All posts in the Fiction category

Book Review : Razor Sharp : 13 Short Stories

Published November 2, 2017 by vishalvkale

This is a new genre for me; that is why I was initially skeptical of reading this book – and passed it over. Adding to it was the rather uncomfortable fact of its being an e-book, which doesn’t appeal to me. Frankly, a book should feel like a book, smell like a book… or it isn’t a book. But a friend who runs a book blog {a Top Indian Blog} recommended it to me – and suggested I read and review it. So it was that I landed up reading this e-book, based only on the recommendation of a friend, my experience with whose with suggestions on reading was 100%.

First, The E-book. I made a flat statement above; and I stand by it. I read something – and blunt, frank and straight, it wasn’t a book. It was intellectual property, a reading product, reading material – but not a book. It didn’t feel like one, smell like one, didn’t have the same interface, and more. I didn’t like it. Period. Yes, I have read E-Reading-Material before, {Ain-i-Akbari, Economic History Of India by RC Dutt, various RBI reports, Ecology / Genetics research papers etc} – and admit that this is going to be a trend. It has distinct advantages in terms of cost, but loses one hell of a lot in terms of reading comfort, especially in following complex arguments, theses etc. It will be a sad day indeed when the printed version goes out of fashion. That said – E-Reading does lower barriers for entry to new writers.
Aah, now we come to the book. As I noted above, the person recommending this has a hit-rate of 100%; I have liked all suggestions. Well, to cut it short, the strike rate remains 100%. And this has introduced me to a new genre – short stories of the human-interest genre. These can be fascinating for the glimpses they give into life, culture, human psychology, society and more; they are easy to read, as each story is unconnected. That means, you can use this to disconnect from arduous tasks; 10 minutes – and you are fresh again! In a normal book, you might get distracted if you try that!
That is precisely what I got from this book – the short stories and cryptic in many ways, very short in some cases; but all of them, without exception, giving a discerning look into some aspect of life, humanity, society, people. That may or may not have been the intention; being new to this genre I cannot say. But the short, sharp and pointed observations, characteristics, situations, and life-portrayals in the book bring out some deep and most times poignant aspect of life. Most stories end with a powerful insight into some aspect of life. And yes – the title of the book says it all {Razor-Sharp}
The difficulty, you cant really review such books, at least judging from this experience – not in terms of the story or the content. Given the short nature of the content, anything I write will be a dead give-away, a spoiler. Thus, excuse me for not revealing even one word of the content of the stories. Each story is short, sharp, and well-crafted. There wasn’t a single one that I didn’t like. Each story, as noted above, revolves around one human emotion, or societal reality, or one single human factor. Each story creates a web of enchantment around your mind, and pulls you in.
The above is a feat; creating engaging content with such short notes is very hard, as most bloggers are aware. Each word has to be in place; the room for error does not exist, or the entire story suffers. And if you can manage to build a character is such a crippling disadvantaged constraint – that is realy good indeed. And that is what I liked the best – I can still recall a few characters from the short stories – meaning the author has made a connect with me on a deep level, that the character has left its imprint on me, an indelible mark that will stay with me.
E-Reading-Material : If it isn’t printed, it isn’t a book. Period, end of discussion. Jai Raam Ji Ki. Namaste. Sayonara. That says it all. But, sadly, this is here, and to stay. It has many advantages – and I concede them all, so may as well get used to them! Whoever said development is good?????? Would I read them again – yes, depending on the genre.

The Book – definitely worth a read. It is a well-crafted piece of art {book when in printed form}, that is a fast and light read. The stories make a deep connect with you, have a life of their own, and are written in simple prose. The cover the full range of human emotions, and leave you in a very different mood than when you started out; they are short, sharp, fast reads, full of the flavours of life in every form. This is a good option for a journey, as it is in easy format {E-R-M}, easily available, and light. 

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Book Review – Assassins by Mukul Deva

Published September 21, 2017 by vishalvkale

Ravinder Singh Gill is back; and he is back with a bang! I, of course, refer to the character Ravinder Singh Gill from the Mukul Deva stable of fiction – the latest book under review is Assassins, a Ravinder Singh Gill Novel authored by the king of action thrillers himself – Mukul Deva. And, though I am frankly tired of saying so now, yet again – the novel is c.o.m.p.l.e.t.e.l.y different from the others; each novel of Mr Deva is different unique – and this is no exception. The story, the plot, the flow and the narrative are different yet again; only the pace is the same – again, a Mukul Deva signature.

Mukul Deva

The plot essentially carries on from its predecessor – “The Dust Will Never Settle” {Reviewed on my blog here}. The main protagonist – Ravinder Singh Gill has now retired, and is in effect convalescing after the personally shattering events of that mission. Unfortunately, intelligence is received on a forthcoming attack on the Pakistani ex-dictator as well as the Prime Minister during a visit to India. That brings to India one of the close friends of Mr Gill, now a top British Lawman, who manages to get Ravinder Singh Gill involved in the hunt, given that the suspected hitman is their common once-best friend.
The 3 share a personal tragedy – which has clear ramifications for all during this hunt; the hunted killer – Leon Binder – blaming Gill specifically for a sad tragedy; Edward Kingsley – quiet but disturbed on this matter; and Gill – for whom this tragedy was going to increasingly come back, just as for Binder. To make matters more interesting, Leon Binder is getting all status reports from within the hunter team of law enforcers, making for a terrifying climax to this story.
As you can see, there isn’t much of a plot that I have stated; the book blurb on the back of the book says even less, almost nothing in fact. And for that, there is a reason – no way I can tell more without lessening your reading pleasure, so let us leave it at that. The book is, from page one, a classic hunt novel, right till the last page – one unbroken, breakneck speed unputdownable book; the story of a chase. And not just any chase – for all the key characters, it is the chase of a lifetime, of a career.
The plot unfolds from 3 perspectives – the hunted killer perspective, as Leon Binder goes about laying his plot to kill; the treachery perspective as the traitor – who is revealed from the start – goes about betraying his own pals colleagues and seniors, and the hunter perspective, that of the story of the hunt. If this reminds you of Forsyth – stop comparing, for it isn’t similar. The admixture of human emotions, frailties, tensions and past history makes this not quite so simple a story. And the classic admixture of desires, fears, ambitions and personal plans of each main actor in the story makes it absolutely unique.
Each perspective is detailed exhaustively, building a complete background as you are able to relate to each character as a human, a real living person rather than a bare literary figure. Each character comes alive in front of your eyes as you  read, which is the highlight of this book. The way continuity has been maintained in the character plot is sheer class, a point where several top authors of chain novels falter, as I have noted for one previous chain series earlier.
As the hunt gets personal, the tensions ratchets up fiercely as no quarter is asked for and none spared; the hunted killer and the traitor staying one step ahead of the hunters for the most part, making for a very highly tense and riveting read. However, the narrative doesn’t feel dark, unlike one other novel of the same author, which is quite an achievement. The pace is simply too fast, too frenetic, as parry and thrust, counter and counter-counter come one after the other from each of the three sides of the equation.

Adding to the tension is the exhaustive detailing of each strategy as the players do their best to emerge on top in this novel – one of the finest hunt and chase novels I have ever read, to be completely frank. You will be forced to control your impatience, forced to stop yourself from peeking ahead and skipping a few pages to see how things turn out, as the tension builds, yet – the pull of the narrative keeps you glued to the current page. As I said – one of the finest hunt novels in a long, long time indeed!

Book Review : Harappa – The Curse Of The Blood River

Published August 29, 2017 by vishalvkale

The fantasy genre seems to be the in-thing for Indian writers nowadays; we have seen a series of books around this theme, a few having reached my blog as well. This is in keeping with a rising trend among Indians, a fascination for our past – which  has both positive as well as negative overtones and ramifications. One of the positives is the emerging trend of fiction writing using our past as a backdrop; this is a significant factor, as these writings influence the public to seek more of the truth, as well as get regarded by some as based on truth.
Written By Vineet Bajpai

That is why it is incumbent on the authors who are indulging in this genre to be as close to the truth as it is feasible for them to be – and give a proper bibliography at the end of such  books so that fact can be separated from “literary licence” – that is, the padding used by the author to flesh out the story. East or west, most writers {save one} have failed on this score; they just neglect to give a proper bibliography or notes so that readers can, if interested, look up the reality. This book fails on only one point – the absence of end-notes giving links or book references to sources of facts. That has cost it one star.
Harappa – The Curse Of The Blood River by Vineet Bajpai is a fantasy novel {I wont label it as Historical Fiction} that is based on The Sindhu-Saraswati Civilization, and the mythical Aryan Invasion Theory {fed to us as gospel}, and their modern ramifications. The story is told in two parts – one from 1700 BC, and the other from modern India, with a strong connecting thread. The ancient story tells the sequence of events that lead to the destruction of Harappa, and the modern one takes off from there, dealing with its implications, effects and resultant conspiracies arising from the ancient event.

In the ancient part, the story is that of a Demi-God, who is targeted and destroyed by jealous rivalry in the city of Harappa, and how he rises from the ashes to swear revenge on the city and its people; it is the story of naked greed and ambition. The modern part deals with his descendant, who is fabled to be his re-incarnation, and how he deals with his legacy; for the ancient tale has left a curse that will be fulfilled, and a secret that cannot  be unveiled – which has managed to garner significant interest among powerful modern vested interests and sects / groups. The problem is that the modern vested interests have powerful backing, even more powerful weapons and the will to use them to kill the current Demi-God, a reluctant Demi-God who is now a digital expert, top Industrialist, and ultra modern to boot!
First-  the classification; I place this as Fantasy due to the treatment of main characters as Demi-Gods, and there being small but significant differences from the truth of The Sindhu-Saraswati that make it less of historical fiction, and more of fantasy. That said – the overall gist, rather 80-90% of the basis is factual. For example, The AMT, and its rebuttal is reasonably correct; as is the fictionalization of our history, which isn’t limited to The Sindhu-Saraswati, and many other points. The Sindhu Saraswati Civilization had started declining from 2500BC, and was dead by 1900BC, whereas the timelines uses 1700 BC. Next, The Sindhu-Saraswati was decimated by creeping drought, unlike as stated in this book.
That said – let me be clear, some of this research on which I have based the above facts is still only the preliminary stage findings, and need peer review; some of it is still being actively researched and so on; in light of that, the author is perfectly within his rights to take literary leeway for the creation of a story.  This will also have the benefit of kindling the desire to read up on that time in us, thus overall, it is a good thing that these historical fiction and fantasy novels are being written!
Coming to the book – this is an excellent tome; a superb edge-of-the-seat spell binding pace has been kept throughout the book. You will desperately want to skip to the end to see how it turns out, and yet – the pull of the narrative is compelling, preventing you from doing so. The author has used an interleaving style – having a chapter from ancient as well as modern storylines alternating; this is actually a good style, as it adds to the suspense as each chapter ends at a cliff-hanger, leaving you wanting for more – but then you go into the other storyline, which is also on a cliffpoint!
Overall, I rate this book 4 stars, and a very richly deserved 4 stars at that. This is an excellent piece of fiction – and it also avoids the vulgarity totally. The story is well put together, without any holes that I could spot; the entire plot comes together as one whole quite convincingly. There are no needless detours : almost everything written is relevant, making for a very taut narrative and flawless flow. The various characters stay within the prescribed plots, and the story draws you in, making for good entertainment and a great read! 

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Book Review – Inkredia : Luwan Of Brida

Published August 4, 2017 by vishalvkale

I wish I could rate this book 7 stars out of 5… pity that I can only give it 5. End of review – now go and read it. {Probably the best review I have ever written!}

Ok, still here?  Fine – lets look at some more details. Surprised at separate for the Genre? The reason is that this is, to best of my knowledge, a new genre with very few books {at least in my knowledge} that have been written in; at the very least – a new genre for me. There is no politics, no hint of religion, and no hint of anything remotely objectionable, neither are there any real world linkages or race and culture issues. This is a fantasy book – and a fanstasy book quite unlike any I have ever read! The land is new, the people are completely imaginary, the culture is totally imaginary, the names new – everything about the book and the story is fresh!

The story is something that we have read in many stories in many genres before; A young boy, in the late teens, living alone and making a living for himself off the land, in the town of Brida of the Kingdom of Inkredia. He has a sister with whom he is estranged; she is also late teens – 19, and lives alone in the same locality. The children’s parents are no more; what is more, the father had handed the boy a small pendant, a letter, a magic book and some instructions to meet someone in a far-away city. This is as simple as it gets; it is a real challenge to craft a riveting story and book that holds your attention – and this has been achieved.
The story moves into a classic hunt and chase, as the kids are forced to flee when, apparently, the boy refuses to pay tax as he has no money left. The persecuted young folks run for their lives, chased by the what they believe to be local feudal lord’s people. On the way, they are helped by a kind man and common friend, and then by a total stranger, who turns out to be far more powerful and adept at combat and survival. As the story progresses, the questions start bothering the kids : namely, why would anyone set such powerful forces for just a few coins tax? How are they responding and rising to the challenge so naturally? Why is the magic book guiding them at the precise moments? These, and other questions come to their minds, as the chase draws to a close near the city…
LuwanNow who is this chappie – how come his reflexes are so natural, and where does he get his natural skills and courage from?
MegSurprise package. Don’t mistake her for the normal elder sister
KiliarnHelper, and for hire…Wont say anything else. Read the book!
Fantastic book! Simply awesome – make no mistake of that. This is an incredibly written piece of pure fiction, and absolute nonsense {I use that word for effect, not as an insult}. Nonsense, yes, –  but riveting, logically flowing and logical, interesting and captivating nonsense. I say nonsense because there is no cultural reality – the culture is imaginary, the names imaginary and fresh, the land {Brida, Inkredia, etc} imaginary, the magic, the animals and the weapons completely imaginary and so on. It takes imagination of a very high order to imagine such a land and people, and craft this into a coherent story! Many other authors have tried this – I have read a few – but no one has created something totally new. Full marks to the author for crafting this!
Next, the characterization – beautifully, skillfully done. While some deeper physical characteristics  would have made it better, it is nonetheless excellent. One is able to relate to all characters, their behaviour and the resultant actions without any dissonance. Each character is well-etched and defined, a task of some skill, with deep tones and clear lines. The reader, over time, begins to relate to the main characters, and live the story with them – that is the power.
The pace is rapid, breakneck almost, right from the first few pages. The story proceeds at a relentless pace, a hectic pace with one event following another in blinding speed, making for riveting reading and an absorbing connect. The best part is that this has been achieved without sacrificing plot or characterization intricacies. In fact, the action and the event flow has been used in places to give a background, a trait, or a line to the character, deepening our understanding as well as our connect.
The best part in this imaginary story, told in an imaginary magical world, of a young brother sister on the run is that there are no cliched or expected situations – to give an example, no girl getting kidnapped just to create tension – a normal ruse in such storylines as the moment you see a girl character you know she will get into trouble; each action sequence and event is fresh and superb. Not only that, the discerning observing reader can spot moving lessons scattered throughout the book, as the icing on the cake. One of the finest fiction books I have read in a long time – written by a completely new author, a man who will bear watching in future – Mr Sarang Mahajan… don’t keep us waiting too long for the next one!
THE AUTHOR {Credit – Website}
Sarang Mahajan is a successful Indian writer in the fantasy genre. Along with imaginative fantasy elements, the highlights of his work include strong character building and real-life drama. He is the author of the ongoing series, Inkredia and has written two TV shows in the fantasy genre including the successful show, Hatim that aired on Life OK. He is currently working on shows to be aired on Star Plus and Colors Bangla…

INKREDIA {Credit  – Website}
Inkredia is a fantasy universe created by Sarang Mahajan. Inkredia, as fondly called by its people, is one of the most powerful empires in this universe. The real name of the empire is Fal Doram. There are many other empires spread across the Floran Bak, the shape of which is debated by the scholars. In the Inkredia Universe, magic is literally in the air. 

There are dark and fair elements in the air that give life to the supernatural sort, just like air gives life to humans. Two of the most common elements among these are Ilmor and Elmor, the dark one and the fair one. Supernatural beings in humanoid form are either called nonhumans or demons. There are also various creatures with different abilities. All the supernatural folk in Inkredia are unique to Inkredia Universe and won’t be found in other fantasy universes.

Book Review – In The Name Of God

Published July 30, 2017 by vishalvkale

In The Name Of God is the title of the latest thriller from the mighty pen of Ravi Subramanian; one of the finest authors from India in the thriller Genre. And, all I can say is that the book justifies its title – In The Name Of God. This is a book set in the backdrop of a case that hogged media headlines in India for ages – The Padmanabhaswamy Temple, the of whose vaults and their wealth was national news for a pretty long time, and will still be in public memory.

The story is around the legal case of the wealth in the vaults of the temple, which is sub-judice. The backdrop is precise – there is a royal family and its patriarch, and a litigator {as in the real world}, who is asking for a judicial intervention and valuation of the vaults of the famed temple. The High Court concurs, and transfers the charge of the Temple and its wealth to the State. This verdict is appealed in The Supreme Court by the State in the book.
A 7-member panel of valuers is appointed by the court to value the assets in the vaults. As most of the assets are in the form of Jewels, this has to include some major people from the Jewel and Bullion Trade. This is where the story takes off. A side-story develops, that of a new bourse in BKC in Mumbai – where the Jewellers don’t want to move, led by one of the most significant players in Mumbai in this trade. Simultaneously, a case of Stolen Artefacts is being investigated as part of an international investigation. In addition to all this is the spectre of irregularities in the Temple affairs.
The CBI steps in, and sends a capable officer to investigate; this officer walks slam-bang into a local intrigue, as the Royal Family enjoys patronage – and the investigation slowly but surely links upto the Temple. The local liason and senior officers are under pressure from the State Government; the CBI Investigator has to navigate this problem in order to crack the case. To make matters worse, a murder gets involved in all of this, elevating this case from mere irregularities and/or Artefact thievery to one of  a very high  priority murder investigation…
One of the most stunning aspects of this book is the blend of fact and fiction; the scale of the intermingling in mind-blowing! You have outdone yourself, Mr Subramanian, hats off! The real case also started at a local level, went to the HC, and was appealed in the SC – but not by the state; it was appealed by the Royal Family. As per This Link from India Today, the Amicus Curiae did find “serious irregularities and malpractices in the management of the temple and its immense wealth”. And as per This Link from TheHindustan Times, there were thefts reported from The Padmanabhaswamy temple – first Gold worth Rs . 189 Crore, and then Diamonds.
This is one of those books that cant really be properly reviewed without revealing too much; so I chose not to properly review it – I will not give Characters Outlines; nor a review of the story. Anything I say, I run the risk of spoiling the readers’ fun. Given that this is a suspense thriller, I would much rather the reader goes into this book a “virgin”, if you will excuse the usage of the term. The less the reader knows while starting this book, the better.
The book is, from start to finish, a stupendous effort, make no mistake. It is one of the finest from the pen of Mr Subramanian, who has outdone himself. It is a riveting book – and yet, it isn’t too fast paced. It is more of an involved book, with an intricate plot, and an extensive character-cast, with each character being vital to the story and the flow. There isn’t any one strong character : I could spot at least 4 or 5 key characters with equal presence and strength. It requires uncommon skill to craft such an intricate plot with so many diverse and equal characters.
Given the scope and spread of the subject – there isn’t much scope for character development; though this isn’t missed at all, as it is not critical to the story. This is a story with a vast and massive kaleidoscope and tremendous breadth and span. Part of the magic it weaves on the reader can be attributed to this range. The story isn’t tightly knit, in that it takes a couple of small detours – yet, at no point does it falter, as the detours help to build the background and the expectations.

It isn’t all hunky dory – I do have a small grouse with the book; specifically, the treatment of the solution – which I shall share personally with Mr Ravi Subramanian over the mail. Sharing it here will reveal too much about the plot. Suffice it to state that the statements in some parts do not gel to me. But that does not mean that the book’s ending isn’t as riveting or conclusive or convincing or surprising, given the ground reality of the chosen background. That is all I will state. I rate it 4 stars including my bias or view above, and 5 stars without bias.  

Book Review: Quarter Life Crisis

Published July 12, 2017 by vishalvkale


This story has been due for a long time now… about time someone wrote something along the lines of something that is almost pandemic among the clueless youth of the modern world, self included. It is a surprise no one thought of penning something like this earlier, though I have read one book along similar lines, though not quite on the ball, as this one is. I am referring to the modern youth, and his or her attitude towards life in general and career & family to be specific.
The plot is fairly simple – though fascinating. It is about two people: one a young man, the other a young lady. The young man is completely clueless about his life; has got into an Engineering degree course without an iota of planning or thought; in the 4th year, he has little idea or interest in what to do with the rest of his life. To put it simply, this poor man is clueless. He is even more clueless about his lady love, beyond the obvious fact that he is genuinely in love, and totally committed to her. The lady has none of the above problems – and is a beacon of strength, unlike the half-wit she loves.
The long and short of it is that things get out of hand in the personal sphere first – and the lady lands up getting pregnant. To make things interesting, she categorically refuses the option of abortion, though she is all of 21 or thereabout. Despite the fact that she has a clear definable life goal & a workable plan for it – she is adamant, as only a woman can be; trust me. The good point, or should I say the only redeeming point in the gentleman, he is a true gentleman. He stands by his lady love, and vehemently supports her, once he sees that there is no changing her mind. Tremendous maturity on his part, the way he accepts the reality, and wholeheartedly supports her.
The family of the lady, on the other hand, has some other ideas; they are just not willing to listen to either of them, or the lady’s plan to have the child. The two lovers plans were well known to both families, as they were together since long, but the lady’s parents will not accept this – given the gentleman’s cluelessness of his direction & life. The gentleman & the lady are clear-  lets get married immediately. But that is easier said than done, as the lady’s family will have none of it.
The gentleman’s family, though understandably distraught over this nasty surprise, gets over it fast enough – aided by a strong elder sister of the Gentleman, who is critical yet supportive of the two. She even tries to intervene in the Lady’s family, to no avail. Eventually, this family rises in solid support of the two lovers, a phase which has been handled remarkably well in the book. The book takes off from this point in the second half, for a series of genuine heart-warming, at times melancholy, surprises as the main characters show uncommon resolve, faith and patience… for what happens next, read the book!
There isn’t much to analyse in this book, to be honest; I don’t mean that as a criticism. This is a human interest story, a story on human lives and emotions. This is not a situational story, or a circumstantial one full of twists and turns and / or action. This is a book of Human Emotions, Life, Life Choices, Reactions, Family, and about Building a Life by Overcoming Ones Weaknesses. This is a book of how a clueless man finds himself; this is a book of choices – on how the choices you make impact your life as a whole. This is a book that teaches a standing life lesson, to be honest, in some ways.
The book does, at one level, serve to raise some pertinent life questions to the discerning reader, as to the importance of one’s choices, the importance of having a clear definable goal in life; of being on the right side of social norms; of having the strength to face the consequences of going against the norm; of being committed about everything in life; and about how things can go wrong if commitment is lacking in your approach or your attitude towards anything. It does all of this without being judgemental!
The story is intense and slow-paced; the author deserves credit for writing an engaging story despite it being a slow story. The way the intensity of the relationships portrayed in this novel has been brought out with clever wordplay, and a minimum of fuss and needless over-dramatization is what impressed me the most. Further, this intensity has been quite successfully maintained throughout the entire novel, without any  sacrifices made on any aspect of the novel.

The charectarisation is adequate; quite good, in fact. The character sketches are near-flawless in the consistency of their reactions over time and range of situations, which is a tremendous achievement in a novel of this genre. The behaviour of each character is fully believable and seems practical in the light of the overall character; not one scene seems forcefully done, or out of place. The best part of all is the female characters, all of which are shown as strongly-etched, which I personally liked. The language is simple and functional, not flowering, yet it succeeds to create a moving image in your mind. All in all, rated 4 stars out of 5…

Book Review – The Rise Of Sivagami

Published June 24, 2017 by vishalvkale

Bahubali shook the nation like no other movie has done; carrying the franchise forward, SS Rajamouli has decided to create a book series filling the details and carrying the story forward. The first book of the series – The Rise of Sivagami – goes back into the story, before the time of Bahubali, providing a surprising background, a background which will provide motive, passions and flesh to the main characters in the movie Bahubali. This is a first of its kind association between a film presentation and a well known author; kudos to Team Bahubali for thinking of this
Bahubali - Before The Beginning

That said, at the outset, let me place on record the one or two negatives of this book, even before I lay out the basic plot; the crude and, to my eyes, ugly use of vulgarity and sexually explicit narratives in parts – for example the crude description of female body parts of captive slaves – has left a highly negative impression on my mind. These scenes seem forced, at least to me, and have no place in the story whatsoever. Due to this one reason alone, I reduce the rating of this book by 2.5 stars as a punitive measure. I rate this book 1 or 1.5 stars only. `
Vulgarity has no place in a good fiction {or non-fiction for that matter} book; especially since this is meant for general reading. If the above was only one instance, I would have ignored it; but I happened to notice it in other places, which was ugly to be honest. The net result was I was so disgusted by this out-of-place stuff that I stopped reading the book for a time. I don’t want to turn to a mainstream book for sexually explicit stuff – and yes, I count even one paragraph of nudity, vulgarity as the same as sexually explicit material, and call them the same!
Second negative is the story – surprise, surprise. Yes, the story: it is way too complex. I constantly found myself jumping back to the Dramatis Personae section trying to figure out who is who. This got irritating, after a point. The flaw isn’t that the story is engaging – it is engaging, without a shade of doubt. The problem is that the current book is way too long. When you have created such a vast scope, the presentation matters one hell of a lot-  and this is where the book fails big time. It could have been shortened & subdivided into more books, making for easy understanding. The net result is that an excellent story has been made less attractive by the execution. Or a simple frequent mention of who is who would definitely have helped!
Coming to the plot, this is not your rapid action fast-moving thriller. This is a story of political intrigue, back-stabbing, jealousy, plotting, planning, human drama, naked ambition & desire. This book tells the story of the Mahishmati empire before the events in the movie – specifically, it tells the background to the main characters Sivagami & Kattappa. Saying more would spoil your fun, so I wont say anything else. Read it for yourself to know more.
The positives are also many, to be perfectly honest. The story is slow-moving, by and large. It has rapid sections throughout the book – that is true; but the overall impact is a slow moving tale. This isn’t a negative – the plot does not lend itself to pace. The plot is intense – so is the narrative. Given the intrigue and interplay, the slow and intense narrative style draws you into the story, and absorbs you. Once you get used to its stupendous scope – the events play out before your eyes.
The second positive is the scope – magnificent, and grand; every bit as grand as the movie. This is thoroughly logical – you are talking of a massive and powerful empire here; the scope has to be grand and massive to be believable. And that it is – beyond a shade of doubt. The third positive is the story itself; given the nature of the empire, all the events come across as natural – the intrigue, the plotting, the powerplay, the injustices, twists & turns. The fourth positive is the characterization – the author has provided for a vivid, detailed character background for all relevant characters, making the reading almost like a life event – almost like you are there. The full details on every aspect help you relate to the story, the environment, all of it – placing you in Mahishmati.

All in all, stupendous! My heart aches, for the needless vulgarity in some small parts and slightly lax presentation  is forcing me to rate this book as 1 star, when it deserves 4! If you can ignore the small vulgar aspects, this is easily a classic book – unmissable for the reasons given. {To me, even nudity is Vulgar, period. Those are my non-negotiable prerequisites while rating. There is no repeat no place for any nudity in a fiction novel, regardless of genre. Do we discuss such things in family? We don’t. That is my only barometer of judgement; can you talk these things to your family?  And If we don’t, there zero place for nudity in good books}. Despite this, the book is one of a kind – go ahead and read it. Even I, despite my criticism & objections, did enjoy the book overall.  This is an intriguing, fascinating and involved plot – you will enjoy reading it! 

Book Review : The Wrong Turn

Published May 22, 2017 by vishalvkale

Disclaimer: This is a work of historical fiction – and if some of it has any basis in facts, I, the reviewer, am not aware of them {insofar as they pertain to underlined word}

As a Fiction Book : 4.5 Stars…
As a work of Historical Fiction :   2-2.5 Stars…
Why this difference? Because I am an amateur historian, and a researcher on the Indian Colonial Period in particular, having studied well over 40 authentic books and manuscripts from all possible viewpoints in a research study that is into its 9th year now, and will in all likelihood continue for at least another few years to come. The increasing penchant to study the INA is welcome, as its contribution is not known to us Indians. But the rising popular belief that it was only the INA that got us independence does not have basis in the facts so far as I am aware; basis my long study. And that is why I don’t welcome fiction works on the INA, it is way too important a subject.  
The INA was a key factor in Independence, that much is historical fact. But it wasn’t the only factor; a complete explanation is beyond the scope of this review article. The other factors were, rising feeling of nationalism courtesy The Mahatma and the INC, the rising factor of communal tensions, and the Linlithgow-Jinnah duplicity or what I like to call the Anglo-Pakistani pact were just some of the other factors. It was the INC and its mass movements that drove the message of “India” into the people – a comparison of writings from the 1700s, 1800s and the 1900s brings that out in finality; further, by the mid-1940s, India was almost ungovernable by the British. The final nail in the Raj’s Coffin was the INA – and it is the INA which hasn’t got the credit it so richly deserves.

Sanjay Chopra & Namita Roy Ghose

The book is a heart-rending story of love, betrayal and strong characters dominated by ambition, desire and outright greed, set in the backdrop of the Second Great European War of 1939-1945. It is the story of three people : a complete bastard, a wayward and hopeless misbegotten hero/anti-hero, and a nice but tough girl with her priorities set right. It is the story, above all, of one man, and one man only : Debraj Mukherjee, a man with too many mistakes to count, a man with few redeeming qualities – and how he changes, or rather is buffeted by circumstances to change into what he becomes.  
Cirucumstances force Debraj to abandon home & family, where he stumbles onto the INA – and doesn’t betray them. From there he starts changing as he meets his future best friend, Nishonko Mitra; a complete bastard with no redeeming qualities, a swine who loves his kid sister {Pg 109 – specific reference to sister as relationship[} amorally & sexually – but a patriot all the same. This man is easily by far and away the most reprehensible and ugly character I have ever read in my life.
These, then, are the three principals : Debraj, already on the run; gets deeper and deeper into the INA – and likes what it is all about, as he slowly overcomes his faults and rises like a phoenix; Nishonko, the evil bastard, as he sinks from the high perch of a patriot into a hell-hole of incest, as he “loves” {God forgive me} his own kid sister {moonh-boli, but so what?}; and the inimitable Aditi, the frontispiece of the book, the charming and delightful, near-flawless lady who carries the story and ALL the accolades.
One of these three will fall; one of these three will betray India, the INA, and the other two… who will it be?  Will it be the incestuous Nishonko? Or will it be Debraj – the former anglophile, who once aspired for all things British, a man who joined the INA as  last resort,  whose sister is still in danger in the Raj? Or will it be the Lady Aditi – the poor, poor Aditi, chased by her Brother {though in his mind only}, separated by war from her lover? For two of these three rise to become close to The Netaji, as the war progresses and The INA reaches Kohima, set for its pivotal battle against The British… Who will fall – the one who was already a fallen man at the start of the story, or the one who was already an established beacon of patriotism, nationalism and impeccable personal character – or The Lady?  
As a work of fiction – this book deserves a standing ovation; I give it 4 stars, but it can easily merit 5 stars even. Let us settle for 4.5 Stars as a compromise – this is a superb, unputdownable book of astounding skill. This is a book of action, raw pumping action; at the same time, it is a book of passionate love that blossoms into a mature and stunning love story; it is a book of incest & dark one-sided passion; all at the same time, all in one book. That is a remarable achievement.
A special mention of the characetarisation : each character and supporting character has been developed with consummate skill. You can see Debraj growing into a decent man with each page; you can see and agree with the changes. You can see the fall shattering fall of Nishonko into Evil; you can see Aditi growing into a patriot and a great Lady. Even the supporting staff has been adequately developed, and along completely logical lines.
The book is not a fast read, as it is a highly involved and complex story. Yet, it is a riveting tale, skillfully told. The action seems realistic, the characters abosorbing – and they tend to stay with you even after you close the book and put it down. All in all,  great book – one you should definitely read! 

Book Review – Is It Maya?

Published March 22, 2017 by vishalvkale

The best books in the fiction genre are those that are born out of the local fare, the local news and the local trends – for the perfectly simple reason that the readers can easily connect with them. The current book under review may not be among the best, but is easily one of the better ones in Indian Fiction in the English Language. This book, and others such, make me sad – for want of sufficient space on book shelves, and a greater marketshare. For these books derserve far greater share than they get.
Image result for is it maya saikat bakshiThe book has been inspired by one of the most prominent cases to hit out Media in recent times, that of a solialite arrested for the murder of her daughter / sister. I am pretty sure this will ring bells in the minds of most Indian readers.  The story is that of Maya, a Media baroness, who gets arrested for the murder of Veena, her purported sister. Turns out that the sister is actually the daughter, a sordid tale unto itself. Also involved are a literal litany of her ex-lovers, for this Maya has quite a history, a rather purple-coloured history of an achiever who kept morals far away in her rise up the corporate ladder. But, the big question is : is she really the criminal?
The difficulty in writing a fiction book on current events is that reader comparison happens; cynicism also sets in, as there is the tendency to underplay the content and the imagination that goes into crafting a fictional story out of such events. Such books have to quickly set a tone of their own, kindle reader interest pretty fast; and keep the readers interested right through. Second, the plot should be sufficiently different, using the real event only as an inspiration, that is – the story should be individual, not a copy.

Image result for is it maya saikat bakshi
Is It Maya quite successfully negotiates most of these challenges. It takes off smoothly, and quickly engages the reader into its content and its pages. The plot has no twists and turns of a major nature; despite this, interest has been maintained through a combination of constant and consistent introduction of new characters into the story, and new facts. Each carries the story forward in some way, each introduces new elements into the story. This keeps interest going.
The pace is not frenetic; this is an easy-paced book. There is no violence of any sort; this is not a thriller by any stretch of imagination. This is more of a book around the human-interest anger, and a suspense genre book.  The continuous refusal of Maya to admit guilt, despite breaking down and confessing to the true relationship between her and Veena, is one point that increasingly creates questions in your mind. And yet, it keeps the reader interested right till the last page, which makes it an excellent fiction book!

The character development is adequate for the genre; there are only two strongly etched characters in this. Befitting the title – Is It Maya – the strongest and most developed character is of Maya. The only other character who is comparably well developed is Vivek, a childhood friend; and Maya’s latest husband, David. Everyone else is subdued, which all comes together in the end. The skillful method of holding back information has been excellently deployed, with the end being completely logical. All in all, this book is an excellent read on a journey, or on a tour,  as a good time-pass. Rated 3.5 Stars out of 5. 

Book Review- Blemishing The Odds

Published March 7, 2017 by vishalvkale


By Harish Penumarthi
Image result for blemishing the odds
This is a beautiful love story of teen love. End of review.
Wish I could stop writing and close this review here – writing anything more seems a sacrilege, almost – especially for such a lovely story, that tugs at your heart strings, that takes you on a roller-coaster ride, a story of two imperfect individuals, a story of, at first, one-sided love blossoming into something substantial. It is also a sublime story of struggle, of a wayward boy, of a repeat failure, of a bad son, and of crippling life problems.
This is the story of two people – Raghav & Trisha. That said, it is told from the perspective of Raghav, who is the opposite of Trisha in everything and everyway. Trisha is studious, while Raghav is, shall we say, 1/Studious, the reciprocal of studious. Frankly, Raghav is a boy with no redeeming qualities that I can relate to, as an individual. He is irritating, interested only in playing {not sports, just paying}, with no interests and a total lack  of direction in life. Fine, he is too young for such esoteric things like “direction”, but the total waywardness that he displays is sad. Enter Trisha.
No, don’t get your hopes up. He doesn’t improve due to Trisha. His school performance does improve – but that is not studying – he is still not interested in the least in anything remotely resembling books. If anything, things only get worse. Would you allow your daughter or your student to be anywhere near a wayward clown as Raghav? I don’t think so. Well, neither did the rest of the characters in the school. Thankfully, the author doesn’t dwell too much on this angle, concentrating on the school aspects. Life goes on for our pair, despite small hiccups.
What happens to turn this wayward misguided child into something else? Two things, or rather three. Trisha, Basketball… and a brutal shock.  And it is from the Basketball angle that the story picks up pace, acquiring a different life, picking up its pace remarkably, with remarkable development of Raghav becoming visible, teaching us readers a lesson as well; there is no such thing as no redeeming quality. This is a different Raghav we are seeing here. But studies – well, now lets not get too excited shall we?
The chappie is still not interested {state that in Bold Italicized Capitals} in studies, or anything remotely close to it. Well, that’s not such a good thing, is it now? Fine – don’t be a topper. But at least pass with decent enough marks, that is all.  All through this, the love story continues; no melodrama, no needless fights, disagreements. Trisha is the one good thing that is a constant in Mr Wayward’s life. You cant help but think, pichhle janm ke punya honge Raghav ke! So what happens to change Mr Wayward? Read the book for that – this is the best part of the book, as the swift turn in the story brings a tear to your eyes in more than one place, but not tears of sorrow; tears of emotion, and of feeling….
The book is a slow read to start with, with lots of detailing and background filling. This frankly isn’t a waste; it helped in building the main characters of the story. That said, Trisha required a lot more filling out; that would have both filled out the book,  as well as made it far more riveting. Raghav as a character is very well developed, with clear and consistent, bold lines and firm development. The character remains “within character” throughout; and the change, when it comes, is also in keeping with the overall character.  The only jarring tone is the use of swear-words, which seemed out of character. Docked half a star for the use of bad words.
The pace of the book is neither too slow, nor too fast. The language is easy, and the book is filled with loads of emotion, making a fun read that tugs at your heart strings in many, many ways. It takes you through their lives, and makes you smile, laugh and cry at various events, statements, twists and turns. The book has some strategically placed witty one-liners that keep your smile going throughout.  The turnaround, and the fighting spirit displayed by Raghav are sheer class, and will bring a tear to your eye. All in all, this is a good read for a journey or on travel; rated 3.5 stars out of 5; minus 0.5 star for bad words = 3 star rating!

{To the author – if you are reading this; for the follow-up second part, please be sure not to use swear words.  We writers have a responsibility toward society, and have to lead by example. I am not giving a 4-star rating only due to this}
Image Credits – Google Image Search