Book Review : Murder with Bengali Characteristics by Shovon Chowdhury

Shovon Chowdhury’s Murder with Bengali Characteristics is a sequel to his book The Competent Authority (Book Review | Author Interview). Although a sequel to the book, it is a stand alone novel. While The Competent Authority was a purely satirical novel, Murder with Bengali Characteristics is part sci-fi, part satirical and part crime fiction.

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When I picked up this book, Murder with Bengali Characteristics by Shovon Chowdhury, I was fascinated beyond belief with the title. It’s a very well thought out, attractive title, much like the book itself. It invites a reader to be curious about the content of the book.

The book focuses on Bengal in the year 2035, when it’s no more a part of India and is in fact a Chinese protectorate. The plot revolves around a certain inspector Li who is investigating the murder of a teacher, suspected to have been carried out by the New Thug Society, an organization which has resolved to liberate Bengal. Also involved are two businessmen Verma and Agarwal trying to save their business which wouldn’t benefit if the Indians and the Chinese weren’t on good terms. Along with other intriguing characters like Sexy Chen, Big Chen, Governor Wen, Propagandist Wang and General Zhou, the book has an interesting premise. But the best thing about the book was the author’s extremely witty humour; the kind which deserves great respect.

I felt the book was ferociously inventive. There were no limits to the imagination of the author, which should always be the case when one attempts to write fiction. The talking, flying car was kind of cool but the talking magazines were highly amusing.

But apart from all of this, the book lacked the one ingredient necessary for all kinds of books- Grip. The entire journey through the book felt like I was dragging a heavy bag across the floor while ostensibly laughing about it. The crime fiction genre of the story was unfortunately unsuccessful to sell itself. The book isn’t a page turner, no matter how funny it is.

The book lacks a compelling story although you can still experience Shovon Chowdhury’s satirical brilliance in the book. He still makes fun of our famously twisted political ethos, in his typical style. However, one can’t help but compare it to The Competent Authority which introduced us to his sardonic humour and in that case, Murder with Bengali Characteristics seems a let down when you have experienced once, what a writer like Shovon Chowdury is capable of.

Guest Review by Sherry Verma (Instagram | GoodReads | WordPress), with inputs from the administrator.

About the book: Murder with Bengali Characteristics | Shovon Chowdhury | Aleph Book Company | Fiction | 204 pages

 

Note: This book, Murder with Bengali Characteristics by Shovon Chowdhury, was provided for free, by the kind people at Aleph Book Company.

Book Review: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

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Book Covers

Amazon listed Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee as their most pre-ordered book since Rowling’s final book in the Harry Potter series – The Deathly Hallows (2007) and I’m not surprised why. In fact I think it was one of the most anticipated books of 2015. So, naturally, the expectations from the book were sky high. The book is the sequel to the major American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, which is personally one of my favourites and it drove everybody crazy when its release was announced.

Go set a watchman by Harper Lee focuses on Scout Finch who is no longer a six year old. She is now a twenty-six year old Jean Louise Finch who returns to Maycomb, Alabama from New York. The book is about her struggle to understand the perception of her home county. Just like its prequel, Go Set a Watchman raises the issue of racial inequality and talks of the political view of the city through the eyes of a young woman.

Jean Louise Finch starts to question the beliefs her father had instilled in her when she was a child and the things she learns which in my opinion, make her grow as a person. It makes her separate her conscience from that of her father and thus, helps her create her own identity.

The book starts off at a very slow pace and isn’t as captivating as one would expect it to be. Many minor characters from To Kill a Mockingbird are seen as major characters here; yet character development was rather scarce. However, the best part about the book is that it will, along with Jean Louise, make you learn something. You’re reading about Jean Louise and her problems with perceptions, opinions of her own and others, and you’ll realize that it implies to us all. Some parts in the book left me awe-struck. Like when Uncle Jack is speaking to a grown up Jean Louise, he says, “It’s always easy to look back and see what we were, yesterday, ten years ago. It is hard to see what we are. If you can master that trick, you’ll get along.” This was indeed a very wise advice. Speaking of wisdom, I was disappointed that we did not see much of Atticus Finch in the novel, but the fact that it serves a purpose in the book, makes it bearable.

In an honest conclusion, Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee is not as brilliant as its prequel and is rather slow; but it is in entirety a good book and everybody who devoured To Kill a Mockingbird should definitely read this once, however with lower expectations.

Guest Review by Sherry Verma (Instagram | GoodReads | WordPress )

About the book: Go Set a Watchman | Harper Lee | Harper Collins | Fiction | 278 pages

Book Review: Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera

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Book Cover

In the beginning, I had absolutely no idea what this book was supposed to be about. By the end of it, the purpose wasn’t clear as crystal, but I did have a slight idea as to what the aim of the book was.

The plot of Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera seems heavily based on Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale. It revolves around a certain supermarket, called Bains Stores, located in Wolverhampton and the family running it, taking us through two different decades. It was a bit confusing in the beginning, trying to connect the dots, shifting from the 1960’s to the 2010’s but after a few chapters, the reader gets used to it. Now, while this addition is rather intriguing, I found it a little hard to get into the book.

A lot of things in the book are stereotyped – Girls, Punjabis, Muslims, The British, etc. Basically, there might come a point where it might turn you off. Although some stereotypes literally went over my head, the book definitely did present me with staccato bursts of laughter; I laughed out real loud on a few parts. There was one quote that I liked in particular, enough to write it down – “Families are the last people who should be entrusted with the task of finding you a spouse, given that they are incapable of appreciating that you may have changed since the age of twelve.”

The content of the book reflected the extensive research done by the author, with him scouring through the archives of Wolverhampton, mentioned in the Acknowledgements section, which is commendable.  I didn’t learn anything significant from the book, but the sarcastic tone used for the present day storytelling and the ambitious, independent one used for the 1960s’ was what helped me survive the book. The ending felt rather disconnected, providing us with a suspense which didn’t really hit me hard because of the lack of an element of mystery in the entire book.
The characters I believe were realistic but not entirely likeable. Except for the character of Surinder, which saw a lot of improvement over the years, being present in both the decades the story focuses on.

Guest Review by Sherry Verma (Instagram | GoodReads | WordPress )

Sherry is a self proclaimed quintessential nomadic bookworm. She reads anything and everything and does not restrict herself to specific genres or authors. She loves how words have the ability to tell tales beautifully and is practitioner of the same. Currently, a Journalism and Mass Communication student, Sherry will be visible on this website frequently.

Note: The book, Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera, was provided for free by the kind people at Random House India.

If you want to review for this website, please get in touch with me at booksandalotmore@gmail.com.

Book Review : Love potion no. 10 : A Jana Bibi Adventure by Betsy Woodman

I was introduced to Jana Bibi last year when Random House India sent her first book ‘Jana Bibi’s excellent fortunes’ to me for a review. (Click here to read the review). I found Jana bibi to be an adorable creature.

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The second book in the series, Jana Bibi returns with the same penchant for a life away from the mundane. And nothing mundane can actually happen in Hamara nagar, with a creepy fellow wanting to get his hands on Mr. Ganguly. At the same, love seems to be blooming behind the scenes for Jana Laird and some of her friends.

I am not sure what genre Jana Bibi falls in. Is it for children or adults? It’s amazingly light, simple at heart, but sometimes, has a very mature tone. Overall, it leaves a positive feeling in your stomach and is never a bore. However, I fear that Betsy Woodman may just get a little repetitive in the series, with almost the same plot line in every book (where there is something that threatens Jana and how she deals with it).

About the book: Love Potion no. 10 – A Jana Bibi Adventure | Betsy Woodman | Random House India | Fiction | 320 pages

Note: A copy of this book was provided to me for review by Random House India.

Book Review: The Guardian Angels by Rohit Gore

I finished reading The Guardian Angels by Rohit Gore last month, I do not quite know what I feel about this book, even after one week of having finished it. It’s like I can’t make up my mind about this one. However I shall try to put it all on paper (or cyber space).

The Guardian Angels by Rohit Gore is a story about Radha and Adi, who stumble on to each other during their childhood and share a special bond. The bond remains and strengthens, whatever be the circumstances as they advance in age.

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The book seems at first to be a typical Bollywood story of a rich boy and a middle class girl. However, you have to give time to the story to let it develop. Even if you think it’s your typical story, it does keep you interested enough to continue reading. It makes for some good Metro reading but at the same time, the story and the characters are too ‘ideal’, the characters are too perfect, and don’t seem to have many flaws, making the story seem almost surreal. Not to forget the very cheesy yet profoundly tragic ending. But I have to say one thing, it feels that the author has pored everything inside to write this story. It is not a half-hearted attempt and certainly not something that you can shrug off as your regular Indian writer fare. Read if you are a sucker for romances that remain unfulfilled in theory but yet make you feel as if there could be nothing more complete than this love.

About the book: The Guardian Angels | Rohit Gore | Grapevine India | Fiction |  328 Pages

Note: A copy of this book was provided for review by Mr. Rohit Gore.

Book Review: Unnatural Creatures by Neil Gaiman

In this book, Neil Gaiman has selected some of his favorite stories featuring monsters and beasts. Most of these beats exist only in myth or folk lore and some, only in our minds. These stories have been selected by best selling author Neil Gaiman, with stories by noted authors in the collection like E Nesbit and Saki.

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The stories have been carefully chosen. The stories are subtly political, commenting on the present times. I felt as if each ‘monster’ in the story was a metaphor for different emotions in our lives. Sometimes they destroy us, sometimes they liberate us. Each reader would interpret the stories in their own particular way and that is what makes this book enjoyable. My favorite stories were The smile on her face by Nalo Hopkinson and Come Lady Death by Peter S Beagle.

If you are a fan of the short story genre, you shouldn’t miss this book. Also, proceedings go towards the non profit literacy organization called 826DC.

About the book: Unnatural Creatures – Stories chosen by Neil Gaiman | Bloomsbury Publishing | Fiction | 462 Pages. 

Note: This book was provided for review by the kind people at Bloomsbury Publishing.

Book Review: Asura Tale of the Vanquished by Anand Neelakantan

I miss MICA. Yes, I do. It’s not like it was Utopia (In some ways, though, it probably was, compared to real life). People living together in a campus means that there are bound to be the usual jealousies, back stabbings and the constant need to hide your insecurities by pretending to be someone you are not. It’s like an entire zoo of human emotions, in perfect biological balance. Just like society all over.

However, there are lots of things that I thank MICA for. Apart from the friends that I made (the ones of course who stayed till the end) and the great time I had, there are some things that you take away from MICA for which you’d always be in debt. One of them is the conditioning that an institution like MICA provides. The wide range of events happening on campus has something to offer to everyone (if you were intelligent enough to take advantage).

I first heard Anand Neelakantan speak at Reverie, the annual Literature festival hosted by the Literary Committee of MICA in early 2013. He shared the stage with Mallika Sarabhai, for a talk on ‘Mythology through the lens of art forms : Dance & Literature’, which revolved largely around the portrayal of women and the demonization of everything non-brahmin in our religious texts. Here’s a video of the same.

That is how I came to know about Anand Neelakantan’s book ‘Asura : The Tale of the Vanquished’. It was only later that I got a review copy and read the book, co incidentally finishing the book around Dusshera, this year. I was going to write about it on Dusshera, the day being perfect for writing a review of a book on Ravana. But one thing led to another and things in my life (or rather in my mind) became a little chaotic which led to inactivity on this website. But let’s not get into that. By the time  I write this review, Anand Neelakantan’s second book ‘Ajaya’ has already released (Check out the book on Flipkart | Amazon| GoodReads). But then, better late than never!

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Book Cover (Image Source: GoodReads)

Asura Tale of the Vanquished is a story of the Ramayana from Ravana’s perspective. As part of readings for a class on ‘Imagining India’ at MICA, I read this essay by A K Ramanujan, titled ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas’ (Yes, it’s the same essay which was scuttled out of the DU syllabus).  No doubt, Anand Neelkantan draws influences from all the different folk versions that exist, of the Ramayana.

The book is written from the point of view of Ravana, alternating in between with a narrative from the perspective of Bhadra, a fictional character who is an untouchable. Bhadra stands for the marginalized common man, filled with all the classic positive and negative qualities embodied by man.

Anand Neelkantan writes an interesting story, in the sense that it portrays Rama as essentially a weak person full of failings, in his bid to be a God while Ravana, even when he is  defeated in the end, somehow emerges as the better person. You end up identifying more with Ravana with all his negative human passions than Rama, an unfair god who society forces you to emulate. Essentially, it brings to light how ‘Sanskritised’ everything is in our religious literature, and how we look for justifications, when we encounter problemmatic episodes (most of them which deal with the caste system and the portrayal of women) in them.

When it comes to the language and writing in general, it is decent enough and certainly not to be regarded as anything more than that. But you should treat Asura as an alternate narrative to that existing in the space of popular literature on mythology and read it for precisely the same reason.

About the book: Asura: The Tale of the Vanquished | Anand Neelakantan | Leadstart Publishing | Fiction | 504 pages | Rs. 250.

Note: A copy of this book was provided by the kind people at Leadstart Publishing, for review.

Book Review: The Kill List by Frederick Forsyth

The Kill List by Frederick Forsyth has been a much awaited book, especially for fans of the thriller genre. The only other book by Forsyth that I have read is The Fist Of God and I found it to be quite interesting. Reading it was like stepping into another world altogether, a covert world which is unfamiliar for common citizens of this world.

While The Fist of God was a story set in the Persian Gulf War, The Kill List features the war against terrorism. There exists the Kill List, a very secret list of the top terrorists to be captured and assassinated by American Government Agencies, at all costs. The story sees ‘The Preacher’ being added to this list and follows the chase by American agencies to find his identity and capture him. Now, the ‘Preacher’ is a terrorist who brainwashes Muslim men around the world, to assassinate ‘non believers’. A series of killings by different Muslim men bring this dreaded terrorist to the attention of high level agencies and US Marine Kit Carson is entrusted with the responsibility of eliminating him.

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Coming to my thoughts on the book, I felt that the story was appropriately fast and would satisfy most readers of this genre. However, this is not the best of Forsyth’s writing. The Fist of God was so much more interesting and had so many twists and turns. This book on the other hand, just seemed predictable. It’s the usual thriller, not really too much different in tone and style. Good to read ? Yes. But, spectacular ? Definitely not.

About the book: The Kill List | Frederick Forsyth | Random House India | Fiction | 352 Pages | Rs. 399.

Note: A copy of the book was provided by the publishers, Random House India, to me.

Book Review: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

So, this book has turned out to be quite different from what I was expecting, at least from what I was expecting from Elizabeth Gilbert. Gilbert became famous for her book Eat, Pray and Love, which also inspired a movie starring Julia Roberts. Having watched snippets of the movie, I never really felt like reading the book as the story did not seem to appeal to me. However, this book is quite different from Eat, Pray and Love and The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert traverses a different genre altogether. Releasing tomorrow, the book is a delight for readers who are philosophizers at the same time, or just like ‘thinking’ about different things.

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Image Source: Bloomsbury Publishing

The protagonist in this book is Alma Whitaker.  Alma is an independent, intelligent woman. Born into a family whose fortunes were built because of botany, Alma’s curiosity is encouraged as a child. She is let loose in the family estate and her five year self goes about collecting botanical samples and studying whatever she can find. There is no topic on which Alma does not have an opinion. However, she is still not quite free as she rarely ventures out of her home. Later, she remains at home because of a sense of duty towards her father, after the death of her mother.

Alma is a brilliant character. There is no question to which Alma does not want an answer. She spends her time in the most productive manner (although missing out on some of the things that life has to offer) and she is mostly self sufficient. Her entire quest seems to be the pursuit of knowledge. It’s like how she says towards the end of the book “All I ever wanted was to know this world”.

When it comes to the book, it revolves around some theories. One of them is the theory of the German mystic Brohme as illustrated in his book ‘The Signature of all Things’. His theory states that God created everything in nature, leaving behind his trace on everything, to show mankind how it can be used. That is why plants resemble some parts of the human body and how they are beneficial for the human body is indicated by the same.

Another theory is the theory of Natural Selection (yeah, the Charles Darwin one) wherein there are strong creatures and there are weak creatures. The fittest survive and hence, everything has to adapt to stay alive.

The author pits the two theories together, both of them belonging to opposite schools of thought and serves a philosophical treatise on nature, mankind and the pursuit of knowledge. Yet, Alma is not satisfied with both explanations. The book neither attempts to answer a specific question nor take a stand. But what it does is offer possibilities, of how the logical and the illogical can both co-exist. Sometimes, there are just no explanations offered by nature and we are free to derive our own reason (or lack of it). But what is important is the pursuit of knowledge and the happiness that its pursuit can give to a person.

I am not sure whether this is a feminist novel although the main character Alma is one. I love how she is so self sufficient and yet so aware of her body (even though she needed to have let herself loose a little bit more). At the same time, Gilbert steers clear of some of the controversial aspects of Darwin’s theory. There are some feminist school of thoughts that do not quite like evolutionary psychology (since it stresses much on man and woman being essentially ‘different’ and hence, not equal, along with giving justifications for promiscuity and the ‘rape gene’). However,  it is fascinating how Alma refuses to accept things on face value and goes down to the depth of everything. She comes to conclusions based on science and logic and can’t help but try to account for things in nature that do not seem to have an explanation.  However, she admits that there are some things that can’t be explained. At the same time, she is very much humane in the way she is aware of her bodily needs and her need for love and affection.

The book is fiction and philosophy, both rolled into one. The writing style is interesting and retains a style typical of that period of time. However, it is also contemporary at the same time. Please read this book if all you expect from the book is that it makes you think.

About the book: The Signature of All Things | Elizabeth Gilbert | Bloomsbury Publishing | Fiction | 499 pages | Rs. 599

Note: I was provided with an advanced uncorrected proof of this book by the publishers, Bloomsbury Publishing.

Book Review: Hitched – The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage by Nandini Krishnan

The question of marriage hovers threateningly over every woman in India, as much as she may want to avoid it. Every single person in our society thinks it is their duty to make sure every single girl gets married (either that or sympathize with the parents of an unmarried girl). With more girls stepping out of homes and giving equal priority to a career and family life, it gets increasingly difficult to find a suitable boy. Hitched : The Modern Woman and Arrange Marriage is a collection of stories about real life women (and some men) and how they have maneuvered the difficult lanes of arranged marriage. It is also something like a how-to with different women giving advice.

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The author, Nandini Krishnan (Image Source)

The author has spent a lot of time in talking to women from different backgrounds and religions and with different expectations of the kind of life partner they wanted (and luckily got). It also features stories of women who have not been very successful with arranged marriage which they ventured into for entirely wrong reasons. The author tries to put rest all the worries that a girl might have when contemplating arranged marriage.

What the book says seem very authentic and a reader would connect as it indirectly comes from the mouth of various couples that the author has interviewed. It’s also witty as it talks about funny first meetings and strangely behaving prospective grooms.

The book will make you laugh at some places and encourage you at another. It may seem at some point that women take marriage as something you can’t avoid and make your best with whatever you get. That is because of the wide spectrum in which the author has conducted her interviews, with only one thing in common- they are all modern women who are independent and don’t wish to compromise their happiness any longer for the sake of ever complaining parents-in-laws or the pressures of conforming to standards of society.

About the book: Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage | Nandini Krishnan | Random House India | Non Fiction | 253 pages | Rs. 299.

Note: A copy of this book was provided by the publishers, Random House India, for review.