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Baaz- Anuja Chauhan

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Strange how this is my first Anuja Chauhan book. I have all her books, but for some reason, I have never got down to reading them. So I started reading this book without any pre-concieved opinions or expectations. But then, reading about an airforce officer fresh after Mani Ratnam’s Kaatru Veliyidai did help me picture Ishaan the way I wanted to. And I subconsciously somehow drew similarities between the two. Anyway. That’s not what this is about.

A village boy who got his adrenaline rush baiting trains as a child baits bigger things as an adult, things that give him a rush from higher up, starting from the diving board and then literally reaching for the skies. And then the war breaks out and love happens. After Kartography, this is the next fiction set during the Bangladesh war that I’m reading. I have strong opinions on war myself, and so I was able to relate quite easily with Tehimina and the conflicts in their relationship. Makes me wonder if it is actually ever possible for two people with ideologies at two extremes to ever make a relationship work.

The book is extremely well researched, but the armed forces is somehow not my thing (sorry, I’m on *that* side) and I must admit that I skimmed a lot through the war details. But the romance and the undeniable filmy aspects made the book an enjoyable read. But then again, being a, well, you know, the hinglish got on my nerves. But hey, this isn’t a work of literature, so if it works for some people, who am I to complain.

There’s something in this book for everyone, (let me stereotype here and say romance for the ladies, war for the boys) but I wonder if this book will actually make it out of the chicklit genre into the regular world.

Having expected it to be classic chicklit and then mistaking the picture on the cover to have been a female IAF pilot and expecting it to be about a badass woman pilot and then actually reading the book for what it was, I must say that it was a bit of a letdown. But then again, this is my first Anuja Chauhan book and I would recommend that any newbie wanting to start reading her, start with this one.

As an aside, as a note to myself, I should pick up The Blood Telegram and finish it from where I left off. I need a dose of the real Bangladesh war stuff after this.

And oh, the next best thing about this is that when you hear the word Baaz, you would automatically think of this book and not the Salman Khan movie.

You can get your copy of this book from here 

 

(The book was sent to me as part of a book review program)

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Kerala’s Naxalbari

Anger

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‘What is a Naxalite pa?’ ‘They are people who don’t like rich people. They cut off the heads of rich men at night and leave them on their doorsteps the next morning’
What on earth were my parents thinking when they explained Naxalism to child this way?!

I was grounded enough to know that we were not rich, but I still remember being terrified for my neighbour uncle, whom I considered to be a richman,and having nightmares of his beheaded head on his doorstep. This was in the early 80s and Naxalism and Ajitha were still part of newspaper articles that my dad used to read out loud from the Malayala Manorama. This is my first memory of the name Ajitha, the Naxalite. It was several years later, I heard her name again when we were trying to get help for a friend in an abusive marriage and she was asked to contact Anweshi. Anweshi? Yeah, run by ex-Naxalite Ajitha, they said. Ah.

I’m not that child anymore. And I know who Naxalites really are.

The problem with reading on the Kindle is that you don’t give too much importance to the book covers. So when the incident related to the photograph on the book’s cover happens, it punched me in the gut like nothing else. It unleashed a wave of anger in me, and I realized that it is such anger that creates people like her. I hope she has never, ever forgiven the police and the system for this.

The book is a translation and as most translations go, it drones on and on, painfully. But if you look beyond the language and the style of narration, you will read about a fiery young girl who became the face of the Naxal movement in Kerala. The way she continues to loom large as ‘Naxalite Ajitha’ one would think that she participated in several attacks and was some kind of fearsome terrorist. But no, she was just an idealistic young girl who went on one, just one, mission. A mission that failed. Not yet an adult, she went as the only woman in a group of men, with the blessings of her parents.  Admirable. Though in her later interviews she does talk about the sexual harassment she faced within the group while in the forests. I still don’t understand the splits, the ideology of each faction, the internal politics, the Soviet-China divide or anything. The book mentions a lot of ‘betrayals’, but I have no clue what they are.

Reading this book in 2017, after several trips to ‘communist’ China, I am not able to relate to how Mao inspired and kicked off such a violent revolution in India in the 60s. Or how books of translated Mao quotes sold like hot cakes. The only Mao quote that I am familiar with are the ones from the souvenirs about him being a ‘Very Gelievable’. Or how they sought validation from Peking. While I am on their side to a large extent, I am extremely uncomfortable about the fact that they chose a foreign country and the leader of a foreign country over their own.

Makes me sad that some of those heroes (yeah) from the movement have changed, changed to the extent of having a godman’s picture on his table :/ Anyway.

The Lovely Bones- Alice Sebold

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I have this habit of Googling ‘similar to’ books whenever I finish reading a book that I like. When I did it after The Virgin Suicides, The Lovely Bones was listed on some forum. So I checked it out on Amazon a few months back and let it be, it didn’t seem too inviting. But last month when this terrible crime happened, I don’t know if it was a coincidence or just creepy internet algorithms being creepy, but this book popped up again on my Recommended Suggestions. Maybe if it hadn’t popped up when it did, it wouldn’t have hit me so hard.

Spoilers ahead.

A fourteen year old girl Susie watches from heaven, helplessly, as her family crumbles apart, unable to come to terms with her death. Her killer, the quiet neighbour who raped and murdered her is still at large, teasing her father into frustration because he is not able to find enough evidence against him. Unable to handle his obsession with finding the truth, her mother drifts apart and finally leaves the family. Her sister joins hands with her father to nail the killer, driving him away from the town to somewhere else where he continues his killing spree. Her baby brother grows up not quite knowing what happened, but well aware of the larger-than-life presence of his dead sister all around the house. Her almost-boyfriend who was initially the key suspect in her murder gets drawn closer to the weird girl in school whom Susie’s spirit touched as she was leaving the earth.
Years roll by and life goes on, and she continues to watch and watch. And the sinkhole in which her body was thrown into continues to fill up, burying the evidence deeper and deeper.The whole story leaves you with a dull ache as you begin to imagine the what-could-have-been versus the what-is.

And then out of nowhere, but quite expectedly, it takes a twist that made me almost throw the book in disgust. I was fine with the narrator being in heaven and even ok with her touching someone as her spirit left earth. But when she comes back after all those years to ‘enter’ that body and tie up all the loose ends, I got annoyed. It undid all the poignant moments and went all stupid and weird. If you could have done this earlier, Susie, the whole book needn’to have even happened :/

Then suddenly it switches back into normal mode with a hurried ending where the killer dies an anonymous death. The icicle killing him was supposed to have some kind of reference to the ‘perfect murder’ setting from a high school camp several years ago, but it felt totally out of place and just left me more frustrated with how everything was wrapped up. I feel the book would have been much better if there was no closure, with the killer still at large somewhere and life continuing to go on as it is supposed to.

Once done with the book, I tried to watch the movie, but it was too meh. The book had dragged on for a tad bit too long and I had no patience left in me to watch the movie too. But maybe this is one of those books where the movie was better? I wouldn’t know now.

And then this. I’m always cynical about ‘missing children’ who pop up on social media and never share those pictures. But then several people asked me to share this saying that the child was someone they knew either directly or indirectly. So I shared the tweets  and was gearing up to tweet to everyone the next day  asking them to delete the pictures once the girl was found. I was sure she would be found. I was hoping for a story the next day with the picture of the smiling child with a couple of police constables. It was such a terrible shock when the worst was confirmed.

There’s nothing that is more terrible than a world where a little child is not safe. Not safe from her neighbour, her teacher, her priest, or even her own father. Her. His. Little boys are as much at risk. This was a very sad and disturbing illustration that I saw today , but it is a reflection of the reality that is hitting us in our faces in a news article every other day.

And then this, my post from long ago about a story I wrote long ago. Still relevant.

It Waits: Andaleeb Wajid

Wait. There’s no food!?

Just when I thought that Andaleeb Wajid had settled comfortably in the food-romance genre she pulls off a horror novel with such effortless ease that it had me wondering if she walked into a basement and wore some kind of bracelet to transform herself to write this book 🙂

Twenty years after she left her hometown, Trishna is forced to go back there to deal with things after her mother’s death and face the monsters of her past, the ones that she ran away from at the age of eighteen.  Little does she know that the monsters of her past would turn out to be literally a monster.

Back in the idyllic little town of Dhakara, she slowly settles into her room with the peeling posters from her teen years and meets familiar faces from those days. The most familiar face being her teenage crush, her one true love, Inder who is now the town doctor. Just when you think that it is going to be a sappy love story with a happy ending, Trishna steps into the basement. And  that’s when things get interesting.

The story suddenly shifts from midnight kisses and chocolate cakes to gore and blood and a human being who is torn apart and eaten. So deliciously good!

All the main characters shaped up really well with just the right amount of fluff needed for a horror story, but I felt Chinnamma’s character could have been better etched so that the reader would have grown to like her more given that youknowwhat. It was so refreshing to see the kids call Inder Inder and not some typical desistyle Uncle Inder. I also liked the way the kids didn’t trust Inder and instead of running helplessly and cling to him when things got scary and went about investigating things on their own. Smart, cool kids.  Like in most of her other books, the undercurrent of that love-hate relationship between the mother and daughter is beautifully expressed , whether between Trishna and her mother or Trishna and Jia.

What I would have liked is a little more reason as to why the monster was so tempting. Why did they need to keep going back. What high did it give them. Was the high like a drug trip or what. And maybe calling it something else. Not It, not monster (to me, monster is something that lives under beds and scares 6 year olds). Something with a name that would have made the reader connect with it better and even root for it. ( I secretly was)

The pace of the book is steady, you don’t feel like putting it down. You might feel like staying up all night wanting to finish it, but that is something that I advise you not to do because the glowing buttons of the AC remote control might give you a teeny tiny heart attack when it suddenly reminds you of It.

Pick up the book. It costs just Rs.30. It is that book with the creepy green eyes on the cover, staring at you, sharing space with Sunny Leone and other tempting erotica on the Juggernaut app here https://www.juggernaut.in/books/8a2a1e2246144722bff9bd00b33a57a9

The Corpse That Spoke: Sidin Vadukut

Expected a movie, ended up watching a documentary.

Wait. Before the book, I first have to say what I want to say about the Juggernaut app. I hate it. Absolutely hate it.

The concept of reading entire books on mobile phones itself is stupid. Ok, I know people who do and I use my Kindle app on all my devices, but the design on this app is so annoying that it makes me want to throw my phone out of the window in frustration. You scroll to read. Scroll down page by page, line by line to read a book that might run into a million pages. You read five pages like this and end up with a headache and all wonky eyed.  Oh, it doesn’t even scroll down page by page. It just scrolls. Like line by line or whatever, with only the page number to tell you whether you are on the same page or yaayy you’ve turned the page. Even apps like Pocket I use for longreads have the page flip option. The  Kindle app  on my laptop scrolls, but one roll of the mouse= one page. THAT IS HOW YOU READ A BOOK. PAGE BY GODDAMN PAGE.

And the thing doesn’t sync across devices, so you have to scroll down right to where you left off if you continue to read somewhere else. (Edit: It apparently does. Or something) And when you pull down the screen to change the brightness or check notifications you end up pulling a few lines down too. Bloody annoying app. Oh, there seems to be some kind of clique and air kissing that happens with the Juggernaut people on social media, so everyone is all ohwow ohcool ohbrilliant about it. Because of this they get defensive when you give them feedback. Whatever. Here’s my review of your app: It sucks.

I first downloaded the app on my huge inch screen phone because free books, but threw the app in the garbage bin after attempting to read something. So when I bought Andaleeb Wajid’s Will the Oven Explode last year, I made her send me a version I could use on the Kindle. I then decided that I should only buy books on this idiotic app only if I know the author and can get a decent version of the book to actually read like a normal human being.

But then yesterday I thought I’d give it another try because new huger inch phone and I bought this book. The app is still as annoying as it was, but I forgive it this time because the book was good. Well, I won’t actually call it a book. A longlongread maybe, but it was a good read. Not great though.

Like I’ve said before, the unDorked version of Sidin is something I enjoy reading. His Deja View column was something I loved. And now this new genre seems to be a thing to look forward to and I hope he writes more pieces like this one, but if they are going to be books, I would expect a little more zing in them.

An immigrant running a shady business and his family that vanishes without trace, a drug lord out from prison, a woman the drug lord is obsessed (?) with and a brother who is determined to find out what happened to his sister… the perfect ingredients for a quickie crime novel or even a movie, but somehow the narration seemed to be too in-between. Everything started off on a very interesting note, but tapered off without much meat. Each chapter seemed disjointed and left a lot of loose ends without proper closure.

What was so special in Belinda Brewin that made him seek her out after five years? The chapter is titled Moll, but there seems to be nothing ‘molly’ about her and the opening lines of the chapter do absolutely nothing to establish anything about her character. It is just a piece of information. Why was Amarjit Chouhan tortured so much? There is nothing in the description of Regan’s character that explains the reason behind him being such a cold blooded killer. It also made me wonder about how stupid the police could be to be mislead to something as lame as the Newport Pig meeting and even more stupid to have missed that crucial piece of evidence (which in itself makes me wonder how it was even possible for a piece of paper like that to have survived seawater). Were his khat connections investigated? Has Onkar Verma got closure?

Anyway.

What this book seems to be is a compilation of several news items that have been pieced together to form a narrative. DailyMail has bits and pieces over the years with pictures of the killers and the killed in classic DailyMail style. And the tl;dr version is available on Murderpedia ( my current favourite pedia).

So until Bollywood makes a movie out of this, let’s make do with what we have.

Back

So I finally found the energy and inclination to recover my password and peek back inside here. All is well. It is almost 2017 and according to my stats people are still hitting this blog almost every other day looking to download Sita’s Curse. (*rolls eyes*. Buy the damn book if you so badly want to read bad softpron). I’ve read around 20 books this year, but was in absolutely no mood to write about them so far. Other than that it has been life as usual.

The best book I read this year was Nayomi Munaweera’s What Lies Between Us, a #freephenyl that I should have reviewed on this blog but didn’t. I have C-Bag’s One Indian Girl and am planning to finish it by the end of this year so that it can be officially listed as the worst book of 2016. I tried a month of Kindle Unlimited and ended up losing the Rs.150 with 0/10 books that I borrowed being read. Bad idea. (Oh, I still have them on one device that has not been synced. So I can still cheat the system and get my money’s worth)

I also learned that someone I mentioned in this post has written a book. Well, not actually written a book, but he has translated a book to English. Good enough. So of course, I read that one. It was a pretty good translation and it made me read up a bit on the fascinating history of  Kerala. Another translation that I read was Goat Days, a very disturbing account of life of an unskilled worker in the Middle East.

For my dose of dark and twisty this year I had The Virgin Suicides and The Girl on the Train. I have a couple more of the same genre lined up for a gloomy weekend. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara  has come highly recommended as ‘800+ pages of unadulterated depression’. What more can I ask for.

Started the year with Andaleeb Wajid’s soon to be published book and ended the year with her Will the Oven Explode. Another friend sent me his book, Shadows, but it was some deep stuff that went over my head. So now I’m waiting for the book he is currently writing where apparently his main protagonist is my namesake ( But not named after me).

Then there was this and that, unremarkable books where I just went through the motions.

The forced digital detox this week thanks to the cyclone Vardah made me sit through the day (and night) with my Kindle,sucked into World War I. Yes, the Big Bang Book of This Year has been Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants. What an amazing, amazing journey that was. I’ll write more on this book soon. I’m still reeling from all the information I wikiclicked my way through while reading up on all the historical references in the book.

Anyway. I’m back. And I hope to remain being back all next year.

Nope. No Kindle for me.

Update: A couple of months after I wrote this post I succumbed to an offer on Amazon and bought the Kindle Paperwhite. I love it to bits. I hope it forgives me for this nasty post below

I was one of those people who swore by physical books. I never ever thought that I’d go the e way until I bought my Samsung Galaxy Tab. And then the Kobo and Kindle app happened making me an an instant convert. I devoured books day and night, in the darkness and in the light. But as awesome as it was, reading on the tablet did have a lot of limitations. It was too distracting. With the internet on, I kept checking my social networks every ten minutes, sometimes live tweeting the book. Without the internet on, there was always Candy Crush tempting me with Just-One-More-Level. It was too bulky to carry around and too delicate to rough it out on a train journey. And reading in the dark was too stressful on my eyes. So I decided to become a hardcore ebook reader and get my Kindle.

Going by the numerous reviews of the Kindle Paperwhite, it seemed like it was the ultimate reading device . There was not a single negative review that I came across. So I put it in my Amazon cart and almost clicked on Buy.  And then, I had second thoughts. So I borrowed a Kindle from my friend to try it out for a few days before investing almost Rs. 14000 on one.

And I’m glad I did.

After a week with a Kindle Paperwhite, I decided that it was not for me. Am I the only one or are these issues that bug other people too?

The Refresh Issue:

Maybe the time lag between page turns is less than a second and a lot lesser than the time taken to turn a page on a physical book. But it irritated me to no end. After experiencing the smooth page transitions on the tablet, that blink that happens for a fraction of a second on each page turn was so annoying. But that wasn’t the worst part. Every sixth page, the screen would turn black and then white again. On pages with tables or pictures, it was worse. This is supposedly an e-ink thing. All the online forums that discussed it said that I would ‘get used to it’. But I don’t think I ever could. It was like waiting for the other shoe to drop. I would brace myself for that sixth page blackout even before I turned the first page. Adjust your blinking pattern , you’ll get used to it they say! I’m outraged that people would even suggest such a thing.

And this black blink happens on every single touch when you handle the menu. Extremely irritating.

Size 

Yes, it is compact. It is thinner than a pencil, lighter than a paperback and it even fits in the back pocket of your jeans. But seriously, who carries around a Kindle in the back pocket of their jeans? Everyone slips it into a bulky and bigger cover. Some use a leather case, some a padded cloth pouch, some even a hardwood box. So why that stingy 6 inches? Why not the dimensions of a small paperback. And extra inch of screen space would have made such a difference to me. ( The iPad Mini has the best dimensions )

Page numbering

The Kobo app is really great when it comes to page numbering. It gives you the page x/n at the bottom of each page. Makes reading more pleasurable. You can tell yourself, five more pages to go and then I’ll sleep. But the Kindle has the weirdest way of showing your progress. Location 3 of 5760. 1%.  Why not a simple page this of that? Now imagine reading A Suitable Boy on the Kindle.

Cover design

Ok. I am shallow. I like pretty covers. I can accept the fact that the covers on the Kindle will be in black and white, but why have the same cover as the actual book? It makes your collection look so ugly. Like those photocopied textbooks with blurry black and white photographs. Why not have different covers for the Kindle (or any eformat) versions with crisper, sharper black and white images? Look at the cover of the book Kite Strings. That is the kind of cover I am taking about. It should work on both the colour screens and the black and white ones. Here is my collection on the Kindle app on the tablet vs the collection on the Kindle. Can you blame me for wanting pretty things?

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Flexibility

There was an offer on the Play Store and I got a bunch of books free. Flipkart gave me a bunch at a discount. I have a whole set of books from the Kobo store. I have a stash of pirated books. I have author friends who send me manuscripts in a Word doc or official documents  that run into several pages that I convert into epub or mobi using Calibre. How do I read all those on my Kindle? I can convert a few an transfer to the device, but not all. It seems unfair that I would need a different app or an eReader for each format. Why not allow me to upload my entire collection whether I bought it from Amazon or not on the Amazon cloud and access them on my device? Piracy and all that, I know. But still.

Price

Almost Rs.13000 for a device (with all the limitations above) that you use only for reading books? Slightly pricey don’t you think? And they don’t even throw in a charger for free.

So tomorrow, I will return the Kindle to my friend and remove the item from my Amazon cart. I’ll put cucumber slices on my eyes after a night of reading on my tablet. Maybe I’ll uninstall Candy Crush. And I’ll wait until Amazon can give me a better Kindle. For less than half the price of this one. I’m like that.