Game of Thrones- Book 1

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Rating: 3/5

Game of Thrones accounts for prestige issue. If you haven’t watched GoT, you would be facing a huge problem during social events as invariably GoT is a common topic of discussion, and it would be extremely awkward if you have to say, “Sorry! I haven’t seen GoT”. The reaction you would get for that answer would raise you up the wall of shame. Though I am not a person who usually succumbs to societal pressures, I definitely got curious to know what this entire fantasy saga was all about. Knowing that it was 5 books (and 5 seasons) down, I had to make a choice- either to read or watch the series. I decided on the latter as it was the easiest and the quickest mode to catch up and be in par with my fellow GoTians. At the same time, I was really sceptical if I would become one of them. I have and always am an HPian and I wasn’t sure if I would share my loyalty with another series.

The HBO version of GoT started off really interesting. The fantasy world of Seven Kingdoms and the Wall was really interesting. But as the show progressed, the violence portrayed was too extreme for my taste. I realised I skipped more than 75% of every episode. At the end of 5 seasons, I sat in confusion as I couldn’t understand much part of the theory/story. This experience reassured me that books are always better than the visual representation. I purchased book one of GoT and the massive bulk of it scared me. 800 pages! I wondered if I should risk starting to read the series because if I begin, I have to read all the books too.

After contemplating for nearly 2 months, in due course of which I completed like 10 books, I took GoT out of my shelf and began reading it. All I can say is, the book pulls you into the world of grit, jealousy, deceit, politics and plotting comfortably and engages you to the world of Game of Thrones that it becomes hard to put down the book at the end of the day.

The highlight of the book is the method of writing. There is no confusion in spite of the high number of characters involved. George RR Martin effortlessly connects you to the characters, their lives and the plot of the story. A few chapters in- you would definitely find yourself shipping for a particular character, wanting them to win the game. Wish it was that simple.

For a book on fantasy, description of the setting plays a vital role. If you aren’t able to visualise the fantasy world, the characters would seem far away from reality. The author hits the mark perfectly with his description and involuntarily forces the reader to believe the existence of this alternate world.

To put in few words, the story is about a list of people fighting for the Iron throne. The story would predictably end with the winner of the throne. But the journey is not so simple. Since I do know what has happened till season 5, I know what to expect from the rest of the books. Yet, the book serves you with fantastic depth in characterisation enabling you to understand the each one better than how they were portrayed on the series.

Book 1 introduces the primary families involved in the feud over the throne. We have the noble Starks, the cunning Lannisters, the unsteady yet rightful Baratheons, and the ambitious Targaryen(s). With the death of the King, the battle begins to conquer the Iron throne. Apart from the members of the each of the family, we have some very interesting characters in Lord Baelish, Lord Varys, Ser Jorah, Jon Snow, Lord Mormont and many others whose allegiance and strategies flips the story around. The primary character of Book 1 is Lord Eddard Stark who puts honour before everything. He epitomizes the perfect candidate for the throne. But the author strikes and informs the readers that the Game of Thrones isn’t straight forward and to win this game requires more than just honour.

My favourite character of this particular book has to be Tyrion Lannister. He in a way is a huge inspiration. He portrays how it is important to understand and use one’s strengths (here it is his wit) and accept one’s weakness. He laughs at himself before others does. His chapters are a delight to read. Apart from being excited for what’s in store for him in the next books- I am highly excited with where he has reached at the end of Season 5. Go Tyrion Go!

The character which bored me was Sansa but her character is rightfully explained.

The Clash of Kings awaits next.

I would strongly recommend reading Game of Thrones to watching it. Though I can never equate it with Harry Potter, this series has found a place for its own.

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Ajaya Series

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Rating: 4/5

Disclaimer- I am looking at the Mahabharata as a story, just a story here.

Pandavas Vs Kauravas. Dharma Vs Adharma. Jaya Vs Ajaya.

Whenever I have read the Mahabharata or discussed about it, it had always left me with a lot of questions jamming my mind. I couldn’t accept the fact that the Kauravas could have been pure evil and the Pandavascould be complete innocents. Something was always amiss for me. I have read different versions, but every version ended with good over evil, Pandavas won over Kauravas. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in the epic. Just that I always felt a lot of disconnections in the story. But now I can positively say I am very clear about my thoughts on the epic after reading the Ajaya series by AnandNeelakantan.

The book argues from the side of the Kauravas, putting forward their perspective, narrating their point of view. The best part of the book is the balance the author maintains. The book never argues that Kauravas were right and Pandavas were wrong. The book merely narrates how both sides believed they were right, how both sides believed they were fighting for dharma and how both sides believed their rule would bring a much better future for India. The book throws lot of questions that are worth pondering about, especially on the topic of Dharma. The book brilliantly narrates beyond the victory, what happened after the victory, which none of the versions I have read had done. Was there really jubilation?  Were the Pandavas able to bring about the dharmic revolution they dreamt of? Portraying Duryodhana aka Suyodhana as a gentle yet arrogant human wasn’t definitely out of place, but it made a lot of sense to the entire story. Every incident in Mahabharata, which were always told from the Panadavas perspective, when read from the Kauravas perspective made it more logical. Mind you, I am not telling Kauravas were right in every incident. I am just saying, the reasons behind every incident, the background information, gives more meaning after reading.

Every character has been given a lot of depth, both their positive side and their not so positive side clearly put down. It’s just not the main characters, but characters like Bhishma, Vidura, Eklavya, Aswathama and mainly Jara add so much interest to the entire reading. Reading the life of Gandhari, Kunti, Draupadi, Bhanumati, Subhadra, Vrishali and even Sushala brings up the strong women power among the men folk. They didn’t fight the Kurushektrawar on the field, but they had their own wars going on. The author has done a great job in including the smallest of the characters in the book, showing how small incidents involving Samba, Krishna’s son and Suyodhana’s daughter Lakshmana had laid down stones for the war. Of course, I felt the entire war was a war between two masterminds, Krishna and Shakuni. The actions of both had a reason, a reason till before reading the bookwas unknown to me. You actually start to enjoy both their mind games at one point of time. The author is able to successfully immerse the reader into his world of Mahabharata. Every character is relatable. The narration of every incident has been written poignantly. The pace of the narration is really good. The story does go without much action for some time in the second book making the reader grow impatient, but once the action gets back, the importance of the non-action portions are realised.

The book makes you think, makes you think a lot before you can decide which side you want to support. Honestly, I am still unable to decide which side I am actually on. Both sides had made their own share of mistakes. Every move of Pandavas during the war, which were always portrayed as smart moves of Krishna before, comes across as just moves of deceit to end the war quickly, planting the seeds for confusion in my mind once again. Was the war battled fairly? Did Pandavas win fairly? Would the Pandavas have won if Krishna wasn’t there on their side? Did Krishna just use the Pandavas to restore the dharma he believed in? A new set of questions crop up at the end of the book.   At the end, the entire epic Mahabharata is a sad story, an unnecessary war that was fought because there was no mutual respect for each other’s beliefs, a war with caste as its basis.It also eventually makes you think of the current situation our country is in with respect to caste. The author cleverly tells how the winner of the war would go down in history as the purest souls while the other would become the evil. In case the Kauravas had won, Pandavas would have been the evil guys. Conclusion- The beliefs of Kauravas weren’t evil as it was claimed. The term dharma in itself cannot have a fixed definition.

The bits which I absolutely loved reading. The beginning of the first book with Bhishma abducting Gandhari. The author’s description of Gandhari and Bhishma, and the foundation laid for both the characters were really impressive. The interactions between Balrama and Suyodhana left a smile. Every chapter involving the friendship among Aswathama, Karna and Suyodhana gave a nice positive feeling.  Dhridharastra’s clever ploy of projecting himself as the fool was a surprise. Honestly, the book made me realise that even after the war, it was Dhridharastra who was the King and not Yudishtar. Emotions flow at the death of every great warrior during the war, immaterial of which side they belonged too. Finally, Aswathama stole the show for me. I wouldn’t divulge more there.

To a person who is open to varied views about Mahabharata would love this series. The book doesn’t ship Kauravas, but just puts forward the reasons behind their actions which in general are ignored.  One cannot change the epic story, but to read and experience how different the story can sound when heard from the other side was an amazing experience. A must read for mythological fans.

The Sialkot Saga

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Rating: 2/5

When Ashwin Sanghi’s next was up for pre-order on Flipkart and Amazon, my excitement knew no bounds. I have always enjoyed his work- a good mixture of history and contemporary lives interwined. Chanakya’s Chant made me sit in awe with the brilliant parallelism yarned between the yesteryear’s untouchable genius, Chanakya and someone with the same cunning intelligence in today’s time. With The Sialkot Saga, I expected the same. History connected to today’s times. Did the book click? Let’s find out.

The Sialkot Saga basically revolves around the two central characters, Arvind and Arbaaz and their lives from rags to riches. Where the former is business minded, the latter is a political genius. Their lives cross paths after decades of penpal battles. Who overcomes whom? Who wins the final battle? How are their lives connected to something that happened in 250 BC? That constitutes the width of the book.

When I first saw the book divided into several sections according to time periods, I knew the book was going to be similar to Chanakya’s Chant. But I didn’t want to draw any comparison. The book continuously has a witty edge to it. Majority of the sections end with a clever line. I was purely entertained by these lines that I started looking forward for such lines at the end of every section. The narrative is fast paced with numerous characters emerging at a very short span of time. The lives or Aravind and Arbaaz move forward strongly and steadily, breezing through the years with acquaintances being made and interesting events getting painted on both sides. While Aravind’s life comes across as far more comfortable, Arbaaz’s is a struggle. There are many determined moments like the ones where Arbaaz takes revenge on the people who troubled him. Aravind’s moments has a more strategic victorious edge.

The first two decades, or perhaps even three, run very smoothly with ups and downs, and failures and triumphs ticked on both the parallel stories. Families emerge so do the businesses. Aravind becomes a successful businessman while Arbaaz becomes a mafia don (not menacing!) cum cabinet minister later. Business in our country always has a political affiliation and that is strongly put across. Bribery and money laundering is very common and is the key behind every political action. Every deal signed, every time the stock market goes up or down- everything is mastered by someone hidden behind the curtain somewhere.  A support system is placed for both the characters playing very important roles. While Abdul dada is Arbaaz’s mentor and a second father, Aravind depends mainly on his friends. Arbaaz keeps his family and friends together while Aravind doesn’t shy away from throwing them out of his lives. The contrast in the characters is well projected. Arbaaz seems clearer in his mind than Aravind. The methods implemented by both the men aren’t legal or moral. Conclusion- no one is white in this saga.

It becomes evident at one point that the lives of Aravind and Arbaaz would meet but somewhere the much awaited union lacks the intensity needed. Everything seems so simple and common in the second half of the book- years of hatred, conning each other at every opportunity, struggle with wife and children, betrayal, etc. As the pages are eaten and the end approaches, excitement begins to build. The leads have grown old and it is time for some action and revelation. I was waiting to read how the history was going to be connected to the present. I was disappointed. The revelation is a fizzle at the end. It makes no connection with the decades of story written before. It stands alone as a separate story at the end. The historical reference and the subsequent connection are forced too quickly at the end that it lacked the needed knockout punch. In fact, the history gets connected and actually referred only near the end. It would have been better if the connection was made evident throughout the narrative. When the revelation is reached, we are left with wanting more. ‘Sialkot’ plays its part but not to the extent expected.

The story also includes nearly all the major events of our nation, all the political leaders and their growth, calamities, movies and other events from across the world like the attack on WTC. While certain events are structured to be part of the story and has a role to play, most of the others are just passing cloud. It seemed like a list of all the events were made and was injected into the story.

The book stays neutral to most part of the incidents that our nation had faced in the past 50 years.

The book comes across very complex when compared to the author’s previous outings. The business strategies are very complicated to understand at many instances. Perhaps, it was a way to project Aravind’s genius mind. In addition, at the later end, science overtakes economics.

All the supporting casts leave a mark. Abdul Dada as mentor, wife Paromita, Murali his friend are Arbaaz’s support system. Aravind, on the other hand, doesn’t embrace support system and doesn’t shy away from throwing away people close to him- be it Joydeep or Satyapal or his own son.

Downside- the book had lot of errors which was surprising. The golden print in the cover also faded away with few handles.

The Sialkot Saga is not a bad read but definitely falls short of expectations. The book succeeds in building the interest for the first three decades and becomes repetitive after that. The witty lines which are the highlights of the first half becomes a rarity in the second. Characters and instances are forced and the narrative becomes hasty to cover all the nation’s events. Somewhere, the author loses the grip which he tries to recover at the end. The book would be a best seller no doubt, but if the story had been crisper with impactful situations, especially in the second half, when the two leads were involved, the book would have reached the benchmark set by the author’s other works.

In a Dark Dark Wood

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Rating: 4/5

In a dark dark wood by Ruth Ware is a compelling psychological thriller filled with nerve chilling moments and continuous suspense. The debut novel sets the background perfectly and engages the reader remarkably well.

A crime writer, Leonara Shaw is invited to attend her estranged friend’s hen party. Surprised at being invited and after a lot of contemplation, Nora decides to attend the party more out of curiosity. The gathering includes a gay and married playwright Tom, Nora’s close friend Nina, Melanie- a young and new mother, Flo- a strange and over sensitive organiser and Clare- the girl of the moment. Happening at a desolate and secluded house in the woods with no network whatsoever, what intends to be a fun-filled party ends in a murder. Who killed whom? Was murder the actual agenda behind the party? The book answers these questions and much more.

The book is full of surprises. First, the copy- it is a relatively huge book, not in terms of pages, but the dimensions. The font size is nice and big and makes reading really comfortable. There are loads of twists and turns scattered all over the tale. The narration also swings from the past to the present sensationally leaving the readers crave for the past when in the present and vice versa. The location of the party- the house and the woods are described picturesquely. I could see myself standing in the woods and witnessing all the events.

Whenever it’s a murder mystery, the reader is expected to journey together with the characters and find who has the right motive to kill. The same happens here which is a compliment. Though Nora is the narrator, she isn’t devoid of suspicion either. A successful thriller is one which keeps the reader guessing, forcing them to change their theories at the end of every chapter. In a dark dark wood strikes magnificently in this area. It arrests the readers with its gripping narrative.

I have to add, personally, I was not completely convinced with the ending, I mean the motive. I was expecting something more riveting, like a complete 360 degree twist, something out of the blue hitting squarely on the face, something completely unexpected. May be I was expecting too much. But that’s just me.

Final word- In a dark dark wood is a simple story with an exciting narration. It’s hard to keep the book down.

I Let You Go

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Rating: 4/5

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh is a brilliant psychological thriller with myriad of emotions weaved into an astounding narrative.

Five year old Jacob is killed in a car accident with the driver not stopping at the scene. DI Ray Stevens and his team put all their efforts to bring justice to the boy and his mother. Ridden with guilt, she leaves the town without a trace. One year passes without success and everyone involved decides to move on when finally a breakthrough makes way. The wavering grief and a quivering guilt surfaces again and the past is back to haunt everyone. Is the driver caught? Do the little boy and his mother get justice?

The author efficiently transfers the reader’s emotion towards the lead character- disgust to sympathy to disgust to pity to pride. When I picked up the book, I assumed it to be a straight forward crime thriller. I was surprised to see how the story slowly moved into a different genre. It’s difficult to write anything about the story as it would be a giveaway. Every little character is so important to the story. Every minute detail makes a point at the end.

Jenna Gray comes out as a great inspiration. Her character is beautifully etched. A character full of emotions, the author portrays the internal battle of the emotions magnificently.  I could see every incident being driven by an emotion- either fear or anxiety or even relief. I have seen great books falter just because of the ending. In the hope of ending a book in style, many a times, the book leaves a bad taste at the end even though the story till then is brilliant. A fear definitely seeped in when I neared the end of this book. I was happy and relieved that the author successfully ended this marvellous book. Somehow the author’s note at the end was very apt.

Go for it!

Before I Go To Sleep

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Rating: 4/5

After reading a lot of procedural mysteries, this book “Before I go to sleep” by S.J. Watson, was a refreshing change. Not only did this book offer chilling moments, but the book managed to keep me hooked till the end.

Christine, a 47 year old woman, suffers from amnesia. She remembers herself when she was in her 20s and finds it hard to accept the fact that she has aged by over a decade. Every day is a new day for her. Every morning, she has to be reminded of who she is, whom she is living with, and what caused her this disease. Her memory sustains just for a day. She lives with her husband, Ben, who loves her unconditionally and does everything to support her in this condition of hers.

A fine day, her doctor, Dr. Nash, gives her a journal which she had been maintaining for weeks, which he had borrowed to read, a journal whose existence Christine has no recollection of. Christine sits down to read the journal to understand what happened each day over the past few weeks, where every day she had had glimpses of her past flashing in her memory, which she had written down meticulously. What Christine finds out from the journal, what happened to her in the past, and who caused it- covers the plot of the book.

The book is beautifully divided into three parts which helps in understanding the transition of past, memories and present effectively. The author’s vivid writing effortlessly connected me to the plight of the protagonist, experiencing and dreading the condition of amnesia. The supporting characters are brilliantly written evoking continuous doubt if any one of those is hiding their true colours.  The story in itself is kept simple with minimum turning points and characters; each memory remembered by Christine plays a valid role throughout. A point is reached during the reading where the journey of Christine becomes a little repetitive- yet, the author somehow ties the knot amazingly well at the end making every page in the book significant. The success of the book is the empathy derived by Christine. It made me really care for her and I wanted her to reach the finishing line safely.

A very nicely and wisely written book. Looking forward to the author’s other works.

After the Crash

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Rating: 3.5/5

An extraordinary story with a compelling narrative most of the time, After the Crash is a very tempting thriller with a satisfying end. Translated from French, this novel by Michel Bussi is intermittently predictable yet exceptionally gripping. Being a French novel, the character names and places are in French which is a little difficult to remember.

Detective Credule Grand Duc is assigned the task of investigating an airplane crash which leaves 168 dead out of the 169 passengers. The sole survivor is a 3 months old baby girl. Who is she? Two families- Vitrals and de Carvilles, claim the baby is theirs but there is no identity or clue to say which family the baby belongs to. Grand Duc sets on a mission to find what happened and it takes him 18 years to find the absolute truth.

After the Crash left me with a mixed feeling. As much as I absolutely loved the concept behind the novel, somewhere I was a little disappointed with the execution. There were good number of twists and turns throughout the book, but the rest of the parts kind of became a little repetitive that I tended to skip a few lines in between to get to the point. The pace could have been better. Into few chapters, I easily had a handful of solutions to the mystery and I was sure it has to be one of them and I wasn’t wrong.

Grand Duc isn’t an exceptional detective; at the same time it’s not necessary for all detectives to be extraordinary. He is hard working. He doesn’t have path breaking moves or phenomenal style of investigation. His style is straight forward and methodical. I didn’t feel any admiration or sympathy for him at any point of time over his strenuous leg work; probably that’s what the author wanted. Of course, it was great to see his persistence, to continue looking for an answer for 18 years and finally succeeding, but at what cost?

The author does a great job in showing the state of all the characters. All everyone wants is for the baby to have a happy and comfortable life and everyone strives for that and goes to any length to procure the baby and make them part of their family.

The two most affected people in this story are Marc Vitral and Malvina de Carville- Marc being Lylie’s (the baby girl) brother and Malvina being her sister. Marc gets hold of Grand Duc’s diary and follows the path to the truth with Malvina accompanying him reluctantly. Marc is who shines at the end of this adventurous ride.

On the downside, the font in the edition I read was so small that it was too difficult to read through.

After the Crash is definitely an above average read. It scores highly on the concept and characterisation. With little patience, this book would definitely score.