 7-year old to put them to sleep. There is nothing legal in this so called legal thriller. The court room scenario made me wonder if I would be reading a child genius doing some J.A.G style lawyering. But sadly, a big NO. Also, it turns out the courtroom scene is just added to fill a couple of pages. There is no story there and there is no big twist that we all were waiting for. I get that this is meant for a newbie teenager, but how many 12 year olds would want to read this rather than Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew?

But, I repeat again, this may still be a good book for your child. No violence and justice prevails. Isn't that what we all want to teach our children?
My Rating - 2 stars [just for the sake that I like Grisham]

PRICE - INR 250/-

P.S| I should have researched more about this book before reading. The website says, it is for kids between ages 9-12. Now I feel like a moron as I'm double the age of the maximum recommended reading age limit.

So, if you're planning to buy this for your kid or anyone else's for that matter, you can. Although I still recommend Famous Five and the Five Find Outers.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mini Book Review: Manjaveyil Maranangal(Malayalam)

Title: Manjaveyil Maranangal(Deaths in Yellow lights)
 Author: Benyamin(Benny Daniel)
 Originally published in Malayalam(2011)
 Publisher: D.C. Books
 Pages: 356
 Price:   INR 226/-
 Homeshop 18,DC Books
                          First Things first.I am not a great fan of Benyamin.Though I loved ‘Aadujeevitham’( Kerala Sahitya Academy Award 2009),his ‘Akkaporinte Irupathu Nasrani Varshangal’ made me mad.So I was a bit sceptical when I picked up his latest best seller,’Manjaveyil Maranangal’.The book turned out to be a half baked thriller and left me terribly disappointed.Manjaveyil Maranangal starts off (well) as a murder mystery,tries to be a historical fiction in the middle and ends up being none as it fizzles out with it’s weak/pathetic climax. 
                        Set In the small island of Diego Garcia,the book is basically the story of Christie Anthraper;the youngest descendant of the Anthraper clan.One day he witnesses a murder(in broad day light) only to realise later that the guy who got killed was none other than Senthil,his old school mate.Pretty soon he finds out that the authorities are trying to cover up the murder and trying to pass it off as a natural death.Meanwhile Christie’s girl friend also dies in an accident and he decides to go to her hometown(Udayamperoor) and meet her mourning parents. But little did he know what was in store for him!
                    What happened to Christie Anthraper?Who was Senthil and why was he killed?Why were the authorities trying to pass it off as a death due to 'Cardiac arrest'?Was Mervin’s death really an accident?The book tries to find out answers for all this but believe me,you are not going to get solutions for most of these even after  you have finished reading it.Agreed,the book is racy,has an interesting premise and gives a vivid description of life at Diego Garcia.But what is the point in wasting your time in a Crime thriller which leaves you with half a dozen un-answered questions in the end?
Rating: I am giving 2.25/5 for this half baked thriller.The climax disappoints big time!
PS: In a pre-climactic scene Christies’ dad is arrested and their house raided for planning a coup.But in the epilogue Anthraper family is seen reviving their plantation business in Etiopia.From where did the (already bankrupt) family get the funds for it,Mr Benyamin? 
PSPS: The book reminded me of T.D Ramakrishnan’s ‘FrancisItty Cora’ at times.The ‘Mariyam Seva’,’Raniyayi Vazhikkal’ scenes’ had a ‘korakku kodukkal’(Francis Itty Cora) hangover to it.

The Scarab Path - Adrian Tchaikovsky


Book 5 of 'Shadows of the Apt'

Read about the previous books HERE

ISBN - 978-0-330-51145-2
PAGES - 688
GENRE - Fantasy
BINDING - Paperback

AUTHOR - Adrian Tchaikovsky

BEST-SELLERS - Empire in Black and Gold, Dragonfly Falling

SYNOPSIS - [From the back cover]

The war with the Wasp Empire has ended in a bitter stalemate, and Collegium has nothing to show for it but wounded veterans. Cheerwell Maker finds herself crippled in ways no doctor can mend, haunted by ghosts of the past that she cannot appease and seeking meaning in a city that no longer feels like home.

The Empress Seda is regaining control over those imperial cities that refused to bow the knee to her, but she draws her power from something more sinister than mere armies and war machines. Only her consort, the former spymaster Thalric, knows the truth, and now the assassins are coming, and he finds his life and loyalties under threat once again.

Out beyond the desert of the Nem, the ancient city of Khanaphes awaits them both, with a terrible secret entombed beneath its stones.

FL Speak -
[contains spoilers]

The war is over. Temporarily. Most authors, while writing big series, tend to lose the plot midway. It happened with my all time favorite "The Wheel of Time" as well. However, Adrian Tchaikovsky makes sure, he doesn't make that mistake. Book 5 starts with an all new beginning and almost all new characters. If you've read the first 4 books, you'll realize that almost all the original members are now DEAD!

Books 1-4 can be counted as one mini-series. If you've loved the journey so far, you can continue reading on. But its better not to pick this book up if you haven't read the first 4.

So let's recap, shall we? The Emperor is dead and Seda has assumed command of the Wasp Empire. The army has been called back and for a brief time there's peace. Thalric, is again a Wasp officer, this time reporting directly to the Empress. Stenwold Maker has realized just how lucky they were to survive this once. So he calls upon Che to lead an expedition to a distant, unheard of beetle city, Khanaphes, in an attempt to learn more about them and maybe make them potential allies. Pursuing them is Thalric, who wants to visit Khanaphes for the Empire's own agenda.

In an unknown city, where frail truce can break in a snap and loyalties exchanged for gold, Che and Thalric once again find themselves in the middle of a disaster....because unknown to Thalric, the Wasp Rekef is sending a scorpion-kinden army to take down Khanaphes and make sure Thalric stays dead. Betrayed by his Empire once again, Thalric and Che, fight to keep the enemy at bay while a higher power lies in wait...for a bigger purpose.

Our anti-hero Totho is back in this novel as well and it looks like he's still pining for Che who [beg your pardon] doesn't give a rat's ass to his feelings. For once, I loved Totho in this book even though it looks like he will turn out to be a major villain as the story continues. Apart from Che, Totho and Thalric, hardly any characters look like they will be returning in the next book. We've missed Tynissa here, but as the end suggests, she'll be one of the main ones in the next book.

This book is about Che. She grows and matures as the series progresses. The author has planned something special for her but still, I'll ask you net to get attached to the characters. They end up dying.
As predicted before, new cities are being discovered, new insect kindens rising. For a fresh start to the survival of the Lowlands, this is a hell of a second beginning. Adrian Tchaikovsky is releasing one book after another within a gap of 6 months. Just how fast is he writing????

My Rating - 4 stars

PRICE - INR 198/- [Homeshop18 Price]

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