Wednesday, December 25, 2013






Friday, December 20, 2013


"Snow is falling all round me,
Children playing having fun
It's the season of love and understanding
Merry Christmas Everyone"

Its 20th December of 2013 already. Christmas is around the corner and so is New Year!! Yippie!!

This Christmas, it is time once again for all of us to put on our creative cardigans and dive into the deep wonderful world of imagination and fantasy! Its is time for TROFEO 2.0 

Zealot Readers is inviting one and all  to send in a small story or a writeup on either of the topics: 'WHEN SANTA CAME HOME' or 'WHEN TOYS HAD A NEW YEAR PARTY'.

1. All entries must be in ENGLISH languages only.
2. We have two categories : a) short : upto 250 words b) long - more than 500 You can choose your category yourself.
3. The write-ups must be original and should NOT have any obscene content.
4. Each entry would be read and evaluated by our panel comprising of one expert and some ZR members. Identity of the participant would not be disclosed to jury panel. Starting 1 February 2014, each day, we would be posting one entry write-up on the blog, with the review and the special comments by the jury.
5. It is a non- competitive event. Early 2 and the best 4 of the total entries (as decided by the jury) would receive special Christmas and New Year gifts from Zealot Readers.
6. ALL the entries considered good shall be published on the blog, Zealot Readers.
7. One lucky winner will get a chance to send us a book review, which shall also be published on the blog. 
8. The event is open to all age groups.
9.The decision of the jury will be final and binding.

Where to start: Register at HERE 
How to send : By Mail
Where to send :
When to send : By 20th Jan, 2014
What to specify : Category [preschooler, primary, middle/secondary, young-adult, adult]

Looking forward to reading your interesting stories...

Questions/ queries: Contact - Vibha

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Title: Short Stories For The Hopeful And The Weary - A Collection of Four Short Stories
Author: Scott Roloff

After struggling with a particular book for over 8 month and still not moving at all, and doubting my reading skills and ability, I had almost thought my book reviewing career was about to terminate. 

But that was until this book came along. Power packed with emotions and reality, this little book 'Short Stories for the Hopeful and the Weary', like water released from a dam, washed away many of my doubts. Good books still exist and good stories still sell! And I thank God for it..!

Perhaps one of the shortest books I have read in ages, this little collection of four still shorter independent stories, happens to score, and score big, despite all odds. A little boy is too old to be a preferred choice of couples wishing to adopt kids. An old man looks back at his life and wonders if it was indeed well lived. A man busy in his own dreamy world realizes what life his wife might be living. And last, a complicated and confusing conversation with the Devil. 

In the first story, 'Nicoli's Birthday', in the hindsight of a war, a young couple wishes to adopt a little girl from an orphanage. There, a young boy touches their lives and they have, but to take a decision. Their decision in the positive would alter their lives and would totally change the destiny of the kid. Though it is a very simple story, the instinctive reactions of the characters have been captured so beautifully that one can just fall in love with the story. The idea of the war in the background could have been stressed more and made more prominent to include an element of contrast between love and war. Nonetheless, this story runs away with the sweeping 4 on 5 rating. A must read for the hopeful and the weary, I must say!

The second story, 'A Lifetime Until Dawn' captures the uneasiness of an iron willed army general, as he looks back at the life that he has lived and wonders if it was actually well lived or not? Well, of the given four stories, for me, this one takes the cake. The simplicity with which the whole scene has been narrated and how even minute details (like the fly, for instance) have been carefully handled, makes the story even more impressive. A massive 4.75 on 5 for this one. Undoubtedly a must read for one and all.

'Saturday's Crossroads', the third in line, is a typical dilemma faced by a person who is now used to seeking pleasures beyond the domestic ambit and is suddenly forced to think of his wife and their strained matrimony. The story plot is somewhere similar to O. Henry's 'The Pendulum'. A 3.5 on 5 for this one looks good!

The last, 'God and the Devil' is a complex and confusing piece from the point of view of an average reader who would want to read for the sake of reading and for being temporarily influenced by the charm of the story. This story is quite deep and would require long hours of pondering upon. The plot of the story is a conversation between a devil and a journalist. From a layman's perspective a 2 on 5 for this one should be alright, but then for those willing to delve down deeper, well..!!

Overall, a very interesting and a insightful book, looking at life from different perspectives and angles, it leaves you yearning for more. The author's style of writing is very addictive, with the narration being profound and most of the stories ending in an amazing twist.

A wonderfully tiny book, it wont take more than a day to complete. Go ahead. Read. Enjoy.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013



Though I am not a big fan of downloading random books from the net and reading them, but there were several factors that prompted me to get this one and read. The newly downloaded Kindle app on my Windows 8, the fact that this was available for free, had a four and a half star rating, and the most important two factors - it was estimated by Amazon to be a kind of novella of hardly 44 pages, and it was in the 'mystery' category, all worked in its favor.

A young homicide detective gets to decode the case of an apparent suicide of a very wealthy, handsome young male. His experience as a detective had taught him to make no assumptions on the case till the culprit (if any) had been caught. He goes about searching for clues and hints to resolve the case, until he comes across an arcane tale of a very similar murder that had happened here itself, many years ago. He also sees the video coverage (or CCTV coverage tape) of the day previous to that of the crime, and lo! there, the book begins to stink of a large filthy twist that lies ahead. The detective suddenly finding himself in midst of a rush of emotions for the lady who was the most likely culprit, if (and only if) it was a murder of some sort, and not a suicide.

The good things about the book are quite a few. Well, the story progresses super fast, and the various events do not take very long. It is a simple two hour read and yes, if the suspense part interests you, you would not be disappointed. If weird twists in the plot is what you cherish, go ahead! And yeah, there are ghosts here too... (trust me, the ghost part IS the best part).

Additionally, if you are the one who believes in 'art for art's sake' or you want to become a writer yourself someday, this is the book you must read. You can almost feel the characters around you. 

But, the story being too short, the mystery part has not been appropriately elaborated and ends too soon. It is a little book after all.

A spooky, crisp read but leaves much to be desired. It would only get a 2.5/5 from me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sita by Devdutt Pattanaik

Title : Sita
Author : Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher : Penguin India
ISBN : 978-0-143-06432-9

"You judge him but I love him Lakshman. You see your brother as an ideal and are angry because he has not lived up to your expectations. I see my husband for what he is, and understand his motivations; at every moment he strives to be what he thinks is best. I will not burden him with expectations. That is how I make him feel loved. And he sees me, knows that I will support him no matter what, even when he resorts to such devious route like an errant child."

Sita watched Lakshman's nostrils flare. She felt his embarrassment and his rage. She wanted to reach out and reassure him, but she restrained herself.
'You feel your Ram has abandoned his Sita, don't you?', she asked gently.
'But he has not. He cannot.
He is God - he abandons no one.
And I am Goddess - I cannot be abandoned by anyone.'
A mystified Lakshman returned to Ayodhya, while Sita smiled in the forest and unbound her hair.

Ramayana is an age old saga that has been passed on from generation to generation through two primary means of communication - maukhik (orally) and likhit (written). Another medium got added to the list much later - that of moving pictures, and this has been utilized multitude of times in narrating the epic tale. But perhaps Devdutt Pattanaik's Sita, is the one, which has touched me in a way no other could. Unlike Mahabharata, Ramayana is considered to be a much simpler tale with lesser diversions and sub-tales, but here in Sita, you get all that there is to read and understand about the story of Ram - the seventh incarnate of Lord Vishnu. The supporting tales mentioned here, do not hinder the flow of the narrative, rather they are brought out at the most logical junctures where they actually belong. Quite like what was done in Jaya, the author tries to bring many sub-stories, regional twists and beliefs into the fold of the main legend. The action of Ravana is compared and contrasted with some Greek and Roman mythological figures as well.  Furthermore, there is perfect dose of analysis and commentary part in the narrative which makes 'Sita' an introspective piece of writing.

In order to stay true to the title 'Sita', the author has attempted to bring a woman's perspective in the proceedings, which has been left unregistered by the earlier story tellers. It begins with Sita's early years in her maternal house. We have been generously introduced to the childhood period of Rama and his three bothers, however, there is not much that has been written about Sita as a child. The things that interested her, her pastimes, her relationship with her parents, sisters and others in the kingdom - do not find much of a mention in many writings. Here, she is portrayed as a well-read, wise, strong and confident character. It is amazing how filling colours in a pencil sketch takes the whole creation to a completely different level and that is what happens to the character of Sita. Pattanaik also highlights the relationship that Sita shared with other women characters - the queens of Ayodhya, Anusuya, Mandodari and Trijata. Their conversations make it easy for the readers to understand the personalities and thought process of various actors. 
The unmentioned and unacknowledged trivia may seem insignificant from the perspective of moving the story forward, nevertheless, they do wonders in giving a substantial identity to each character.

Though a religious epic, Ramayana is a story which leaves many wondering and questioning about the fairness and rightfulness of the decision taken by Ram in banishing his pregnant wife. In Sita, Devdutt Pattanaik has tried to address this sensitive issue by highlighting the divine connection that Sita had with Ram, and vice-versa. Sita tried to pacify the embarrassment of Lakshman thus - 'Ram is dependable, hence God. I am independent, hence Goddess. He needs to do his duty, follow rules, and safeguard reputation. I am under no such obligation. I am free to do as I please: love him when I am separated from him, love him when I am rescued by  him, love him when he clings to me, love him even when he lets me go.' This makes Sita a highly magnanimous person and one worthy of everyone's admiration and adulation.

Devdutt Pattanaik has the acumen to bring out the untapped wisdom that is lying deep in the mythological stories of yore. After having read Jaya and Sita, one wonders, how much there is to learn from such epic tales, if one could just acquire perception like that of Pattanaik.

I cannot put a final full stop to this review before I quote a few nuggets of intellect that would make one introspect and contemplate over and over again. 

  • Kanyaa-daan - I give you Lakshmi - wealth, who will bring you pleasure and prosperity. Grant me Saraswati, wisdom. Let me learn the joy of letting go. In daan only wisdom is asked in exchange, unlike dakshina - where wealth is asked in exchange and bhiksha, where power is asked in exchange.

  • Before your wife came into your life, you were a student, with no claim on property. After your wife leaves your life, you must become a hermit, with no claim over property. Only as long as she is by your side do you have claims over wealth. Without her, you cannot perform yagna, you must  only perform tapasya.

  • From desire come all problems and all desires come from fear.

  • What we possess is temporary but what we become is permanent.

  • Most people seek to be the sun around which the world revolves. Very few are willing to be the moon, allowing others to be the sun, despite having full knowledge that they can outshine everyone else. Ram's brothers served him to upholds the integrity of the royal clan. Sita was bound by wifely obligations but only Hanuman did so out of pure love. That is why Ram held him closest.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Only One Life To Give by Arun Kaul

Title : Only One Life to Give
Author : Arun Kaul
Publisher : Frog Books
ISBN : 978-93-82473-76-3

Arun Kaul opens a window and invites readers to peak into the life that he lived, through a set of short stories. The stories are wisely categorized under four sections. While 'Touching the Sky' has anecdotes from his professional life, some personal experiences are being shared in 'Within the Family'. The other two sections : 'Strangers in the Fold' and 'Women - What it Takes' bring to us some memoirs from the lives of other individuals. Same strings hold all these tales together - the strings of life values, inspiration, dedication, emotion, compassion, sincerity and empathy. Readers get an interesting opportunity to meet - philanthropy personified, a free spirit defying every shackle thrown her way, an individual embracing extreme atonement for his sin, a great administrator-facilitator-patriot, enormity of a mother's sacrifice, uprightness of a villager; and many more. 

We all create and become a part of many stories as we live our lives and when we look back these accounts appear prominently on the screen of our memories. Arun Kaul has collected these images from his memory screen and weaved them beautifully into a series of tales in 'Only One Life to Give'. 

Personally I liked the first section of the book the most. Although the personal section 'Within the Family' should have touched the heart strings the most, it falls short of doing so. Chronology of some events are described repetitively at various places which pushes the narrative to the drab side. Moreover, the abruptness of the personal story of mistrust and betrayal is sure to leave readers with bad taste
in the mouth.  Barring these two downers, the rest of the stories are a delight to read.

A post-graduate in Literature and Management, Arun Kaul made a career in Indian Air Force, followed by working in private sector in various capacities. More on him here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Dare To Run by Amit Sheth

Title : Dare to Run
Author : Amit Sheth
Publisher : Sanjay Publisher
ISBN : 9789380392127

Amit and Neepa Sheth, the husband-wife duo took up running in their later 30s. In 'Dare to Run', Amit takes us through his journey from being a typical couch-potato to the one who made it to the finish line of the Ultimate Human Race - the 89 km Comrades Ultra Marathon in South Africa. It is a story of dreaming big and making those dreams a reality by sheer determination and perseverance. With that kind of focus and hard work, nothing seems impossible and Amit's life is a live example of the same.

In his own words, 'I loved all sports as long as I was watching them on television with a glass of beer in my hand!' While watching 2005 Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon sitting cozily on his favourite couch, the festivities of the occasion enticed him to make a resolution that he would be a part of this festive atmosphere the following year. But the resolution slipped out of his mind almost the same day, to be revived after over six months and that was the time when he openly confessed his desire to his family. 

The first 200 m jog on the beach in Mumbai gave him a fair idea of the arduous task that he had committed himself to. But he followed the path that he had chosen and did it relentlessly. Dare to Run chronicles five years of the incredible journey that Amit undertook passionately and which eventually turned out to be a sojourn of tenacity, courage, discipline, self-belief and self realization. As one reads through the book, one realises how a strong drive to achieve something makes everything else fall in place and brings perspective in life. Once having made a beginning Amit kept on running to cover many milestones and conquer many finishing lines, however, this turns out to be a journey within himself. He had the privilege of having a great partner as Neepa Sheth in life and in running and throughout the narrative he talks about her strong, positive and encouraging presence by his side always. Amit brings in his poetic and philosophical flare of writing as he talks about time management, training regimen, injuries, failures and successes.

Dare to Run is much more than a book dedicated to running. Whether one is a beginner or a seasoned player in any discipline or field, Dare to Run is a great inspirational book to read. It motivates you to push the limits and watch the bigger and wider vistas opening in front of you.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013





Ladies and gentlemen I am back as promised with the award winning children's author Donna M.McDine's second book, Hockey Agony.

This story is of a young boy, Larry who has broken his leg and is no longer able to play ice hockey for his school Stony Point. His coach still wants him involved in the next match against Pearl River and makes him clock runner along with Matthew, who is from the opponent team. Before the match, Larry is asked by his team mate to cheat by shaving off a few seconds just in case it is required by their team.

Already having attitude and discipline problems and unsure of what to do, what does Larry do? Does he compromise and succumb to the pressure? Does he let his team win by fibbing or does he takes the path of honesty? Do read the book to find out.

The book beautifully captures the attitude and behavioral problems of children. It is a good book with good art work done by Julie Hammond.

As all Donna M. McDine's  books, that I have reviewed, this book also imparts important lessons to children regarding honesty and behavior.
The book comes highly recommended.

Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai by Rishi Vohra

Title: Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai
Author: Rishi Vohra
Publishers: Jaico Publishing house
Genre: Romantic Fiction

The cover is bollywoodesque, and so is the title; this was my first impression when I received the book. I didn’t think much of it believing in the adage that the cover tells you a lot about the book.

It turned out to be wrong, it is a fine book very finely written. The story is narrated mostly from the view point of Balwant Srivastav aka Babloo, a young man who has multiple psychiatric problems.  He has been neglected thoroughly by his family, who are simple middle class people. Babloo feels ignored and has only himself and the long Mumbai railway tracks for company. His parents have never probably even tried to accept their child’s special status leave alone helping him or even understanding it. To make the matters worse they have cosseted and spoiled his younger brother Raghu and their world revolves around him.

Babloo’s world on the other hand revolves around Vandana Gupta, the beautiful, smart and outgoing daughter of a senior officer in the Railway Colony in Mumbai where they all live. She is the only one who talks to him normally and does not treat him with apathy. He dreams of being with him and his only purpose is to be able to express himself and his feelings to her.  Enter the local street smart cable operator Sikander whose only purpose is to impress Vandana and bed her.

What happens to the three with Raghu as the betrothed, arranged by the two set of parents providing the fourth angle is both interesting as well as funny in places.  In the course to impress Vandana and also to find a purpose to his life Babloo becomes the ‘Rail Man’. This provides an interesting twist to the narrative and after that the book is un-putdownable.

The characterization, especially of Babloo, Vandana and to some extent even Sikander and Raghu is brilliant. Babloo provides a peep into the minds of special children and their feelings. Vandana comes across as the girl next door who is smart and ambitious yet hopelessly romantic. Her father trusting her and standing up for her is a refreshing change. Sikander is a thorough bad boy and one does tend to feel revulsion for him. Raghu’s stupidity and idiocy provided comic relief.

Another good point is the realistic description of Mumbai and the lives of the people in the railway colony. The city and the colony both come alive and are very well woven in the context. The incident of Rail Man depicts how easily people can be misled and how Babloo could feel empowered only when he hid his true identity. The narrative is smooth, language easy and very readable. The plot elements are interwoven very admiringly.

It’s a racy read. Very realistic in parts but the end is again a bit cheesy and too neat as everything falls in place. Still a believable and happy ending is always welcome. A brilliant first attempt with all the ingredients of a good book, the best part being that it is refreshingly different form the run of mill romances by the English Indian Authors.
You can get more info about the book at

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Twelfth Imam by Joel C. Rosenberg

Title : The Twelfth Imam
Author: Joel C. Rosenberg
Publisher: Jaico Publishers
Genre: Christian Fiction Thriller

A fast paced thriller which features action from the word go, the latest novel by Joel C Rosenberg is a book you can’t put down once you pick it up to read. It weaves the End of the day theory of shia-ite eschatology, current day events and 5the personal stories of the characters in an intricate plot packed with action and suspense.

It’s the story of a spy, David Shirazi aka Reza Tabrizi, an Iranian immigrant boy who loses the one girl he ever felt close to and never comes to terms with the loss. After losing his way for sometimes in the aftermath of the nine eleven attacks he decides to join CIA and hunt for Osama bin Laden. David is then abruptly appointed to Tehran where the President along with the spiritual leader has been planning to unleash nuclear terror on the world in general and USA and Israel in particular.

They believe in the theory of creating chaos and violence to coincide and even encourage the appearance of the ‘Mahdi’ or the The Twelfth Imam as per the shia-ite belief. With an American president who wants to negotiate instead of waging war, an Israeli Prime Minister who is prepared to take pre-emptive action and destroy the reported nuclear sites and a scorched CIA which doesn’t want to put its foot in its mouth again after the Iraq fiasco, David has his task cut out.

He sets out on a topsy- turvy ride to Iran where his job is to discover and disrupt the nuclear weapons program without USA being apparently involved and avoid triggering a war. His courage, skill and humane values are stringently tested and he is forced again to evaluate his religious philosophies.

The novel emphasizes the faith of Christianity and other religions in non-violence and world peace and brings out the chilling facet of Islamic fundamentalism and futility of jihad.  Being a Christian novel it obviously upholds Christ and Christianity.  To an average Indian reader, it will be disappointing not to find even a mention of Hinduism, a little odd considering it has a dominating presence in Asia and is the world’s third largest religion.  Also the visions of Christ himself to the various characters who convert to Christianity and give up Islam, its violence and the zeal to prove Islam as a false religion are bit out of place for a first time reader of the author.

The book is action oriented, fast paced and crisply written. The plot is tightly woven and characters well etched out. The romantic angle provided by Marseille, David’s love of life is interesting. His self-discovery and quest for a religion which provides him succor, peace and is non-biased is an interesting sub plot. The end however is abrupt and one feels short changed after all the hair- raising action. It is as if the juggernaut comes to halt suddenly. If that’s done deliberately to leave the reader waiting for more and anticipate the next book in the series it definitely serves its function.

A must read for those who are interested in the Twelver theory , the current events in west Asia and the relationship between Iran, Iraq , Israel and USA . It is chilling to realize how close we can be to war and end of day if Iran is really following the nuclear program as is widely believed.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Interview with Indu Sundaresan

Born and brought up in India, Indu Sundaresan grew up on the stories of his avid storyteller father - a fighter pilot. She went to US for her higher studies and added two degrees to her academic qualifications - M.S. in operations research and an M.A. in economics. But the storytelling gene in her was too strong to get subdued by any distraction and she began writing soon after graduate school.

The Twentieth Wife, based on the life of Mehrunnisa, Empress Nur Jahan, is the tale of one of India's most powerful Mughal women. This is her first published which earned her many accolades.
She is the author of five books so far. The Twentieth Wife (2002); The Feast of Roses (2003); The Splendor of Silence (2006); In the Convent of Little Flowers (2008) and Shadow Princess (2010).

How did the idea of the Taj Trilogy get conceived?

When I was in graduate school at the University of Delaware, I was homesick one winter evening.  So, I took the bus to the library, typed in ‘India’ in the subject keyword, and went to the section that housed books on India—memoirs, travelogues, non-fiction books.  I came home with a lot of books, one of which was on the Mughal harems and Mehrunnisa who was Empress Nur Jahan.

I read all those books over the ensuing weeks, but that particular one on the Mughal harems stayed with me after I’d finished my M.S. in operations research and my M.A. in economics.  When I decided to write a novel, I began, actually with two books set in India in the late 1500s, entirely fictional…and since they were early books, not well written at all!  But, they got me practicing the craft, taught me how to write an entire book—beginnings, middles and ends.

After I’d finished these two novels, and decided that they were no good, I began casting around for another topic to write on, and remembered that book, went back to the library to research on Mehrunnisa’s life, and wrote then, my first published novel, The Twentieth Wife, which is the first novel of the Taj trilogy.

What are the things in the Mughal dynasty that fascinate you the most?

You know, there’s little about the Mughals that’s not fascinating.  They lived larger-than-life lives—they loved passionately; they built palaces, forts, monuments fervently; they came to India to conquer and stayed on to leave an indelible mark on India’s history.  The Mughal kings also kept reams of documentation on their lives, their loves, their buildings, their conquests, their fights and quarrels—a lot of these have not survived through the ages, but there’s enough to get a fair idea.

The novels of the Taj trilogy, told mostly from the viewpoint of the women of the Mughal harems, are about as accurate in factual content as I could make them, and I had plenty of material to work with!

You have written on strong Mughal women characters who otherwise get overshadowed by the Royal kings in history books. What was the motivation behind this?

Most women in history are overshadowed by the men of their times and their lives—in Mughal India, it probably was due to the fact that the women lived in cloistered zenanas, were not seen by the men at court, and rarely revealed their faces (or their thoughts) to the outside world.

And yet, in many instances, they were the power to reckon with behind that veil they wore.  Mehrunnisa, Empress Nur Jahan, was one such authority in the Mughal Empire.  She signed on imperial documents with her own seal; had coins minted in her name; and sat at the jharoka balcony when she gave audience to petitioners.  All of these were the prerogative of the ruling king of the empire, not of his wife, especially not a twentieth wife, so low in the harem’s hierarchy.

The first two novels of the trilogy, The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses, are about Mehrunnisa.  For the third novel of the trilogy, Shadow Princess, I skipped a generation and went on to detail the life of Princess Jahanara.

She was Shah Jahan’s and Mumtaz Mahal’s oldest surviving child, and after her mother’s death, she acquired the place of the Padshah Begam in the zenana—an unusual role even for a Mughal woman to play, because she was a daughter, not a wife, supreme in her father’s harem.  That position gave her power, plenty of money, and the authority to try and manipulate the succession politics.  She didn’t succeed, as we know, since the brother she favored, Dara Shikoh, did not ascend the throne; another brother did, Emperor Aurangzeb.

Out of all the books that you have authored, which is that one book that you are really proud of? Why?

This is a tough question; one I try not to answer.  It’s true that for authors, our books are akin to our children, so I try not to play favorites.  Usually, I’m most attached to the book I’m currently working on, for obvious reasons—my attention is most focused on that ‘child’ at that moment!

You have written an anthology too. How different are the two styles of story telling - novel vs short story?

My one anthology, In the Convent of Little Flowers, is a collection of stories set in modern India.  This was a tough collection to write, mostly because the topics covered are deeply emotional, sometimes things about our lives we don’t question, try to ignore.

I write short stories when I’m in a lull between novels, or even when I’m immersed in a novel and find that it’s going nowhere fast enough for me.  Then, I take a break, think about something else, work on something short.

The short story can be satisfying to write when your main focus is novels—simply put, you construct a narrative, take one moment in a person’s life, build a story around it, and end it in about 25 pages.  There’s no downtime in my short stories, they gallop, and are meant to leave the reader breathless at the end.  Any reflection upon what happened?  That comes later.

 Which is your upcoming book, what is it about?

The Mountain of Light will be published by Harper Collins in India in October, 2013.  The title of the novel comes from the Persian translation of the word Kohinoor—as in the diamond.  The novel deals with the last fifty odd years of the diamond’s existence in India—when it is owned by the rulers of the Punjab Empire, the Maharajahs Ranjit and Dalip Singh.  British officials come to the Punjab court, asking for Ranjit Singh’s help in the war in Afghanistan, and when he dies, his lands are annexed to British lands in India.

Dalip is only six years old when he becomes king of the Punjab, but it’s a shaky throne, and he’s escorted from his lands under the guardianship of the British and taught to become a perfect English gentleman.  The Kohinoor is sent in great secrecy to England and to Queen Victoria.  In 1854, Maharajah Dalip Singh follows his diamond to England; there he’s feted and petted by the queen.  As he grows up, he realizes that nothing can replace the loss of his Punjab, the enormous wealth of his Toshakhana, and his Kohinoor diamond.

Indian readers read a lot of foreign literature. How are Indian books received by foreign readers ? Is the scene changing in any way?

This is true, I never looked at the flip side—Indian readers do read a lot of foreign literature.  There is, recently, a huge market of Indian-authored books—I think we’re coming into our own now, and telling our own stories.  Frankly, nothing but good can come out of this, because we each bring our own perspectives to our histories and our stories.

How is marketing and promotion of a book changing its readership? What are the best ways to ensure wider reach of a book?

When I first published The Twentieth Wife in 2002, the internet was still a murky world.  Now, things are much clearer—readers are online, authors should be also, there are just so many opportunities.

Many foreign authors have been writing on India as per their understanding of this diverse nation. What are your views on the different perceptions captured from foreign lens?

To me, different perspectives on India, from non-Indians, are always interesting.  Sometimes they’re not so accurate, and sometimes they tell us things about ourselves that we might not otherwise notice.

How would you compare publishing industry in India with its counterpart in other countries? Which are the areas that can be improved upon in Indian publishing field?

The Indian publishing industry in English—just as Indian authors—is also coming into its own.  My mother translated the novels of my Taj trilogy into Tamil, and we’re published in Chennai by one of the premier historical fiction publishing houses, Vanathi Pathipakkam.  It’s in dealing with Vanathi that I’ve realized that the local language market is long established, and extremely vibrant.

The English language market publishers are likewise brilliant in India, especially in acquiring Indian authors from within the country—the range of Indian writing now, both in India and abroad is quite astounding.

Which are your favourite authors - Indian or foreign? Which is your all time favourite book?

I grew up reading a lot of fiction from England, the classics—and in many ways, since they’re favorites from childhood, they are books I return to over and over again.  From the sheer number of times I’ve read Pride and Prejudice and all of Austen, it’s probably my favorite book.

Sunday, September 22, 2013





Ladies and Gentlemen, the award winning children’s author Donna M. McDine is back!
 This time she has two books to offer. I will be posting reviews for both of her new books. This review is about Powder Monkey.

Powder Monkey takes you back to that dark era of history when the Royal Press gang used to kidnap young boys from their homes and turn them forcibly into sailors and their powder boys.

This story is about a twelve year old boy Tommy, who along with his brother and some other boys is kidnapped from his home. He and the other boys are taken aboard a large ship where they become the minions of the crew. The boys are subjected to brutality. One day their ship is attacked at high sea and Tommy becomes the powder boy for the gang and in process loses his ability to hear.What happens to Tommy after the gun battle is over?  What about his elder brother and his parents ….. Is he reunited with his family? Does the book have a happy ending? Do read on.

It is a compelling book, despite it being a children’s book I was forced to turn the pages and finish the story as quickly I could read.

 The first time I read the story it left me with goose bumps. This book brings out the harsh reality faced by the young boys of those times to light. Though the story is fiction, woven around the facts of those dark days, it still brought tears to my eyes.

Donna M.McDine has done a wonderful job again along with the illustrator K.C.Snider whose illustrations are very vivid.

Parents, if you want your children to know a little about history and the harsh reality of life of the days gone by than this book comes highly recommended.

Thursday, September 19, 2013



The author Ted Riccardi is a professor emeritus in the Department of Middle East and Asian languages at Columbia University. He has served as the counselor of cultural affairs at the United States embassy in New Delhi.

The Lost Years of Sherlock Holmes comprises of nine stories and a preface and an afterword written by Dr. John Watson. The stories majorly set in the Indian subcontinent, can be read independently though they have a common thread in form of some characters.

 The world thinks that Sherlock Holmes is dead but unbeknownst he has escaped alive to Asia. This is where the action begins in the book. Sherlock Holmes learns yoga in India with help of which he is able to change disguises very easily, thus adding on to his arsenal of tricks. Sherlock Holmes travels take him to different places in India, Nepal, Ceylon, Java and Tibet, where he comes across some of his old enemies and some new criminals. The adventures that Sherlock Holmes has in Asia have been presented to the world in form of this book.

While in Asia he solves the mystery of, death of his friend, Sir Maxwell as well as that of Hodgson’s ghost and helps find the famous pearl, Moonstar of Mannar, he comes across the secret of Mandor and he unravels the story of how an English seaman’s son became the Regent of Tibet among others.

It’s a mixed bag of stories some interesting some average. I liked, An Envoy to Lhasa, the most.

The Lost Years of Sherlock Holmes by Ted Riccardi makes a decent average read

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Title : Oleander Girl
Author : Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Publisher : Penguin Books India
ISBN : 978-0-670-08673-3
No. of Pages : 288

Korobi (named after a beautiful but deadly flower) is brought up by her grandparents in Kolkata, after her parents expired in a car crash. Though very strict and righteous old man, her grandfather Bimal Roy showers love and affection on Korobi. Grandmother Sarojini is warmth, gentleness and wisdom personified. The story begins on the day when Roy household is buzzing  with joyous activities as Korobi is getting engaged to Rajat Bose, the only son of a high profile business family of the city.

On the engagement party night, Korobi's grandfather dies of a sudden heart attack. Sarojini understandably feels a big jolt post the disappearance of that strong anchor - Bimal Roy, from her life. But readers are subtly introduced to the underlying liberating feeling that she experiences for the first time then. She clearly wants to atone for the sin that Bimal Roy had committed by creating big secrecy surrounding Korobi's birth. Exemplifying an individual with mind of her own, she feels it to be Korobi's right to know about her parentage.

When Korobi comes to know about some part of the truth, she decides that she needs to find her true identity first before building a new life with Rajat. For that she needs to embark on a journey out of her sheltered life of Kolkata, to a new world - the United States of America, where her mother had spent some years as a student. The combination of - ticking away of the limited time lease that she had committed for, the threadbare budget and the burning desire to find her identity - keeps the readers glued to the narrative. As she progresses in her pursuit, her sincerity, commitment, conscientiousness and her experiences mature her into a confident individual who does not want to shy away from the truth of her parents.

Though the plot is not entirely unique yet the sensitive handling, which is distinctly Chitra's style, makes it a great read. The way she portrays the poise, grace, vulnerability and strength in a woman, be it in Korobi, Sarojini or Rajat's mother - is commendable. 'The Palace of Illusions' penned by her was a masterstroke and the glimpses of the same excellence are visible in her other writings too, including Oleander Girl.  She painstakingly etches each character beautifully which makes the narration a little slow in the beginning but then the pleasure of reading a well thought through tale increases manifolds.

The story is narrated from the viewpoints of various characters throughout - Korobi, her prospective mother-in-law, her grandmother, the Muslim driver and some others, bringing in extra layers to the proceedings. Chitra Banerjee yet again enchants the readers into a story brimming with mystery, intrigue, heritage, romance, familial ties, revenge, forgiveness, emotions and much more. In the end, Korobi's character rises above, triumphant over all obstacles. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Easter Bunny Conspiracy by William F.Powers JR.

Title : The Easter Bunny Conspiracy
Author: William F.Powers JR.
Genre: Humorous Fiction
Age-Group: Young Adult
Publisher: iUniverse .com

12-1/2 is a precarious age. Not kid, not adult and not even a teen yet, the child faces numerous befuddling situations. You still are not officially grown up but the hormones are starting to course through your body and tweaking it just a little here and there.
The book depicts three days in the life of such a seemingly precocious boy Chris JR. aged a bittersweet 12-1/2 , that he is Catholic is significant, at least to Chris. He is going to be confirmed after three days and is totally confused about the unreasonable customs, practices and beliefs. This is in addition to his growing up troubles; being overweight, uncomfortable with the girls, still trying to prove himself and fit in with the boys.
An alcoholic father and a frustrated mother do not provide any guidance. The teachers are also not forthcoming as he goes to a catholic school with a tradition of strict discipline and corporal punishment. The irony is that the young boy does not realise that it is all in the course of life and there is nobody he can turn to for either advice or guidance. He constantly struggles to devise a plan for his future and avoid the overriding guilt for enjoying the simple pleasures of growing up, in the end finding a suitable personal method to retain his own identity and line of thought though still uncertain. It is a universal story of early adolescence, where kids are trying to find their own identity and facing many questions which need to be answered.
A book which delves into the adolescent mind with great insight, it is a hilarious voyage.  It has peeked inside the minds of little children who simply want to live and learn. Of particular note is the religious rigmarole that Chris undergoes without understanding most of it and his constant endeavour to come to terms with the contradictions and hypocrisies that it entails. The book is crisply written. The humorous tone is kept intact till the end. The characterisation is brilliant, especially Chris, his parents and the nuns.
The title needs a special mention. It is symbolic of the feeling of having been conspired against, which the children develop when they realise that some customs were propounded only so that the parents could stay ahead of them in the knowledge of things that they were made to believe such things so that they would behave in accordance with the social or religious norms. A very apt title indeed as Chris discovers that being present for a special friend is much more significant than following religious dogmas.
This one should make happy reading for kids as well as parents irrespective of their religion or nationalities. It might help parents to understand the children better. For the children it might not give any definite answers but they will certainly understand that they are on the right track even if they are confused about things around them.

Friday, September 6, 2013





“All that we are is the result of what we have thought:
We are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those
Whose minds are shaped by selfless thoughts give joy
Whenever they speak or act. Joy follows them like a
 shadow that never leaves them.”

This is one of the famous twin verses of The Compassionate Buddha, says the Mantram Handbook.
Eknath Easwaran was professor of English literature at the University of Nagpur, India. He is the founder of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation.The Mantram Handbook has a foreword The Brain, the Mind and the Mantram by Daniel H. Lowenstein, MD.
The Mantram Handbook is one of the most precise and simple self help book that I have read till date. I was skeptical about the book simply going by the name and the synopsis as I have a mantram of my own. It rather turned out to be a valuable and an interesting  read.
 This beautifully written book is very clear in its instructions as to how to initiate and choose your mantram. How the power of mantram can help turn fear into fearlessness, anger into compassion and hatred into love, basically keeping the mind steady ! How it can help in excitement and depression. It also gives simple and easy guidelines as to how we can become established in the mantram and how we can reap benefits of the mantram in our life.
 I could very easily correlate with the book. I am sure a lot of readers would be able to connect with it as easily.
The two things that I liked the most about the book are, that all the religions have been treated at par. Eknath Easwaran has basically said that you may belong to any religion but you can still have a mantram of your own. The power of the mantram will see you through thick and thin and will illumine your life for sure.

Second thing that I liked the most about this book is that there is no spreading of superstition of any kind. He rather demystifies the whole thing. Easwaran says “the mantram transforms negative forces in consciousness into constructive power.” Very well said I would say.

The book comes highly recommended especially to the spiritually inclined and also to novices like me. Go ahead read the book and enrich your life.
The Bible says,”As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Shades of Sin:Behind the Mask - A Collection of Short Stories

Title :Shades of Sin: Behind the Mask
Author: Various(Vivek Bannerjee, Upneet Grover,Saksham Aggarwal, Aanandita Chawla,Vrinda Baliga, Sreelatha Chakravarty)
Genre: Short Stories, Fiction

It’s an intriguing collection. All the 25 stories are about the dark side of human beings.  A side which lets itself loose when given space, excuse or circumstance. A side which exists in every one of us but a side we refuse to acknowledge. A side which needs to be analysed, rationalised even neutralised. The stories will compel you to do this analysis fulfilling the purpose of the collection as stated in the foreword to the book. The Cover of the book needs a special mention. It is very interestingly designed, the half shrouded man and a barren tree against the dark sky prepares you for a foray into the mysterious and the sinful, compelling you to start turning the pages.

The stories are divided into 3 sections Light Grey , Dark Grey and Black…increasing in degree of the darkness, arranged so that they achieve a crescendo as we read on. The all pervasive human weaknesses are very strikingly brought about.  All the shades of darkness such as lust ,greed, anger, ego, jealousy, pride  and oppression have been touched upon.

The authors have really worked hard to make the plots and style slick and polished. The protagonists in the stories come across as normal human beings who have been overpowered by their emotions or who have lost their rationale due to their innate weakness.

“The Blue Shoes” by Saksham Aggarwal in the light grey section was very interesting to read. The pun on the word soul and the bantering of friends despite the philosophical bent was just like out of the diary of Makrand’s best friend. Similarly “An Illicit Thought” by Sreelatha Chakravarthy was just fabulous with its subtlety and empathy for humane desires however amoral and the acceptance of it. “Kalpana” by Anandita Chawla is a heart rending description of woman and child abuse and is exquisitely written. “The Bet” and “The Yellow Top” by Vivek Bannerjee are crisp and chilling.  “The Confession” and “The Diary” both by Upneet Grover in the Black section are masterpieces showing the extent of human degradation and its effects.

All the 25 stories are engrossing and intriguing. Editing is slick and accurate. This is a book which will force you to introspect and understand human psychology. The only drawback is that the constant darkness leaves you a little less hopeful. But that was the intention of the authors and editor: To make us aware of this darkness prevailing around us so that we are more inclined to make things better and ourselves less inclined to evil. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Wise Enough To Be Foolish by Gauri Jayaram

Title :Wise Enough to be Foolish
Author: Gauri Jayaram
Publisher : Jaico Publishing House
Genre: Fictionalised Memoir

It’s a candid story. Direct and simple, a tale almost any middle class girl who has gone against the tide of family customs and marriage and lived her life on her own terms, making mistakes and learning from them; sometimes not learning and making them again.

We are introduced to Gauri when her marriage is on the rocks, a marriage we learn of her own choice maybe more out of convenience, ease and friendship than love and inter-religious to the boot. What brings her to this stage, her struggle (if you may call it, considering she had lead a comfortable middle class life) , her journey from growing up as an armed forces child to becoming a true Mumbai girl forms the first half of the story. It is interesting, anecdotal and very realistic. Readers, especially women, can identify with it as the stories are very similar to their own.

 A girl trying to reason against gender discrimination and stereotyping in her own family, she grows into a rebel. Her coming of age along with the crushes and disappointments are typical of teenagers. Her strength is her intellect, the rare trait of foresight as well as a reasoning mind. She has amazingly clear insight as well as foresight. She then moves on to Mumbai as a college girl and we get a glimpse of her hostel life and work. This part has nothing new but refreshingly told and very entertaining. Her travails and travels and new people that she meets and befriends are interesting.
Again we come to the beginning of the tale and see her through the process of a divorce; which she handles with characteristic calm and intelligence. She continues her turbulent journey of self discovery and of finding true love and her own happiness and we are thoroughly entertained.

It’s a tale you can identify with. Many incidents and lines make you reminisce about your own life. Women can easily identify the gender bias, the stereotyping and the family pressure and the stress that a dominating relationship gives you. But what is most heartening is her determination to overcome everything and live her life on her own terms. The writing style is simple and flowing. The dialogues are crisp and the characterisation apt. Some characters though could have been more fleshed out. Also the men are given too much word-space, a little less about them and a little more about the other women and her work would have been welcome.

All in all a simple but refreshing tale which will make you introspect and feel good. A book that will surely tell you that pursuing your own happiness is not after all a crime. A good entertaining read.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau

Title : The City of Ember
Author : Jeanne Duprau
Publisher : Random House

There is something strange about the city of Ember. It is night everywhere but no twinkling stars and no moon in the sky. There are no plants and animals except for bugs and insects. It is dark all the time except for the yellow lights that flicker from the lamps in the houses and on the streets. Since there is no notion of day or night, the activities happen as per the specific timings. The lights are put out at certain hour every day indicating bed time and the lights are turned on after specific passage of time every day. Everywhere everything seems to be bathed in an ominous yellow glow but still the brightness is missing. Beyond the area that is lit by these floodlamps there is a black scary world that no one has dared venture into. In fact, some people did try exploring that part of the city but were not successful in finding anything after just a few steps in the pitch dark unknown world. The life has been going on in the city as a rhythm, or is it so? Though people have been living here for more than 240 years, it is becoming more and more noticeable that the storerooms are running out of supplies, things are getting scarcer by every day and the city is plunging into blackouts more often now, bringing everything to standstill. In short, uncertainty is looming large over the future of the city and its inhabitants. This underlying fear is getting reflected in the gloominess that is writ large on the faces of citizens of Ember.

One more school term is over and twelve-year-old Doon Harrow and Lina Mayfleet have been assigned their life jobs - Lina as a messenger, and Doon as Pipeworker. The lifeline of the city - the pipeworks are underground where a river roars and a generator works untiringly, illuminating the whole city. Doon believes that he would find something there among the pipes which could possibly change the doomed future of the city. Lina happens to find an old document titled - 'Instructions for Egress', (Egress means exit) in a torn state and along with Doon she decides to solve the puzzle to find the new world. These happen to be the instructions that were written by the builders of the city some 241 years ago to lead the people out at the right time. But clearly something went wrong in the way it was supposed to get passed on from one generation to another.

While on their mission to find directions out of the city, they stumble upon some unflattering secrets about the mayor of the city and his guards. Doon and Lina now face a prison sentence for spreading false rumours. Time is ticking, the guards are looking for them, Doon and Lina have to decide fast and act fast. They have to decipher the mysterious instructions and the task becomes even more difficult when they do not even know what do things like matchsticks, candle and boat mean. Will they every see any light at the other end of the tunnel?

'The City of Ember' is full of fear, mystery, adventure, and desire and determination of two pre-teens to save the people of their city. The narration is engaging and it is interesting how the strangeness of the city is unraveled slowly chapter after chapter. While smoothly weaving the flow of the story, the author very subtly talks about the 'want' in a person which often plagues any logic or reason that comes in its way. Lina experiences this feeling once when on seeing the colour pencils in the store which she so desperately desired, she finds the 'need' of a coat for her grandmother fading away. It was perhaps the same 'want' which had cast its spell on the mayor and his trusted people too, including one of Lina's friends. 

If you want to know what happened to the people of Ember, you need to read the sequel of this book - The People of Sparks.