Monday, October 29, 2012

Book Review: Red Jihad by Sami Ahmad Khan

After Shadow Throne, this was yet another novel based on the India-Pakistan political tension; the difference was the inclusion of Naxalites and the backdrop of the Red Corridor. Red Jihad by Sami Ahmad Khan was a truly enjoyable read with elements of internation espinage and war in the Indo-Pak setting.
I liked Sami's writing style; reminded me of Ludlum. I am not good at analysis of writing styles but found it similar to Ludlum in many ways … introduction of events as well as characters, usage of temporary characters to describe an event (temporary because these characters eventually die within 2-3 pages of their introduction in the event which is often an armed  disaster!!
The story has a constant chain of events which keep you on the proverbial 'edge of the seat' and makes you want to read 'just a few pages more' even when you are way past your bed time and are already feeling drowsy. I have myself spent a few extra minutes at the train station to read through and complete the chapter I was reading during my daily commute.
Sami introduces a nice set of key characters and it is nice to keep discovering different facets of their personalities as the story progresses. A very interesting instrument that Sami uses is the way he begins a chapter which describes an event in action. He doesn't tell you upfront what is happening. Every sentence you read, gives you a perspective of the events happening and you keep wondering what exactly is happening out there. It made for a very interesting read.
The plot itself unfolds over the span of the novel and you are often wondering what the 'plan' is (and so are the characters in the novel). A lot of agencies are mentioned (real/fictional) and too many acronyms are floating around in the book. A Ludlum novel has fewer acronyms thrown around. 
The novel has an armed take-over of a remote 'secret' military base and the subsequent events lead India and Pakistan to war. Yes, an all-out Indo-Pak war is a part of the story and since both are nuclear nations … you know where an Indo-Pak war would lead to. At some point in the story, the war does come to an end (after much human and machine casualties) but that is not the end of the story. The story goes on and there are interesting revelations.
I liked the way Sami has woven the story with India-Pak-China-US relationships as well as the inner non-state players like Naxalites and terrorist groups from Pak-Afghanistan region. He ties them all pretty well.
Also, the fact that the story is set in 2014 makes it very real for the reader. Its not a distant future one is talking about ... 2014 is just about 14 months away; and this alone makes one wonder if the events in the novel could very well be real in near future.
Sami has managed to keep the reader on the edge of the seat all through the novel without letting you relax. He has a very interesting writing style which he uses to weaves the story in a very interesting manner.  I would love to read more of his works.
I would easily recommend this one to anyone who is interested in Ludlum like work.
Note: This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at  ... Participate now to get free books!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Eega = Makkhi = Fantastic !!

It was around 6-7 months ago that I saw the 'Eega' trailer and I knew I was going to see this movie … even if released in a language I did not understand. Come October and Eega arrived in Mumbai theatres in HINDI; the movie now called 'Makkhi'. I told many (before as well as after the movie) about the movie and most of them ignored it. A movie based on re-birth and that too as a housefly and then seeking revenge was too far-fetched for them to digest.
The movie is a masterpiece !!!
Excellent graphics, interesting sequence of events, attention to detail, logical events and situations, amazing acting by the 'villain' and absolutely expressive animated 'makkhi' – all this and a few more things make this movie a must see for all. The movie does not slow down at any point, you can't even take a loo break except for the first hour when the 'humans' are in the play. Once the Makkhi arrives on the scene, it is a continuous roller coaster ride.
The attention to detail in the computer graphics is pretty amazing for an Indian movie. The animation does not go overboard; it is pretty believable. The sequence of the accident of the villain is pretty awesome and reminds simultaneously of 2-3 Hollywood movies including Matrix. The animation had made the housefly come alive with human expressions (not facial, its body language).
As for performances; Sudeep is superb playing the housefly-tortured helpless man !! The rest is satisfactory !  
This movie is a "Must See, Mast See" and anyone reading this post should not miss it. In fact, go ahead and recommend it to others too. Personally, this is much better than any Chopra or Johar movie releasing around this time of the year.
Other movies that I recently saw and liked were Barfi and English Vinglish - Nothing extraordinary about these movies. Both movies were simple and beautiful. Something I could recommend to my parents (there are hardly I can recommend to them otherwise). Both had a simplicity which touched the heart. Makkhi does not really touch the heart; it excites; and it has been quite some time since I saw an Indian movie that excites.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Parable of the Cautious Man

Parable of the Cautious Man


There was a very cautious man,

who never laughed or cried.

He never risked, he never lost,

he never won nor tried.

And when he one day passed away,

his insurance was denied.

For since he never really lived,
they claimed he never died.
  ~ ~ ~ Anonymous

Monday, October 15, 2012

Book Review: Love, Peace and Happiness by Rituraj Verma

I have written earlier about how I have fallen in love with short stories (all over again) in the past 2 years with the number of short stories that I read every month constantly increasing. So when Rituraj Verma dropped me an email with a request to review his short story collection, I did not have to think twice before replying in a 'Yes'.

The title of his short story collection, 'Love, Peace and Happiness' gave me a 'Chicken Soup of the Soul' kind of feeling. I was expecting mushy emotional stories that would touch the heart and probably bring a tear or at least wet the eyes … (which reminds me that it has been a loooooong time since I read that kind of stuff … need to check if I have any Cecelia Ahern unread at hand)
It is a nice collection overall; with the novel concept of alternate endings available on the internet for readers to get more value out of the book. If the reader is not satisfied by the ending in the book or the web, they can suggest their own.
The only thing I would like Rituraj to change is that he should provide short '' links to the alternate endings on the web. Long URLs are a major turn-off and people don't type long URLs.
Since it is a collection of short stories, even the review of the content gets split across the 9 stories. Some were good, some ok'ish while some did not make any impact on me.
In fact, the very first story, A High like Heaven, did not make any sense to me. I did not like it. It had elements of all 3 – love, peace, happiness – but personified by their absence. It was a story of a marriage where all 3 seemed to be absent. The story was unsatisfactory to read and sets a sad pace and start for the book. I would have expected the best of the 9 stories to be placed up front.
The second story was a very interesting one. I actually liked it. The highlights of the story, The Emotional Cripple, were the conversations the protagonist has before and after his marriage. Before marriage, the conversation is with a friend who 'guides' (or may be misguides) him on the path of 'how to get married'. The second conversation is after his marriage where his mother 'guides' him (properly this time around) on the path of a successful marriage. Overall, the story was well-written but there was a certain amount of erotica in the middle of the story which seemed totally unnecessary.
There is one story, The Intimacy of Space, which has a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy eloping and not getting married. They are in a live-in relationship. They are going through the struggles and troubles of life when an offer of participation of a Bigg Boss like reality show comes their way. This introduces a very interesting cast of characters in the story and the climax is pretty much predictable. This plot had the potential to be a full length novel but the short story ends abruptly and much is left to be desired from the story as well as the author.
The story, The Practitioner of Austerity, is about a girl born in a 'lower caste' family and cursed by her situation where she is the brightest amongst 8 children. The weight of responsibility comes on her shoulder over a period of time; driving way any chance of love or marriage. A marriage proposal brings her to cross-roads of life where choices seem to evade her. Put all this struggle in a socio-political background and it makes a very interesting story to tell; although, once again the climax of the story disappointed me. But then, I guess it was meant to imitate real life which does the same.
The story, The Night of the Affair, about a one night stand 'almost turning' into a love affair is written in a very interesting manner and one feels for the characters involved. The characters who have come together for a one-night-stand with clear understanding of no-future together whatsoever interact emotionally and verbally through the night getting emotionally involved. You identify with their emotions. The story has a very Jeffery Archer style surprise ending. It is beautifully written.
Two friends come together over drinks in a bar and discuss their lives and theories of 'soul mates' in the story "The Soul Mate Theorist". An interesting conversation between the two, with prostitutes walking by their table; distracting one and saying hello to the other. One of them leaves and goes home with a lady while the other goes home without. Both have a short phone call towards the end of the story thanking each other for providing useful 'eye opening' insights into life and relationships.
The story, "The Victim of Many Loves", is about a girl who commits suicide. She has troubles with her relationships and her psychiatrist visit reveals a few strange things to her about her own self. 
A man mourning his lost love for over a long period of time discovers his lost love on Facebook; while also coming in contact with a clairvoyant lady. He has been in physical relationships with other women but never connected emotionally as he felt he had no love to give to anyone else. "The Facebook Stalker" brings out the individuals tryst with himself and his emotions. Strangely, the story did not really have any 'stalking'. 
I won't write anything about the "The Pursuit of Perfection". You have to read all the stories in the book and then read this last one to experience the surprise package the author holds for you.
Having read and written about the stories in the book; its now time to turn to the books so called 'USP' that is the alternative endings on the website. Frankly, I had my expectations up and maybe that was why I was disappointed once again. There was hardly any alternative ending that I liked and I am too lazy to write my own and send it to the author.
Overall, the book is a nice read. It is emotional. You feel for the characters. You identify with them and often find yourselves wondering if it was you in the story.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is open enough to the new ideologies of relationships and is interested in emotional stuff which touches your heart.

Friday, October 12, 2012

September Reading – Part 3


Continued from previous post …


21. Sherlock Exploits: The Adventure of the Dark Angels by Adrian Doyle

A lady approaches Sherlock with the strange events at her secluded home which seem to be warning of an imminent danger. Sherlock deduces certain things and realizes that the lady has arrived a day too late. He rushes to the lady's home only to find the murder already committed.

On the spot, he announces the name of the murderer and even deduces the approximate history behind the murder.


22. Three Investigators Novella: The Mystery of the Creep-Show Crooks by M. V. Carey  

A tote bag is found and the 3 investigators think it is a pretty straightforward 'case' of returning the bag. It turns out that not just the bag but a girl is also missing ... she has actually run away from home to become a Hollywood star. The trio locates the girl's parents as well as the girl only to become an unwanted witness of parent child reunion where the child is not at all happy about it.

Some new characters enter the story and things get murky. There is a burglary at the girl's place and then at Jupe's house (locking Aunt Matilda in a closet). The Hollywood connections come into play and people are not what they claim to be.

The story ends with quite a few surprises but it is not as good as the earlier ones. The element of adventure and danger is there but nothing like what used to be during the first 10-15 episodes of the series (by William Arden)


23. ACD Shorts: The Prisoner's Defence by Arthur Conan Doyle


An honorable gentleman from the Army kills a lady who was the love of his life. He refuses to give his statement and also insists that he would fight out his own case rather than employ a lawyer. His revelations in the court hearing are surprising and interesting. The backdrop of the story is the war time and the storyline has certain significant connections to the war at hand.


24. PKD Shorts: To Serve the Master by Philip K Dick

Once again set in the future where man has taken a few steps back in terms of technological progress. A courier-delivery-man discovers a Robot and gets curious about the past. In his time, all robots have been destroyed after a massive war between man and machine. This half destroyed robot has been in 'coma' for over 100 years and has a power source which is near depletion. He chats with our delivery man and convinces him to get a new power source for him and other parts so that the robot can repair itself. The delivery man out of his curiosity to know about the past (which is kept a top secret in human communities), helps the robot who tells him a different story of the past. The climax is damn interesting and hits you hard. 


25. Sherlock Misadventures: The Case of the Missing Patriarchs by Logan Clendening, M.D.

This very short one attempts to highlight Sherlock's contribution to the heavens. Quite Literally

Sherlock is dead and is now in heavens. On his very first day; he is given the case of locating Adam and Eve; who have been missing since 2 eons. Nevertheless, Sherlock swiftly locates them.


26. Short Story: In the Shadow of Her Wings by Ashok Banker

A peculiar story set in future India with altered geographical and political scenario where an area of the new integrated India is demanding sovereignty. An assassin gets the 'job' of the assassination of the leader of this disputed area which gets the distinction of being a 'all women state'. He is warned of the task which seems simplistic.

He arrived and kills the leader who refers to herself as 'Durgaa Maa'. He is surprised at how easy the task was including the fact that the leader submitted herself for assassination. But then, this is just the start of the killer's troubles. A simple assassination seems inadequate to finish off the leader and he goes to the extent of exploding a nuclear weapon. The climax is damn interesting.


27. PKD Short Novel: UBIK by Philip K Dick


The first few pages of the story set the stage in some distant future (with respect to the published year of the story … otherwise 1992) where you have Precogs, Telepaths, Anti-precogs and anti-telepaths etc and where home appliances and even the doors of the apartment refuse to operate or open unless you insert coins in them. Some people (wealthy, stinking rich) even choose to live in hibernation so as to extend their life as well as live across centuries watching humanity grow and progress.

Providing anti-telepathy services as a means of protecting Privacy of individuals as well as organizations is a pretty good business in such times. A group of anti-variants go to a luna(r) base and become victims of a bomb blast which kills / almost kills their boss. And then starts the series of strange occurrences where they feel things are degenerating or decaying (including people – getting older) while the dead boss is coming alive in various non-living abstract manifestation. Neither the characters nor the readers understand what is happening. And throughout the novel there are advertisements for 'Ubik' and the ads are so varied that you are unable to decide what exactly ubik is. The story and its various constructs seem extremely abstract. The story gets increasingly confusing for the reader to follow.

The climax is neither climactic nor anti-climactic … it probably has some philosophical orientation which I managed to miss. Not one of the PKD short novels that I would rate high on my 'like' scale.


28. ACD Shorts: Three of Them by Arthur Conan Doyle


The story is about 3 kids and their parents. The story is about their innocence and how they see the world, the God, the Devil and so on … a light enjoyable read without a story.


29. Sherlock Exploits: The Adventure of the Two Women by Adrian Doyle

A very simple case related to a fraudulent piece of document which is being used by one woman to blackmail another. I wasn't impressed since there weren't much of deductions which characterize a typical Sherlockian story.


30. PKD Shorts: Exhibit Piece by Philip K Dick

A man fascinated by historic art-work is in-charge of pieces of historical evidence and exhibits in the museum. He is consumed by the exhibits and his life revolves around them till the day he finds himself 'inside' one of these exhibits living an all together different life. The life of the times he was consumed by. He is startled, surprised, shocked, happy, confused … all at the same time. And he makes a decision he has been warned against.

The whole story is intriguing but the last line of the story is simply awesome !!!!


Series Completion Score: (as of 30th Sept 2012)

The Three Investigators         41 out of 43    

Sherlock: Exploits                   10 out of 12    

Sherlock: Misadventures        30 out of 33    

Total                                       81 out of 88

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

September Reading – Part 2


Continued from previous post …


11. Short Story: Cleaner by Ashok Banker

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


12. ACD Shorts: The Surgeon of Gaster Fell by Arthur Conan Doyle


A man, who is just about to move into new lodgings, finds a new neighbor moving into his existing lodgings. The new neighbor, a charming mysterious lady, is surprised at the man's plan to move into his new lodgings which are located in the solitude and wilderness of the hills; and gives him a parting word of advice 'lock your door from inside at night'.

The man begins to live in the wilderness and strange things happen which have a certain sinister element attached. The climax explains things simply. 


13. PKD Shorts: Strange Eden by Philip K Dick

A spacecraft lands on an uncharted planet. One of the members is adventurous and wants to explore the planet while the others are wary of unforeseen dangers. Our adventurous protagonist encounters some scary looking 'tame' animals and just when he is thinking of 'owning' this virgin planet, uncharted and yet-to-be-discovered by mankind … he gets a shock of his life which only gets intensified with each passing moment. He undergoes a transformation which shocks others too.


14. Sherlock Misadventures: The Adventure of the Murdered Art Editor by Frederic Dorr Steele

A somewhat weird tale of the disappearance of the Art Editor who drew the artwork for many Sherlockian publications; It can be seen as a recognition for a person otherwise ignored. Sherlock and Watson travel to America in search of this missing Art Editor …  


15. Novel: The Krishna Key by Ashwin Sanghi

I had pre-ordered the book and I had 2 other novels by Ashwin but they were lined up for next year along with Krishna Key. The blogAdda review just brought this one up in the schedule.

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 place to another closely followed or preceded by another person/agency who is out to stop them. I have already made a book review post for this one last month.

There are some things that I did not like … unconvincing clues and the key which does not really open any door or uncover any treasure. There is too much of speculation and little of convincing conclusions.

Overall, this one was a good read and I would readily recommend this (with some reservations and some disclaimers). But while you are at it, try not to compare it with Dan Brown and other author works with similar plots and you would enjoy it. Full review posted last month. 


16. ACD Shorts: How It Happened by Arthur Conan Doyle


This story has a gentleman trying out his new car one fine night. The road he takes has dangerous curves and he is trying out the high speeds the new car is capable of. The climax, although predictable, is interesting.


17. PKD Shorts: Tony and the Beetles by Philip K Dick

Humans have a tendency to go ahead and conquer stuff … places, land, space … As the space they occupy gets cramped due to population explosion. They keep driving the existing population and colonize the new planets with humans.

But how long can this continue. The species being driven out or enslaved will reach a point where they can't go further and the only choice they have left with them is to fight back. And what happens when a century of pain, anger and frustration begins to show in the 'fight back' and humans begin to lose ground. Yet another century of driving a species across planetary boundaries will begin. This time around, the humans are the ones fleeing. 


18. Sherlock Misadventures: The Canterbury Cathedral Murder by Frederic Arnold Kummer & Basil Mitchell

Instead of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson; we have 2 ladies leading the show in this story. Appropriately named Shirley Holmes and Joan Watson; the daughters of Sherlock and Watson do an equally good job of solving the case of a murder. Shirley displays her flair for deductions just like her father while Joan, unlike her father' is not a medical student.


19. ACD Challenger Short Novel: The Poison Belt by Arthur Conan Doyle

This is my second Dr. Challenger short novel; after last month's Lost World.  

The same cast as earlier repeats. The 3 are invited by Challenger to his home in the hills with a request to carry 'oxygen'. This is in the backdrop of an uproar over Challenger's article in the newspapers regarding some cosmic aberrations which could prove to be fatal for the entire human race. His fears slowly turn true as the earth passes through a cosmic poison belt and the entire human race is facing a cosmic death sentence (Challenger equates this situation to a gardener spraying pesticide in his garden to eliminate the pests … the pests here being the human race).

The 4 along with Challenger's wife survive the poison belt having fortified their room and having an adequate supply of Oxygen to last a day and a half. They wonder what about present and future as the lone survivors on the earth.

The story is supposed to raise a lot of philosophical questions in the readers mind about humanity, its frugal existence and wasting away of time and resources on inconsequential material things. The end has a surprise albeit laden with lessons to be learnt by humanity.


20. PKD Shorts: Null-O by Philip K Dick

A sub-species of the human race who thinks that the universe has lived out its age and needs to go back to the state at the time of inception. The World needs to now collapse into itself; starting with the planet earth and then another planet and then the solar system … through a series of 'Bombs'. The ultimate goal is to collapse the galaxy and then the universe.

Interestingly the bombs are identified by the entity they will collapse … the E-bomb, V-bomb, S-bomb, G-bomb and ultimately the U-bomb. Evolution takes the next step !


To Be Continued …

Monday, October 08, 2012

September Reading – Part 1

September was a month dominated by new Indian Authors; unlike any other month of the year. The novels of the month were 'Fractured Legend' by Kranthi Askani (Book Review Program of BlogAdda), 'The Krishna Key' by Ashwin Sanghi and 'Untruly Yours' by Smita Shetty. Fractured Legend and Untruly Yours were both short novels (under 200 pages) while the Krishna Key was around 475 pages.  
Amongst the regular short novels/ novellas, I read 2 short novels by ACD and PKD - a Dr. Challenger one titled 'Poison Belt' by Arthur Conan Doyle and 'Ubik' by Philip K Dick; and one novella from the Three Investigators series. 
Amongst the short story regulars I had 6 by Philip K. Dick, 5 by Arthur Conan Doyle, 3 from the Misadventure series and 2 from the Exploits series of Sherlock Holmes along with 2 shorts by Ashok Banker (yet another new author for me) and 6 from Mystery Traveler series – total 24
New authors this month: 3 of the Indian authored novels I read this month were by 'new' authors - Ashwin Sanghi, Kranthi Askani and Smita Shetty. I also picked up short stories by Ashok Banker who has been in my sights for quite some time now. I will be picking up his novel later.
This month has a good reading score of 30 – a good mix of novels (long and short), novellas, short stories and non-fiction reading.

1. Short Novel: Fractured Legend by Kranti Askani
It's been some time since I received a book from BlogAdda for review (the last one was Clockwork Man in June). So when this one came up, it was a pleasant surprise.
The novel is about 3 women. A statue who can become a lady (flesh and blood) in the night leaves her life of confinement within the temple and goes out in the world of humans. The second is a professional assassin who is forced to flee with her son. The third is a lady writing a long letter to her Mom with pain in her heart. The 3 stories merge in the end.  
The writing style is extremely descriptive and there is a lack of plot / story line to hold you to the novel. I am not really going to recommend this to you unless you enjoy reading descriptive writing where the author would painstakingly describe each and everything in the scene (including bystanders and their activities and the weather and the streets which have no bearing on the story). If you enjoy that … well … this is for you.
I would personally never recommend this book to anyone … I struggled to complete it. 
Full review posted last month.

2-7. The Mysterious Traveler Magazine - Oct 2008 edition (6 short stories)
Picked up yet another edition of MTM with 6 interesting short stories by little known authors along the theme of Halloween …
The Macabre - The Returning by Darrell Pitt
People always respect the dead … as long as they don't come back from the dead. If they do, they fear them, they dread them, and they no longer want them around. So what happens when the dead returns to normal life … How much do we value life?
Suspense - A Halloween Story - William A. Hall
A young kid gets mesmerized by a new girl in his class. He feels the irresistible pull towards her and her house to which he is invited. In the class also, the whole world disappears and he can only see her and nothing else. Such are the signs of falling in love. The girl though has other designs on her mind.
Strange Stories - Edna by Christopher Burdett
A man who now lives alone after his wife passed away has nothing to do except snoop on the neighbors. He finds his immediate missing from action and speculates if she is gone away or dead inside the house. He opens up her mailbox and checks her mail to receive a shock of his life.  
Crime - Let's Make A Deal by Lanny Gilbert
We have often heard of stories where people make a deal with the Devil to get what they desire in exchange for their soul. A sportsman is advised the same and is told that it is a sure shot route to success but he is determined not to trade his soul. The Devil is facing many such 'enlightened' souls who don't want to readily trade their soul and is now forced to resort to different and dishonest means of trading souls.
Mystery - Gramma & the Movie Boy by Christopher Burdett
Grandma begins to tell a 'real' story from her childhood when she went to see a movie with her dad and found that a boy had escaped from the movie. She describes her encounter with the screen-boy.
Short Shocker - Dance Macabre by 'the Mysterious Traveler'
A very short story about a kid who is going around collecting Halloween and encounters a whole bunch of skeletons who gobble up all his treats and follow him to his house.

8. ACD Shorts: Borrowed Scenes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The story made no head or tail to me. It went completely over my head. I can hardly write anything about it.

9. PKD Shorts: The Father Thing by Philip K Dick

A little boy sees his father talking to his father. No, he wasn't talking to himself. He was talking to another person who was exactly like his own father. After some time, his father joins him at the dinner table and he realizes that he is not his father but someone else or something else. He refers to him as the Father-Thing. And the horror has just begun …
He discovers his father … remnants of the fragments of his skin. He ropes in help from his school bully to fight the father-thing only to discover that the father-thing is not alone and will soon be joined by other 'things' … namely the mother-thing and the himself-thing …

10. Short Novel: Untruly Yours by Smita Shetty
Untruly Yours is the debut novel by Smita Shetty and she wrote to me with a request of book review. For me, this came as a pleasant surprise (book review request by author and that too for her debut novel). I accepted; with an additional motivation that it was a chic-lit and it would be a different experience reading a chic-lit.
It was a good nice light read. I would readily recommend this to anyone looking for an enjoyable light read on a Sunday afternoon. I wish the author would have not restricted to 150 pages … she sure had a nicely laid out situation/plot which could have had some more interesting incidents and introspections. I would have loved to read some more.
Full review posted last month. 

To Be Continued …

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Book Review: The Shadow Throne by Aroon Raman

This month from's Book Review Program is the novel 'The Shadow Throne' by Aroon Raman.
For a debut novel, I am pretty impressed by Aroon's work.
I liked the Shadow Throne but it is not without its faults. My first impression after reading the first 20-30 pages was "Oh No! Not Again" - I could straightaway see several similarity with the likes of Da Vinci Code and Krishna Key – the brutal murder at a famous landmark/monument, the mark/symbol left on the dead body (a vital clue to the murderer and his origins), the protagonist getting involved and then a lady coming into the fray and together they are on a run. The chase begins and the story unravels. ….
The Shadow Throne begins on familiar grounds (almost Déjà vu) but thankfully that's where the similarity ends. Instead of the story taking on a Dan Brown'ish route of mythology and symbology … the story become Robert Ludlum'ish.
The story meanders towards international espionage with spies, secret service intelligence agencies, internal politics within them and the uncertain loyalties of different characters. There are some shady characters in the story and you keep changing your opinion on which side their loyalties lie; often feeling that the protagonist is simply being manipulated by master minds to achieve their own objectives. 
I have read a lot of Ludlum and it was a welcome and pleasant change to read about Indo-Pak espionage and intelligence agencies.
Unlike the Dan Brown novels, the female lead does not go out on the adventure trip with the protagonist. She has her own track while playing a significant role in cracking the code.
The writing is good and offers an easy reading. The build-up of excitement is there throughout the novel. There are some nice twists and turns in the story. Aroon has tried to bring in the element of surprise and suspense by having some key events happening at chapter ends etc like Ludlum; has managed to do it in some ways but far from the Ludlum like shocks !!
Just like I found Krishna Key unconvincing and lacking in certain places in terms of storyline, plot, logic … I found some here too. The BIGGEST and most fatal error came right in the form a Dan Brown like coded message left by the murdered person. This gentleman left a message in his dying moment in a place where it could have gone unnoticed. The message was based on the typical book code (page number, line number, word number code) … BUT my question is, how does one create a coded message of this sort (page, line, word from a book) in the last (read dying) moments of life … without the book at hand. It is impossible. Without the book, such a coded message cannot be created and this was, according to me a fatal error by the author.
The protagonist, Chandra, got involved in a mission, not just by chance but by a design. What was completely unconvincing to me was the choice of Chandra for the mission. A flimsy logic is presented in the book but I stand unconvinced. A chance involvement in the thick of things would have been far more convincing and more effective.
There were a few other glaring errors but I guess I can let that pass in light of the better aspects of the book.
On the whole, I enjoyed reading the Shadow Throne and would definitely rate it better than the Krishna Key. It had a very interesting plot with almost reverse psychology being applied to Indo-Pak politics.
Off late I have noticed that the cover design of Indian novels is undergoing some interesting changes. Be it the Krishna Key or the Shadow Throne or some other novels that I have seen recently; I see computer graphic visual (with a dark shades, most of the time) and white / shining text in bold letters on the cover to create the contrast. 
Note: This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at  ... Participate now to get free books!

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Laptop Crash, Arbit troubles & Disaster Management

For practically the first time in 9 years, we had an interruption in Arbit Choudhury comic strips release. Over the past 8 years (Jan 2005 to July 2012) we have maintained a fortnightly release frequency. Yes, there have been delays; at times the comic strips got released several days after the 1st and 16th of the month but the comic strips were eventually released within the same month before the next comic strip's release date.
Two months ago, my laptop crashed and I was unable to revive it for quite some time due to several reasons; primarily because I was travelling a lot due to my new job requirements and also because a few repair guys I talked to quoted a high price which I did not want to invest on this 7 year old laptop.
But then, comic strips release was getting impacted. All the semi-prepared comic strips for this year were on that laptop and it would be too much of a rework on another laptop. Also, I did try working on another laptop but I wasn't able to for some odd reason.
So finally I have my laptop repaired and would be able to work on Arbit over the weekend. I feel bad that such a long (2 months) interruption has affected Arbit comic release and we would have to think of some better 'Disaster Recovery Plans' in place for Arbit. As a bare minimum; maybe we should have a back-up of at least 3 months worth of comic strips at any point in time to handle such crisis. 
It has been a particularly fateful year for Arbit since earlier in this year, the Arbit website was attacked and brought down by vicious hackers TWICE.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Discovery of India

From Oct 2005 to June 2012, I made a lot of trips across the globe travelling to different countries and living in several cities. All that while, the only other Indian cities I had lived in were Bangalore and Pune and that too for quite short a duration.
Now, with a change of job, the customer profile here is such that I travel domestic sectors. I am travelling to different places across India. In the past 3 months, I have already covered 5 states.
For me it is like discovering India. I haven't travelled much in India so this is new and interesting for me. Travelling across the country by Air, Road, Rail is a far cry from international travel; it's different and offers many interesting experiences.
To reach certain towns in the interior of this vas t country; one ends up taking a flight to a big town and then a train to the nearest railway station before hopping into a car to travel to the final destination. Along the way, you meet interesting people and get to see another facet of India and its vast milieu with its multi-cultural environs.
Different places across the country have their own language, lifestyle, crowd sense, greenery, road conditions and heritage; creating a collage that can enthrall an interested mind.
States and Places Visited in July-Aug-Sep:
1. Gujarat – Ahmedabad
2. Madhya Pradesh – Gwalior, Ujjain, Sagar
3. Rajasthan – Udaipur
4. Jharkhand – Ranchi, Bokaro,
5. West Bengal – Durgapur, Kolkata, Burnpur 
Upcoming visit in October to Rourkela (Orissa) & Bhilai (Chhattisgarh) !!

Trivia: I had never even heard of 'Burnpur' before my travel got scheduled to this interesting place. When I first heard the name, I thought it might be a corrupted-over-the-years version of Bhooranpur or something like that. But a peek into its history and one finds that it is indeed meant to be Burn'pur - The city got its name from the Managing Agency house, Burn & Co. (way back in early 1910's)