Friday, August 17, 2012

Review: The Taj Conspiracy

Now here's a book I totally enjoyed reading! Move over Dan Brown, our very own desi lady Dan Brown is here. 

The book centers around the Taj Mahal as a conspiracy is afoot to create tensions between two faiths. Time is running out, death is knocking on the door and Mehrunissa Khosa, the protagonist in the book has to get to the bottom of this conspiracy else it will lead to chaos and clashes in the country.

Mehrunisa Khosa, a Mughal scholar stumbles on a controversy to destroy the Taj Mahal when she discovers the murder of the Taj supervisor inside the tomb, what she also notes are some changes made in the calligraphy at the tomb to suggest that the monument was of Hindu origin. 

Who is behind this conspiracy? What is the agenda? To save the Taj Mahal Mehrunisa has to not just overcome prejudiced police but also battle her inner demons that will lead her to the conspirator.

Though the book is a good read there are some places where one feels the author has excessively tried to maintain high intrigue when there is none. In case of the Islamic militants planning an attack just doesn't tie up at the end. Then the climax where the Home Minister, Prime Minister all are involved and the surging crowd scenario at the monument makes it laughable.

But all in all a good read, fast paced, edge of the seat kind of a read.

Review: Just Married, Please Excuse

Okay if you want to read a favourable review of this book, I'd suggest you skip reading this entire post right away since I do not have anything really great to say about the book. 

The story predictable, the characters more so, humour forced at many places. The story? A hip girl from the city meets a small town guy living in the city, love happens leading to marriage, all is hunky dory till baby arrives, but then all is well that ends well. Yes that's the story.

So yes during the romance phase we have the predictable fights, then when they choose to marry the mandatory meet the parents chapter, followed by the after marriage sequence, fights, where has all the love gone scenario.

Chetan Bhagat's 2 States seems to have inspired a lot many authors to write about their romance and marriages. But alas these book ends up reading the same facing more or less the same challenges everyone faces in their married life, leading to a bored to death reader. 

But then that is just my opinion. In case, such stories interest you please do read the book. It does end up being a light, breezy read.

Guest Review: The Evolution of Gods

Author: Ajay Kansal
Reviewed by : Reshmy Pillai

Did gods create mankind, or did mankind created gods?

The back cover screams this question at the reader with the preamble concluding that this book by Ajay Kansal deals with establishing the fact that anthropologies and histories lead to one conclusion - mankind created gods!

The writer starts off with a very arresting question in the preface – Why are there many religions but only one science on the earth and you would expect a atheist’s rant coming along in the next 200 odd pages. But he surprises with the balance and poise of his argument with never the book turning onto an anti-theist track. Ajay Kansal takes us along on the journey of the evolution of mankind from the nomadic human to the agriculturist to the social animal by tracing his religious evolution.

He tells us that the religious journey of man began right in his nomadic days with abundant mysteries of nature boggling him scared like night, animals, pregnancy, ghosts, etc. This fear of man gave birth to the concept of a superhuman somewhere with immense powers – the very concept of god. Nomadic man began worshipping the things that relived him from his fears – Fire, Sun and Sky and thus began nature worship. Later with him turning to agriculture the fear of food scarcity came in and with it developed the fertility cult – the worship of the goddess. Agriculture led to settlements that led to diseases, which proved another mystery for human minds, and up came the concept of a punishing god – The Yahweh of Judaism. The beliefs were prominent that diseases are punishments from the super power and ways to please the punishing god were sort out which led to the barbaric practice to sacrifices – human and animal. With the punishment culture settling in, came the problems of cruelty, injustice and exploitation which it required some relief. This requirement of mankind gets fulfilled in the form of a kind merciful god – Jesus of Christianity. While this was the story of the western side of the globe the eastern side too underwent similar change patterns with fire, sky and sun worships being followed in the name of yagnas leading to only affluent strata’s of the society understanding worships and gods. The need was simplification of religion and a prince-turned-ascetic is the answer – Buddha of Buddhism. With a major part of the population understanding and following Buddhism the priests of the earlier practiced religion of the land – Hinduism revamp the teachings to revolve around thousands of gods and millions of folklores about the gods getting it back to be the favorite of the people.     

Ajay Kansal has written an excellent book about the religious evolution of mankind filled with historical facts and scientific proofs. There is hardly any invalid talk that is not supported by hard facts concerning the discussion. Be it the proof of first human burials at Skhul caves in Israel or talk of a solar cult, with the Stonehenge in England as a proof of its existence, he talks in facts. While he talks about the temple snake healers in Greece, he also questions on why only domesticated animals like bull or goat were offered to the gods in sacrifice by priests; why not a tiger? He challenges the reader to question beliefs and rituals not for the faith but for their authenticity and need.

A work that talks so well based on facts is weakened some what in narration by the writer’s continuous projection of priests of every religion, in every era as clever self-centered beings who created gods, rituals, traditions etc. for more selfish reasons than social ones. Also the writer being a doctor and Hindu unwittingly emphasizes more on the chapters dealing with diseases and Hinduism, which form the two longest chapters in the book while an equal depth in other areas is missing.

Not one of the best books on the subject but a very decent one for overall understanding of Religious Evolution of Mankind which moved from new problems to new gods to new religions. It’s a 3 on 5 for me.

Happy Reading.

(Reshmy loves stories and books that tell those stories, corporate slave by the day, obsessed reader, writer and reviewer by any other time available. She blogs at and tweets @ReshmyPillai )

Guest Review: The Purple Line

Two new reviewers have joined our book review programme! The Book Lovers welcomes Reshmy Pillai and Pooja Dave to the book lovers gang! 

Author: Priyamvada N. Purushotham
Reviewed by: Pooja Dave

Rating: 9/10

Priyamvada’s debut novel, The Purple Line, delves into womanhood and explores the significance& intricacies revolving around the elusive “Purple Line” that symbolises Pregnancy....

It’s the era of Star Wars & Tennessee Williams & the place is Madras - 1982 (before it morphed into Chennai), where Mrinalini, a typical teenager, is besotted by poetry & finds solace in the literary world. She breezes past from one vocation to another like a running train as her heart makes journey stops on each. But then puberty hits & the hormonal changes conduced by her pubescence bestir her dormant Tam Brahm genes & in a moment of epiphany, she finally realizes that she wants to be a gynaecologist...Mrinalini then sets on a journey that makes her laugh, cry & teaches her the true meaning of womanhood...

Fast forward to the year 2000, where Mrinalini is now a Gynaecologist with a Masters from London. She returns back to Chennai to set up a clinic in her ancestral home...As a gynaecologist, Mrinalini encounters motley of characters in her patients everyday but six of Mrinalini’s patients instantaneously strike the chord. This is Mrinalini’s story & the story of these six women whose lives are unknowingly linked together like fibres braided in a rope..

First there is Zubeida, a typical burqa clad muslim woman, whose entire existence engulfs everything that encompasses womanhood. Zubeida has four boys & yet she yearns for a girl because she firmly believes that only a girl will be the absolute redemption of her motherhood. Zubeida wants to be that ideal mother for her daughter, a mother that she never had & always craved for. She finds solace in watching movies with her neighbour while pining for a girl but then one incident changes her entire way of existence..

Then there is Megha, wed in a heavily patriarchal Marwadi family where having a son is a quintessential status quo.. Needless to say Megha desperately wants a boy, a boy who will lift her entire state of beingness to a higher stratum.. For Megha, a mother of three daughters, delivering a boy to the family is her only way of achieving salvation but then it she realises that it takes a one broken heart to heal another...

Leela is like a Shakespearean sonnet, who is unblemished & always so perfect that wherever she goes she leaves behind a trail of immaculateness. On an first impression to any outsider, like Mrinalini - Leela’s world would seem picture perfect like those in fairy tales but as you move closer, you would see the cracks in the otherwise impeccable wall...But Leela never let the cracks run deeper & in her quest she never experimented, nor explored and never fell down to fit the pieces of herself back together...

Pooja, the 16 year old falls in love and slides headlong into the tunnel of a painful loneliness. She is bowled over by the Cricket Captain of her school team and ends up being pregnant. She comes to the clinic to abort the child but as she does so she learns to embrace a brave new world...

Tulsi, an art director, has been trying to make a kid with her husband Dhruv for 3 years but without any results. She follows her ovulation cycles meticulously but as she goes on & on the method loses its rhythm and the passion seems to seep out from her unfertile efforts. Tulsi is an artist waiting in the wings and ultimately a time comes when she realises what she truly wants & what she can have.

Anjolie is a performance artist who has the capability to breathe life even into a sleepy consultation room by her mere presence. She is a fading artist who has mastered her emotions & conquered her fears but when her time comes she must know that it takes two sounds to make a heartbeat...

This is a beautifully crafted tale that explores the various convolutions of a female mind and reveals the vulnerability of women along with their dreams. The plot narrates seven different stories including Mrinalini’s own tangled tale of love but they flow seamlessly into one another be it  Zubeida’s tale ending on a delicious note or Megha’s desperation for her own selfish interests or the abrupt ending of Leela’s tale. The writing is sensous, vibrant & audacious but not brassy. The Another high point is the aesthetic way in which the author has highlighted realistic stories like teen pregnancy or the unwantedness of a girl child... A must read for every woman!!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Guest Review: The Last Kestrel

Author: Jill McGivering
Reviewed by: Vishal Kale

·         Ellen Thomas: News Correspondent; doughty, tough; never-say-die; a person without any prejudice; responsible and sensitive…
·         Hasina: A Mother…
·         Major Mack: Can be called the quintessential commanding officer… except that he cares too much for his boys and their welfare…
·         Jalil: An Honest Afghan translator who got caught in the middle
·         Najib: Jalil’s reluctant but hionest friend
·         Aref: Hasina’s son; wounded and dying; a picture of a tragic nation….

Ellen Thomas is a news correspondent on the hunt for the killers of her translator Jalil; her 10-year association with Jalil and his family lead her to the conclusion that the truth lies elsewhere. In pursuit of this, she lands near the place where Jalil was killed, with the same unit – a bunch of young, inexperienced British soldiers led by a very likable and competent Major. She get a chance to cover an attack on a Talibani stronghold by the military, where she comes face to face with the people caught in between the Taliban and the British., an experience which jars her to the core of her existence. Simultaneously, Hasina is a mother – nothing more, nothing less. Her son has been led astray by his uncle into the deadly folds of local fighters. He comes home mortally wounded; at this point, the mother steps in with a will to do anything to save her son from both the Taliban and the British.
There is little trust between these two women when they inevitably meet; their respective agenda are different and mutually exclusive. While Ellen is primarily interested in uncovering Jalil’s death, the mother is only interested in saving her son. To complicate matters further, there is a history of violence coming in the way. Not only that, neither can understand a word of the others’ language – nor is there any trust. Yet, they are thrown together – being the only 2 women in the camp… Why was Jalil killed? Was it because he was close to the british? Or was Jalil a traitor? What Happens to Aref? What is the link between Aref and Jalil – or is there no link?

Much has been said about the power of the written word, of its capability to educate, elucidate, clarify, aid memory etcetera. All of the above are universally accepted and understood. But beyond all of these, it has also been stated that the properly written word can evoke memories, as also paint a vivid picture in your mind as you read the prose. This latter statement is also accepted as gospel by all: and it is this latter statement that describes this book!
A book that will jar you to the core of your being on 2 fronts: the first being the awesome power of its prose, which literally paints a moving picture in your mind as the story in the book plays out. Such is the stunning quality of the writing that you can picturise the entire story play out right in front of your eyes. You are held spellbound and riveted to the story. This its not  a small feat by any means; in fact, given the plot and its treatment, it is a feat that is very nearly unparalleled in my experience at least. I have never  read a more powerful piece of writing than this… I say this because the story and its flow is comparatively slow. The author manages to hold your attention through the sheer power of her writing!
The second front where the book bets you is your guts: it wrenches them from you, takes your breath away and leaves you in a state of suspension as you read the pages. This has nothing to do with the writing: it has everything to do with the content. The way the plight of the Afghan people has been laid out in front of your eyes is breathtaking. Wondrously, this is achieved not by an overdose of melodrama – but by forceful logic, pin-point observation and straightforward analysis. In other words, you don’t shed a tear, or feel like crying your eyes out. You don’t even feel disgust: you are left in a state of wonder combined with an indefinable sadness at their plight. 
There are no value judgements in the book; it shies away from either justification or explanations – or indeed solutions. It states things like they are. The characterizations to achieve this would have  to be limited to the bare essentials – which is precisely what they are. Each character has been developed only to the extent that is needed for the story to forward; there are no needless details or dilly-dallying of any sort anywhere in the book. All in all, a book you would want read again and again. I rate it 5 stars – in fact, I rate it to be among the best fiction novels I have ever read! 

Guest Review: Differential Diagnosis

Edited by Leah Kaminsky
Book Reviewed by: Vishal Kale 

Every once in a while you come across a book that redefines the very concept of reading; every once in a while you come across a book that makes you drop whatever you are doing and get absorbed; once in a while…. This is one of those books. A book with simple clean prose, an engaging writing style (especially considering its content), a book that leaves its mark on your memory, a book that takes you deep into the emotions of doctors – and yet is interesting to read as well as fast paced! A book written by doctors – actual, practicing doctors: Atul Gawande, Sandeep Jauhar, Perri Klass, Robert Jay Lifton, Danielle Ofri…
You would expect to read boring repitive stuff; or perhaps great cases handled by these doctors; or maybe stories of that leave you depressed at the ugly aspect of life. You couldn’t be more wrong; you are treated instead to a veritable kaleidoscope of the colours of life – the entire spectrum of life. You will read about amazing and interesting incidents – simple things like the first operation of a would-be surgeon; the first intensive care ward rounds. The style of writing comes across as a total and pleasant surprise – in place of being dry and tactless, it is on the contrary very alive and full of blossom and emotion. Not what you would expect from doctors, to be totally honest!
The book itself is divided into 2 parts: non-fiction and fiction. The non-fiction part details stories like The Checklist which starts with an episode in intensive care, detailing the pressures faced by doctors, the tasks required to be done to take care of a patient… by the middle of this story, you begin to appreciate the difficulties and pressures of being a doctor, the endless decisions that must be taken on a routine basis. The story then moves on to the importance and the impact of something so simple as a checklist of tasks to be done. Wonder of wonders, the addition of a simple checklist can even save lives… this forces you to question yourself – if even lives can be saved by checklists – perhaps we should keep one for all our little tasks!
Another class story dwells on the experience of a doctor who has just lost his first patient – admirable well chronicled in The Beauty. A heart rending tale, dispassionately told, yet chronicled with intense feeling – it is a tale that takes you into the heart and mind of a doctor. You realize that these people are special, one of a kind: people who are trained to take decisions to save lives. When they cure a person, they are usually thanked by the family and the patient; but when the opposite happens, the doctor is all alone… alone with himself and his thoughts. He has to move on; he has no option to move on, for another patient is waiting for his healing hands…
The book is filled with such sensitive and class stories – like the amnesia case, or the Nazi Doctor Story; or the story of the lively but tough intern; or the haunting story of Joshua, a story that will touch the raw nerves of every parent who will read it! These are stories that take you into the mind of the doctors, into the myriad problems, emotions, tensions, successes, relationships and lives of the men and women who strive to keep us healthy. The people to whom we turn to in our hours of need; the people we entrust our lives with. You learn to appreciate the men and women behind the doctors’ masks, and to understand them better…

Guest Review: Micro

Reviewed by: Vishal Kale
Author: Michael Crichton

The Characters
·         Peter Janson: The born leader…
·         Karen King: tough, intelligent, independent, smart
·         Rick Hutter: constantly baits Karen, but is tough nonetheless
·         Eric Janson: Peter ‘s elder brother- a successful Executive at Nanigen
·         Vin Drake: The quintessential villain
·         Alyson Bender: The “halfway” sidekick!!!!
·         Dan Watanabe: Doughty Police Officer
·         Danny Minot: I, Me, Myself
·         Jarel Kinsky: Tricked, and trapped…
The Supportive Cast: Important nonetheless! Erika Moll, Amar Singh, Jenny Linn, Johnstone, Telius

The Plot
The story starts with 7 research students getting a visit from the elder brother of one among them. Through the efforts of the brother – Eric Janson – they get invited to a state of the art research lab for a visit. This lab specializes in Nanotechnology on a level and scale that is unprecedented. On the eve of the visit, Peter (Eric’s younger brother) receives an sms from Eric: “Don’t come”. To complicate matters, Eric in untraceable. Peter learns that Eric is assumed dead in a boating accident, and suspects foul play…
Peter’s attempts to prove that his brother had been murdered leads to a stunning discovery for the unfortunate students: that the technology being developed by Nanigen involves miniaturizing machines and humans to operate on a micro scale. The unfortunate students get trapped into being miniaturized. They subsequently manage to escape – straight into the rain forest. The rest of the story focuses on how the students- on a micro scale – fight the forces of nature as well as man in order to survive, to get back to real size and to prove that the death of Eric was a murder…

The Analysis
The book is worth a read, no doubt about that. It is reasonably fast paced, well written with attention to detail. It is a page turner that will keep your interest right through till the end of the book. However Crichton fans will notice a discernible change in the writing style from previous books. This book was started by Michael Crichton but completed by Richard Preston after the original author’s unfortunate demise. The question is whether the book is worth a buy? Yes, it is – it is a  well written book if taken on its own , fast-paced, interesting, on a science fiction base, without any glitches.
As regards character development, most characters have been reasonably well-developed. The principal characters have been decently fleshed out and outlined; the pace of the story does not leave much scope for further development. The supporting cast, while they have important functions in the story, do not merit further development in my opinion. In a story of this type, pace of the story has to take precedence. There are no obvious gaps or holes that I could spot. 
The part where the inch-high students fight for survival make for enthralling reading. You are constanty wondering how on earth are these students going to get out of this one? The treck through the jungle and its awesome scenes where the students fight creatures we take for granted, like caterpillars etc are riveting. The attention to detail in this segment makes for enthralling reading. More than anything else, the way the differing responses of each individual has been represented also give you a fabulous insight into human nature. Critically, each response also gels with the overall characterization of the individual.
All in all, the book is a good one, gives you a good time – and most importantly, this is the last book from the Michael Crichton stable… so don’t miss this one. You are not going to be treated to another Crichton! Also, the scientific aspects mentioned- miniature machines et al  make this book well worth a read. It transports you into a world where normally only your footwear reaches… and makes a good story out of it as well! What more could a person want from a fiction book?