Book Review: Once Upon a Crush

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Author: Kiran Manral
Publisher: Leadstart Publishing Pvt Ltd
ISBN13: 9789382473916
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Personal Copy

“Once Upon a Crush” is a story of twenty-nine year old free-spirited, Rayna De. Things aren’t going her way, a runaway friend is bunking with her, she has a boss who is a Satan reincarnate, her thirties are running towards her with all their might and to add to it, her love life is non existent. When Devan Ahuja enters the workplace, Rayna quickly falls head over heels for him. She tries telling herself otherwise, all in vain. Responses from the office hunk who has a model-turned-actress for a girlfriend are hot and cold at the same time, it confuses Rayna further. Meanwhile. he parents put in front of her, a Sid Bose, all with a fat pay pack and three bedroom house. The choices that she makes the story take interesting turns.

The author has described each character with a funny twist. Be it the overly dramatic friend Pixie or the highly irritating colleague Mathur, the boss Aparajita or the crush himself. You empathise with Rayna, a girl coming to the city of dreams from Kolkata. Its simple yet vivid at the same time. Kiran has added a new spice to an old recipe, making it very interesting.

Kiran Manral is an Indian writer, blogger, media consultant and the founder of India Helps, a volunteer network which works with disaster victims. She has also worked with several publishing houses as a features writer and journalist. A self-professed school gate mom, she lives in Mumbai with her family. This is her second book after ‘The Reluctant Detective’.

I picked up the book because I love the way Kiran Manral writes. Simplicity in writing makes it an easy on the eyes read. This one qualifies as a perfect Bollywood pot boiler. Its a nice light read. The pretty cover gets it placed in the chick lit section, but just like crushes aren’t gender biased, the book isn’t either!

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Review: Sita, An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana

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Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN13: 9780143064329
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 328
Source: Personal Copy

Ramayana is one of the two mythological Indian epics that have been told and retold over the years. It is the story of Rama, the son of King Dasharatha. He was the heir to his kingdom, an empire. Yet, due to the malice prevalent in the palace, the Prince was exiled for fourteen years. The Ramayana is all about obeying the rules and laws of Dharma, even at the cost of personal loss and unhappiness. She plays a prominent role in the epic, but is a very quiet and restrained character. Her abandons her in the end because of the persistent gossip among his subjects about Sita’s fidelity. Sita remains quiet, does not lose her composure, and does not vocally demand retribution. Sita’s silence is not the silence of the weak. It is the silence of the ascetic, who knows the truth, and so is patient. She knows her husband loves her, and she is indispensable to him. Moreover, she knows she is the Goddess who makes him the God, the woman who makes him the whole man.

The book explores the enigma of Sita and explains her real strength of character. “The journey to discover Sita makes you realize that the Ramayana is not a book, as most people assume, but a vast tradition manifesting itself in written, oral and visual traditions. And for some reason, children of India have been kept away from it. Yes, we are told of the Valmiki Ramayana, but we are not told that there are several versions of this original story itself a northern version, a southern version, an eastern version, which have barely a third of the verses common between them. Then there are Sanskrit plays written by dramatists like Bhasa and Bhavabhuti where Ram is a great hero, not necessarily God. Then we find Ramayanas of the Jains, the Buddhists as well as from South East Asia, which retell the same story but with a very different emotion. From the tenth century onwards we find the Ramayana in each and every Indian language, written by several authors, in different scripts, with different styles, all deeply immersed in bhakti. It is through these regional narratives, not the Sanskrit ones really, that ideas related to love, valour, fidelity and wisdom spread to every corner of India.” says Devdutt Pattanaik  in an exclusive article for Flipkart

Devdutt Pattanaik is a doctor who became a writer. Other books by this author include Business Sutra: A Very Indian Approach to Management, 7 Secrets of Vishnu, Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata, The Book of Ram, and Hanuman’s Ramayan.

Sita: An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana is a brilliant read. The illustrations add character to it. It makes you rethink the pre-set social norms of right and wrong. Devdutt is a master story teller. With this book he gives detailed insights about stories that have been told for ages. Yet again he effortlessly manages to makes you fall in love with mythology.

Rating: 5/5

Book Review: Family Life

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Author: Akhil Sharma
Publisher: Penguin Books India
ISBN13: 9780670087457
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Flipkart

“Family Life” revolves around the Mishra family, who move to the United States from Delhi in the 1970s. The eight year old narrator is in awe of everything around him from elevators to wall-to-wall carpet in their new house. Simple things like the hot water flowing directly from the taps also amazes him. He goes on to talk about the struggles and adjustments his family makes in order to fit in to the new world. Ajay narrates how his Father who works as a clerk in a government agency and mother who left her job as a high-school economics teacher in India and now works as a garment factory worker, are anxious about the acceptance of his elder brother in a reputed school. There is happiness and celebration all around when Birju wins acceptance to the Bronx High School of Science.
The twist in the story comes when the elder son of the family is in a unfortunate diving accident that leaves him severely brain damaged, blind, and mute. Only able to breathe by himself, otherwise incapacitated. The tragedy and the family’s response to it seen through young Ajay’s eyes touches the heart and leaves knots in the stomach.
Each member of the family suffers differently. His father becomes an alcoholic, his mother looks for cures through hoards of miracle workers while Ajay acts out trying to find an outlet for his feelings as well as his place in the world now that it’s been turned upside down.

The author relates the story with a view point of an eight year old, adapting a child’s sharp perception and simple language. The book makes you very sad and then smiles make sudden appearances on the childlike outlook of a grim situation. You sympathise with every character at all times. Its deeply unnerving and tremendously tender all at once.
This is Akhil Sharma’s second novel after the PEN/Hemingway Award-winning “An Obedient Father”. He is an Indian-American writer. A graduate of Princeton University, where he studied Public Policy. Sharma won a Stegner Fellowship to the writing program at Stanford, and won several O. Henry Prizes.

I read “Family Life” with a lot of sighs. Not everyone who reads it can relate to it, a few definitely will. Its one of those reads that shakes your core. This one does it with a large helping of sorrow topped with a kiss of dark humour.

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Review: Love among the Bookshelves

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Author: Ruskin Bond
Publisher: Penguin/ Viking
ISBN13: 9780670087341
Genre: non fiction
Pages: 200
Source: Flipkart

“It wasn’t a bookshop, or a library, or a great-aunt’s hoard of romantic novels that made me a reader; it was the week I spent in a forest rest house, in what is now the Rajaji sanctuary, between Haridwar and Dehradun” This is the first line I read and did not stop until I had read it all.
Ruskin Bond’s stories have amazed and inspired generations of readers. In this anthology, he presents the stories he grew up on, and the inspiration that he drew from them. In stories by authors such as P. G. Wodehouse, whose Love Among The Chickens is the inspiration for this book’s title, H. E. Bates, W. Somerset Maugham, Charles Dickens and Richard Jeffries, learn how young Ruskin Bond became the writer we all know and love.
Bond speaks out in this part-memoir. He draws readers into his past and reveals a process hidden in plain sight, yet one every non-writer wishes to understand. He gives out his secret to being the brilliant writer in a word: “reading”

The book is divided into chronological sections. From his childhood and school vacations, school days, the time he spent in Jersey with his aunt and his two years in London. Each section has a memory that has stuck by him, a book that belongs to that time of his life and an excerpt from that book. The best thing about the book is a list of Ruskin Bonds favourite books.

Ruskin Bond is a British-Indian writer. He is known best for his children’s stories. Some of his works are: The Room on the Roof, A Flight of Pigeons, The Sensualist, The Blue Umbrella, Angry River and The Parrot Who Wouldn’t Talk. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan for his contributions towards Indian literature. He now lives in in Landour, near Mussoorie with his adopted family.

Love among the Bookshelves is a classic Bond book. Its written simply yet there is something magical about it. It leaves you wanting more, much more.

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: Sita’s Curse, The Language of Desire

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Author: Shreemoyee Piu Kundu
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN13: 9789350097809
Genre: Fiction/ Erotica
Pages: 344
Source: Personal Copy

It is the story of Meera, a middle class housewife, her life and sexual longing. A girl who is burdened by the weight of a dead marriage. Struggling between her own sexual needs and the non existent affections of her husband, she tries to hide her feelings and desires, managing to survive on her memories and fantasies alone for fifteen years. However, she cannot take the pain of her lusty, sensual body going to waste as her husband cannot make love to her. Her constant search for fulfilment leaves her unsatisfied every time. Until one cataclysmic day in Mumbai, when she finally breaks free. Bold, brazen and defiant, Sitas Curse looks at the hypocrisy of Indian society and tells the compelling story of a middle-class Indian housewifes urgent need for love, respect, acceptance and sexual fulfillment.

The plot is explicit and detailed. Erotic from the prologue itself. The authors weaves, lust, desire, sex and sexual frustration neatly around the narrative. she evokes emotions from the reader. You feel the need, want, sorrow and hatred the characters feel in the book. It makes you sad sometimes, but soon brings you back with a hint of hope.

The author takes up some of the things that are considered as taboo, those that are not discussed and that are usually not looked at or given a thought to like the sexual longings of a woman, impotence, and marital rape. She has also incorporated the Mumbai deluge in the plot. The ugly face of the society is brought up front, and in very ironic manner.
The books makes you sit upright and take notice of things around you. It challenges the everything that has been taken for granted. Faith, Love, marriage, sex and desire are all dragged to the questioning.

Sreemoyee Piu Kundu is an Indian erotica writer. She has also written under the alias of Aranyani. A former Lifestyle editor and PR head, she has also written: A Pleasant Kind of Heavy and Other Erotic Stories, You’ve Got The Wrong Girl and Cut!. She is currently working on her next book, a political tragedy entitled Rahula.

Its about time that erotica makes its presence felt on the bookshelves in the land of Kama Sutra. Sita’s Curse is erotica with the classic Indian flavour being one of the foremost there. The book needs to be read not only with open eyes but also with an open mind.

Rating: 3/5

Book Review: The Treasure of Kafur

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Author: Aroon Raman
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
ISBN13: 9789382616122
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Personal Copy

The story begins before the Mughal era, with a tale of Kafur, Khilji’s trusted lieutenant. The bounty that they have won after waging war in different regions has accumulated and transporting it through the desert is a dangerous prospect, as the threat of an attack is imminent. So, Kafur is instructed to hide the treasure in a place that no one can ever find it. With that the legend of  the treasure of Kafur begins

It then leaps forward to the Mughal era, where Akbar is reigning over India. He is a practical, pragmatic and a visionary ruler. He has managed to get most of the country under his control. Asaf Baig of Khandesh loathes Akbar with every breath and he knows that to win the allegiance of all anti-Akbar troops, the treasure of Kafur is his key. It will make him indestructible, presenting him with the largest army. Only an old woman called Ambu knows the whereabouts of this treasure that Asaf Baig seeks, so he kidnaps her, leaving her grandson Datta alive. Datta begins a quest to find is grandmother  and prevent Asaf Baig from acquiring this treasure. And only ally he can count on is Akbar.
In between the quest for the treasure, the characters are caught in a whirlpool of events which will forever change the course of their life.

This story has fiction and fact, with a layer a fantasy over it. The book, as the author mentions, is partly true when concerning the facts. The treasure itself is a fact of history. Akbar’s character is kept true, and details such as his marriage to Jodha and his illiteracy are true, as are the threats from Khandesh. Each character is well etched out and nicely detailed.

The author Aroon Raman’s first book The Shadow Throne, is a national best seller. He is a Bengaluru based entrepreneur. His research and innovation company works in the area of materials science and has won critical acclaim for developing scientific talent at the grass-roots level. He divides his spare time between trekking, advising and supporting NGOs and travel.

The Treasure of Kafur is a perfect blend of history and mystery, with adventure added to taste. Makes a good weekend read.

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: The Avatari

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Author: Raghu Srinivasan
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN13: 9789350095744
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 512
Source: Personal Copy

The Avatari is an intense trail through a mythical kingdom. Legend has it that only those chosen by destiny can gain entry into Shambhala, which is believed to hold the ancient wisdom. The story begins with a golden metal piece, which a character picks up, while on an expedition to the Himalayas in the 1930s. His grandson delivers it to a Laotian monastery in the late 1950s. This piece then gets stolen. Upon the request of a monk, Henry Ashton, a retired British Army Officer and his team sets on a life-altering journey to retrieve it and prevent it from being misused.
The group follows the trail, risking the perils of the inhospitable deserts of Ladakh, turmoil in Pakistan and the rugged mountains of Northern Afghanistan, where the Afghan War is at its height. But they are up against a deadly adversary with seemingly unlimited resources, who will stop at nothing to get possession of the ancient secret a secret that, if revealed, could threaten the very fabric of civilization.

The author etches out each of his characters beautifully, with great detailing. He picks his words with utmost care. It is a brilliant narrative, switching between numerous time period, locations and characters. On the surface it looks like it is a quest for a very valuable artifact, which if misused threatens to destroy everything. But going deeper reveals that it also serves as a timely lesson in history and somewhere along the way, highlights the human costs of violence and war. Srinivasan portrays the paradox between karma and freewill subtly yet beautifully.

Raghu Srinivasan is a serving officer in the Indian Army. His tenures have seen him patrol leech-infested tropical jungles, stare across the expanse of the African savannah and spot snow leopards in the Karakoram ranges. He is also the newest entrant on the brilliant Indian thriller writers list.

Read The Avatari for drama, read it for suspense, read it for a journey in to the magical imagination the author has!

Rating 4.5/5

Book Review: Supertraits of Superstars

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Author: Priyanka Singh Jha
Publisher: Rupa Publications India
ISBN13: 9788129129789
Genre: Non Fiction
Pages: 200
Source: Flipkart

Supertraits of Superstars: Success Secrets of Bollywood’s Brightest is a book which describes in detail the various traits of a few Bollywood actors that make them successful.
Priyanka Sinha Jha looks at eleven luminaries from Bollywood, and the attribute that is perhaps most responsible for their success. She details their stories, their struggles, their efforts to overcome setbacks, and what it is about them that made them not just reach the top of their game, but stay there. Be it Amitabh Bachchan’s discipline, Aamir Khan’s perfectionist nature, Salman Khan’s generosity, John Abraham’s enterprise or Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s grace each star has one unique quality that others can imbibe to reach greater heights in their own lives. With pithy observations and inspirational conversations, Supertraits of Superstars will show you how to live life star-size.

Each chapter is dedicated to a particular star. The quotes and the caricatures of the artists at the beginning of their chapters is brilliantly done, this is followed by an introduction to their present status, name and fame in India and the world. It cites examples, incidences and dialogues from interviews to underline their distinctive features. It feels like you are reading your favourite Sunday newspaper column.

The author Priyanka Sinha Jha is an Indian journalist and author. She has written on a wide range of subjects starting from celebrities, films, to business. She is currently working as an editor with Screen, an entertainment weekly.

The book is a quick read which you wouldn’t want to put down once you begin.

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Review: Advantage Love

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Author: Madhuri Banerjee
Publisher: Rupa Publications India
ISBN13: 9788129130020
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 200
Source: Personal copy

The story revolves around Trisha Mathur, a simple girl who leaves Lucknow for Delhi taking along the big city dreams in her starry eyes.
She meets debonair politician Vedant in college while having her first brush with student politics. She is swept off her feet by his irresistible charms and before she knows it, she falls head over heals in love. Soon after the flying in skies of romance, gravity of reality pulls them down. The man cant commit to taking the relationship further. Much to the dismay of the girl, he has his reasons and sticks to them. Vedant heads back to Bombay, while a very heart broken Trisha stays back in Delhi.
The sour experience she has had with love makes her vary of men. That is until the smashing tennis star, Abhimanyu, comes along.The small town girl in Trisha struggles to fit into the glam of the tennis circuits, eventually realising its worth for her. She decides to walk the lengths on the road to self-discovery. Fate strikes and brings Vedant back into her life. After a deuce between both the men, its advantage Trisha.

The author has told a simple story, in a way that it leaves a smile on your face. It has all the perfect ingredients to make it a lip smacking recipe. Love, infatuation, heartbreak, and rekindled romance. The characters are dreamy as they could be. A nice girl with her head on her shoulders and not one but two men of desire. You ride along the highs and lows of the waves of their relationships. There are parts which can be identified with very closely. It has something that, at some point in out lives we have all felt.

I picked it up the book because I like the way the author thinks, and how she just simply puts it across. Madhuri Banerjee is an Indian writer. She has written other titles such as Losing My Virginity and Other Dumb Ideas and Mistakes like Love and Sex.

Its a nice light read. Must read for all chick lit fans.

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Review: The Aryavarta Chronicles book 2: Kaurava

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Author: Krishna Udayasankar
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN13: 9789350096345
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 472
Source: Flipkart

Kaurava is the second book in the mytho-historical trilogy, The Aryavarta Chronicles. It begins with Emperor Yudhisthir and Empress Draupadi, ruling over the unified kingdom of Aryavarta. The kingdom was put together for them by Govinda, with blessings from the Firewrights.

The Firewrights rise up from ashes of history, divided in their allegiance and purpose, and ready to wreak havoc on the kingdom. As sinister plots and treacherous allegiances form, the once noble land transforms into a nightmare. The Emperor gambles away the empire, while the empress is sent into exile as various factions within the realm congregate to conquer and destroy each other. Govinda knows that the only way to protect the Empress and the land is by playing a life-threatening game.

The author keeps the core of the classic saga in close contact all through the story, not altering the essence at any time. It’s the descriptions of characters and the relationships between them, which she so beautifully portrays, that keeps you hooked.
The ruthlessness of Yudhishtir, the stubbornness and strength of Panchali, the few good traces of Duryudhan, along with the twists added by Asvattama, Shikandi and Dhrstyadymn make it a brilliant read. The Draupadi-Krishna relationship over the years has been analysed as platonic, brother-sister love. In the book Panchali and Govinda have an unrequited love which ends up being the first innocent victim in the race power. That is my favorite twist.

Krishna Udayasankar is an Indian best selling author from Bangalore, India. She has also authored Objects Of Affection and The Aryavarta Chronicles (Book – 1): Govinda.

I happened to read both the books in quick succession, and now I can barely wait for the third one. In all the reconstructions and de constructions of the Mahabharata, Krishna Udayasankar’s The Aryavarta Chronicles are my favourites.

Rating: 4.5/5