Category Archives: Indian authors

Jugnu – A Review

Title: Jugnu
Author: Ruchi Singh

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Jugnu by Ruchi Singh reminded me what absolute joy a well-written romance can be. Yet, to call this one just a romance would a bit of an injustice. While a love story is central to the narrative there is lots more to enjoy and savour.

The story

Out on parole Zayd Abbas Rizvi heads off to Kasuali with his laptop for some peace and quiet. The plan is to keep to himself and avoid trouble of any kind. He finds lodging at a guest house run by the petite, ghost-chasing, sad-eyed Ashima, mom to a delightful three year old. Soon enough he forms bonds not just with Ashima but also with other residents of the guest house. And then quite unavoidably, he gets embroiled in their affairs even as he tries to figure out the truth about Ashima’s husband.

My Review

To begin with I loved the setting of the book – the quiet, picturesque hill town of Kasuali. I find the setting matters to me… a lot – it  predisposes me to like or dislike a book and here it is just perfect for what the author has in store.

Like I mentioned, Jugnu isn’t just a love story. It is also the tale of two individuals with each of their stories so well written that you would want to reach out for a prequel, or maybe two. I would have liked to know the Ashima before she met Zayd, her life with Rohit and also the Zayd in his earlier life, his troubled childhood, his life with his girlfriend and his prison experiences. However, all we get are intriguing mentions that leave us asking for more.

Other than the protagonists, there are a host of other characters, each lovingly crafted, each likeable and/or relatable.

What I liked best about the book was that unlike most new age romance novels with their insta-love tracks, the love story here builds slowly and steadily. Stilted conversations move on to shared silences and from there to a gradual appreciation of each other – from indifference, to friendship to love. That is perhaps what made it believable. And of course there also was just the barest touch of romantic magic. The love story retains its charm without taking away from the intensity of either of the protagonists’ previous relationships – that couldn’t have been easy to write.

Beyond the characters there are enough twists and turns in this well-woven story to keep you happily turning the pages.

Endnote: This one is a refreshing wholesome romance perfect for a rainy day. I say pick it up.

Disclaimer: I was given a kindle copy of the book by the author in exchange for an unbiased review.

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Glitter and Gloss – A Review

Glitter and Gloss by Vibha Batra

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It’s been a crazy month and my reading as well as writing have had to take a back seat. However I did manage to finish this sweet little book Glitter and Gloss by Vibha Batra. If you saw my Teaser Tuesday you’ll have a got a little bit of an idea about it.

But first, as always, here’s the story.

The book is about Misha (named after Misha the bear mascot at Moscow Olympics) a 20 something make-up artist. At a fashion event she rescues a hapless but very handsome man from the clutches of a rather predatory model and that’s the start of the Akshay-Misha love story. Enter Didi, Akshay’s elder sister, and it hits a roadblock. But then what’s a love story without a few roadblocks and some misunderstandings?

The review

I loved Misha right from the opening pages. That’s a great place to begin to like a book. She has an independent streak that I loved. Yet she’s a little scatterbrained and suffers from an acute foot-in-the-mouth syndrome and that made her even more loveable. Finally, her penchant for being a knight in shining armour won me over completely. Akshay is delectable – chiselled cheekbones, big muscles, flat abs and ton-loads of money. There are host of other delightful characters in the book too – Sammy – Misha’s house-husband flatmate, her friend Poulomi (This is how Misha describes her: “She may sound KKK—Khoonkhar, Khatarnak, Khadoos—but Poulomi does have my best interests at heart”) and her bohemian mother.

The writing is a mix of Hindi and English with the most witty one-liners thrown in. They jump at you suddenly, changing the mood, making you smile, even laugh out loud. Sample this:
“Our fingers touch and thousand volts of electricity course through me. The current of attraction is so strong, I half expect my hair to stand up in spikes.”
and another one after the first kiss:
My eyes fly open as I go from Sensuous Cinderella to Piddu Pumpkin.
At that final image the romance flies out of the window and one just ends up laughing. That was the most endearing thing about the writing. It reminded me a bit of Anuja Chauhan. However, this has a younger feel to it. Caution: If you’re a purist it might not quite work for you. In fact some bits stuck out uncomfortably for me too.

For instance ‘din din’ for dinner (pretty juvenile, I thought)
How much I heart Sam and Poul‘.  (Heart?)
‘It’s awesome and amaze’. (Do young people actually talk like this?)

However, I’m willing to forgive much for the laughs the book brought me. I just might be adopting some of the lingo myself like DDGGMM – that would be DullDepressedGlumGloomyMoroseMopey.

The combination of romance and humour never fails to charm me. And this one was just that.

My one real complaint would be that the story was overly simplistic as was the solution. It was way too predictable. I would have liked some more twists and turns, some more melodrama. Another fifty or hundred pages and I would have been happy.

Here’s a delightful quote from the book:

glitterandglossquote

My thoughts: If you’re looking for a simple, fast paced, uncomplicated love story that makes you laugh, this is your book.

An Unsuitable Boy – A Review

An Unsuitable Boy by Karan Johar (With Poonam Saxena)

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I picked up An Unsuitable Boy with some amount of excitement because I like Karan Johar. There, I said it. I like Karan Johar and I like his films, well most of them. But more than his films I like his off-screen persona. His interviews are fun to watch. He’s funny, warm and articulate and completely at ease with himself.

If someone can speak well, I figured, he could write well too. And I wasn’t too wrong.

What I loved about the book

In An Unsuitable Boy Karan Johar talks to you through the pages. The writing flows like an easy conversation, simple, honest and straightforward.

He talks about his rather difficult childhood, his problems with weight, his introverted personality, his effeminate mannerisms, his not being good at anything and then of the turnaround – how he made friends, found his feet and finally, quite by chance, found his calling in life. I felt for him – the pressure of being not good enough despite belonging to a privileged family – I got that.

I’d already heard a lot of his story in bits and pieces through his numerous interviews and talk shows. Reading it in the pages of the book was like revisiting his childhood with him. He goes on to talk about his entry into the world of films. We get a huge slice of behind the scene action during the making of Dilwale Dulhaniya, Kuchh Kuchh, K3G and other Dharma films right from how the story was conceptualised, the dialogues written and the costumes organised. That was quite a treat.

He makes for compelling reading, touching just the right chords with his self-effacing story-telling and his honesty.

And then the second half happened…

The conversation turns into a ramble, self-effacing turns self-congratulatory and the story-telling turns tedious, self-indulgent and oh so repetitive.

Over and over again he talks of Aditya Chopra, Shah Rukh, Niranjan, Apoorva and a host  of other friends. I understand they were instrumental in his journey and he wants to give them credit, but that’s where the book loses its connect and becomes one long haze that means little to the reader.

He goes on to comment on love and sex as also the future of Bollywood – all of that remains a monotonous commentary. The narration too gets haphazard and clumsy. I am left wondering why on earth didn’t the editor do anything about it?

However, despite the shortcomings the one thing that stands out is the complete honesty with which he has penned this memoir laying bare his most secret demons.

 

unsuitableboy

Told you he was honest!

Last word: If you like Karan Johar you should give this a shot.

Birds of Prey – A review

Birds of Prey by Archana Sarat

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Let me begin by saying that the deep dark world of psychological thrillers is not one I would like to delve into. However, and this is a disclaimer, I had to pick up Birds of Prey because it is authored by a friend. That said I have been completely impartial in my review, or so I hope. There is definitely something about the trailer and the cover – chilling yet intriguing – that makes one want to read this book.

The story

When a number of men from affluent families are abducted in quick succession police suspect a serial offender is on the prowl. Ex ACP Anton Pinto is pulled out from his peaceful life of retirement in Goa to the Mumbai crime scene to help track the killer. In keeping with his promise to his wife, Anton tries not to get involved in the case even while providing insights to the investigating team. However when yet another man is abducted he rescinds his promise and throws himself into the chase, trawling through schools and old age homes in search of his quarry. Then, the inevitable happens as the hunter becomes the prey and Anton finds himself trapped in a well that seems impossible to escape from.

That’s all I am going to tell you here. Go read the book for more.

What I liked

I read the book in a single sitting. It’s that gripping. You may figure out the ‘who’ early on but the ‘how’ keeps you turning the pages. It’s a simple enough plot but I liked the way the story unfolded, bit by bit, clue by clue – just how a thriller should.

I need to like or at least understand the characters to like a book. Birds of Prey did that for me. Anton is very likeable, so is his wife Sheeba and most of Anton’s colleagues even though they only have minor parts to play. In fact, the characters have been drawn out with clarity and consistency.

The story comes from multiple perspectives, each of them convincing, making you struggle to take sides. So while you understand Anton’s itch to get back to crime solving you also understand his wife’s reservations; while you of course root for Anton, you feel for the antagonist too, who is far from all black.

Also, compared with the Indian authors’ works on offer, the editing was decent enough, not perfect, but nothing jumps out at you or takes away from the flow of the story, for that I am grateful.

What I didn’t like

Some developments, I felt, came a bit too easily – some revelations during Anton’s  investigation as well as the final escape in the last few pages.

My one major issue with the book would be the description of sexual violence, which was graphic and gory. I could feel the dread in me grow as the chilling bits approached and details of abuse became only too real. I wouldn’t recommend it to young adults or the faint-hearted. But I guess that’s the way psychological thrillers are meant to be, so this is just me. I did say in the beginning that this isn’t my favourite genre.

Oh and the end is tailor-made for a sequel, so that’s something to look forward to.

Last thought: Pick it up if you are intrigued by edge-of-the-seat thrillers that can result from the workings of twisted minds (and I mean that of the antagonist here!).

We Will Meet Again – A Review

We Will Meet Again by Tarang Sinha

We Will Meet Again

The Story

We will meet again is the story of Paridhi, a mass media student in Delhi. Life for Paridhi is all about course assignments, lost pen drives and urgent submissions. Harried and running against an unexpected deadline, she bumps into Abhigyan, a young, good-looking, wealthy young man – every girl’s dream. This meeting however isn’t one bit romantic. She meets him again at her best friend’s wedding. While he is clearly falling for her she is rude and angry and rebuffs him all the way. However, Abhigyan is not one to give up easily.

What I liked

Told in first person this is no-pretence young love story. There aren’t many twists and turns – no unbelievable coincidences, no unrelenting parents, no over-the-top drama. And for that I liked it.
The book has quite a few characters, along with the protagonists, and each one is well crafted, except perhaps Abhigyan’s mom, who is a bit of a stereotype.
I liked the relationship Paridhi shares with her sister (she comes home to find her sister wearing her T-shirt – that was sweet, I thought, and so true). In fact Paridhi’s entire family – her dad and her aunt – is very believable, one you’d find in any regular Indian home. And that makes the story real.
I enjoyed the descriptions of hostel life (reminded me of my hostel days) as well as the wedding hullabaloo. That was nicely done.

What I didn’t like

Editing remains a sore point. I found many a missing article and wrongly constructed sentences.
Given that it is in the first person, we get Paridhi’s point of view, we see her falling in love and yet holding herself back but we get nothing from Abhigyan. Why would a man lose his heart to a girl who is unexplainably rude? Again and again and again? I would have liked to know what made him fall in love with her.
I also have a complaint with the ending – it was too clichéd (Something I’ve seen in one of my favourite SRK flicks, too).

However, this one remains a clean easy romance that college students would enjoy or perhaps one that can be carried along on a trip.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author in return for an honest and unbiased review.

A Broken Man – A Review

A Broken Man by Akash Verma

A broken man

The story

A Broken Man is the story of Krishna, A Dalit boy from a small village in Bihar and his love story with a Brahmin girl Chhavi from Lucknow. The two are students at the Lucknow University, which is where they meet and fall in love. Forced to choose between Krishna and her father, Chhavi chooses her father. A broken-hearted Krishna makes his way to Mumbai with a box full of belongings and Chhavi’s recommendation for a job at an advertising agency. Then on, the story traces his journey as he makes his way from the ad-world to tinsel town.

What I liked

I begin with a disclaimer of sorts. I picked up this book because of its setting – my hometown Lucknow. And it scores a perfect six on that front. As the story took me through the campus, the departments I’d been to, the library I’d passed a thousand times, the restaurant I go to even now, it left me with a warm nostalgic feeling.

My personal liking apart, A Broken Man captures student life at the Lucknow University to a tee. The hullaballoo of the election, the speeches, the street plays, the student politics – all just as it happens.

While there wasn’t much to the story I did like the way it was told. The bits of Hindi poetry were beautiful, the little grandma’s stories that Chhavi picks, endearing.

Also, I loved how Chhavi remains a part of Krishna’s life, how he constantly summons her in his imagination at every significant point in his life – at each moment of doubt, at each victory.

What I didn’t like

Editing editing editing. I am wary of new Indian authors for this reason alone and A Broken Man proves my point yet again. Phrases like ‘KK took a waited look’ (What is a waited look??), ‘KK had eyes that ached of pain’a drink from the well-stuffed bar (how about ‘well-stocked’?), stand out like sore thumbs.

The narrative is teeming with adverbs (The author would do well to read Stephen King’s On Writing, a very useful book for writers, aspiring or otherwise) and repetitions.

Take this instance – The blurb reads ‘high caste Brahman girl’.  Either Brahman or high caste should suffice, specially on a blurb. Am I nitpicking? Maybe. But the thing is, it can get tiresome when it goes on page after page.

There is much ‘tell’ and less ‘show’.

Lastly there are some factual errors. I know this is fiction not fact, and allows for liberties, but because I applauded the book for its real-life representation of the University campus it is only fair I point out the flaws too.

One, A girl could never ever walk into a Lucknow University boys’ hostel in 90s. I’m not sure it’s possible even now.

Two, a Dalit boy cannot arrive in a village with an obviously high caste girl (‘she can’t pass off as a Dalit girl…. her skin glows like fresh milk’. The author’s words, not mine), be seen by the high caste men and go without comment or action. Nothing remains a secret in a village. She will most definitely not be left in peace to make out with the Dalit boy by the side of the pond in the middle of the night. Just not possible.

Then, there’s Mumbai. Without adding spoilers, all I’ll say is that the story in Mumbai, becomes overly simplistic and predictable.

In the end I’d call it a simple story that could have been better told – pick it or leave it.

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from Writers Melon in return for an honest and unbiased review.

Oleander Girl – A Review

Oleander Girl
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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I began this Chitra Divakaruni book with a bit of an apprehension since the last one I read ‘One Amazing Thing’ didn’t quite meet my expectations yet some of the others ‘The Palace of Illusions’ and ‘The Mistress of Spices’ are right up there in my list of all-time favourites. Happily enough, this one didn’t disappoint.

The Story

Oleander Girl is the story of Krorobi an – eighteen year old Calcutta girl. She lost her father before she was born while her mother died giving her birth. She is brought up by her grandparents (mother’s parents) and has led a protected life faraway in a boarding school in the hills, coming home only for the holidays. She has no link to her parents, no memories, no pictures either. All she has is a half written letter from her mother to her father that she found tucked away in a book. Even as she yearns for a love like her parents’, she stands at the brink of an exciting new life readying to marry Rajat. Rajat comes  from a high profile family that deals in art and artefacts. Soon after her engagement her grandfather passes away and she discovers a secret that sets her off on a journey across post 9/11 America. At time depressing, at times frustrating, the journey gets her a friend and much more.

What I liked

Oleander Girl is a quintessential Chitra Bannerjee story with all ingredients typical of her books. The Kolkata charm is there in abundant glory – the quaint traditions as well as the high life. No one can do it quite like her. I loved the way she brings together Kororbi, a quiet yet feisty girl, from a traditional Bengali background and the dashing young man Rajat, from a nouveau riche family.

I liked the way the book is written – from multiple points of views – so you get an insight into the minds of most of the major characters. That is what makes them relatable.

Talking of characters – I loved them  – Korobi and Rajat, Sarojini, Piya, Asif, Jayashri . Oh I loved them all. Divakaruni crafts them with much care making them at once believable and loveable. Each of them has a story, a background. Each of them comes with their weaknesses and ghosts of their past. It is fascinating to read how their past experiences mould their present actions and reactions.

There are plots and sub plots, stories within stories. It isn’t a fast paced thriller but it moves at a steady pace and keeps you hooked to the end.

What I didn’t like:

This is a complaint I have against a lot of Indian authors, even films – the endings are often hurried and/or disappointing. Oleander Girl too had a bit of a rushed ending. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I love happy endings. Yet the rational part of me objected to the way everything fell into place at the end – a trifle too quickly and much too neatly. I don’t want to put in any spoilers so I’ll hold back why I felt that way. You’ll just have to read and tell me if you agree.

 

I hate to reduce a book to a three-star or a five star because books are so relative and come with so many different elements. However I give this one a 3.5 only because it’s done by Divakaruni and I’ve read so much better from her. By anyone else it would have got a 4.5. I hope that makes sense.

If you’ve read it I’d love to hear from you and if you haven’t I recommend you do pick it up.