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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Five Frogs

Five frogs are sitting on a log. Four decide to jump off.
How many are left?
 
 
Ans: One
 
No. It is Five 
 
Why? 
 
Because there's a difference between deciding and doing!
 
... Dont just think, Do Something ... 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Startup Advice

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Context

 

All conversations have some element of questions and answers and we have been told numerous times to be not only good listeners but also to understand the questions properly before answering them.

The following incident is a simple Q&A between a father and a son …

----------------

"Dad, where did I come from?" asks this 10-years-old.

The father was shocked that a 10 year old would be asking a question like that. He was hoping to wait a few more years before he would have to explain the facts of life, but he figured it was better a few years early than a few days too late, so, for the next two hours he explained every thing to his son.

When he got finished, he asked his son what prompted his question to which his son replied, "I was talking to the new kid across the street and he said he came from Ohio, so I was just wondering where I came from."

--------------------

Yes … that was actually just a joke but don't you think it was entirely possible that it really happened.

I am sure you are smiling (if not laughing) but think about it.

How many times have we ourselves jumped in and answered questions without understanding the full context of the question as well as the conversation?
Any Question can have multiple answers and I am not talking about similar answers but widely different answers (as the above example joke brings out).

It is hence important that we not only understand the question but also its context.

 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Book Review: The Krishna Key by Ashwin Sanghi


After a lull of 2 months, suddenly I get 2 books from BlogAdda for review in the same month within a span of 2 weeks. It's been some time since I received a book from BlogAdda for review and then "The Krishna Key" came up and that too they were giving away 200 copies for review. I have the 2 other novels by Ashwin but they were lined up for next year along with The Krishna Key. The blogAdda review just brought this one up in the schedule.
Dan Brown attempted to bring together mythological stories into a modern world treasure hunt along with mysteries and secrets that can rock the world. A whole bunch of other authors have attempted the same over the years and 100's of novels have come up with plots connecting ancient secrets and round-the-globe hunts today.
I had always wondered that India has a rich magnificent mythology and the geographical diversity of our country is a perfect setting for such novels. Why doesn't any Indian author attempt the same? The answer came in the form of Ashwin's novel... The Krishna Key (TKK).
The Krishna Key has quite a few parallels with Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code … the stories begins with a murder and then a pair (our protagonist who is a professor and a lady companion) gets involved closely with the murder. The hunt and the chase begins as the duo move from one historic place to another closely followed or preceded by another person/agency who is carrying out a series of murders resulting in a trail of blood and murder. Like the Angels and Demons story where ambigram seals were braided on the dead; The Krishna Key has mere rubber stamp symbols left on the foreheads of dead. Way too many parallels for my comfort
The typical chase and hunt goes through deductions and clues. In The Krishna Key, I felt the clues were vague and not convincing or sharp enough to lead the protagonist to the next destination. In fact, one of the key deductions made at the beginning of the story (which has an important task of setting the context of the story and its key character) was pretty unconvincing.

Our protagonist discovers the name of the probable killer and he scrabbles his name (playing anagram with it) to arrive at an alternative name which leads to several deductions and an interesting explanation as well as drawing a sort of character sketch of the villain. The whole thing was convincing except for what prompted the protagonist to play anagram with the name in the first place. The justification offered was at best flimsy. It seems to be totally out of the blue, forced and unconvincing – which essentially steals the thunder out of the element of surprise and awe it is supposed to create. Similar is the case with various other deductions and lines of thought expressed across the novel. Wish Ashwin had put some more thought to it.  
The story also had some glaring inconsistencies and some unbelievable coincidences … the most significant being the name of another villain in the story whose name has a anagram/scrabbled version which is also a name which is hidden in plain sight in his name bearing locket. The story says that it was coincidental and clearly it wasn't. Ashwin should have made it emphatic and should have avoided the coincidental angle. 
The likes of Da Vinci Code have a mystery and a secret at the heart of the story which awaits discovery & revelation and each step in the story is supposed to lead to that ultimate revelation. The Krishna Key hints at a couple of possibilities which are pretty interesting.
I am sure Ashwin has done a lot of research as is evident from the reference list at that end of book but there was need to hold things tighter and in more logically defined manner.
The Krishna Key begins with a bang … the author grabs your attention and holds it for long with a continuous series of events in the story.  The novel was good in itself but the too many parallels with Da Vinci Code did dampen the joy of reading this thriller. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading a Da Vinci Code in indian settings.
I liked the fact that not only was the 'villain' preceding or chasing the protagonist and his companion, but for part of the journey, he was in fact 'with them' without their knowledge of his true identity. There is a major twist in the plot almost mid-way in the story which comes as a surprise and makes for interesting reading. It suddenly up's your interest in the story.
I would have preferred a little more character development of the key characters and their relationships. There is a romantic angle in the story but it was kind of never allowed to develop properly. Adventurous situations tend to bring people close and it has its own reading pleasure.
I liked the reference to Math and numbers and the magic around the number 9 … taking me back to the days when I taught Vedic Mathematics and called 10 as God and 9 as demi-God so that I could make Maths enjoyable for kids and youth alike.
The climax of this novel reminded me of 'The Lost Symbol' by Dan Brown. The novel builds the excitement and reaches a climax where it disappoints simply by being anti-climactic. In TKK, it almost seems that the whole novel comes to a dead end and the whole pursuit was a waste of time (although I assure you that reading the novel isn't). What surprises me is that the 'Krishna Key' does not really open any lock; literally as well as figuratively. It has an inscription on it which lends itself to speculation and treasure hunting.
One more peculiar or interesting thing is that throughout the novel, there is a parallel track of Krishna’s Story (including his role in Kurukshetra). When I started reading the novel, I felt that the two parallel tracks would lend to each other as the story progresses (done beautifully in Mathew Reilly’s ‘Temple’); but I was disappointed once again. There was no ‘connection’ between the two parallel tracks and if one were to ignore the Krishna storyline (almost 20% of the book); one would not miss anything. Don’t really know why it was even included ... To fill up pages perhaps?


The novel was good and I would readily recommend it to readers. It made an interesting read in spite of the many flaws in writing. (You might be wondering why the ‘good’ rating in spite of the flaws … maybe it is the effect of reading this after the frustrating Fractured Legend. Anything will seem ‘good’ after that.) But those readers who have read Da Vinci Code and many other novels along similar plot should take this novel with a pinch of salt. Don’t have your expectations pinned up high; you will read quite a few interesting things about Indian history and mythology but won’t be able to resist drawing parallels between the plot of DVC / Others and TKK.

The contrast between the 2 books I received from BlogAdda.com for review struck me. I am pretty impressed by this one while I was frustrated and disappointed by the earlier one.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com  ... Participate now to get free books!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Book Review: Untruly Yours by Smita Shetty


I have been writing/blogging about what I read every month since 2010. Each post has a list of what I read the previous month along with a short quick few sentence review. Sometimes, I feel strongly about them and the review goes to almost half a page but never more. After all it is not a review but more of a record of what I read.
Then, last year around Oct-Nov; I came across the Book Review program from BlogAdda.com and I started taking the review process (more) seriously. In this year, I have reviewed several books and it was a pleasant surprise to receive a book request straight from a new author.
Smita Shetty, a Mumbaite currently based in UK, contacted me with a request to review her debut novel 'Untruly Yours'. So here it is … my very personal view on this new chic-lit by the new chic on the block. (One word review: GOOD. Longer review: read on)
Right from the beginning, the book was easy to read and made for some simple light reading. The story starts with our central lead character Natasha and sets the stage by describing her routine life and family.  The story develops and the characters are introduced; real life characters with whom one can identify. The intro of the mother-in-law as 'Godzilla of Godzillas' was interestingly funny and the intro of the 2 interesting colleagues at work was believable while the kid and the hubby description would have probably made many a women-readers say 'Gosh … that's my hubby and kid'.
Turn of events lead to some revelations which form the foundation for the story/plot of this short novel. The marriage hasn't really fallen apart (although the cracks have begun to appear or at least have been discovered) and our lady begins to feel some attraction towards 'other' men; which include one of her colleagues who has accompanied her on the India Trip and a friend from college days (blast from the past). The rest of the story is about Natasha discovering hidden feelings, latent desires and fighting internal devil-angel battles between desires and moral standings. She can't help enjoying the attention of these hunks while her sister looks on.
What I found strange is that just when things began to get interesting … the novel was wound up in about 20 odd pages. At that point in the story, the author could have written a lot of interesting incidents between the lady and her 2 distracting hunks as well as brought out 'her inner turmoil' along with some interesting conclusive actions on her part in contribution to the reason for her India Trip.  
The climax seemed hurried. It was as if the story had to be suddenly wrapped up. Something made her cut it short! Whether it was the publisher, herself or some vague rule that a chic-lit needs to stop at around 150 pages or something like that? I wish Smita had decided to write a little more … just a couple of pages more (I mean 30-40 pages). It would have been a fun to read more ... as was it fun to read the 150 odd pages. She has written it in a very easy-to-read, fun, grounded fashion. I would surely pick up her next novel ... if not for anythiong else ... for her writing style. This is hint for Author to keep writing :).
The book does not bore you at any point in the story. The author is able to hold up your interest levels by the story, the line up of events, by her narrations and sheer writing style.
Anyone looking for a nice light read can pick this up. I would readily recommend.
Anyone looking for more serious literature stuff (even serious fiction) can stay away from this one. This one is not for you. 
And yes ... the cover design is different (as u can see above) from the usual cover designs today. It reminded me somehow of the 'Jeeves' series of books  by P G Wodehouse. The cover design is definitely something which has its own attraction and may prompt a casual browser in the bookstore to pick the book and read the back-cover. A definite win !!

 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Pink Advantage or Ink Advantage !!

Well, that was my first thought when I saw what was on screen at the HP - Blog Adda event last weekend. But I am getting ahead of myself … let me start at the beginning.


It was a first for me. Attending a product promotion event, especially for bloggers and tweeps. The opportunity presented by Blog Adda and HP. The venue was 'At Fat Cat' (Veera Desai Road, Andheri West near Andheri Sports Complex), a new restaurant (for me) in a frequented part of the city ... I was wondering how come I missed it till now. The venue has a nice touch and feel to it. I would love to go back there in more relaxed ambience.



 

Besides the obvious HP event; the thing which attracted me was a chance to meet and interact with fellow bloggers and of course to meet the team from Blog Adda with whom I have been interacting for the past 9 months … but only through email. Now I could put faces to the names. Ditto for some of the bloggers and tweeps about whom I had heard but never got a chance to meet them.
Right at the beginning of the event, we were informed about the hashtag to use for all tweets about and around the event with the promise of a prize for the one with max tweets. I was kinda pleasantly surprised with the twitter contest at a bloggers meet but then realized that practically all the bloggers around were active tweeps. It also revived my own interest in my twitter account which has faced neglect from me in past year or so. It was nice to get back to tweeting again. Hashtag and all.
I mis-read the hashtag which led to some interestingly confused funny moments where I wondered why HP would have a hashtag of "Pink Advantage" only to be told by a fellow blogger that it was actually "HP Ink Advantage" … #hpinkadvantage
Our host from Blog Adda … Sagarika … told us about the other contests which included using some keywords and introducing ourselves. We were to write this down as well as tweet them with the hashtag. With the kind of fervent activity on mobile phones I was witnessing, it wouldn't take long for #hpinkadvantage to get into the top 10 trending hashtags in the country.

HP Presentation and Q&A
The representative from HP made his presentation introducing us to the new range of HP printers and going in detailed explanations about the HP advantage. This new range not only has a low startup cost of less than 10K (5-10 K range) but the printing is approx. 75 paise per page (less than a rupee). So the low cost of ownership of printer and low cost of printing is a dual advantage. He also told us about the various other features that came along with the HP models … wifi connectivity and touch-screen panels. A very interesting feature that was introduced was email printing where one can send an email to a particular email address (from practically anywhere in the world, from a laptop or even a mobile phone) and the prints would come out of the printer at home. Voila. This is truly a leap ahead in printing technology.
Quite interesting was the software they used to make the presentation. It was like a vast canvas with the text and images and the presenter/assistant would simply zoom in and zoom out of the vast plane as one would do with google maps. It was damn interesting to watch the presentation. I wanted to ask them about the software but missed asking them in the aftermath of activities post the presentation.
The presentation was followed by a Q&A session where we asked the HP rep quite a few questions about printing and printers; while some shared interesting uses of their printers. One particular participant had a 12 year old HP printer (still functioning) … even the HP guy had not heard of hat printer model. Most interesting aspect of the Q&A was the clarification on the difference between Laser printing and Ink Jet printing and their pros and cons. Interestingly, the life of printing from a inkjet printing is about 40-60 years while that from laser printing is about 100 years. Truly amazing fact. Another interesting discussion was on new cartridge versus cartridge refills. HP Rep pointed out that although the refill works; the risk of damaging the printer is high and the cost saving too low (due to falling prices of original cartridges) for such a risk to be undertaken.
 I was pretty much convinced about the features of the new range of HP printers and would like to have one now J In fact, I have been thinking about owning one for some time. A lot of printing needs to be done … almost about 20-30 pages every month and its seems to be increasing steadily. Going out for prints at print shops costs about 4-5 bucks per copy so I am anyway spending about 100 bucks every month for personal printing (I usually avoid doing it in office unless I can't avoid it). Also, the need to scan and photocopy documents/bills has increased over the years and it would be convenient to have a all-in-one machine close at hand. Having a printer at home would be so convenient and I am sure once the printer is there, the family would find more uses. 
ZENGA
After the discussions and Q&A's, the hostess informed us about the game of Zenga for us. This was again new for me. Had not heard about it. It is a simple game where a tower is made up of small criss cross placed blocks. The participants have to pull out blocks from the tower (not the top) making sure the tower becomes unstable BUT does not fall down while they are pulling out a block. In case, you cause the tower to collapse; the person who pulled a block before you WINS. The game was made more interesting by the fact that our table was set on wobbly flooring and the table moved and swayed all by itself. We were 6 of us at the table and we all had a lot of fun and laughter playing the game. Best part of the game was that I won the game.



For a closer look at Zenga itself ... here are a few pics off the internet for your reference.


After the game, there were open conversations between the bloggers … not about HP … but about blogging. The subject of Tech Blogging came up and numerous observations came up (primarily that tech bloggers make their product reviews extremely techy which are of no use to the average blogger who is not a techy but looking for some proper simple understandable product review). There was a discussion on plagiarism which seems to have grown over the years especially when people plagiarize content from other blogs and claim it as their own for participating in contests (and even winning them). A sidebar discussion was also on the bloggers who enjoy writing loooooong sentences which spill over several lines. The universal advice of Keep It Short and Simple was repeated and reminded to some of us who are guilty of long rambling sentences. :)



I loved this part of the evening where all the bloggers were passionately discussing something close to their hearts ... blogging. A lot of blogging tips were shared and a lot of laughter was floating around. Not to forget the snacks served during this phase. They disappeared from the plates before anyone could notice them.   
The next item on the agenda was the Prize distribution for the various contests for the evening. One of us got a grand prize of a brand new printer from the range to which we had been introduced. I envy the guy who won it. I should have won. :)
There were several other prizes for the introductions, the Zenga Game, the max number of tweets during the event … the prizes being an HP Headset.

A gift for all attendees in the form of a 8 GB Pen Drive & a Magazine made everyone happy.
Before we could say our Good Byes; we had group photos being clicked and one of the sweet bloggers got a cake which everyone enjoyed.

The Girls Gang went in for a separate All-Girls-Group-Photo ...

The Cake ... courtesy 'Blogwati G'

I have missed many a BlogAdda events and this one was my first. I am now looking forward to attend many more such events. They are damn enriching.
A special Thanks to HP for organizing and sponsoring the event. It helped me learn something new about printers and printing while interacting with fellow bloggers … a motley bunch of enthusiastic fellas
(Image courtesy: Blog Adda team. Pics picked up from Blog Adda's FB album)
Addendum: Post the event, we all received an Email from Blog Adda with the twitter ids' of all participants. That was a very good idea since we can easily connect now.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Sojourn Melbourne


Ever since I started travelling international destinations in 2005; places around the globe have fascinated me. The fascination is from the point of view of how ‘different’ these countries and cities are as compared to my very own country and its cities. I have lived in Switzerland, Malaysia & UAE and visited Malaysia & Mauritius. It has been a very interesting experience… an eye opening experience in fact and has given me a wider perspective of life.

As you can see, the places I have visited/lived besides India are not only spread geographically but also at different stages of development. Sorely missing from the list are the US and Australia; two countries which are furthest from India geographically and which offer yet again a very different outlook as compared to the ones I have already visited and lived in.

For this reason (and one more); Australia has been hot on my places to visit since 2005. The other reason is of course an old friend who studied with me in Engineering during 1996-2000. He had gone to Australia on a 3-month work related engagement which got extended and then extended and then he found that place so attractive that he found a job there and settled there. In the past 12 years, I have met him but once when he visited India and then over a period of time we have lost touch. A visit to Australia would definitely include meeting him in the itinerary. Yet another reason is of course Matthew Reilly, one of my favorite authors who is from Australia. Don’t know if it would be possible to meet him but then who knows how he responds when I write to him that I am visiting from India and would love to meet him, if possible. :)

Coming to my Australia plans … I have heard quite a lot about Australia and its famous tourist destinations and I am sure to visit them … but I am always more bent on the unconventional and off-beat places to visit in any new place. If you (the reader) has any clues / ideas on off-beat tourist places in Australia .. do drop a few elaborate words in the comments 

A simple google search and visit to Australia Tourism sites tells me that there is a lot to see in AUSTRALIA. But considering my own budget, the leave I would get from my office to spend time away from work and my own propensity to keep pleasure visits restricted to under 10 days at a time ... I would have to focus on a few places (at least in my first visit) ...

The top things that come to priority are the New South Wales (Melbourne-Canberra-Sydney belt) along with Brisbane and the Gold Coast. I could go on and on about why these are a priority over the rest of Australia (since I have visited literally 50+ different websites in search of Aussie Tourism info and I have a truck load of info on these places), let me restrict to Melbourne in this post since that is the place which has triggered this post.

The wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melbourne) could offer you an introduction to Melbourne but let me suggest you do a 'google image search' with Melbourne as key word to meet the city visually. A visit to the dedicated Melbourne website http://www.visitmelbourne.com/in will give you very specific info about Melbourne and what you can expect out there. Just one look at the visual photographic results and you won’t need to read this blog post to be inspired to plan your next trip to Melbourne / Australia.

Each of these images is a pretty large one so feel free to click on them and explore the magnified view :)




When my wife saw the pics above as well as Google Image results for Melbourne … all she said was “it's your time to visit Melbourne NOW!” … I so wish I could make that ‘NOW’ part a reality right now.

I am sure you will easily find the popular places to visit by a simple google search so let this post be about what experiences I want out of my own visit … My way. My style, My experience.

Exploring the city on foot as well as public transport (bus, tram, metro) gives you a whole new perspective of the place. It brings you in touch with the real life and culture of the place and your experience is more personal and real; leaving a very deep impact on you. Such are the things unforgettable stuff is made of. If you haven’t experienced it yet, you should try the above along with cycling across the city.

Melbourne has a bicycle sharing system which utilizes a network of marked road lanes and segregated cycle facilities. It would be a delight to cycle around the city of Melbourne. Tie this up with visiting the ordinary streets and laneways of the city and what you get is a priceless grounded experience. You see a different Australia in those streets; the Australia that is probably just like your own country at the core; stripped off the fa├žade of tourist attractions where real life meets real world. < image source: Australia.com >



Another interesting thing in Melbourne is experiencing the city from Rooftops. Rooftop cafes and bars and even a rooftop cinema/movie theatre can give you an entertaining view from the top. Definitely Worth experiencing. (Don’t forget the blanket / warm clothing on chilly evenings though) ...


Yet another aspect of Melbourne off-beat tourism would be to explore the Melbourne street art and public art around the city ... catch some more info about it here ... a look at some of the pics from www.visitvictoria.com will definitely elevate your interest ...






And yes, how can i forget the mention of Phillip Island which is home to an astounding array of wildlife, including Australia's largest fur seal colony, the Little Penguins and cuddly koalas. www.VisitMelbourne.com

The ideas and the pictures above, a road trip along the gold coast, the walking and cycling trips along the less-frequented streets of Melbourne, rooftop experiences, the quant experience of living real Melbournian life through their public transport and visit to off-beat places … all captured through the 5 senses, the amazing memory bank in our brain, the thousands of photographs and videos … just a few of the many experiences of a lifetime that I would love to bring back from Melbourne.

Of course, these memories will be shared with friends and fellow travelers through the various travel blog posts on my blog, facebook updates, tweets, Lonely Planet and other travel site updates and so on.

Before I close, I think I need I need to write something on the weather in Melbourne. Due to the peculiar geo-location of Australia as well as specifically the city; Melbourne has a pretty peculiar and unpredictable climate. Although it is supposed to have a nice climate all thro the year, there can be bouts of extreme heat in summers and ice cold winter days along with anytime showers and not to forget the fog and frosts in winter. This unpredictability adds to the charm of Melbourne. Of course, these variations in climate dont last long and you are back to normal weather in a matter of a day ... So depending on your weather preference, plan your trip to Melbourne / Australia accordingly after adequate research on current Australian weather.

So now I have to plan my own trip to Melbourne / Australia. I have close friends who have visited Australia as well as my friend who is settled there. They can easily provide me with all their experiences and tips. Google and so many travel sites will hundreds of fellow travelers are always there to provide theirs. Of course, I need to get my leave planning done and put together the monies for the trip (from what I have heard, a leisure trip to Australia can be quite expensive).

Well … I will end the post with my wife’s words as a message for you … “it's your time to visit Melbourne NOW!”

FYI - http://www.visitmelbourne.com/in and www.Australia.com could be good places to start planning a trip to Melbourne / Australia.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Book Review: Fractured Legend by Kranthi Askani

 

The first book review this month is Fractured Legend by Kranthi Askani. The name was pretty interesting but after reading the book, frankly I did not see any relevance of the title to the book. Guess I was unable to read between the lines.

The intro about the book and the back cover reading seemed interesting but nothing prepared me for the disappointment I was to meet in the pages of the book. In fact, the back cover was the only thing that was interesting and of course the cover design.

Don't get me wrong. It is not a bad book and I am sure there will be some who would praise the book and its writing style and appreciate the author's eye for detail as well as his descriptive writings. Unfortunately, I am not one of them. I am the one who found it excruciatingly difficult to finish this less than 200 page short novel.

Right from the beginning, I noticed the Author's penchant for usage of 'so called difficult words' and peculiar sentence construction; both making the reading process difficult. Right from page 1, it made me think that I needed a dictionary around. The sentence formation, the grammatical arrangement as well as the 'difficult words' did not allow me to understand clearly what was being conveyed. Personally, I have never preferred authors who make reading difficult.

The writing style is very very very descriptive (note the triple use of 'very' which I 'never' do). The author would painstakingly describe each and everything in the scene including bystanders and their activities and the weather and the condition of the streets which have no bearing on the story. The author does have an eye for detail which assists him in this descriptive style of writing. The characters would often go into flashback and relive the scenes in similar painstaking details. The only problem being, I saw no connection of those 'flash backs' to the story. AND that brings me to the final problem.

There is a lack of plot / story line to hold you to the novel. The story/plot is non-existent which where my biggest disappointment comes from. I need a story. It is what I take away from the reading of a piece of fiction. The absence of a story meant that reading the book was a waste of time for me.  

Reading the book became so excruciatingly painful for me that after about 60% of the book; I was skimming the pages rather than reading them. I would read the first few lines and last few lines of the paragraph just to ensure that I had not missed the movement of the story. Unfortunately, there weren't many instances when I missed anything.  

The story begins with a statue which can convert to a living lady in the night but is confined to a life inside the temple. She decides to escape from the life of confinement (in the temple, inside the statue) to live the life of a human being with a family, getting married and so on. Cut to another story of a lady who is an assassin and she gets entangled into a strange turn of events; forcing her to flee with her son. Cut to a story of a lady who is writing a long letter to her mother. The author managed to link the 3 stories in the end in a manner which neither appealed to me nor convinced me; partly because I had lost interest in the book long before the end was anywhere near. I went on reading / skimming only and only because I had a review to write.  

I am not really going to recommend this to you unless you enjoy reading descriptive writing. If you enjoy that … well … this is for you. If someone asked me to rate the book … sadly my personal rating would be negative. I hope there are readers who find interest in Askani's style of writing and give him a very good rating. The author must be trying to send across a message to his readers … sadly, I missed it by miles.  

The only thing which I did like was that the copy I received for review from BlogAdda.com was signed by the Author along with a short note for the reviewer. It added a nice personal touch by the author to the book review process.

FYI - This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com ... Participate now to get free books!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book Reviews Galore

 

It's been some time since I received a book from BlogAdda for review (the last one was Clockwork Man in June). I had been selective in opting for books to review on BlogAdda and of course there are tons of bloggers who are glued into Blog Adda's book review program so I guess it took more than 2 months for my name to crop up again.
And not only did it come up once but twice. I have received one novel and the other is on the way.

Besides that, an author, Smita Shetty, has approached me directly to review her debut chic-lit / novel ... so that makes it 3 books to review this month … as of now, assuming more dont come my way :)

The storm after the lull ….  

So expect a couple of Book Review posts in coming week …

Monday, September 10, 2012

August Reading – Part 4

 

Continued from previous post …

 

24. Novel: The Death Relic by Chris Kuzneski

After reading a Chris Kuzneski novel in January, I had thought of reading more of his works but somehow others novels kept coming up. Finally, I picked up the Death Relic. The story begins with an element of suspense with some interesting events. 2 parallel stories begin with events that don't seem to be remotely connected and continue parallel for almost two-thirds of the novel.

Payne and Jones get involved because of Maria (from an earlier novel – The Sign of Cross). She gets a job offer from an archeologist who gets kidnapped within minutes of her meeting him. While the other story is around a master criminal who heads a Kidnapping and Ransom gang in Mexico. His two children are 'kidnapped' from his ultra high security home and he finds himself at the receiving end of a kidnapping with the demand for a large amount of cash and a historical/archeological artifact.

The two stories converge and characters from both stories are wondering what they all are doing together (or more precisely WHY have they been brought together. The master-mind behind all this arrives on the scene to set the record straight. The climax does disappoint a little. It almost seemed to me that P&J were not really needed in the end and the whole story falls flat in light of that feeling.

The Payne-Jones-Maria trio offers a nice reading with emotions flowing between them and several instances of awkward situations from which they have to wriggle out. They also fight and argue in a friendly manner often emotions over powering their better sense. Another interesting aspect was that the story involved Chichen Itza; the second novel in this month to have that location as a setting for the story.

A very interesting thing is that on Chris Kuzneski's website; he has posted a series of pictures of places that are in the background of the story. I went through the page for Death Relic and also the page for Sign of Cross. It is good. It helps imagine the story better when you know what is in the background. I often feel novels should have some good illustrations. Recently, I liked the illustrations in Matthew Reilly's novels.  

 

25. PKD Shorts: The Turning Wheel by Philip K Dick

26. PKD Shorts: The Last of the Masters by Philip K Dick

 

I will write about both of these 2 PKD short stories together since they have a strong common thread going through them. Both stories are set in the future. A future which is not the usual Sci-fi future we usually read about. The future that is described in the two stories has degenerated from where we stand today. Technology and Administration (Governments) had gone too far and people felt suffocated. Revolutions turned the circle of time and people went back a few cycles down the technological progression and began living like the 19th century human. Of course, some sects and portions of population hold on to different beliefs and a new order of society is formed.

In one story, there is a select group which has preserved the technology and is in an ever ready state of preparedness to defend their closed city from the attack of the so-called liberators. This city is ruled and run by a strange leader.

In the other story, a new order of caste system has emerged where people are differentiated by their professions and so-called mental orientation … surprisingly the techno's are at the bottom of the ladder. The higher castes who have denounced technology (mechanical as well as medical) face a problem of low births and dwindling numbers while the lower castes are growing by numbers and face fewer deaths.

Both stories are built around a character that discovers and begins to understand and accept the other side … 

 

27. Sherlock Misadventures: 'His Last Scrape: Or, Holmes, Sweet Holmes!' by Rachel Ferguson

A case of quick deductions which borrows heavily from an original Sherlock Holmes story or stories where there are elements of an invalid, a hidden room, dust on the floor, estate inheritance etc. It was a parody of the originals by Ferguson drawing several elements from the original stories and titles. In spite of being a parody, this short one has all the elements of surprise and suspense along with expert deductions. 

 

28. ACD Shorts: The Horror of the Heights by Arthur Conan Doyle

 

The adventurous tale of a pilot who is fascinated by flying high up in the atmosphere (as much height his plane would allow) to explore the far depths (or more appropriately heights) of the atmosphere; which have not been explored by any other man.

He is also intrigued by the existence of creatures and a sky jungle that he intends to explore (and also feels that it is dangerous; hence carries a gun with him in the plane). The story is a reproduction from his diary with a few pages missing (leaving a few mysteries unanswered)

 

29. PKD Short Novel: A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick (unfinished, abandoned)

 

A Scanner Darkly is a BSFA Award winning 1977 science fiction novel by American writer Philip K. Dick. The semi-autobiographical story is set in a dystopian Orange County, California, in the then future of June 1994, and includes an extensive portrayal of drug culture and drug use (both recreational and abusive). The novel represents one of Dick's best-known works, and served as the basis for a 2006 film of the same name. (Source: Wikipedia)

In spite of the above … something strange happened. Reading so many short stories by PKD in the past few months, I knew that PKD has weird storylines and plots; weird but definitely enjoyable. BUT this one, a scanner darkly, blew me away. Not because it was fantastic and mind boggling, but because I was able to get no head or tail of the story. The story and the writing was so twisted that it neither held my interest nor made sense. So much so, that I did what I usually don't do … abandoned the novel halfway and left it unfinished. I hope, someday, I will watch the movie and not leave it mid-way.

 

Series Completion Score: (as of 31st Aug 2012)

The Three Investigators          40 out of 43    

Sherlock: Exploits                    08 out of 12    

Sherlock: Misadventures        27 out of 33    

Total                                       75 out of 88

Saturday, September 08, 2012

August Reading – Part 3

 

Continued from previous post …

 

15. Sherlock Exploits: The Adventure of the Abbas Ruby by Adrian Doyle

Sherlock and Watson are up against the 'death' of a gentleman (while his wife is fatally wounded) by what appears to be a murderous and suicidal behavior of the said gentleman. Murder doesn't even seem to be a possibility since the 2 were found dead immediately after shots were heard and people rushed to the scene of the crime which was a room bolted shut from the inside. It is deemed as suicide albeit a bit strange one hence the involvement of Sherlock Holmes.

 

16. Short Story: The Sultan's Battery by Aravind Adiga

Frankly speaking this story made no sense to me at all. I had heard some good things about Arvind Adiga's 'The White Tiger' and when I came across 2 of his short stories; I decided to start with them rather than the Tiger. But now I am not so sure about reading the Tiger. I am tempted to drop AA from my list but as usual, I give a second chance before abandoning

 

17. ACD Shorts: A Point of View by Arthur Conan Doyle

 

An American journalist writes somewhat viciously about the butler or the servant in the English household who serviced his 'masters' with unquestionable devotion to the extent of servitude behaving at times like a slave. The journalist wrote about these men losing their dignity and individuality and behaving like instruments of service. A person serving the role does get offended and approaches the journalist to change his point of view … by words or by force ! 

 

18. ACD Shorts: One Crowded Hour by Arthur Conan Doyle

 

This one is a story of a highway robber who stops cars and then loots the occupants off a gun-point. He loots 3 cars in the night and seems very satisfied.

The story then shifts to next morning to the house of a gentleman whose friend visits him and accuses of highway robbery. Interesting revelations

 

19. Sherlock Misadventures: The Mary Queen of Scots Jewel by William O. Fuller

Some precious jewels are stolen from the Hotel room of American visitors and they approach Sherlock to get the jewels back. There is a backdrop of the American's visit a family dinner where the jewels are closely examined and marveled at by all the guests as well as the butler.  As in the earlier serious story about Sherlock and his capabilities, this story also highlights the deducting logic of the master detective consultant. He finds the jewels in the most dramatic of manners.

 

20. Short Story: The Elephant by Aravind Adiga

A simple story of a delivery boy who works with a furniture shop delivering the furniture from the shop to the buyer's house; living on the paltry payment of the shop owner as well as the occasional tip from the buyer on delivery. The short story is about his aspirations and attempts to take up a more respectable and better paying job which end up in failures

There is nothing extraordinary about the story or its writing style. I must say both the short stories have not really spiked my interest in Aravind's novel. Hope it is as good as the hype around it. Will pick it up in coming months.

 

21. PKD Shorts: The Eyes Have It by Philip K Dick

 

This one was a funny story about a man who discovers about alien invasion while reading a story. The events described in the story convince him that the characters in the story are not humans but aliens in disguise and the author, who is narrating the story in such a matter-of-fact manner, not finding anything unusual; is surely an alien himself.

This is one of those stories where you can't help but smile and then laugh … and might just end up 'Rolling on the Floor Laughing' (ROTFL). The last line (a short sentence) is a real clincher ! 

 

22. ACD Shorts: The Fall of Lord Barrymore by Arthur Conan Doyle

 

Sir Charles Tregellis and Lord Barrymore are warring gentlemen and it would delight them to see the fall of the other. The difference being Charles has a notorious nephew who approaches him asking for a thousand pounds; in return of causing the downfall of Barrymore. The nephew manages to bring about the same much to the satisfaction of Charles.

 

23. Sherlock Misadventures: The Ruby of Khitmandu by Hugh Kingsmill

A hilarious tale of how 2 assistants assume their masters to be mistaken in their decisions and apply corrective actions only to be told by their masters later that the corrective action has in fact acted in contrary to the intended action. The result is that the both assistants end up creating a mess of the situation. One of the master-assistant pair is Sherlock and Watson where Watson tries in vain to impress Sherlock; even jeopardizing a case Sherlock have already solved.

 

To Be Continued …

Thursday, September 06, 2012

August Reading – Part 2

 

Continued from previous post …

 

8. Non-Fiction: Putting the One Minute Manager to Work by Kenneth Blanchard

Just like FISH, I had read the 'One Minute Manager' almost a decade ago. This sequel to the famous book caught my attention at the company library when I went to return Fish Sticks.

The first book established the principles of One Minute Manager. This book (sequel) aims at laying down a set of principles which help operationalise the One Minute Manager principles and convert them into measurable performance. The book simplifies the philosophy of performance management.

 

9. ACD Shorts: Danger by Arthur Conan Doyle

 

This story has a history behind it which is narrated and mentioned in the preface of the book holding the collection of short stories. It talks about this story being a warning by ACD to his own government (Great Britain) who were ignoring a major threat to their country.

The story is about how a captain of a small country managed to bring down the British on their knees during war time by using tact rather than fire power. He focuses his attention on cutting off food supplies to Great Britain taking advantage of the fact that the only means of transport to Britain is by sea and most of their food supplies are imported.

 

10. PKD Shorts: Fair Game by Philip K Dick

 

I picked up a few collections of short stories by PKD which I will read over the coming months; besides reading at least one novella by PKD every month.

A professor is being watched; first by a huge eye (only an eye, no body) and then by a face suspended in mid-air (again, Huge). Discussions with colleagues leads to speculation that it might be a higher / superior god-like race which is seeking to fill some skill gap amongst them by watching / kidnapping the Professor (funny, isn't it?). The professor is eventually kidnapped by the higher beings and the professor is no longer scared or worried. He is in fact honored. But … the last paragraph of the story changes everything.

 

11. Three Investigators Novella : The Mystery of the Rogues' Reunion by Marc Brandel  

Readers familiar with the series know that Jupe played a plump baby in a TV serial when he was 3 years old and was called 'Baby Fatso' (a name he hates). Someone from Hollywood decides that in light of the recent repeat telecasts of this old TV show; they would like to bring together the original cast of the program.

Jupe is not interested but there is a chance to get back at his co-stars at the mistreatment he got from them during the show and so he agrees. Things don't really turn out to be that simple and some things are stolen while they are shooting. A Quiz contest with prize money of 20 grand also comes into picture and kidnapping also becomes part of the plot.

This story was not really great nor was it high on adventure or suspense. Not at par with the other adventures of the trio.

 

12. Sherlock Misadventures: The Adventure of the Norcross Riddle by August Derleth

Solar Pons and Parker (a parody of Sherlock Holmes and Watson) have a visitor who married a lady whose husband died under suspicious circumstances. The lady has begun to have visitors off late and she has begun to ask for huge sums of money from out visitor, her husband. The husband has complete trust in his wife and can't even think about questioning her devotion. Sherlock needs to handle this one delicately as he finds the true story about her ex-husband's death and the real cause of the latest set of problems.

Unlike the other stories read in this series till date, this one is a pretty serious one; reflecting the style of Conan Doyle and could even be passed off a Conan Doyle Story (ignoring the names – Solar Pons)

 

13. ACD Short Novel: The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle

Besides the short stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, I decided to pick up a Dr. Challenger novella. 

Dr. Challenger returns from an unbelievable trip and as expected, no one believes him since he is no able to produce any concrete evidence of the same. The narrator of the story gets involved along with another young man and an old man in a journey meant to verify the claims.

The journey is perilous to say the least and is filled with wonders and danger wrapped together. They discover pre-historic life on the inaccessible plateau with some surprising company which they had deemed impossible. How they arrive on the inaccessible plateau of the lost world and how they get out makes an interesting reading.

It is an adventurous tale of 4 individuals who shine through adversity. Dr. Challenger does not steal the show; Conan gives an equal opportunity for all the characters to shine through.

 

14. PKD Shorts: The Hanging Stranger by Philip K Dick

How do you react when you see a dead body hanging from a pole on the road? How do you feel and react when you are in a state of panic bcos of that dead body and no one else seems to be perturbed or remotely affected by it? When people around behave as if it is OK for the body to be there … how do you feel?

The protagonist of this story goes through the same. AND then discovers an alien race of human-insects invading his town. He has to escape. The identity of the hanging dead man comes as a realization … to the protagonist and to the reader. Questions are left unanswered in the end … but I guess that is yet another fun part of such stories. They keep you guessing and speculating even after the story has ended.

 

To Be Continued …