Friday, 10 November 2017

The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star - Vaseem Khan

photo courtesy: goodreads.com
Secrets, social message and a detective with his elephant in tow- great combination.

This delightful series is a joy to read. This is my second one and I was happy to see that the lightheartedness of the previous one is maintained in this one too.

This time however, the focus is on Mumbai's film world - popularly called Bollywood - where Chopra and his elephant associate are called in to investigate a high profile kidnapping.

Gist:


Chopra, an avid lover of Hindi films is called to a yesteryear actress' house after her son goes missing while on stage in full public view. Meanwhile, Rangwalla, the assistant goes undercover after the head of the eunuch community calls in asking for help. 


What works:

  • The detective and his elephant work very well together. There are some interesting scenes that make good use of the elephant assistant that make for an entertaining read.
  • Using Bollywood as the background makes for an interesting setting. Loved making way into the world of arclights and the secrets that surround the people who live in it.
  • Also like the way Khan philosophizes without sounding preachy.
What doesn't:
  • The sub mystery did sound a bit "filmy". The ghostly singing in the Haveli is reminiscent of old Hindi movies, I remember watching as a kid. In this fast paced life laced with technology, it sounded a bit dated. Having said that, it did provide an enjoyable diversion to a degree even if it sounded tad unconvincing.
Overall, another light refreshing read a story of lies, secrets set in the glittering world of the Hindi film industry. 



  

Thursday, 2 November 2017

The Ugly Five - Julia Donaldson

photo courtesy: goodreads.com
An interesting picture book about animals and beauty.

Donaldson is a favourite in our household and we must have read and watched her Gruffalo and Stick man at least a hundred times. 

Her ability to create an animal like Gruffalo with its prickly back and warts was something my 4 year old boy totally loved. (A Gruffalo soft toy often goes to bed with him.) My daughter on the hand, loved the Room on the Broom witch and the Christmassy Stick man and the adventures they have. 

I reckon what appeals to them is the rhyming way in which the story unfolds and transports them to a fascinating world.

Personally, I love her books too. Whether it is the monkey puzzle where the monkey is on a lookout for his mum or the superworm with its multi faceted skills, I loved reading them as much as my kids. Not to mention Axel Scheffler's illustrations that bring them to life. So when this book came to us, we already had a sense of what to expect and how good it should be.

Gist:

It is the African plain and as you look around the animals at the watering hole, you notice there are some animals that look different. They stand out from the crowd, and as they are first seen from the perspective of the other animals and then they introduce themselves you can see why. The ugly five then make their way through the forest and and then something happens that brings about a change in perspective. 

I could see that the story moved beyond the obvious fact about ugly animals and talked about the concept of beauty. But it is a picture book after all and I was clearly not the target audience. I handed it over to my little ones for review.

My 4-year-old boy's review:

"I like the animals. They are big and scary. I like the activities at the end."

My 7 year old girl's review:

"I first thought it will be for babies since I did Donaldson's books in my reception class. But as the story went on, I was curious to find out who these animals are. The pictures are really good and I like the different words she has used for rhyme. These ugly animals are not 'so ugly' after all."

One liked the illustrations and the animals more whereas the other liked the message and the style of story presentation. 
Both agreed....

that they liked the other older books better. But then they have read and re- read those for ages. This one does not rank up there for them but they conceded that it was a book they would want to go back to again.

Revised Review

Its been a few weeks and my 4 year old brings back the book ever so often. He loves reading it again and again. A sure hit there.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel In the Crown - Vaseem Khan

photo courtesy: goodreads.com
A crime story set in Mumbai 's bustling street - with an elephant.

I came across this book after attending the Asian Writer Event which celebrated the its 10th anniversary. The event was a day filled with interaction and workshops - a truly inspirational event that brought published and established writers together. Vaseem Khan, the author was on one of the panels talking about his crime series involving a detective solving crime with his pet elephant.

What a hook! I love crime thrillers not only for their stories but also for the detective's persona and the other small bits and bobs that accompany though not necessarily part of the core crime story.

The first story introduces a retired inspector Chopra, who is bequeathed a baby elephant Ganesha .  Together he and the animal together solve a mystery. The series continues with the second story, where Ganesha, while settling into the family, helps Chopra once again to another mystery concerning the theft of a remarkable jewel belonging to the British Queen.

Gist:

Inspector Chopra is at an exhibition of the crown jewels that are being displayed at the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai. However, the jewels are stolen, literally in his presence and Chopra finds himself in the middle of it trying to find out who could have stolen it.

What works:
  • The setting is great, the background information with which Khan constructs the persona of Chopra is good. He builds the background well with attention to detail.
  • The narrative is fluid. To me this seemed like Death in Paradise - a british crime series set in the Caribbean, -  in a Mumbai setting. 
  • There are so many peripheral characters, Poppy the wife, Poornima the painful -mother-in-law, Irfan the orphan and also Chopra's nemesis, Rao. Loved the way the characters are fitted around the story, with different strands continuing at the same time. 
  • Khan shows a good understanding of the city he sets the story in. Reading about the Prince of Wales Museum and Madh island - places close to my "Bombaywalla" heart felt good and it was great to see him have such a good control of the place he writes about.
    What doesn't:
    • The setting clearly works and while Khan seems to have got the series firmly on hand on track, there is a nagging doubt of what will happen once the elephant goes older. There are mentions that the maturing of an elephant takes a long time....but then at some point that police truck is going to be a bit tight for an elephant....
    • Also Inspector Chopra in Brihanmumbai police seems a bit improbable when compared to a Inspector Shinde. Khan justifies the name though to a certain extent by giving a plausible background although one cannot help wondering if market forces are at play...
    Overall an enjoyable murder mystery. But in addition it is also an emotional story, with moments of philosophical introspection and they are so well layered that it makes for a wholesome reading experience.

    A lighthearted, well plotted murder mystery by an author who writes from heart.






    Wednesday, 30 August 2017

    Stories In Art

    When writing presents art in different shades...

    courtesy:tell-a-tale.com

    Some time back, I came across a contest inviting entries for a unique competition. It was organised by an India based website specialising in the joy of stories. They were celebrating World Art Day and were looking for stories based on art. I loved the idea. Thinking about a painting and writing a story on it sounded right up my alley. It really tickled my imagination and I got down to scribble.

    Imagine my excitement when I learnt it made it to the top slot! Here is the link to the story:

    https://www.tell-a-tale.com/11409-2/

    It was amazing to read other entries interpret paintings for their stories. It was an excellent example of how imagination can transform a painting. Kudos to all the shortlisted entries.  You can read the other entries here:

    https://www.tell-a-tale.com/


    Tuesday, 29 August 2017

    Ring out the Old, Ring in the New....

    Three years ago, I did a post on Cheeky starting school. 

    Now, as I kissed my second born good luck at the school gate, it felt different. Walking back, I was wondering how the same experience could elicit contrasting emotions. 

    It was hard with Cheeky, I admit. There was whole newness to it. The school, the kids in her class, the education system. How will she cope? Will they make it easy for her?

    But this time round, there is a sense of melancholy coupled with excitement. There is sadness that a phase of childhood is lost forever, but there is also elation. School life has its share of adventure, after all.  

    When Cheeky started at school, the "babyness" continued with Aadi. First toddler and then preschool  groups, park visits and soft play sojourns during the day, the small kid feeling was still prevalent. Not anymore. 


    photo courtesy:silicon valley academy

    On the other hand, there is a delightful absence of apprehension. Aadi has been coming on school runs ever since Cheeky started three years ago. The benefit of acquaintance with the staff, playground and older kids has been handy, to say the least.

    There is definite comfort in knowing that the path my boy is going to tread has been "tried and tested", thanks to his older sibling. It has resulted in such a smooth transition to school that my heart swelled with joy instead of tears, to see him march off into this nurturing environment.

    On a personal front, maternal feelings aside, there is a quiet sense of liberation. As my baby embarks on his academic journey, time feels right to reclaim my individuality and space. There is a sense of loss, yet an undeniable feeling of the start of something new.

    Coleridge's poem "Ring out the old, Ring in the new" comes to mind with some modification:

    Ring out the old, ring in the new, 

    Look ahead, there's so much to do;

    Letting go of the past how you

    let in a morrow, full of adventures anew.

    Letting go is so much about letting in too, isn't it?
    
    

    The Smile of Murugan - Michael Wood

    photo courtesy:goodreads.com
    An armchair journey to the temples of South India.

    The timing couldn't have been better. I picked up this book after a visit to a small town in Tamil Nadu. This book took me down the south visiting all the major temples lined with an entertaining and enlightening narrative .

    In India temple visiting is not only for religious purposes, it is a form of tourism, a weekend getaway. Having been on temple visits and it is amazing how religion and tourism come together to make for a great experience.

    Gist:

    Wood is friends with a religious family in the deep south India. He visits them and is privy to the happenings in the family. As per an astrologer's prediction, Wood will come back to make a pilgrimage. The prophecy comes true and Wood finds himself making a journey to some famous temples, while learning about the gods and goddesses .

    What works:
    • The narrative is so smooth and Wood has an engaging style. The concept is not something a random reader can easily relate to, but Wood makes the information accessible and interesting.
    • There is a wealth of information on how people live in small towns. It has universal resonance to it. It is fascinating how he tracks the life of this family and through them provides an insight into how small town people live, their perspective and a changing landscape of life in big city.
    What doesn't:
    • Since the subject matter is all about temples, the information tends to get a bit much and sags a bit in the middle. 
    By mixing his own story with that of the family, Wood really weaves an interesting travelogue. Despite the fact that it is dated (it was written in the 90s) there is a relevance to it. After all the temples have been there for centuries and twenty years later, water problem in Madras is still as acute as stated in the book.

    If you like reading about India, this book provides an engaging insight. Recommended.

    Sunday, 20 August 2017

    The Girlfriend - Michelle Frances

    photo courtesy:goodreads.com
    Captivating suspense that keeps you hooked till the end.

    I received this book from the blue spine writing blog's crime and thriller club in return for an honest review. Thriller is one of my favourite genres - reason being there is more analysis and insight than an entire psychology textbook put together!

    As for this one, I read up on the author and it said the writer has worked in television. It helped - I love TV dramas, although the storytelling in that medium is quite different to the printed page, it built up good expectations about this book.

    The story with its crisp sentences on the jacket sounded ominous and terribly intriguing.

    Gist:

    Laura, a TV producer feels blessed. With a smart son, long marriage and a successful career, she has it all - until Cherry, a street savvy girl walks into her life. Daniel, her son has taken to Cherry and Laura is eager to find out more about her. The only hassle is - she doesn't like her and soon that acquaintance turns poisonous liason.

    What works:
    • The plot is seemingly ordinary. I mean how often do we come across tiffs between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. But with some clever tweaks and justifications, the story is packaged in a new light.
    • The crucial thing about a thriller is that pace is very important. It cannot afford to slag and billow out. The pace here is taut and the writer does a very good job with structure. The backgrounds are quickly covered in the first few pages and then story skillfully pans out.
    • The central characters are very believable. You can see how they act the way they do and the situations created by their behaviour.
    • I  also liked the ending. Despite the fact that the ending was predictable Frances added a nice little twist to it. I was wondering, having built it up, how was she going to handle it. But have to hand it to her, that was really well done.
    • There were some scenes that were so visual and kept lingering in my mind's eye.  I loved the camaraderie between Isabella and Laura. Also the one in France, when Cherry spends the weekend with them. Loved it! 
    What doesn't:

    • Nothing really. It is a very well told story. Appealed to the thriller aficionado in me.
    Very easy to see it as a TV drama or a film.