Tag Archives: Pan

The Favourite Sister by Jessica Knoll

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Title: The Favourite Sister
Author: Jessica Knoll
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-1509839964
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 Stars

I did not think I would enjoy this book the way I ended up enjoying it. It is fast, breezy and extremely relevant to our times and the world we live in. Brett and Kelly are sisters who are the jewels of a New-York based reality television show called Goal Diggers. And this is where their rivalry begins. It is a show for the winning and there are three other competitive women participating in the show, besides the sisters.

This is where they begin to drift and all the secrets and lies and more secrets enter the picture, as expected. Till something happens (you guessed it right!) and things take a turn for the worst. The characters are etched well, though I did find some inconsistencies in some places, but that is all forgiven because the plot is so strong. The elements are the same – jealousy, money, fame, greed and control, which are the hallmarks of a good thriller.

Knoll builds the novel to a great climax and that is the beauty of this book. Sometimes it does feel like a drag but persist a little for the good parts to come. “The Favourite Sister” makes for a good flight read.

Book Review: I Kissed A Frog and Other Stories by Rupa Gulab

I Kissed A Frog and Other Stories by Rupa Gulab Title: I Kissed A Frog and Other Stories
Author: Rupa Gulab
Publisher: PAN India
ISBN: 978-93-82616-05-4
Genre: Short Stories, Chick-Lit
Pages: 222
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

Let me start by saying that I do not read chick-lit. The genre doesn’t interest me at all. Not because I am a man, but because I think that most chick-lit is only about generalizing men with the age-old tag, “All Men Are Bastards” and it is fact, or at least what I tried reading of chick-lit in the past. So I wonder sometimes, how many bastards have some women really known to make such sweeping statements? It must have then been very sad for them to know such kind of men. May be at some level the expectations of the genders are different and hence the so-called, “divide”. Well, having said all of this, I thought why not give chick-lit one more go and I then started reading, “I Kissed A Frog and Other Stories” by Rupa Gulab.

The book as the title suggests is a collection of short stories, seventeen to be precise and spread across three sections. So the sections are on love, friendship and modern-age fairy tales. I enjoyed the stories and at the same time felt strongly that in some places, it was only the woman’s perspective that was visible. The undertones or sometimes overtones of feminism (I do not know if this is the right word to use here, however I shall) were present throughout the book. Having said that, for me some stories stood out the most. “Au Revoir”, a beautiful story of letting go of friendship in the face of death and “Welcome to the Sisterhood” with its not so unique theme and yet definitely so for our country was bittersweet and left me with a big broad grin. “The Ex Files” on the other hand seemed straight out of a romantic comedy, which ends with finding a new relationship closer to home. “Diet Wars” was forced writing according to me and I am glad it ended soon. “Heavy Weather” is the kind of story that you wish would happen to you. It is ideal in every single way.

I loved the modern-age fairy tales a lot. They are short and to the point and also make you laugh. By that point in the book, I had also gotten used to the women driving the plot and getting things their way. The writing is refreshing and razor-sharp. Ms. Gulab knows how to use her words and when to strike them. The book is a racy read. I finished it in one sitting and did not want to let go. I would definitely read “The Great Depression of the 40s” as it seems very interesting and at the same time different from this one. All I can say is that I am glad I read “I Kissed a Frog” because I needed that change of mind and had to get away from heavy-handed literary fiction. I would recommend it to those looking for a light read.

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Interview with Aroon Raman

I loved The Shadow Throne by Aroon Raman. And right after reading it, I had to interview the writer. So we spoke and spoke some more and here is an interview with him. I loved the book and here is my review of it.

1. What prompted you to write The Shadow Throne? How did the story idea germinate?

In the months post May 2011, post the bin-Laden assassination, I could see seismic shifts happening both within Pakistan and relations between Pakistan and the West. The country’s self-image was, of course, the first casualty; but equally important was that the carefully cultivated image of the ISI and the military as frontline guardians of the country’s security was also shattered. External relations with NATO, and especially with America, hit a nadir from which even today they have not recovered.

India too was in its own – self-generated – crisis: a crisis of governance and political will, that continues unabated. A government tarnished by a series of scandals, each bigger than the other; reports of bureaucratic dysfunction have abounded, and some stories – such as the bugging of the telephones of extremely senior government officials – have created an unprecedented sense of crisis. The military and intelligence arms of the government have been inevitably drawn into this mess: witness the recent fracas over the Army Chief’s run-in with military intelligence.

So we had a situation that to me seemed ripe with many possibilities; Pakistan with its back to the wall, India in its own crises of governance. The idea of TST germinated against this backdrop. The intent all along was to maintain an authentic feel to the plot: keep it chilling but believable.

2. Not many Indian writers have explored the thriller genre successfully. What made you? Weren’t you apprehensive to begin with?

A writer has to write about what excites him or her; in other words I must play to my metier. While I read non-fiction extensively, and literary fiction as well, I have been drawn to yarns of adventure and the thriller as a genre from an early age. Rather than being a hindrance, it has actually helped that the well-written Indian thriller is still relatively rare – at least in English. It seemed to me that it was therefore easier to make a mark with a fast-paced, well researched thriller than in literary fiction – where plenty of talent already abounds!

3. Like I said earlier, I felt that Meenakshi’s character had not been given her so-called, “due”. You think more could have been done to extend her part in the book? Does she progress to become essential in another Chandra thriller?

Though she does not appear as much in the book as Chandra and Hassan, I’d like to think that Meenakshi punches above her weight—so to speak. She is critical to the book; she is responsible for all the major breaks in the case: the early fix on the Kushans, the cracking of the code that leads Chandra and Hassan to Bamiyan and suggesting that the final rescue of Hassan is effected by Gul Mohammed. She is important enough that the bad guys move to eliminate her: an attempt she defeats with real courage. I also needed her in Delhi to provide the foil for the action in Afghanistan so that the plot switches back and forth between the two countries. This switching of locale is always something that adds to the plot and is very useful in a thriller.

That said, TST is well set up for a sequel, one where Meenakshi might well become central in a big way!

4. Your literary inspirations…

I cannot do better than quote Tolkien in his preface to The Lord of the Rings where he said, “The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them.” The relative strengths of these emotions may vary depending on the type of book, but my deepest desire (as I believe that of any writer) will be to ‘grip’ the reader powerfully, take them out of themselves and hold them in the book’s embrace till it is done.
There are several writers who are my icons and inspiration. Conan Doyle has to have pole position ( he created not just Sherlock Holmes, but a large body of thriller and historical fiction), closely followed by Tolkien, Rider Haggard, Peter O’ Donnel (creator of the Modesty Blaise series). Modern writers: Frederick Forsyth, Ken Follet, Caleb Carr, Stephen Hunter…these are just a few in a list that is very long!

5. Aroon the writer…

Believes there is a story within us all. Even in the most mundane of lives, there is the dramatic, the unusual. As a writer, I’d like just to be awake to what life offers us each day – little vignettes that can be the stuff of big stories! Another thing: one writes for ‘the market’, but one also writes for oneself. The key to success is to bring about a happy accord between the two. That is exactly what I strive to do as a writer.

6. Aroon the person…

Is a jack of several trades, trying to balance it all. Roughly 50 per cent of my time goes to running my R&D business and the rest to a mix of writing, trekking, travel and working with NGOs. There is so much to do, and so little time to do it!

7. There are so many books flooding the Indian market. By this I mean the local home-bred writers. What do you think of this mass production? You think there is a demand for every kind of book that is being published?

The mortality rate of new books is extremely high in India. We have to remember that Indian writing in English has exploded recently – in the last decade or so and the market is still developing. New writers are flooding the scene and there is necessarily a slew of books in practically every genre. Is this too much? It’s hard to say. India is also a big, complex reading market. I recently visited several book distributors across the country and was amazed at the numbers and varieties of books that sell – including local language translations of Western authors. So while there may not be a demand for every book that is published, there is certainly a demand for a huge number and variety of them. I believe that as with any market, this too will settle over time. In final reckoning the reader is the king…or queen!

8. What will the next book be like? Another thriller?

My next book is an adventure story set in Mughal India at the time of Akbar. It is also fast-paced, filled with action, and with an authentic feel of the period. A small band of animals led by a young boy make a hazardous journey through Hindustan to warn the Mughal Emperor of an impending threat to his Empire—from the fabulous treasure of Malik Kafur, long thought lost. The book is completed and will be published sometime next year by Pan Macmillan.

9. How has the book fared? It has been successful for sure. What do you think of yourself as a writer basis that? Has that changed anything? Do you expect more from yourself now?

The Shadow Throne has hit No. 8 in the bestseller list (HT Nielsen BookScan)in the very first week (ending September 15th) of its release. In that week, not all stores still had the book displayed, and so to get to this level of sales so early has been great for me as a debut writer. I’m waiting to see how it will do in the weeks and months ahead.

The early feedback from several readers and sales figures themselves validate the one most important expectation I have as a writer: that I’ve hopefully been able to establish a strong ‘connect’ with the reader. My plot, pace, characters and writing style have resonated with my target audience. This is a huge boost to my confidence as a debut author, and that in a less-populated genre. The experience of being published has also matured me as a writer; the feedback from people, even my own editing team have all deepened my perspectives of what works.

Obviously, we are still in the early stages of the introduction of TST and time will tell how well it will succeed. Still, expectations of myself for my further work have become more ambitious consequent to the early successes we have seen thus far. Building on a broad-based reader feedback is as a good a spur any for improving as a writer.

10. Your biggest reader compliment…

Kris Gopalakrishnan, the Vice Chairman of Infosys wrote in to say he felt compelled to finish the book in almost one go. This in fact has been the reaction of practically every reader of The Shadow Throne so far and the biggest compliment that a thriller writer can expect!

Book Review: The Shadow Throne by Aroon Raman

Title: The Shadow Throne
Author: Aroon Raman
Publisher: Pan Macmillan India
ISBN: 978-81-923-9800-6
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 332
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I am not a fan of thrillers. I do not read them and they do not interest me. There have been times I have picked up a thriller just like that and surprisingly so loved it. This was one of those. I received an advance review copy of one of Pan Macmillan India’s Lead Title, “The Shadow Throne” by Aroon Raman and tore through it one day. It is that good and it is a thriller set in India and Afghanistan.

“The Shadow Throne” starts with a mysterious murder at Qutub Minar, and from there, the book spirals to an ace journalist Chandrasekhar and his cop acquaintance, Inspector Syed Ali Hassan, trying to uncover one of the biggest political and deadly games ever concocted, which could lead to millions losing their lives. This is not where it stops. There is more. There is ISI, the murky world of Pakistan spy and RAW – the Research and Analysis Wing, the uber-agency of Indian Intelligence, which form the core of the book.

This is again not where it stops – there is also a race of people that were thought of was extinct, and they surface as well, a part of a larger scheme – to claim what is theirs.

Amidst all this is Chandra’s history professor friend Meenakshi Pirzada, trying to help him by decoding clues. In novels such as these, there is often mistrust, loyalties are questioned, the best-laid plans go awry, and it all works out in the end. I will not say much about the plot. You need to read the book to discover it and at times be surprised and at others think to yourself, “I knew this was coming”.

The writing is fast-paced (as it should be) and definitely well-researched for a book of this proportion. Aroon Raman does a great job of mixing fact with fiction and keeping the reader on his or her toes throughout. The plot is intricate and needs the kind of detailing as mentioned. The use of Hindi and English is interestingly done and not over-used as well, which could become the case, while writing an Indian Thriller. One of the things that did strike me was the potential this plot had to be made into a film. I am sure it will be done in no time.

Like I said, I normally do not read thrillers but somehow the synopsis of this one prompted me to and I am glad I did. The Shadow Throne is an interesting read. You will finish it in a couple of hours. I loved it. I enjoyed the welcome break from literary fiction and will most certainly be looking forward to his second book.

The title is slated to release on the 11th of September 2012.

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Book Review: Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Title: Tell The Wolves I’m Home
Author: Carol Rifka Brunt
Publisher: Pan
ISBN: 978-1447202134
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

“Tell the Wolves I’m Home” by Carol Rifka Brunt cannot be classified as a Young Adult novel. It is not that for sure. It is haunting and adult in more ways than one. It is a beautiful human story that I was expecting on reading the synopsis and it delivers at every level.

The premise is simple: Fourteen-year old June Elbus loses her beloved uncle Finn Weiss to AIDS. Finn, who was a reclusive artist and spent the last months of his life painting a portrait of June and her older sister Greta. After Finn’s death, June chances upon another side to her uncle – an almost other life and she leads to the road of discovering her uncle and stitching the fragments in her mind and heart.

June learns that her uncle had a secret boyfriend, Toby. She is jealous of Toby. She is told by her family that her uncle died because of Toby as he was responsible for Finn’s disease. She hates him passionately at the beginning, but begins to learn more about her uncle through him, and eventually warms up to him, and grows to love him immensely. At the same time June misses her uncle in ways unimaginable and that is also at the core of the story, which sometimes is heartbreaking.

“Tell the Wolves I’m Home” is about acute grief and how does one deal with it. It is about growing up and how does one feel like an outsider – be it June, or Toby or Finn for that matter. Told from June’s perspective, the book is not easy to begin with – a lot of past and present scenes are muddled, but I somehow liked the time shifts as they added to the overall narrative.

The book has its own set of twists and turns. The good part is that there aren’t too much to handle at any point. Every character has his or her own story to tell and Carol has done justice to each of them.

Carol Rifka Brunt’s characters are flawed. No one is perfect. That is why I enjoyed reading this book the way I did. The title of the book is as unique as the plot. You need to read the book to figure, why this title was used.

My favourite character in the entire book has to be Toby. He is a great combination of tenderness, sentimentality and an outcast that only needs to be understood. In more than one way, the similarities between June and Toby are striking and maybe that was intentional.

The urgency in the writing is apparent. Words flow effortlessly and that style appealed to me as a reader. It kept taking me to a place that reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird in some ways and that is very special to me. Tell the Wolves I’m Home definitely has to be one of the best reads this year. Highly recommended.

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