The Sanguinarian

The Sanguinarian

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Review- Confused Bastards

Blurb: What happens when three entrepreneurs initiate a start-up which shocks the nation? 
Aakash, Jai and Vivek are mostly usual in their ways, except for some. Struggling with their own inner conflicts as well as the cruel world outside, they decide to show the world their true potential. To make it big. But how? They become the voice of the nation by starting up an online platform where people can upload unabashed, unapologetic videos, venting out their angst against people, politics, bosses, lovers, taboos, or just about anything. Even the founders themselves. 
The platform spreads like wild fire. But when has fire doused without burning a few! 
Confused Bastards is not just a witty, gritty, fast-paced journey of three friends, it’s also an intolerant story for a tolerant country! 

Silently take a bow out the door, Chetan Baba. Because here is the proof that new writing coming from young authors in India is not your hackneyed IIT jao- ladki patao-sex karo-BC karo plot. 

Confused Bastards is refreshingly funny, non-preachy and very, very real. 

Throughout the story of Aakash, Jai and Vivek, their trials and tribulations, failures and successes, flaws and qualities, I was constantly giggling and laughing. 

When you stop looking at the IITians and IIMians, it's guys like these three which form the real youth of the country. The varying, undulating tapestry of the latent and overt aspirations and opinions of India's youth is made of the thoughts and aspirations nursed by Aakash, Jai and Vivek. 

Aakash, who has many good ideas, each a subsequent failure. And he has a rich father who constantly berates him. He's also a raving misogynist who believes in bang-bang-boom without batting an eyelid or worrying about committed attachments; even describing every sexual conquest in terms of the Kamasutra.

Jai has a boss who's a monster, sets impossible goals for his employees and works them like cattle on a farm. Jai wants to quit his job, but lacks the confidence to take such a risk, owing to pressure from his parents and their sacrifices for their ├íverage' son. I loved his track with Sneha, the woman he later falls in love with. 

Vivek has a failed marriage and is filled with control issues. Being a topper since childhood, he cannot tolerate failing at something. And has an equally funny but irritating habit of worshiping all Gods. 

They launch this website, as a start-up, where people with any sort of grudge can vent their spleen. The story is dedicated to a detailed portrayal of how the boys go about getting angel investors and then setting up the company. And then the stories and people they encounter in course of getting good videos. 

The way the corporate world ditches you at the slightest hint of trouble has also been portrayed very well. It's about how the boys make some wrong decisions, even spend a few nights in jail, and lose everything all over again. Then they fight their personal demons, overcome their problems with their own families and thought processes and find their way in life again.
The conflict and characterization has been played out well. I liked all the lead characters and the supporting ones too.

The editing is excellent, and the prose quality is high. The author has command on the language and grammar, and the storytelling as well. The plot is original and the style is ingenious. 

I cannot find anything to criticize in the book, except perhaps Aakash gets a little too obnoxious in his misogyny at times. 

Read Confused Bastards for a refreshingly honest and fun take on the new aspirations of the millenial youth in India: Confused Bastards

Review- Pishacha- Neil D'Silva

Pishacha: A tale of love beyond births by [D'Silva, Neil]

On the outside, he is a Pishacha – a terrifying demon compelled to eat human flesh to survive. Yet, inside, he has a tender heart that still pines for the lover of his previous human birth.

More than a century later, when he discovers that his lover has been reborn in a rich Mumbai household, and is now a beautiful woman, his heart begins to beat again with a happy rhythm.

There are monumental obstacles in his path though, the least of which is the fact that she loves another man. But, the biggest challenge is that she is human and he is demon.

To make her his, he will have to become human again; and to accomplish that, he will have to fight holy men and witch-mothers and giants, and challenge the gods themselves.

From the best-selling author of Maya’s New Husband, comes a tragic tale of forbidden love — Pishacha. 

Horror thrillers written in India rarely push the boundaries of storytelling, ideas of what constitutes horror, and language and prose style. 

Pishacha by Neil D'Silva is one of the happy exceptions. 

This is a compelling, hypnotizing novel that I finished in a single sitting! I was up the entire night, reading this. And I was spooked enough to look at the ceiling every few minutes for a black, amorphous shape sneaking towards me... 

Pishacha mashes genres very well- supernatural horror, suspense, erotica, and even a little bit of historical fiction is woven into the story very well. 

Neetika is a college student being chased by this presence she feels is continuously watching her, spying on her and chasing her everywhere she goes. She's in a relationship with Yug, a dashing, dapper guy who seems to be the perfect boyfriend- handsome, caring, intelligent and successful, and one whom her father too approves of. He even proposes marriage and she is about to agree...when a weird series of events rudely interrupt their union. 

Followed by weirder incidents in Goa, where Neetika takes a trip with her friends post exams. And then uncovering the secrets behind the life and death of her mother, who left her at childbirth. Plus the sudden appearance of a young man who buys a house from Neetika's Dad and sleeps with a strange woman called Malini. 

And then there is Pishacha himself. The story of his entry in the realm of Earth and the world of humans is as exciting as the journey he undertakes across India to obtain his love. 

This is where Pishacha scores- giving the bad guy a background, and the strong, redeeming emotion of love in his heart. The reason for which he comes back from some far off corner of the universe to find his love, Neetika. He wants to become a human to obtain her, and for that he will fight anyone- witches, holy sages etc. 

When Neetika goes off to investigate the mystery of her mother's death and the mystery behind her own visions, followed by Yug, and comes face to face with the Pishacha,does the mystery unfold in a shocking, nail biting climax. 

The gore scenes are done well. The sex is only as much as needed. The suspense behind the intertwined histories of all lead characters has been done nicely. 

Conflict is fleshed out well, and characterization is good. 

The plot is original and the pace is heady, keeping the reader hooked at every chapter ending and every twist in the tale. The quality of prose is high, grammar and punctuation is perfect and the style is very ingenious. 

Only nitpick I could find is that the language, in places, is a bit dated. But it doesn't take away from the story in anyway. 

Pishacha is a step up on Neil's bestselling debut Maya's New Husband. 

I'd say pick this one up for an exciting, nail biting experience if you dig supernatural horror, original storytelling, Stephen King and well written books. 


Tuesday, 3 January 2017

The Murder of Agnel Wilson- Award Winning Short Story

The murder of Agnel Wilson has been one of the most talked about events in the Christian Colony, Orlem, Malad East, Mumbai, for several years after it happened. Bungalow No. 237 still continues to be a source of intrigue, and a hot topic for gossip and speculation, amongst the residents of this Colony.
237, which lies empty and abandoned today, used to be the residence of the Wilson family -- young, handsome Agnel Wilson, his seemingly demure but ostensibly beautiful wife Rebecca, and their infant girl, Mary Wilson.
“But since Agnel died and Rebecca was taken away by them, no family has come to live here. This house has been on the market for five years, but no one has bought it yet. People are scared because of the rumors surrounding the house…” Mrs. Gonzalez, from Bungalow 239 suddenly lowers her eyes, and stops talking, hesitation  at saying anything further writ large on her face. 

Read on... 

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Review- Double or Quits-Shilpa Gupta

Blurb: Racy, realistic and fast paced, Double or Quits traces Jyotsna Singh’s story against the backdrop of the treacherous stock markets. Losing her father at the age of 12 and brought up under frugal circumstances, Jyotsna grows up too soon. Nervy and edgy by nature, she morphs into a confident and charming young woman with a successful career in Investment Banking. Enter Aryan Sahani, rising corporate star and billionaire who wraps Jyotsna in his charms, but has plans of his own. Driven by her loyalty to the firm, a desire to break out of her lower middle class moorings and misplaced love, Jyotsna overreaches. She is soon faced with the dark side of the stock markets – a world where ambition, greed and fear rule and reputations are lost a lot faster than they are built. Will Jyotsna be able to resurrect her life? Will she find the true love she has been craving? Double or Quits is a tale of love, betrayal and courage. It is a tale about falling down, but not staying down. 

There are some books which WOW you from the moment you read the first few pages to when you have read the last page and closed the book. There are some books you enjoy reading, and then forget about within days. There are some books that disappoint you within the first few pages and you're like, I'm closing it and relegating it to the trash right now. 

Double or Quits falls on the better side of the spectrum. 

I wanted to read this book. Despite a lot of things which went wrong in the execution, I wanted to read the book and was eager to finish it. And I did. 
This is one of those books which gets some things right and some wrong. 

To begin with, Double or Quits is a story with great potential but faulty execution. 

The things this novel, set in the cut-throat corporate world, gets right: 
1. I liked Jyotsna a lot. She's my kinda gal- smart, strong, independent, tough and a go-getter. She's secure enough in her own worth as a person and doesn't need a man to validate her; but at the same time she knows how to appreciate genuine admiration when it comes her way. I also liked that she's liberated and puts her career first; and isn't a pushover whom society and family can manipulate into submission. 
2. I liked Jyo's broadminded mother and Grandma. Amazing women- what wouldn't one give to have such supportive, understanding and liberal parent and grandparent! 
3. I like the profusion of good food in this book. 
4. I loved Nitin's character too. He's my kinda male feminist. The way he stands with Jyo through the most difficult phases of her life is amazing. And of course, he's well rounded as a person- smart, driven, intelligent, successful and good looking.
5. I liked how Jyo, despite being in a situation where she had to bear punishment for mistakes she didn't make, makes the most of it, works her way through and comes through with flying colors. This is good characterization- putting your character through the meat grinder, testing their resilience and then making them rise from the ashes like a phoenix. 
6. The corporate world has been explained very well. I'm a scientist by profession, and have little or no idea of corporate world or terms, but Shilpa, having more than a decade's experience in Investment Banking herself, breaks down the world of major corporations for us, nicely depicting the high stakes, the politics and backstabbing and the adrenaline rush. It made it easier to understand the story. 
7. The plot is original and the story line is new and refreshing. No romantic nonsense. The suspense has been maintained well throughout. 
8. Aryan's character, as well as those of the other supporting characters, have been etched well.
9. I liked Sanchita and Richa's characters- supportive girlfriends women like Jyo need for much needed encouragement and support- and the equation of trust, love and bonhomie the three women share.

Now let me come to what this novel gets wrong: 

1. More telling and very less showing. This makes it difficult to visualize the scenes properly, or immerse myself completely in the story. There is narration instead of proper scenes. I mean I know that  the protagonists are having dinner or making love or engaged in a high-power corporate meeting, but there is no context, no emotional intelligence in the scene. The author, instead of zooming in on the scenes to help us connect with the story, has rather skimmed through, jumping from one scene to another within the same chapter and giving us only a glimpse. I wanted a lot of scenes.
2. The language fails to move me. Some stray lines and phrases stand out in brilliance, but otherwise the prose is clunky and refuses to flow. It's not that the language is pedestrian, or I was expecting a very high level of English. But it could still have been better- more taut and crisp. There are no grammatical mistakes as such, but still, something was missing here. 
3. The start could have been better. When I start reading something I want to see something major happening, something which already makes me apprehensive about what will happen next. That was missing here. For example, the build up could have been in a way that the protagonist has a presentation whose outcome is important for her, and she's apprehensive about how it will go. 
4. Jyotsna's character does things very anachronistic to her personality, at times. Why does she go out on a  date with Aryan the same evening he humiliates her in front of her colleagues? Why does she trust him so blindly with regard to business when she only has an affair with him? And Aryan keeps repeatedly insulting her and she still keeps going out with him. He continues to be evasive and secretive and she blindly continues to trust him. She goes on a vacation to Malaysia with him when they've barely started dating, and even sleeps with him without first knowing him well. All these are at sharp odds with her high self-esteem, cautious nature and low threshold for sexist crap. Why would she tolerate a sexist who constantly subjects her to gaslighting? I mean we all do stuff which is out of character, but this is just not done. 
5. Does anyone say 'Gosh' much these days? 
6. At places the author goes too overboard with corporate jargon. Now I understand that being a corporate woman herself, she has the instinct to talk in terms of Investment Banking and such. But that is where authors who create stories set in the world they themselves inhabit should be careful- to use enough technical terms to paint a credible picture of the character's profession, but not go overboard so non-corporate people find it boring. 

All in all, I praise Double and Quits for its maturity, originality of content, and that it doesn't waste time with over-the-top romantic drama. This book has a lot of important things to say, and at places it does that very well. At other places, though, it could have been written better. The author can do so much better- she shows promise and potential.

But I would still like to applaud this novel for making a difference, and for encapsulating the messages of women's emancipation that it does. 

And I wish Shilpa all the best for her next book.
Double or Quits

Give this book a try, I'd say. You can buy a copy here: 

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Review- Birds of Prey- Archana Sarat

Blurb: You wake up, parched and famished, at the bottom of a deep well—dark and dingy with the foul smell of excreta and rotting scars and no seeming way to escape—what do you do?
This is the predicament that ex-ACP Anton Pinto faces when he reluctantly joins the investigation into the mysterious disappearances of men from affluent families of Mumbai. There is an inexplicable pattern behind the abductions and all suspicions point towards an old, physically-challenged, mysterious lady. Soon, Anton discovers that the seemingly unrelated men have one common link—the most popular and expensive international school in Mumbai.
Following clues that span from schools and old-age homes to illegal dingy hospitals, Anton is led through a labyrinth of incest, abuse, torture and suffering, spanning decades. 
What secret does the school hide behind its gates? What was the undisclosed crime that is thirsty for justice? Will Anton be able to save the men? Will justice be served? 

First of all, let me congratulate Archana on getting her book out. I know Archana for nearly four years now and I can personally vouch for her competence and sophistication as a writer. I had the privilege of getting a signed copy from her in return for an honest review. 

Birds of Prey identifies as a crime thriller, and it lives up to its stated genre by employing all the tropes necessary for a police procedural- there's an ex-ACP, a serial killer, a criminal profiler, other cops, an officious and incompetent police force, an apathetic boss and colleagues etc. 

I finished this book in 2 sittings. First of all the book manages to hold the reader's attention and maintain the suspense, second of all it's written in simple language ( not pedestrian. Simple. There's a difference between the two!) 

Let me enumerate the points on which the book scores first: 

1. The suspense has been created and maintained very well. Readers like me, who are a sucker for crime novels, appreciate the feeling of nail-biting tension and apprehension...that feeling of what will happen next? 
2. The author portrays both the city Mumbai, where the book is set, and the life of a Tamil family in Mumbai, very well. 
3. The characters are well fleshed out- especially Anton and his wife Sheeba. The number of characters is less in the book so it's easy to keep up with who is whom. Every supporting character- from the stubborn boss to the quack who performs illegal abortions and his assistant, has been etched well.
4. The language is simple without being pedestrian. Anyone with a basic knowledge of English can understand this well. The author doesn't waver from the tenor of her language quality throughout, and that is appreciable. The prose is eloquent without being grandiose, and suits the potboiler character of the story well. So full marks to the author for that. 
5. The author has written the novel from both the protagonist and antagonist's POV. Again, this is appreciable. Crime novels usually stick to the trope of the villain being an out-and-out bad guy who doesn't deserve a back story or an empathetic hearing. But here, the antagonist has been portrayed amazingly well, without being glamorized. One wants the hero to win while also feeling for the bad guy who might not be so bad after all, just misguided and lonely; but their actions deserve no justification. 
6. The conflict has been created well. Anton and Sheeba's marital troubles, his going to help his ex-employer, the Mumbai police, despite their apathy towards him when he needed their support the most; his dilemma of going back to the job he loves or staying back with his family in Goa; Sheeba's (justified) objection to his returning to work for the police...this is all very relatable stuff. This happens with us lay folks all the time. And again, we feel for the characters. 
7. The plot is original and intriguing, and the story is something unique. 
8. The prologue in itself is gripping and taut. Again a good point for which author gets full marks. 
9. The issue of child abuse has been tackled well in this book.

Now for the points I feel should have been addressed in the book: 

1. Grammatical mistakes: At times they take away from the otherwise well-written prose. And also mar the high quality of language and prose. This is not the author's, but the editor's fault. Why didn't they iron out the inconsistencies? The author has worked hard on her craft and it shows. It's the editor's job to iron out the inconsistencies and make the writing error free. Small typos are no problem, but in a book of this caliber it is an issue.
2. The portrayal of the criminal profiler: Now I'm not saying that crime authors have to be experts in criminology. But the profiler could have used much more professional language and terminology. That matters in a crime novel, specially if it's written with a psychological POV. Even when the cops discuss about the murders being serial crimes, their analysis falls short of professional. Yes, in India, the concept of criminology or behavioral psychology hasn't taken root yet. Not among cops, especially. But here is where the author could have made a difference by doing some in-depth research on criminology and making the cops and profilers talk like professional experts. 
3. At places, there are odd turns of phrases. This is again the editor''s prerogative to notice and correct. At one place there is confusion between the names of victims. Again the editor's fault. 

All in all, Birds of Prey is a well-written, nicely plotted crime thriller. It will make you think about child abuse in India, about the effect it has on human beings, about how societal apathy adds to the entire vicious cycle. 
Go read this book if you need a breather from the Bhagats, Duttas and Singhs of literature in India. 

Birds of Prey