Sunday, November 29, 2009

South Asian Author Challenge

Swapna at S. Krishna's Books is hosting the amazing South Asian Author Challenge. Amazing because that's the kind of challenge I desperately wanted to join. If you notice the books I've been reading of late, most of them are India-related books ( mostly non-fiction). The India-related books I'm going to read next year will only be that much more, since I'll have to read more for research work.  

I'm going for 10 books between Jan 1 - Dec 31, 2010.  

My list so far:
1. Between the Assassinations - Aravind Adiga
2. India After Gandhi - Ramachandra Guha
3. Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri
4. I Won't Let You Go : Selected Poems - Rabindranath Tagore
5. Letters from a Father to His Daughter - Jawaharlal Nehru
6. Train to Pakistan - Khushwant Singh

I shall edit and add books in the coming days. Thanks so much for hosting this challenge, Swapna! =)

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Zoya Factor by Anuja Chauhan

Rating : 7/10

There are some things that connect people who might otherwise not have too many things in common. Cricket is one of those things. In India, almost everyone is a cricket-fan. Right from the Minister who tweets about cricket scores to the friendly next-door neighbour who comes to your place to watch cricket while bringing you mouth-watering samosas. Cricket in India, is one thing that brings everything else to a standstill. And to every single book-lover who is an Indian cricket fan, The Zoya Factor will be an unforgettable book.

Advertising executive Zoya Solanki was born at the exact moment of triumph- when India clinched the 1983 World Cup. In a chance conversation with one of the cricketers of the Indian team, she lets slip this detail. Intrigued by her, the players begin to notice that they win every match they play after having breakfast with Zoya. If, however, they don't have breakfast with our 'Lady Luck', they lose. Almost everyone in the team is awed by this revelation and wants Zoya to be with them during breakfast, to help them win. Everyone except the arrogant yet dashing ( the Austen-fan in me wants to say Mr.Darcy-ish ) Captain, Nikhil Khoda. Khoda doesn't believe in Zoya's luck and wants his boys to understand that they win or lose because of their own performances. But do they?

This  fun, original concept is used well and though I wondered how a story could be convincingly woven around this almost-surreal and silly premise, Anuja Chauhan does a great job with the narrative in her first novel. Written in first-person, the book is often hilarious and very engaging. The descriptions and references about everything India, in impeccable Hinglish, from Rahul Gandhi  to arranged marriages are spot-on and I loved them. The characters are well-moulded ( I could SO relate to Zoya, almost all the time. Except for the obvious difference: I jinx every team I support. Honestly. ), while reading the cricket sequences and satires on players, coaches and commentators is every cricket fan's dream come true. 

That having been said, the book got repetitive. I mean, how MANY matches must we read about when the results are very predictable? The editing could have definitely been better; if the novel had been shorter by 100 pages, I think it would have been an even-better, more gripping read.  

That having been said, I'd recommend this book to every single cricket fan - you wouldn't want to miss this one! Also, I'd definitely rate the book higher than any Chetan Bhagat novel.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Women on Wednesday - Louisa May Alcott

This weekly event is hosted by Susan at Rocks n' Reads West of Mars : 
She says: " Every Wednesday, write about a book you loved that’s written by a woman. Celebrate a woman author whose books you love. Talk about a book you’re dying to read. "
The book I'm going to talk about this week, is a book that's been sort of like a constant companion in my life.

Louisa May Alcott's unforgettable classic about the March family was one of the first books I  fell in love with. At age 10, I didn't really look at the cliches in the book, the stereotypes, the predictability, the sometimes over-simplification of things. It didn't matter to me then, and it doesn't matter to me now. 

Little Women is a tale every single person ought to read, if you ask me. It isn't just the story of one American family. It is a story that you can grow up with - it's about friendship, love, family, career, choices. You can relate to one character or the other which is why it makes it a book close to your heart. After all, haven't we all known a strict-yet-loving Aunt March? Or a wonderful friend like Laurie? Haven't we all gone through some embarassing moments that come part and parcel of the growing-up package? 

The emotional moments in Little Women are what makes the story a great read. I remember hugging my sister, tears filling my eyes, when I first finished reading Little Women. The emotions are still very raw, even though I've read the book countless number of times. I find the books relevant every single time I read it.
Few books make you want to be a part of the story and Little Women is one of those rare books ( Confession: It was one of my ambitions, when I was very young, to be a part of the March family ) Its sequels Good Wives, Little Men, Jo's Boys, though probably not as spell-binding, are an equally poignant chronicling of the lives of the four March girls, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy.
Jo March was, is and will always be my favourite amongst the sisters. When I was younger, I'd want to be just like her. I'd want to be the passionate, loving, fearless, strong woman that she was. What a brilliant role-model to have! It is evident that Alcott was much ahead of her generation, when she left us an unforgettable heroine, who stood up against the usual expectations from society, to do what she believed in. Jo March made her choices, even if it meant rejecting a 'perfectly good marriage proposal' or cutting off her long, lovely, lustrous hair in order to get money for the family. The latter incident moved me so much when I was young; it was such an unforgettably powerful moment.
Books that you read as a child, that made an impact on you, stay with you for the rest of your life. That's what Little Women is to me. A souvenir of my early bookworm days. One of the books that I cannot read without tears rolling down my cheeks at one page or the other.
Louisa May Alcott is one of my all-time favourite authors. If you are one of the rare few who haven't read her works, go read them all and enjoy her simple, elegant and timeless tales! 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays - November 24

Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page. Post two (or more) sentences from that page, along with the title and author. Don’t give anything vital away!

I've just started reading The Zoya Factor by Anuja Chauhan. 

Here's the teaser:
' Wasn't the last World Cup - where our 'best batting line-up in the world on paper' had got out right at the very first stage itself - been enough of a lesson for them? They'd sunk seriously obscene amounts of money into an intensely patriotic Zing! Together Now, India campaign, and then they'd had to scramble to take if off air before the irate public burnt down their trucks and hoardings and totalled their factories'
Cricket is not just a sport in India. It's a religion that everyone, right from my 80-year-old Grandmom to my 6-year-old nephew follows feverishly. This book seemed to be a light, fun, humorous story and I'm looking forward to it. Watch out for my review =)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Boy Next Door - Meg Cabot

Rating : 8/10

To: Meg Cabot 
From: Kals
Subject: Guilty pleasure novels.

Dear Meg,
I've been reading ridiculously complicated books, nonfiction and biographies that have arguably been great, have taught me much, but have always required great concentration and patience. And sometimes, I need a break. I deserve it. Don't I?

Which is where you come in. Your novels are my guilty pleasures. I am an avid fan of yours, so much so that I can ever ignore your disastrous
Nicola and the Viscount. This book 'The Boy Next Door', written in the modern-day epistolary form ( through emails ) is a simple, unbelievably entertaining, often funny romance. Mel Fuller, a gossip columnist finds the man of her dreams, after he comes to stay 'next door' to take care of the pets of his Aunt who has been attacked and is in a coma. But is Mel in love with someone who isn't what she thinks he is? A case of mistaken identity, popular culture references, exciting humour and even a little mystery to solve - this novel has all the ingredients to get it right, and it does.

We know its bound to be a happy ending ( That's the whole point of this, isn't it? ) and some parts seem to be a bit of a stretch and some mails include too many details which isn't usually the case when you mail people. But this book is a great creative attempt to write an entire tale in the form of e-mails and I think it paid off. 

Your characters ( as I know them from their e-mails ) are very entertaining. Your writing makes writing an epistolary novel seem so easy. This was a fun, quick 
 ( I completed the book in 2 hours) read and I'm sure going to read the rest of the series. 

Thank you for being the constant source of fun chick-lit,

Friday, November 13, 2009

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Rating: 5/10

Some times, what you go looking for in a book will decide how much you like the book. After reading that this novel's protagonist was 'An African Miss Marple' and that this bestseller has received two Booker Judge's Special Recommendations, you cannot blame me for going in with great expectations. And I was most certainly disappointed.

Kind-hearted, intelligent, friendly and good-natured Mma Ramostwe is a strong female character who is 'Botswana's only - and - finest female detective'. She sets up 'The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency' and tackles cases with a method that is at best simplistic and at worst, unbelievably naive. There is no great 'twist in the tale' in any of the cases she handles. There is no use of great logic or cunning. It always comes down to Mma Ramostwe's 'instinct' and 'sense', which in my opinion, is something authors resort to when they haven't cooked up a good plot.

Realistic, it might be, in the sense that Mma Ramotswe handles simple cases of commoners. But the whole thrill of detectives is how they offer solutions to seemingly baffling scenarios. I could always predict how Mma Ramotswe's cases would be solved. There is the mandatory missing child, wayward daughter, philandering husband et al, but none of Mma Ramotswe's cases impress. Comparisons to Miss Marple are superfluous.

There are some obvious great aspects to the book though : McCall Smith's writing is simple, beautiful and very vivid. Botswana is where the heart is, for both the writer and his protagonist, which makes for some excellent reading and provides a good insight to the culture, customs of Africa. Then of course, there is the feel-good factor, the beautiful thoughts, the message of love, peace and equality. All of that is brilliant, but they don't contribute much to the premise of being The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.

I tried hard to like this book, but I guess this isn't my kind of novel and I'm not going to bother reading the rest of the series.

Random something I noted:
I've seen a lot of non-Indians misspelling the popular surname 'Gandhi'. It doesn't really irk me too much because it is unintentional and is often misspelled while posting hurriedly on blogs or forums. But when this book, an international bestseller with so many awards, couldn't bother to check the surname and spells 'Mrs. Ghandi's war' in Page 194, it certainly irks me. They could have definitely checked this up, couldn't they?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays - November 10

Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page. Post two (or more) sentences from that page, along with the title and author. Don’t give anything vital away!
I'm now reading M.J.Akbar's brilliant biography of India's first Prime Minister - Nehru: The Making of India.
" Warning Gandhi not to believe everything he read in the papers, and promising to visit him as soon as possible, Jawaharlal wrote:  'Am I not your child in politics, though perhaps a truant and errant child?' The prodigal was forgiven. " ( Page 206 )
This is a fascinating book, a fitting tribute to an unforgettable leader. Jawaharlal Nehru's birth anniversary, incidentally, is in a few days, on November 14. The day is celebrated in India as 'Children's Day', remembering his love and enthusiasm towards children whom he rightly saw as the future of the India he'd worked hard to build. 

Monday, November 9, 2009

18th and 19th Century Women Writers Reading Challenge

This challenge is hosted by Becky at Becky's Book Reviews and is, hopefully, the last challenge I join in for the new year.

Some info about the challenge:
Read books written by women authors that were written and/or published between 1700 and 1900. Contemporary historical books set in this time period do not count towards this challenge! The challenge is to encourage you to read some classics.

I'm such a fan of Victorian literature and when I spotted this great 18th and 19th Century Women Writers Reading Challenge, I loved it. It was just what I absolutely adore and after thinking for long, I decided not to include Austen, Bronte and Alcott, all of whom I love and read a lot. I wanted to experience the writing of other great women writers and here are the two books written and published in the 18th or 19th century that I've picked:

Heidi by Johanna Spyri. This book was published in 1880.

Middlemarch by George Eliot ( Pen name of Mary Anne Evans ). This book was published as a one-volume edition in 1874.

Celebrate the Author Challenge

I'm on a signing-up-for-challenges spree. I just can't resist planning out my bookshelves for the new year and I'm finding some really interesting challenges. Like this Celebrate the Author Challenge hosted by Becky of Becky's Book Reviews.

The basic rules:
12 Books, 12 Months
January - December 2010

The challenge is designed to “celebrate” author birthdays. Choose one author for each month of the year. Read at least one book a month. 12 authors. 12 birthdays. You can read the books in any order. More info can be found at Becky's blog.

My list, subject to overlapping with other challenges and possible changes is:

January - Virginia Woolf ( Born 25 January 1882 )
February - Charles Dickens ( Born 7 February 1812 )
March - Shashi Tharoor ( Born 9 March 1956 )
April - Charlotte Bronte ( Born 12 April 1816 )
May - Arthur Conan Doyle ( Born 22 May 1859 ) - Edit: COMPLETED The Sign of Four
June - Johanna Spyri ( Born 12 June 1827 )
July - Jhumpa Lahiri ( Born 11 July 1967 ) - Edit: COMPLETED Unaccustomed Earth 
August - Guy de Maupassant ( Born 5 August 1850 )
September - Agatha Christie ( Born 15 September 1890 )
October - Oscar Wilde ( Born 16 October 1854 )
November - George Eliot ( Born 22 November 1819 )
December - Jane Austen ( Born 16 December 1775 ) - Edit: COMPLETED Persuasion

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor

Rating : 10/10
Yes, it is that good. If you love the Mahabharata and love to discuss Indian politics and haven't read this book yet, go pick it. Now. You'll never regret it!

One of the first pages of the book has a note from the author which goes:
''A hasty note of disclaimer is due to those readers who may feel, justifiably, that the work that follows is neither great, nor authentically Indian, nor even much of a novel. The Great Indian Novel takes its title not from the author's estimate of its contents but in deference to its primary source of inspiration, the ancient epic the Mahabharata'

This modesty-affected disclaimer isn't quite necessary since this novel indeed is, a Great Indian Novel. The Mahabharata is India's epic and politics, of course, our epic passtime and to bring them both together sounds epic. But can Shashi Tharoor pull it off?

The Great Indian Novel is the song of India- its great epic and its great struggle for independence and (later) democracy, interwoven inseparably. The relevance of epics is oft spoken about, but you hardly get to see the 'relevance' put in front of your eyes like you do here.

With a keen, often too sharp sense of humour, a vivid narrative, often lined with inside jokes, Tharoor has written what is probably the greatest Indian political satire I've read. Thoroughly entertaining, be it verse or words, with unexpected turns of philosophy, wicked humour, breathtaking creativity and a clear sense of emotion and patriotism, The Great Indian Novel and its characters are memorable to say the least.

To the reader who's always been interested in Indian politics, this book could soon become your haven. Tracking references, 'getting the joke', trailing hints, often staring wide-eyed at pages wondering how someone managed to take such liberties in pulling the leg of our 'national icons', The Great Indian Novel has a sort of excitement and thrill that the likes of The Da Vinci Code can never achieve.               

While reading the book, I did think to myself that I should probably not be enjoying the book this much. And even if I did, its not all credit to Tharoor, for the The Great Indian Novel is more or less 'The Mahabharata Remixed'. Isn't it? But no, inter-connecting our mythical/religious heroes and our national leaders in a way that is spell-binding, in a way that would make you sit up, is no easy task ( I can think of a hundred ways how this book could have gone Oh-so-wrong ) and precisely why this book is a triumph.

Thanks to my friends for gifting this book for my birthday last month. It's definitely one of the best books I've ever read and probably the best book I've read so far, this year! =)


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