The 10 Best Books I’ve Read In 2017

Reading has been my hobby and my passion for as long as I can remember. The reasons are plenty. For one, reading gives me an escape from reality. It’s comforting to the point where my soul is scattered in multiple books. And I keep finding the pieces in newer books. This soul-splitting is positive, and in complete contrast the Horcruxes Voldemort created. [There goes the humor.]

Another major reason why I love reading is the way it helps my imagination. Inside my head, new worlds are created, new characters take birth, and anything and everything is possible. There can be no question as to why something is happening unless the book I am reading is really bad. But in the larger picture, despite the existence of bad books, the entire experience is totally worth it. It helps me develop my ideas and gives me a basis on which to support them. It helps me learn more about the world and the people in it. And it helps me connect with people.

So when people say they hate reading, I look at them strangely. But then again, not everyone is the same. Not everybody loves the same things. And all I can tell myself is: To each, his own.

2017 has been a great year for me in terms of reading. I read a couple of new authors in addition to a few classics, and also found some surprisingly good books that affected me like no other. So as the year comes to an end, I decided to compile a list of the 10 best books that I read this year. I’ve read 91 books so far and will finish the year at 93 (or 94). 🙂

  1. Turtles All The Way Down – John Green:

I am a HUGE John Green fan. One of the biggest reasons is that his protagonists are everyday teenagers, but they aren’t dumb. Every book he writes has an intriguing title, like Turtles All The Way Down. Mental illness and the title of this one don’t seem at all congruent, but trust me, they’re together as much as you’d love to believe.

Read my full review here: Review – Turtles All The Way Down

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  1. One Day – David Nicholls:

David Nicholls’s dark humor is famed. In One Day, he brings poignant romance with humor and wit. This story follows Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew on one day every year – where they are in life and in geography. Even so, it doesn’t lose the pace and tells us everything we want to know about the two protagonists. It’s beautiful in its longing, despondency, and charm.

Read my full review here: Review – One Day

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  1. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie:

I had held Agatha Christie in high esteem long before I read this book. But my image of her whirled and took her to a higher pedestal when I read this one. Mind-boggling in its Christie-esqueness, it will take you time to come to terms with what you have read once you finish it. And never will you stop marveling at the literary genius called Agatha Christie, the queen of murder mysteries.

Read my full review here: Review: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

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  1. The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway:

I had this book on my to-read list and my Kindle shelf for a long time before I finally decided to read it. There isn’t an iota of doubt why this one figures on so many bestseller lists. Hemingway’s classic is an inspiration that stresses on the importance of willpower. And what an inspiration it is!

Read my full review here: Review: The Old Man and the Sea

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  1. ‘Flawed’ & ‘Perfect’ – Cecelia Ahern:

A part of the Flawed duology, these two books by Cecelia Ahern are absolutely spine-chilling. There is so much one can learn from these two books when you compare the incidents with reality. It describes society and humanity in ways that you couldn’t even fathom it could be done. Flawed was an impulsive buy and Perfect, I bought without a second thought. The Flawed duology left me awed!

Read my full review here: Review: The Flawed Duology

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  1. We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

I think the title of the book and the author explain why this book was almost revolutionary for me. In a time when insanity is taking over by spreading false notions about feminism, this book helped me gain a better understanding of the whys and whats of how the world works. I’m glad I have this book to turn to whenever I find the world too cumbersome a place to handle.

Read my full review here: Review: We Should All Be Feminists

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  1. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn:

Gone Girl is, without a doubt, one of the most disturbing novels I have ever read, apart from 1984 and Animal Farm. I know I will read a lot more like this, but this book is chilling in so many ways. We think that people can get possessive and vindictive, but Gone Girl shows the extent to which they can fall. I still get the shivers when I think of Amy Dunne.

Read my full review here: Review: Gone Girl

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  1. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe:

This novel I owned for a long time but 2017 was when I decided to finally read it like many others. What a book it is! It saddened me to no end to read this story so much that I couldn’t bring myself to write a review of it. Because what is there to say when everything looks like it’s about to collapse and finally, things fall apart?

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  1. Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka:

Another book that I left unread for a long time. Metamorphosis is the physical depiction of what many of us feel every day. And to find yourself identifying with Gregor Samsa and the positions he finds himself in since his transformation? Heartbreaking! A book can unsettle you to no end, and Metamorphosis is another example of this!

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  1. Three Men in a Boat – Jerome K. Jerome:

In a time when humor needs to be careful, I read this gem and thoroughly enjoyed every page of it. No other story/account has made me laugh as much as Three Men in a Boat has. It reminded me that humor is in the simple things. The narrative is smooth and even puts modern humor to shame. Thank heavens for the existence of books like these! Three Men on the Bummel is on my list now!

Read my full review here: Review – Three Men in a Boat

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Bonus Mention: Adulthood Is a Myth: A Sarah’s Scribbles Collection:

This comic book deserves special mention because of how relatable every strip in the book is. I wanted to buy the hardcover but because it was expensive, had to settle for the Kindle one. And I don’t regret it one bit, though I think I will buy the hard copy at some time in the future. Sarah Andersen is a genius realist cartoonist!

Read my full review here: Review – Adulthood Is a Myth: A Sarah’s Scribbles Collection

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Featured Image Courtesy: Canva!

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason – Redeeming the Franchise

I read two books in the Bridget Jones franchise this year.

Bridget Jones’s Diary, I didn’t like much, even though it is on a number of must-read lists and is considered to be an exemplary piece of writing. Popular opinion, I guess, is sometimes crushed under your feet. And that’s how variety buds – by being unashamedly proud of individual opinion. I liked the humor in some places, but I found it strangely lacking in a lot of places. It’s a prime example of how we all make plans and don’t follow through them, most unintentionally because we forgot. Here’s the full review of the first diary.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, the second in the series is a different matter altogether, even though it is still written in epistolary form, in this case, a diary format. This book is longer than the first and it grew on me. It makes me sympathize with Bridget Jones.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason follows Bridget’s adventures (or misadventures) after what seemed like a happily-ever-after with Mark Darcy. There are no weight issues, though her struggle to understand the demarcation between single life and life in a relationships is still real. Oh, and like the first book, maybe more, she has the shittiest luck ever.

Bridget Jones’s masochism has died, thankfully, though she has the talent to unintentionally put herself in uncompromising situations. She is still bumbling, but she is who she is, unapologetically so. But there are layers to her character that somehow make me proud. And when she says things like “Personality is undergoing seismic change,” it’s basically all of us in the throes of reining adulthood to our liking.

She still has idiot friends who give her stupid advice on occasion, almost looking like they are pulling her back from where she ought to be. But I guess, if these friends are loyal, then you can bear to have them in your life. She still has a knack for being innocently confident, following which everything comes tumbling down. She still has a henpecking mother who does the stupidest things and is a little unwary of what’s going on in her daughter’s life. There are a lot of characters who retain their eccentricities, but Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason gives them more layers.

Reading Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, a thought that crossed my mind was that Bridget is sort of a de-motivator for women. But in her defense, it’s a diary – one place where we put our deepest and darkest feelings and secrets. So maybe it isn’t farfetched after all. It is, for me, better than its predecessor. The Edge of Reason made me laugh more, and I can somehow, in some twisted way, relate better to Bridget in this book.

Yes, Bridget Jones has the worst timing ever. Even the events that happen to her. And that’s why, probably, she’s always out of luck. In a perennial loop, she seems to be. She demonstrated this in Bridget Jones’s Diary and she does it again. But this time around, we merely sigh and go, “Oh, no, Bridget! Not again!” rather than “What is wrong with this woman?”

The point of a first-person narrative is to build sympathy with the protagonist. And when thoughts like “I wish to sock Bridget’s Mum in the face” crossed my mind, I know Helen Fielding has done a good job. With its unique brand of British humor, the book has given me a new favorite word that makes me laugh even now: bollocking. It’s there in a few places and it made me snort. While Bridget Jones’s Diary is light chick-lit with annoying characters, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason is closer home in terms of lessening stupidity in people.

I haven’t watched the second instalment in the Bridget Jones movie franchise, but I am told it isn’t as good as the first one. So in this case, the community of booklovers stands vindicated. The book is better than the movie!

Look at how she puts relationships in simple words:

It is all very well you yourself thinking things aren’t right in a relationship, but if the other person starts doing it is like someone else criticizing your mother.

It is in lines like these that I started falling in love with Bridget Jones’s humor and her story of that year. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason made me laugh multiple times, more in a couple of chapters than Bridget Jones’s Diary did in its entirety.

Bridget Jones did redeem herself after all!

Rating: 4/5 stars

Picture Courtesy: panmacmillan.com !

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P.S. Read my review of Three Men In a Boat, the best humorous book that I have ever read!

Book Review: The Woman Who Saw the Future by Amit Sharma

The Woman Who Saw the Future is author Amit Sharma’s second novel. I had the opportunity to review his first, False Ceilings as well. And after reading both of them, I can say that he has a unique style that draws you in to the story and helps you ignore the little things that grate on your nerve for just a few seconds.

The Woman Who Saw the Future is confusing at first. You don’t understand what’s going on, how the characters are related, and how everything has panned out to the present. But like I mentioned in my opening statement (so fancy), you see very soon how it all unfolds in the end. The biggest plus, however, is that The Woman Who Saw the Future gets right both the elements that need to make a good first impression – an interesting title and an intriguing front cover. In addition to this, it also has a blurb that piques your interest.

The Woman Who Saw the Future is the story of Sapna Vaid, a timid, scared, college-going girl who has the power to save lives across the world by seeing the future in her dreams. But circumstances arise when a raging hatred takes hold of her heart and she turns into someone completely in contrast with who she was earlier. Now termed a murderer by those closest to her, will Sapna be able to emerge from this veil? Or will she forever hold her silence?

Amit Sharma’s second novel, in a nutshell, is unputdownable in the heartbreak that it causes. It is so engaging that you go through the entire range of emotions that the characters feel. It took me just 75 pages to fall in love with the concept and accept the constant gut-wrenching feeling that came with the story.

Though this idea has been implemented before, every chapter is from the point of view of a different character, making for an interesting read. Amit Sharma has done a great job on this story, just as he did with his first book, False Ceilings. The difference between the two, however, is that The Woman Who Saw the Future is much, much more polished than the first one.

The characters in the story have definitive quirks. A few of them even annoy me. For example, Om repeats words at the beginning of most of his sentences. Mehak says “Lord!” a lot! But the most annoying is when success gets to a character’s head (*cough* Sapna *cough*) and they start acting demented.

It asks of you a lot of questions that you don’t know if you could answer honestly: What if you could see the future? What if you could save your loved ones? What lengths would you go to in order to save someone? Will you be able to save yourself from the world and your own self? It makes you question yourself and everything you have believed in so far.

I love the story, but the minute things that grate on my nerves are still there. There are a lot of ‘you know’s and ‘like’s in the dialogue. I know it is supposed to be a narrative given by someone. Since it already is in the first person, there is no need for it, in my opinion. But hey! It’s just me! I tried my best to skip these and enjoyed the story a lot.

All in all, The Woman Who Saw the Future is an engaging, fast-paced read. It will make you think, and that is what good writing is all about!

Rating: 4/5 stars

Picture Courtesy: Amazon India.

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Book Review: Chasing Shadows by Mark Draycott

I responded to a call for reviewers for author Mark Draycott’s book, Chasing Shadows, the first in the DCI Morgan series. I found the premise very intriguing and reached out, wanting to review it for my blog. And here I am, doing exactly this. Here’s the blurb:

When newly promoted Nicholas Morgan takes the reins in his role as DCI, he could never have envisaged what would follow in his first few weeks at the helm. Thrown into a dangerous game of cat and mouse, DCI Morgan suddenly finds himself chasing shadows, forced into a dramatic confrontation with a familiar ghost of his tainted past. This is personal.

In this nail biting, first instalment in the DCI Morgan series, prepare yourself to be launched into a dark world of crime, blood and tears. This fast paced enticing read will have you impatiently guessing the next move. Be careful though because someone is always one step ahead of you. Are you ready to play the game?

Chasing Shadows is set in London, where DCI Morgan (Detective Chief Inspector), has to step into his new job. He is a man with a past that he hopes stays hidden. But when his first task post promotion threatens to mix the two, he has to unravel the tangle before they can become an intangible mess.

29-year-old Rachel Clifton is murdered behind a launderette. As Morgan and his assistant detectives get on the job of finding the murderer, another murder is reported. The loop repeats when, while investigating and connecting the link between Rachel and Scott’s murders, yet another person is murdered. DCI Morgan and his team has to now stop this madman before another tragedy occurs. Will DCI Morgan be able to find the criminal? If so, how will he do it? What tactics will he use? And will he bring justice to the victims and their family?

Chasing Shadows has a fast-paced narrative that gives you an adrenalin rush. You can empathize with DCI Morgan, understanding the way he deals with his past and why he did what he did. DCI Morgan does his best to plough ahead while on a tightrope between his past and his present. Is that not something that all of us do at some point in our lives?

But apart from the pace of the book and how the story ends, I could only find points of improvement in Chasing Shadows.

One can get a vague idea about the intents of the characters in the book, but not more than that. There’s a serial killer, yes, and in certain situations, it may be enough to incite hatred in someone’s heart. But when there is a prior connection between the two, we need to be able to see – in more than one dialogue – how the protagonist develops his hatred for the evil. There needs to be character development from all ends, and the story itself needs to be deeper. This, when the person involved is the main character himself. His conflict needs to be brought out better.

There are a few punctuation mistakes here and there that you can easily ignore. Not more than that. In addition to this, there are a few things that didn’t exactly resonate with me. For example, DCI Morgan ‘shouts’ a lot; emotions seem a little forced in some places. But hey! It could be just me!

On the whole, Chasing Shadows is more like a TV show’s screenplay in novel form, thanks to its fast-paced narrative (used this phrase multiple times, but it’s the truth). A book needs to have more expression and more variety in language. It isn’t that Chasing Shadows doesn’t have expression and language, but it could be so much better!

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

You can follow author Mark Draycott here:

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Readers in the US, you can buy Mark Draycott’s book here: Chasing Shadows

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Book Review: Fifth Grade Screams – The Roaming Dead

A short review for a short book seems only fitting. So here you go:

There are zombie books that make you shudder in fright, and there are those that make you pee your pants. But what if the entire zombie epidemic has a reason behind it and we are unjustly blaming them for everything? What if we can coexist in harmony? A lot of what ifs that are answered in this short, fun story by Frank Livingston and Janee Livingston.

There are stories that make you smile because of how they are woven. There are stories that make you smile because of how they end. This one, however, is a combination of both. Fifth Grade Screams – The Roaming Dead is a very short book, but in its pages are simplicity, innocence, curiosity, and smiles. Lots of smiles. And an undercurrent of humor.

At first, Fifth Grade Screams – The Roaming Dead seems like a routine school story. But the eccentricities of the characters, those which we find in people we meet every day, makes the book all the more appealing. Some things are inexplicable, but on a whole, when zombies can be present, why not these?

Fifth Grade Screams – The Roaming Dead is a lighthearted read. I had a fun time reading it, giggling and chuckling in some places. I shouldn’t be, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading it. Since it is a short read, you will be able to finish it in under an hour, and I guarantee you, you will enjoy reading every page, every minute of it.

So what are you waiting for? Go grab the book, available for a low price on Kindle!

Readers in the US, you can buy the book here: Amazon US.

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Follow the authors, Frank and Janee Livingston on social media to know more about their upcoming projects. Here are the links:

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Livingston Writing – Blog

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book Review: Becoming God by Pankaj Ogra

When a book has a title as interesting as Becoming God, you sit up and take notice. You have a lot of expectations from it. And when it’s a new author who’s writing about this seemingly complicated topic, the excitement mingles with a sort of apprehension that you cannot explain. After all, you will now get to read a fresh perspective of divinity.

And the blurb, though not exactly concise or clearly written, makes your senses tingle even more. It instills a strange curiosity of the concept of individuality and God. Here’s what it says:

Becoming God creates a fictional world of freedom where one can make anything possible by believing in oneself.

The story revolves around the protagonist, Parnog, a sales professional.

Things change when Parnog is drawn into a strange world and realizes he is no ordinary human being but an extension of the creators of our galaxy. He was created for a purpose – to save the world from negative forces. He is one of seven people selected to do this. However he is the only one aware of the purpose.

Parnog learns about life, people, relationships, and things about himself during the journey. He makes new friends with people from the alien world and earth. Will Parnog find the other six people? Will he be able to become God? Will he succeed in what he wishes to?

Every choice you make makes you either strong or weak, but even weakness teaches you how to build again. Humans were never weak, it was a choice they made, and they made a negative one.

Do you think the choice you make next will get you something? Choose wisely.

While the concept is interesting, Becoming God disappointed me immensely. There is just one thing that I found right in the length of the book. The point that the author Pankaj Ogra, repeats over and over again. There is God within all of us. This is the only repetitive concept in the book that I genuinely liked.

Coming to the points where a lot of improvements can be made, I lost track after a few pages.

First and foremost, the book is not ready to be published. A lot of editing remains to be done. I am disappointed and aghast at the next to nil editing. If this were done, there would be so much more to talk about and praise than just the idea that the book builds on.

Secondly, there is no connection between events. Given, there can be two unrelated incidents in a person’s life. But a book needs to flow, not cough and splutter and start afresh. At one point, the protagonist is on a different planet, interacting with different beings, talking about his mission. And then, suddenly, he is back on Earth, talking about his work, without a clue of what happened previously. There has to be something that connects the two.

Third, the narrative is preachy. When you are talking about a topic so huge, you need to put it across subtly. That’s what makes great writing. Right from page 1, there are paragraphs and paragraphs of discourses that sort of takes away the fun of reading. I don’t think readers like that kind of preaching, just like I didn’t.

Fourth, grammar and punctuation. While the words used are not necessarily bad, the sentences used are as if translated directly from Hindi into English. Colloquially, it wouldn’t be a bad thing. But when you are talking about literature that’s going to be around for a long time, you need to make sure that both the grammar and punctuation are up to the mark. No unnecessary exclamations, please.

Lastly, the biggest reason why it doesn’t work for me is the language used. The subject of the book, the message it is trying to convey is so beautiful. But it is tarnished by the crude language used. I am heavily disappointed in the book. Such a brave concept peters down to this!

Despite all this, there are a couple of quotes from Becoming God that are well-written and that ring true. Here they are:

Creating your own future means you think about something that you hope will happen in your future and then you start believing in its existence, but your belief should be so strong that it doesn’t get changed by any other person, thought, or related incidents.

This turns the book into a vague version of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret. “You become what you think about most. But you also attract what you think about most.”

No God advocated killing each other or overshadowing each other. They only speak of harmony and peace and to know yourself and to believe in yourself.

My note to the author would be that if you can write these two quotes, then you can make the book better. There is always a role model, a hero for every writer. And unless that role model is amazing, what you bring out will always stay where it shouldn’t be. So get a role model, start reading more, and start writing more. Practice will get you where you want to be!

And my note to the editors? More like a question that I had asked in my review of Karan Johar’s autobiography, An Unsuitable Boy: What were you doing?

Rating: 1/5 stars

Author: Pankaj Ogra

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Hell! No Saints in Paradise – A Venn Diagram of Religion and Righteousness

There were three things about A.K. Asif’s Hell! No Saints in Paradise that attracted my attention. First, the cover. Dark and broody, there was no question that the book was going to be a roller-coaster that explored the possibilities of the existence of Heaven and Hell. Second, the title. With a title such as Hell! No Saints in Paradise, a paradox in itself, it is hard to rein in one’s curiosity. And lastly, the blurb, one that expanded on what the cover led me to believe.

Blurb:

2050, New York.

In the aftermath of a grueling spiritual cleansing quest, Ismael, a Pakistani-American student, enters into an alliance with otherworldly beings who send him on a perilous journey of self-discovery. A non-believer, Ismael must return to Pakistan, now in the grip of a brutal fundamentalist government, and gain the trust of his estranged father, prominent extremist in the Caliphate. To accomplish this, he must pose as a true believer. Will he survive long enough to infiltrate his father’s inner sanctum and complete his mission?

Ismael, thanks to his father’s extremist ideologies, hasn’t spoken to his father in twelve years. Ismael is an atheist living in New York, writing a thesis on the existence of Paradise and Hell. But a series of events leads him towards a mission that seems to have been planned out to save the world as well as to educate Ismael. He is selected for the job and for this, he has to make his estranged father believe that he has returned to his faith. He is sure of himself to the point of being cocky. But will he be able to fulfil the destiny that seems laid out for him?

The part of Hell! No Saints in Paradise that stands out is its beautifully constructed narrative – a fact that is evident from reading the first two pages of the novel. Easy to read and easy to relate to, Hell! No Saints in Paradise does what it sets out to do. It angered me to no end, because of how far fallen even dystopia can become. The mere thought of people deriving glee from the depravities inflicted by them or by those around them while wholeheartedly believing that it is the right thing to do, both chilled and disgusted me. And this is a testimony to how well author A.K. Asif has penned the story. If it can affect one that much…

Another reason why it sent shivers down my spine is that I only recently read a very informative book about the Islamic State called A Ticket to Syria, written by Shirish Thorat. To read Hell! No Saints in Paradise, another story of Islamic extremism shook my mind in unimaginable ways. If the future is going to look anything like this, then God help us!

Hell! No Saints in Paradise is an example of how justice in the hands of men blinded by senseless, nonexistent religious ethics can bring the world to its doom. We have seen religious senselessness, but this novel is a dystopia that we could be well off not even imagining. Until you read this book, you cannot know the extent to which the world can fall, with its obsession with religion. In this war of thoughts, will religion win, or will righteousness win? That’s Hell! No Saints in Paradise for you.

I do have a few complaints with the book, too.

The smallest of my complaints is that despite knowing that it is set in 2050, I have to keep reminding myself that Hell! No Saints in Paradise is a futuristic novel and that anything can happen and everything can be explained. But I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. And when you cannot make this difference, the confusion is what wears you down like a tumbling house of cards.

In the bigger picture, all events in Hell! No Saints in Paradise seem necessary. But when you’re reading the book, you feel that some incidents feel irrelevant and unnecessary to the flow of the story. Either they don’t have to be there, or it shouldn’t take so long to make the point. It could have been so much more concise, with such a relevant topic that it takes up. Even the end of the book could have been more impactful than it currently is. Right now, it seems too easy.

Yet, Hell! No Saints in Paradise does echo something that touches a chord. It makes some powerful points about life, death, the Paradise that humans unyieldingly run after, and the concept of Hell. In such a setup, you think that maybe being set in the future doesn’t help the story at all, but it does. On the whole, Hell! No Saints in Paradise has some chinks, but you can ignore them for a better understanding of what the world would look like if things ran out of control!

My honest rating would be 3 stars out of 5, but I’d give it an extra half star for the beauty in its language.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

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The BFG – Roald Dahl’s Bubbly Fizzwinkling Creation

The BFG was my first Roald Dahl book. And this was after I watched the movie that came out last year. I know, I know! 27 years old (then) and never having read one of the most classic writers of all time. I know it’s a shame. But you know what they say. Better late than never. It’s never too late to fall in love with a story, however simple, however bumbling the protagonist is.

The BFG is the story of the Big Friendly Giant – the BFG, obviously – and Sophie, a young orphan living in a London orphanage. When Sophie spots the old giant in the streets in the night, thanks to her insomnia, the BFG plucks her from her bed and takes off at a run to Giant Country. There, she finds out that the BFG is actually friendly and an outcast from his community because he refuses to eat humans.

What follows is the sweetest exchange of words and wits between the BFG and Sophie, not to mention the BFG protecting Sophie from the other, more grisly and savage giants who wouldn’t think twice before popping her into their mouths. When Sophie asks the BFG why he doesn’t leave her, he tells her he cannot because then she would be a tattle-tale and tell everyone about the existence of giants. And what would he do then!

We have always thought of giants as cruel and maniacal, with limited vocabulary and savage instincts. Roald Dahl, in The BFG, fictionally refutes both these fictional claims.

Like in human beings, the actions of one person cannot be attributed to everyone, so it is in giants. What one or a particular number of giants do cannot be generalized as what every giant would do. And when it comes to vocabulary, it isn’t that the giants have a limited vocabulary. It is just that their understanding of the language is starkly different from how we see and interpret it.

Yes, the BFG is uneducated and cannot speak proper English. But his interpretation of human nature, what’s true, and what ought to be true is better than what most of us can bring forward. The words he uses for everyday things are adorable. We are human beans, not beings. The BFG has a language of his own, inspired from English. And you cannot help but laugh at his antics, become angry on his behalf, become ashamed on the part of humanity, and want to just snuggle into his ear and sleep as he hums a tune.

Roald Dahl is a master when it comes to children’s books. But the magic of it all is that the ‘children’s books’ that he writes are plenty appealing to adults as well. The simplicity loaded with a meaning that’s endearing, and the realization that maybe we need to change the way we look at things are two of the greatest things that The BFG has taught me. But it has also told me that believing in fairy tales if only for a moment or two is acceptable in adulthood. What’s more, it might be one of the most important things to relieve you of your stress!

I’m probably reading more than what The BFG has to offer, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could do all this? If we could read such books and build back the ability to glean inspiration from the little things in life? If we could just disconnect from reality and let our imagination roam the lands of Giant Country and Dream Country, keeping in touch with our dreams, harvesting them, and watching them take fruit? Would that not be wonderful?

*sigh*

The BFG has made me more contemplative than I had expected it to. But what can I do? I loved the book as I loved the movie – something that I cannot say of every movie I watch that is based on a book that I have read. Both are as adorable, fascinating, and educative as each other.

So for all it’s worth, I am proud to say that I have finally read one of Roald Dahl’s works and I am glad that the book turned out to be The BFG!

Rating: 4/5 stars

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Picture Credit: Penguin Books Australia !

Book Review: The Tree Bears Witness by Sharath Komarraju

The thing I love about Sharath Komarraju’s books – and I have said this over and over again – is the crisp narrative that doesn’t lose its warmth. A paradox if ever there was one. But Komarraju, in all his glory, knows how to keep the paradox positive. His strength has always been mythology, as seen with his Hastinapur series, the most recent of which was The Queens of Hastinapur.

Even with his other works, Sharath Komarraju showed that he knows how to bring the right balance to the story. Now, with his latest murder mystery, The Tree Bears Witness, he reiterates the hold he has over the language. The Tree Bears Witness is in the same series as his earlier work, The Crows of Agra (which I regret not reading). But the beauty of the author’s writing is that his books can also be read as standalone stories.

As with The Crows of Agra, Sharath Komarraju puts his spin on legendary smartass courtier and Akbar’s trusted advisor, Birbal’s wits to a murder mystery in The Tree Bears Witness. We know him from the famous Akbar-Birbal stories of our childhood. And now, Komarraju, in The Tree Bears Witness shows layers to Birbal’s character that we never bothered finding out about, because we were too enamored by his smooth tongue and sharp wit.

Here’s a summary (as on the blurb) of what The Tree Bears Witness is all about:

Barely a month has passed since the royal wedding of Emperor Akbar to the legendary Jodha when the new queen’s brother, Sujjamal, is found murdered in the palace gardens. With his honour and reputation at stake, Akbar asks his trusted advisor Birbal to solve the mystery. The murder has taken place in a garden, in a spot between two mango trees, and the two guards who are eyewitnesses have conflicting versions of what could have happened. Was it suicide? Was it Akbar himself who ordered the killing or was it the Rajputs who accompanied Sujjamal, his uncles and cousin, who are guilty?

Set in a period that has been described as the golden age of the Mughals, the novel draws us into the royal court of Agra, abuzz with political intrigue, personal enmities and hidden rivalries, where everyone is a suspect until proven otherwise.

The author’s narrative, as with his every work, is simple, while maintaining the beauty of well-woven stories. Agatha Christie is incomparable, but reading The Tree Bears Witness brings back memories of her writing style. I don’t say that in a negative sense, as though Sharath Komarraju’s style mimics Christie’s. I mean to say that just like Christie had a style of her own, Komarraju has a distinct one, too. [That made more sense in my head, but I hope you got the point.]

Birbal, as we know him, is the smart, silver-tongued courtier who can look through the mess and find the facts that lead him to the truth. In The Tree Bears Witness, we see more of Birbal’s origins, even if they are tucked away in his thoughts generated in connection with facts related to the murder mystery. Originally Mahesh Das, he pledges allegiance to Akbar, and takes up the court name of Birbal, or Raja Birbal. Thus he comes to solving the crime that threatens to bring the Mughal-Rajput alliance crumbling to the ground.

Sharath Komarraju gets everything right in The Tree Bears Witness. From how Mughal emperors referred to themselves as ‘hum’ (‘we’ in the book), to the way they dressed, to the way of speech among the people of that time – everything is smooth and as imaginable as can be. He maintains the pace throughout the book, putting in you an eagerness to find out what happens. A curiosity that comes only with extremely well-written murder mysteries. He builds the suspense to a point where you feel you are in the scene. You identify mysteriously with Birbal and the way his thoughts tumble around in disarray.

At different points in the story, you start speculating about who the killer could be. Then you think, “No, it can’t be.” Then a thought comes to you. “Why can it not?” This loop can be torturous. And this is testimony to how the author has sketched the events and the manner in which they come about or are revealed.

The Tree Bears Witness has suspense, wit, history, and well-written characters. It is everything that a murder mystery should be and everything that Sharath Komarraju’s talent has always shown to be. I knew I wouldn’t be let down by it and at the end of this brilliant book, I feel vindicated!

Needless to say, I absolutely love The Tree Bears Witness!

Rating: 4 .5/5 stars

P.S. Half a star less because of how it ended. But it was in compliance with how empires operated at the time. I know that the 4.5 stars more than make up for the missing half star. 🙂

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Book Review: A Ticket to Syria by Shirish Thorat

I am an early reader of this book, approached by the author to give an honest review about it. When I read the blurb of A Ticket to Syria, I was intrigued. The reason behind this is the current situation that the ISIS has plunged the world into. Though the massacres have comparatively reduced, the Islamic State remains the most dangerous terrorist outfit in the world, showing no mercy or remorse in whatever they do.

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Description: A Ticket to Syria

Beneath the clear blue skies of Maldives, a beast slouches towards Syria to be born.

Zahi has led a perfectly normal life until one day she heads out for a family vacation but finds herself in the conflict stricken sands of Syria. Unknowingly signed up for Jihad along with her family, Zahi is now the newest recruit of the Islamic State. In a hostile environment with no support and where a single misplaced word could mean death, she is able to make contact with her brother back home. Thus is set in motion a web of deception, courage and tragedy as she attempts to escape.

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Author Shirish Thorat, in his author’s note, explains his connection with the Republic of Maldives. An ex-cop, the author whips up the reasoning behind the book with a levelheaded passion that foreshadows the rest of the journey.

A Ticket to Syria is Shirish Thorat’s well-researched account of the Islamic State recruiting from Maldives. When Sameer Ibraheem’s siblings take off suddenly, he contacts Ahmed Idris, his sister-in-law Zahi’s older brother who is a prominent businessman in Male. Zahi is married to Sameer’s brother, Munsiu and is lied to and told they are going on vacation when in fact they are heading to Syria. Idris in turn gets in touch with his contact for help in evacuation. The story is a true one and considering the gravity of the subject, names of people involved have been changed.

The Positives:

A Ticket to Syria, as mentioned before, is well-researched and well-written. Reading this book will give you a clear idea of the formation of the Islamic State, the reasoning behind it (however twisted it may be), and how the Islamic State functions. It is gripping to the point where your anger and fury towards the ISIS now mingles with a deep disgust that crawls up your skin and makes you want to destroy those negative forces.

A Ticket to Syria is a patient narration of how it started, where it gets its motivation from, and the wiles required to beat it without it having an inkling. It’s interesting to see how the people in the narrative collect information and use it in their quest to attain the objective. The numbers are bone-chilling. And the more you know about ISIS or the Islamic State as they like to call themselves, the more you start hating them. As if what they’ve done isn’t enough, knowing their “motivations” shakes it up even further.

The Negatives:

The first thing I noticed as I read A Ticket to Syria was that in some places, the narrative shifts from past tense to present jarringly. It’s a little too complex for me to mentally correct if before reading it. But hey, that’s just my opinion.

Despite being informative, A Ticket to Syria has some drawbacks. The information, while taking us on a journey, is not used very much in the whole story that’s being played out. It’s a little disappointing to see what could have been a blockbuster of a novel being relegated to being just an informative one.

Final Verdict:

While the connection between the description of the Islamic State and Zahi’s story is a little wanting, there is much that A Ticket to Syria does in terms of enlightenment. We know now how the Islamic State works, why it does what it does, how misguided it seems to be in the name of religion, and everything else that takes the recruits into further depths of depravity.

I want to give A Ticket to Syria a 3, but for the understanding it provides of how the mad minds of the world work, I’ll give it an extra half star.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

A Ticket to Syria is slated for release on December 10 this year. It is available for preorder on Amazon and Flipkart.

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