Thursday, June 27, 2013

Book Review: There May Be An Asterisk Involved by Vedashree Khambete

Title: There May Be An Asterisk Involved
Author: Vedashree Khambete
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 216
Price: Rs 299
Genre: Fiction / Romance / Modern Fiction / Indian fiction
Rating: 8/10
Format: Paperback

I am a complete Cover Page person. I have to like the cover page to give book a chance, otherwise no matter how good the content, I don’t venture in. It is just the way I am.

I saw this book around, and decided to check out a few reviews before reading it. It looked interesting and now I am glad I read it.

At 216 pages, it is quite a fast read. I finished it in a couple of hours in my limited reading time.

The story is about Ira Bhat, a no-nonsense, passionate copywriter in one of the best advertising agencies in the country, J. McCarthy. The book revolves around her busy work-life and therefore, almost the lack of a social or personal life. Her friends at work, Aditi and Sameer, keep the environment lively with their leg-pulling and easy banter. The book essentially deals with how Ira negotiates her life through tight deadlines, demanding boss, office politics, rumour mills, idiosyncrasies of clients and an insecure ex while also finding romance amid the craziness.

The book provides a lot of insights into the workings of an advertising agency. My first job was at FCB Ulka, so I instantly connected with whatever the author had to say. In fact, it was quite nostalgic. I was in Client Servicing*, by the way.

There were quite a lot of footnotes. It aimed at providing clarity to someone who isn’t familiar with the advertising jargons, and does so with wit and humor. I really enjoyed the footnotes. They are in fact the funniest aspect of the book.

The thing is it is not a masterpiece. You would not miss a thing if you do not read it, but if you do, you will have fun, and you would know much about the workings of an ad agency in the process.

Sample few lines from the book:
*Postmen, peacemakers, punching bags – client servicing executives are seen as all this and more. Part of their job is to brief the creative team about what the client wants and present to the client what the creative team will design to deliver. In their dedication to this cause, they often face loss of face, limb and self-respect, at the hands of demanding clients and uncooperative creative teams. It is a thankless job that requires a special skill set – a high threshold of pain, a high tolerance for personal humiliation, but contrary to industry perception, not necessarily, not necessarily a low IQ score.

Review Book courtesy: Hachette India
Image source: Hachette India

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Book Review: Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella

Title: Wedding Night
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Publisher: Bantam Press (Random House India)
Pages: 400
Price: Rs 599
Genre: Fiction / Chicklit / Romance / Modern Fiction
Rating: 7/10
Format: Paperback

Frankly, I had read a few average reviews for the book, so I read it with very low expectations. And, I liked it. Sure, the story is over-the-top, preposterous and crazy. But nothing that a Sophie Kinsella fan cannot fathom or a chicklit reader cannot imagine. I can totally see a Hollywood rom-com on this story. 

Lottie and Fliss are 30-something sisters. Fliss is the older sister and has always been protective about Lottie. This book gives a new meaning to how far she would go.
Lottie is in a steady relationship and is pretty sure her boyfriend is about to propose, but nothing of that sort happens. Out of the blue, her boyfriend from fifteen years ago turns up claiming that she had been ‘the one’ for him and he never really found anyone like her. He proposes and she accepts. In her rose-tinted world, perhaps this was meant to be. Fliss on the other hand, is in the middle of a bitter divorce and does not want Lottie to do anything mindless such as jumping into a marriage without any thought. But Lottie would not listen and Fliss would not give up. Even when Lottie goes ahead and gets married, Fliss will pull all strings to stop their Wedding Night so that the marriage can still be annulled. What ensues is a crazy, roller-coaster till the end. The narration alternates between Lottie and Fliss.  

The fact is all Sophie-Kinsella heroines are crazy and over-the-top. They imagine things when there is none. Their imagination would start from one end and land up somewhere completely different. There is a whole world in their imagination. Add to that, all of them have a penchant for landing themselves in trouble, but luckily, things fall into place for them at the end. And true to the genre, they find the most deserving and charming men (and rich / successful).

Honestly speaking, this story is completely different from the Shopaholic series and yet the graph of the narrative is similar. The story takes off, the heroine lands herself in trouble, keeps falling in self-created mess, but miraculously things turn around for her benefit at the end.

There are several laugh-out-loud moments in the fast-paced narrative but very few mushy ones. It is more about the sisters than about the romantic angle, so to say. It is not in the league of the Shopaholic series or the author's last outing 'I've Got Your Number', but I had a fairly good time. 

If chicklit is your fare, you will like it; just keep your expectations at bay. 

Review Book courtesy: Random House India
Image source: Random House India

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Book Giveaway Results: The Sea of Innocence by Kishwar Desai

Winner of the Book Giveaway of 'The Sea of Innocence' by Kishwar Desai is .........

Muddledup a.k.a Shweta Ravi

Congratulations Shweta! Please send me your complete postal address in India with pincode, so that I can arrange to send the book to you.  (I could not find your email ID.)
Hope you will enjoy it :-) 

And a heartfelt thank you to everyone who participated. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Book Review: The Sea of Innocence by Kishwar Desai

Title: The Sea of Innocence
Author: Kishwar Desai
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Pages: 264
Price: Rs 350
Genre: Fiction / Thriller /Crime / Women issues
Rating: 6/10
Format: Paperback

‘The Sea of Innocence’ is the third book in the trilogy by Kishwar Desai. The first one was ‘Witness the Night’ and the second one was ‘Origins of Love’. The only connections between the three are the main protagonist Simran Singh, and the fact that each one of them deal with a women-centric issue. ‘Witness the Night’ was about female infanticide while ‘Origins of Love’ was about Surrogacy and IVF.

About the Book (from the blurb):
Goa, south India. A beautiful holiday hideaway where hippies and backpackers while away the hours. But beneath the clear blue skies lies a dirty secret…

Simran Singh is desperate for a break and some time away from her busy job as a social worker-come-crime investigator. And so the unspoilt idyll of Goa seems just the place - white beaches, blue seas and no crime. 

But when a disturbing video appears on her phone, featuring a young girl being attacked by a group of men, she realises that a darkness festers at the heart of this supposed paradise. And when she discovers out that the girl is Liza Kay, a British teenager who has gone missing, she knows she must act in order to save her.

But first Simran must break through the web of lies and dark connections that flourish on these beaches. Everyone, it seems, knows what has happened to the girl but no one is prepared to say. And when more videos appear, and Simran herself is targeted in order to keep her quiet, the paradise soon becomes a living nightmare.

My thoughts:
Kishwar Desai does not beat around the bush. Her first few lines are always the attention-grabbers. She comes straight to the point (or the case).

The main protagonist in the series, Simran Singh, is a 46-year old social worker (who really ends up being a detective for the cases she gets embroiled in). Simran Singh is long past conventional marriageable age, loves her smoke and destresses with alcohol. She is headstrong but gullible at times; though her heart is in the right place. She has a penchant for courting risks by meddling into cases related to vulnerable women, which usually also runs her into powerful politicians and inefficient police. Her family consists of her mother and an adopted teenage daughter, Durga (who was part of ‘Witness the Night’).

Quite evidently, the book has taken liberally from the much-publicised Scarlett Keeling case. You may read about the case here. Since it was dealing with sexual crime against women, the book also gives a lot of references of the recent Delhi gang-rape case and other such reported cases, which sometimes puts the narrative off-track. But clearly, author’s motive was to highlight the injustice meted out to women like Scarlett Keeling who have been victims of sexual violence and who are now lost into oblivion with several perpetrators yet to be brought to books.

Honestly speaking, the author had much to consider in putting all the strings together for this book. Having the protagonist on the crime scene; involving her in situations in which Scarlett was found dead; also incorporating the recent, much publicized Delhi rape case and other sexual violence reports; Simran’s pursuit of the case; inserting a romantic angle; and moreover, the setting of Goa had its own baggage like issues of locals against tourists, problems due to modernization, night life, surge in crime, the drugs mafia, et al. I felt there were a few unnecessary, cringe-worthy sequences about the sexual violence.

What I admire about the author is her ability to highlight a social, women-centric issue and weave a fascinating, fast-paced thriller around it. Perhaps it is her years of experience in journalism that helps her accomplish that. In retrospect, since I had read her previous 2 books, perhaps I had unrealistic expectations from the third one. But if you like this one, trust me, you will love the other ones more.

This book is not a masterpiece but like all Kishwar Desai’s books, it is a compelling read, woven around topical women-centric issues, and like always, it too strikes a note. As Smita also mentioned, the only issue with all of the author’s three books is that their endings do little justice to the fast-paced narratives. But having said that I feel this book will work for the readers who like thrillers or crime-based fiction.

Review Book courtesy: Simon & Schuster India
Image source: Amazon

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Book Review: Lost Men by Rajorshi Chakraborti

Title: Lost Men
Author: Rajorshi Chakraborti
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 264
Price: Rs 350
Genre: Literary Fiction / Short stories
Rating: 7/10
Format: Paperback

It is a collection of 9 short stories and a novella. It is not a page-turner and is not meant to be. There is no room for frivolity, it demands absolute attention from the reader or you risk missing some finer nuances. I must confess there were times when I re-read certain parts.

‘Lost Men’ is not for everyone. There are no conclusive endings to most of the stories in the book; the reader is left to draw his own conclusions. The book is replete with dark humour, with ordinary circumstances spiraling into situations beyond control. ‘Lost Men’ has its moments when you don’t regret reading it.

The first story Knock Knock itself provides a glimpse of what to expect. A bank employee pursuing a regular couple for formalities looks like a believable, normal situation, which most of us have gone through; but how the story progresses, sets pace and spirals into an abrupt ending, makes you want more of it; but then you are left to yourself to comprehend what might have been of the situation.

The Last Time I Tried To Leave Home is another quirky story, which also can happen to anybody. A person is out to catch an international flight and finds a lot of time on hand to spare. He decides to take a little detour to pass some time, and then one thing leads to another. I found this story, in spite of the narrator’s situation, quite amusing. Half An Hour is another similar story, though the similarity is limited to how an ordinary situation leads to relatable yet bizarre circumstances.

The Good Boy is a personal favourite. It starts with the memory of a friend who committed suicide twenty years ago in strange circumstances. It is about reaching out to close the open chapters of the past.  

The Third Beside Us is another weird story, and so is A Good Dry-Cleaner Is Worth A Story.

Lost Men is about a man trying to deal with the death of his wife. He keeps moving to different places, meeting different along the way. He is always suspicious of what people tell him, looking for motives behind them. Recalling memories of yearning for his wife in the past, he writes, “Until now, during any separation, each night apart had also brought us one day closer to the moment of our reunion; I would go to bed thinking I’d served out another day of my sentence. Now the sentence had no limits; you we're never brought any closer to the day of your release. You just kept falling further away.”

City Lights is about a chance meeting with the childhood family doctor that evokes nostalgia, and also how the narrator finds himself in a place which looks familiar only from the descriptions in a friend’s letter from many years ago.

What I enjoyed most were Viju’s Version and the novella, Down to Experience. Viju’s Version is about a boy / man whose best intentions are marred by his excessively bad luck. A bright, promising school boy has to go through public humiliation in the wake of his innocent though wanton actions which brings much infamy to his school. He isn't let alone even when he grows up. His nature of work leads him to Maoists. The story also has his school teacher’s version, who he runs into a few times during the course of the story, and how she perceives him.   

Down to Experience is a completely different story in terms of background, people and context. It takes a while to get into the world of Ivan, who is central to the story. The story is set in the late 1940s, about a group of people caught in the conflict of different ideologies, issues of trust among themselves, of what they are and what they seem to be, and whether they are writing their own destiny or just playing in the hands of higher powers.    

Personally, I don’t like short stories. I prefer bigger books, the fatter the better. I like to know the characters intimately and spend time with them. This book opened a different kind of writing that was more accommodating of the reader.

Read it if you like literary fiction and fancy unconventional narrative. Here’s an author interview to give you more perspective on the book.    

Review Book courtesy: Hachette India
Image source: Hachette India