Book review: Boomtown by Aditya Mukherjee

Boomtown by Aditya MukherjeeYou know what they say about not judging a book by it’s cover? Add another one to it – don’t judge an author by the author blurb. Aditya Mukherjee may be yet another IIM graduate to have penned a novel, but unlike most of them who write about college life in particularly bad English, Boomtown is a breath of fresh air.

JJ, son of a rich businessman, meets Jaaved, the grandson of legendary Old Delhi chef Khan Mian. Jaaved is passionate about cooking, but unlike his grandfather, who refuses to change his family recipes in any way, he enjoys experimenting with new ingredients. Like using a dash of vanilla essence in a traditional meat curry “to give it a bit more balance.” When JJ tastes his food, he has a brainwave – setting up a chain of fusion restaurants spinning new twists on traditional recipes.

He ropes in Roy, his engineering buddy who has just been laid off, and Sheetal, a single mother and manager at a five-star hotel. Boosted by a glorious review from celebrated chef Romesh Ghosh, “the three friends travel from the crumbling Mughlai kitchens of Chandni Chowk to the trendy upmarket eateries of Gurgaon, from the corporate corridors of venture capitalists to the crummy offices of property brokers.”Continue reading

Book review: Two Brothers by Ben Elton

Two Brothers by Ben EltonBerlin, 1920. Two babies are born. Two brothers. United and indivisible, sharing everything. Twins in all but blood. As Germany marches towards its Nazi Armageddon, the ties of family, friendship and love are tested to the very limits of endurance. And the brothers are faced with an unimaginable choice…which one of them will survive?

The novel follows the Stengel family – Frieda, a community doctor, and Wolfgang, a Jazz musician, and their sons Otto and Paulus. The young couple works hard to make ends meet. But in 1920s Germany, when the country was reeling under the aftermath of the Great War, things aren’t always easy. Wolfgang gets lucky, though, when he meets Kurt, “Germany’s new kindergarten entrepreneurs, crazy alcohol- and drug-fuelled chancers” who loves jazz music and gives him a well-paying job at a nightclub. But once the crazy inflation is brought under control, Wolfgang finds himself, once again, unemployed. At Frieda’s insistence, he places an ad in the paper offering to teach music. And then enters Dagmar Fischer – the heiress to the Fischer fortune. And both Otto and Paulus fall head-over-heels in love with her – a love that lasts a lifetime and changes the course of their life.Continue reading

Book Review: Sophie Says by Judy Balan

Sophie_Says_Judy_BalanEver since I read Sophie Kinsella’s I’ve Got Your Number, I’ve developed a new-found love for “chick lit”. I thought it was all sugary sweet teeny-bopper love stories, and I really have outgrown those. But it isn’t! It’s romance all right, but pretty darn believable, told from a woman’s perspective with issues that modern women can totally relate to. But I’m still skeptical about Indian chick-lit, largely because I’m skeptical about most Indian authors. So when I got an opportunity to review Judy Balan’s Sophie Says, I took it – mainly because the story sounded interesting.

Sophia Tilgum has dated all kinds of men in thirty years. Men who’ve stalked and pleaded, men who’ve lied and cheated, men who’ve written songs and wanted to play house after three dates. And equally scary, men who’ve sported hot-pink bow ties and called her Sweet Cheeks.

So after a decade-long attempt at sustaining long-term relationships, Sophie has finally thrown in the towel and has found her calling as The Breakup Coach via her super-popular blog: Sophie Says – in which she makes a case for Single-Singles or people who are wired to remain single (because according to Sophie, commitment phobia is not a real thing) and shares her many theories on breakups.

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Book review: The Good Little Ceylonese Girl by Ashok Ferrey

The Good Little Ceylonese Girl Ashok FerreyAshok Ferrey’s The Good Little Ceylonese Girl is a collection of short stories about Sri Lankans living in the country and abroad. This slim 193 page volume has 17 stories, all of them really quite short, presenting readers with little vignettes and fragments of his characters’ lives.

The poignant Dust is the story of Father Cruz and his fight with his parishioners, who want their donations used to beautify the church, whereas all he wants is to use the money to help the needy.

The toungue-in-check Maleeshya is a short account of how the editor of a high-flying society magazine arm twists those desperate for a mention in her magazine to conform to her vision of a marriage and even death.

Pig shows some of the similarities between Indian and Sri Lankan culture. It is the story of two childhood sweethearts Lalitha and Ruwan who grew up together but were married off to different people. They continued to meet clandestinely over the years. But when the time came for them to be able to get back together, Ruwan backed out because he realized, after 19 years of cheating on his wife, that Lalitha and he had changed:Continue reading

Book review: The Sea of Innocence by Kishwar Desai

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…

The Sea of Innocence by Kishwar DesaiSimran Singh, a 40-something social worker-come-crime investigator is holidaying in Goa with her teenage daughter Durga. All she wants is the sun, sand, and an idyllic, relaxed holiday. But all of that is spoilt when she gets a disturbing video clip featuring a young girl being attacked by a group of men. And then comes Amarjit, her on-again-off-again flame, to spoil her holiday.

He begs her to send Durga back home to Delhi and help him to find out what happened to the Liza, the girl in the video. Enter Marianne, her sister, who fills in some of the details of the crime but is deliberately vague about the exact timeline.

As Simran gets pulled into the case, she finds out more than she bargained for about Goa’s dark underbelly:

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.

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Book review: The Virgins by Siddharth Tripathi

I wanted to read Dan Brown’s Inferno. In fact, I had just finished a book before I had to leave for work that day, and was anticipating going home and immersing myself in Robert Langdon’s world of art and Dante and symbology. Then, I received a review copy of The Virgins in the mail, and I was torn between Langdon and this book. I knew I would go through Inferno slowly, savoring the art and detail in the book. And that after that, most books would feel flat, even if they are actually good books. So I thought it only fair that I should finish reading The Virgins before losing myself in Inferno.

The Virgins by Siddharth TripathiSet in Banaras, a town that’s famous as a Hindu pilgrimage spot and for it’s Banarasi saris, The Virgins is a story of three friends and their “sexpot” adventures. Guggi, the son of a local politician, is a spoilt rich brat who comes up with crazy ideas for fun and adventure. In one of their first “sexpot” adventures, the three friends stand outside the girls hostel of Banaras Hindu University as Guggi screams “Hey GIRLS, OPEN EVERYTHING….NOW!” As the girls freeze, a beat constable comes rushing onto the scene to apprehend the eve teasers. Guggi escapes on his scooter with Bandhu, while Pinku is left to fend for himself. As he is running away from the university with the cop at his heels, he realizes that being the poorest of the three, he is always the one who is left behind. Even his drunkard father had disappeared one day, leaving his mother alone to fend for her seven children. The 19-year old school dropout has only two dreams left: to open a cassette shop one day and to marry the plump girl who caught him stealing flower pots. As he is running away from the cop, Pinku promises himself that he will take on the job at Cheeni Chacha’s grocery store and walk on the straight and narrow, staying out of Guggi’s crazy plans.Continue reading

Book Review: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of Pi

Life of Pi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Life of Pi is the story of Piscine Molitor Patel – known as Pi – a young, bookish boy whose life revolves around the hippos, hyenas, bears and other animals at his father’s zoo in Pondicherry, India. Curious by nature, Pi is deeply influenced by religion, and learns about and embraces three of them – Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. But his idyllic life at the zoo comes to an end when his father decides to pack up and move the family to Canada for a better life. They leave aboard a Japanese cargo ship called the Tsimtsum along with many of their animals, who are bound for zoos in the US. A few days into their journey, disaster strikes – their ship, along with most of the animals and the entire Patel family – bar Pi – sink to the depths of the ocean. 16-year old Pi finds himself on a lifeboat with a zebra, hyena, orang-utan and a Royal Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Of course, the only animal to survive is Richard Parker, and Pi must share his lifeboat with him and hope for a miraculous rescue.

The book is hailed as a modern day classic, a glorious spiritual adventure that makes us question what it means to be alive, and to believe. But sadly, I found it lacking.Continue reading

Two books to look out for this April

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

One Step Too Far - Tina SeskisFrom the back cover:

Is running away ever the answer?
An apparently happy marriage. A beautiful son. A lovely home. So what makes Emily Coleman get up one morning and walk right out of her life to start all over again? Has she had a breakdown? Was it to escape her dysfunctional family – especially her flawed twin sister Caroline who always seemed to hate her? And what is the date that looms, threatening to force her to confront her past? No-one has ever guessed her secret. Will you?

This was an excellent, compelling read. What would force you to plan your escape from your life – from your husband…your soulmate…and your lovely boy Charlie? What would make you put a stone on your heart every time you think about them in your new life? And how would you cope with the pain, the loss, the deception? In this searingly beautiful novel, with twists you’d never see coming, Seskis sets a crackling pace, with characters you’ll love and others you’ll hate. Kirkus Reviews calls itContinue reading

Book review: Alexandriad trilogy by Mary Renault

“Rarely does a single novelist cast such a shadow over an entire topic in a genre of fiction. If one asks for a list of mainstream historical novels on Alexander the Great, or even on ancient Greece, the reply is usually some variation on, “You have read Mary Renault, haven’t you?” – Dr. Jeanne Reames, Professor of History, University of Nebraska

And possibly with good reason. Her Alexandriad trilogy is a comprehensive tale of the life and legacy of Alexander the great.

The first book, Fire from Heaven, traces Alexander’s early life, from childhood until the assassination of his father King Philip, which leaves Alexander poised to ascend the throne.Continue reading

Book review: The Other Side of the Table by Madhumita Mukherjee

Circa 1990.
A world drawn and woven with words.
A bond punctuated by absence and distance…
Two continents. Two cities. Two people.
And letters. Hundreds of them.
Over years. Across oceans. Between hearts.

The other side of the table by madhumita mukherjeeI was delighted, and a little apprehensive, when I read the back cover. Delighted because three of my favorite books are epistolary works – May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude; Helene Hanff’s 84, Charring Cross Road; and Mary Ann Shaffer’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Apprehensive because I am generally wary of Indian authors, even though there are some excellent novels out there – Indu Suderasan’s brilliant Taj trilogy comes immediately to mind. But then, there are also disasters, like I, Rama or How About A Sin Tonight. And telling a story through letters isn’t the easiest thing to do.

The Other Side of the Table tells the story of Abhi, who is training to become a neurosurgeon in London, and Uma, who has just entered medical college in Calcutta. They write to one another about medicine and life, love and friends, about travels and family, and things that are close to their hearts and about nothing at all. Each letter reveals a tantalizing glimpse into their lives.Continue reading