Book Review: Trail of the Chupacabra by Stephen Randel


Trail  of Chupacabra by Stephen Randel

Trail of the Chupacabra by Stephen Randel is the story of Avery, an eccentric and quirky geek/explorer, who enters Mexico in search of the mythical animal – Chupacabra. His companions in this adventure are Zippy, a burnt out hippy and a crazy private militia (called as “Southwest Texas Revolutionary Armed Confederate Border Operations Militia STRAC-BOM”; headed by General x-Ray). It is about how they get entangled in the rivalry between the feared drug lord Padre, his enemy Barquero and the Mexican army, and how they eventually come out of it.

The premise of the story is interesting and has a potential to be a highly entertaining book. There are two parallel tracks – Avery’s search of the chupacabra and Barquero’s revenge on the Padre. The two tracks merge towards the end of the book resulting in a superb climax. However, the undoing of the book is its uni-dimensional characters. While funny and hilarious to start with, almost all the key characters (Avery, Ziggy, General X ray etc.) become repetitive after some time. Even the humor (Avery’s complaint letters to the authorities, Ziggy histrionics, and STRAC-BOM’s stupidity) feels stale.

To summarize, Trail of the Chupacabra is the kind of book which can be harmlessly browsed through if you have spare time and nothing better to do. However, you may not like to take out time specifically to read it.

PS: I received a complementary copy of this book in order to review it.

How to Write a Book Review?


The best way to write a review is as if you are telling a dear friend about the book. You are not “reviewing” the book and passing a judgement about it being good or bad or trying to give it a rating score (4/5, 8/10, etc.). It should be a much more intimate experience. Like you are discussing the book with a buddy, talking about what you liked, what you did not like, how you felt while reading it, would you want your friend to read it, what do you think about the author, her style, etc.

Conversations are not about the number of words in it, do you start a discussion thinking – I will cover this topic is 500 words? Similarly, reviews should not be about its word count. Tell what you want to tell – no matter how many or few words it take.

The structure you should follow depends on the book and on you – for some books, you may want to start with  the author, for some with the narrative, you may want to talk about the characters first for some, or may be an absolutely brilliant dialogue can become your starting point. What ever you think can start an interesting conversation.

Also, the most important thing to remember is that you are not selling the book, you are helping someone make a choice whether to commit his time and money to read it. As with a friend, be very frank, highlight both the good and the bad points and leave the decision to the reader. This frankness is something you owe to your readers – and you have no obligations (to give a positive review) to author, publishers, PR guys – even if they have provided you a review copy. 

Books and buddies

Books and buddies

Writing reviews should make you as happy as discussing books with friends. Enjoy your next review, the way you enjoy chatting about a book with you buddies over a cup of coffee.

Kindle Single Review: Fox 8 – A Story


This is a very unconventionally written book, where the narrator is a fox who has recently learned human language and his story telling is characterized by improper grammar and abundant typos. Fox 8 is a story about a fox who gets exposed to humans and learns their language by listening to stories told by human mothers to their kids. When the jungle in which the fox lives is destroyed by the construction of a mall, the fox reaches out to humans to seek help, establish a fox-human connection. However, as he tries to come closer to them, the ugly side of humans is revealed, turning his life upside down.

As the fox says – “Why did the curator do it so rong, making the groop with the gratest skils the meenest?” So true.

Good and enjoyable, as well as thought-provoking.

Fox 8: A Story is a Kindle single written by George Saunders, the New York times best seller author of the short story collection – Tenth of December

Kindle Single Review: In the Tunnel


“There is light in the dark, too,” she said. “The kind you can’t see unless you’re in the dark.” – Excerpt from In the Tunnel by Takamichi Okubo

Two people are trapped in absolute darkness after their bus meets an accident midway in a long tunnel. One of them is on the verge of committing suicide, the other works as a councellor for a suicide prevention hotline. Most of the story is in the form of conversations between the two characters as they struggle to get out of the tunnel, filling fast with smoke after the accident and resulting fire/explosion. The author has brilliantly used darkness as a metaphor for the painful past of the survivors. Trapped, injured and with no immediate chance of rescue, there is still hope for them by the end of the story. Real hope – the kind which comes from within.

Takamichi is definitely an author to look out for.

Book Review: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia


How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia“And where money-making is concerned, nothing compresses the time frame needed to leap from my-shit-just-sits-there-until-it-rains poverty to which-of-my-toilets-shall-I-use affluence like an apprenticeship with who already has the angles all figured out.” – Excerpt from How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid.

The most striking thing about this book is its structure. Modeled as a self-help book, How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is about the journey of a young man from abject poverty to being rich, well filthy rich, in the rising economy of an unnamed country of the Indian subcontinent. Divided into twelve chapters, each representing a phase of the life of the unnamed protagonist, and each based on an advice which the self-help book author is giving (avoid idealists, befriend a bureaucrat, don’t fall in love,etc.), the book is a very intelligent and well written satire on the contemporary urban life in the region.

This is probably the first novel I have read, where the entire story is told in a second person narrative mode (the self-help book author is talking to the unnamed protagonist, referring him as “you”). Further, none of the other characters have any names, they are just referred to as son, father, sister, pretty girl, wife etc. This unusual structure and writing style is the highlight of the book and makes it a must read for those interested in new and ingenious ways of constructing a narrative. 

On the flip side, what this novel really lacked was a well-formed plot. The story moves really fast, often skipping decades between chapters. Not enough time is spent on developing the characters and I was never able to emotionally connect with the two main ones – the protagonist and the pretty girl. I neither felt the pains of their struggles, nor the joys of their success. This left me slightly disappointed.

Bonus Material: Mohsin Hamid talking about the book:

PS: I received a complimentary copy of this book, in order to review it, from MySmartPrice Books. Know more about them here

Is Bollywood Finally Waking up to Indian Literature?


Some of my best and most memorable cinematic experiences in life involve movies based on novels/books. Be it the Lord of the Rings series, the Harry Potter series, Life of Pi, Pursuit of Happyness, Hunger Games, A beautiful Mind, and above all The Godfather – the list of such awesome movies is endless. There are few things in life which can match the joy one gets by seeing one’s favorite novel adapted into a good movie.  It is always exciting to compare the way you visually imagined the book with the way the director of the movie has done, put faces to the characters, see which portions of the book were dropped and what new elements (sub-plots, characters) were added. Watching Ang Lee’s Life of Pi was one of the happiest things I did last year.

The Movie and the Book

The Movie and the Book

Unfortunately  Bollywood, the Hindi film industry, has shown great reluctance in adapting literature, especially Indian literature. This has always surprised me, given the richness of India literature. There are so many great Indian novels which can be made into awesome movies. However, I can count good Hindi movies based on Indian novels on my fingers tips. Notable few are: Dev Anand’s Guide based on the novel of the same name by R. K. Narayan; Dev Benegal’s English August based on the novel English August: An Indian Story by Upamanyu Chatterjee; Devdas, Parinita, Swami and Choti Bahu based on various novels by Sarat Chandra ChattopadhyayShatranj ke khiladai based on a novel of the same name by Munshi Premchandra; and Train to Pakistan based on the novel by Khuswant Singh. (As per Wikipedia there are seventy such movies, including regional language movies – see complete list here)

Well, seems that the trend is changing. These days there is a lot of buzz in Bollywood around adapting Indian fiction to movies. We have Karan Johar planning to make a movie (probably a series) on Amish’s Shiva Trilogy. Another upcoming movie: “Banaras 1918 A love story” is based on Munshi Premchand’s “Baazar-e-Husn/Seva Sadan”. BA Pass (see trailer here) is based on the short story The Railway Aunty by Mohan Sikka (part of the Delhi Noir collection). A couple of Chetan Bhagat’s books have been/are being made into movies (Kai Po Che, Chennai Express, Hello). There were strong talk about Anurag Kashyap making a movie based on the “Doga” the title character from the Doga series of comics by Raj Comics.

The result may be good, bad or even ugly, but it’s really heartening to see that Bollywood is finally waking up to Indian Literature and hopefully in the coming years, we will see many more of our favorite Indian novels on-screen. Looking forward.

Book Review: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared


100 year old man Cover 1Allan interrupted the two brothers by saying that he had been out and about in the world and if there was one thing he had learned it was that the very biggest and apparently most impossible conflicts on earth were based on the dialogue: “You are stupid, no, it’s you who are stupid, no, it’s you who are stupid.” – Excerpt from The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The 100-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared is an unusual, and quirky book. The main character, Allan, an explosion expert, has had an eventful life, paying an important role in some of the key events of the 20th century. Just before his 100th birthday celebration, out of boredom, he escapes from the old age home, unintentionally gets possession of big suitcase full of cash, and has both police and a bunch of gangsters after him. With no particular destination in mind, Allan wanders aimlessly, meets some crazy people during the journey, and has a hell of an adventure.    

This is a well written book with a very interesting story, although it’s not very believable. There are two separate tracks in the book – one narrating Allan’s current adventure while on run with the suitcase, the other about his younger days as an explosion expert with neutral political views caught in a world where capitalism and communism is at logger heads. Allan finds himself in the company of some of the most powerful political leaders (Stalin, Truman, Churchill, Mao) and has unknowingly been an important instrument in shaping the world as we see it today.

With Allan, Jonas may have created the coolest 100-year-old character of all times!! Even the other characters are awesomely idiosyncratic and funny.

The unique Scandinavian humor, characterized by its understatement and satire, is the highlight of this book. There were several line in the book that made me laugh out loud multiple times (to the amusement of people who happened to be in the vicinity).

This is my second Scandinavian book (The Dinner by Herman Koch being the first, see my review here) and I am totally floored by this type of humor.

It would have been an even better read, if it was a couple of pages less lengthy. Otherwise, it is a very enjoyable book.

PS: A film deal has been signed and we may see a movie version as early as the end of this year. Looking forward.

Book Review: The Dinner by Herman Koch


The Dinner is a psychological thriller written in Dutch as “Het diner” by Herman Koch and translated wonderfully to English by Sam Garrett.

It is the story of two families who are meeting over dinner to discuss the involvement of their sons in a well publicized act of crime. The fact that their sons were involved is not known to anyone apart from the families, although the crime itself, being recorded on camera and gone viral on the internet, has become a national sensation. Between the various courses of meals and the usual dinner time, banal discussions, the families are trying to decide their next course of action regarding their sons.

There are three thing about this book which are absolutely awesome. First, the characters of Paul Lohman (the narrator) and his wife Claire. The first few pages, they seem like an ordinary middle age couple. However, as the plot progresses, back and forth between the dinner and various past instances recalled by Paul, disturbing details about these characters are revealed. By the end, everything you knew and thought about Paul and Claire was wrong. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was another book having a similar character development trajectory. (See review here).

Secondly, this is a very intelligently structured book. Divided around the five courses of meals the couples are having, and in-between the discussions around the food, the ambiance, movies and other normal stuff people talk about during social dinners, bursts of unnerving information is revealed, mostly through flashbacks. The beauty of the book is when and how much is revealed.

And thirdly, the humor in the book. Dry, Dark, sarcastic and very understated, very scandinavian in nature. I just loved it.

Overall, a brilliant book. Highly recommended for those who appreciate good suspense.

PS: I received a complimentary copy of this book, in order to review it, from MySmartPrice Books. Know more about them here

Why Horoscopes are Hocus Pocus


My today’s horoscope from Yahoo:

You need to avoid the temptation to dive into things today — your energy is just better off sticking with the stuff you know well. That may feel boring, but it is also immensely satisfying.

And this one is from Horoscope.com

Your ability to find innovative approaches to tasks may serve you well today, Pisces. Today is full of added energy and mental acuity. You will find that most things come easily. With detail-oriented projects, take extra time to think of the possibilities. Try to see things from all angles. There may be far more choices than you thought. Make the most of this by jotting down your random ideas.

So Yahoo says that I should stick to what I am good at, and don’t try to innovate. But Horoscope.com says I should be innovative and think about new possibilities.

Another proof that Horoscopes are hocus pocus.

Book Review: The City of Devi


The City of Devi, by Manil Suri, is the story of Sarita and Jaz, both in search of their love, who happens to be the same person, Karun, in a war ravaged and under nuclear attack threat Mumbai. Told alternatively from the points of view of Sarita and Jaz, the story is interesting and engaging. Karun, a physicist and a closet homo-sexual, is heart-broken after being betrayed by Jaz, reluctantly moves on and marries Sarita, a statistician. Although he loves and cares for her, their relationship is not like a typical couple. Jaz, on the other hand is still madly in love with him and wants him back. The relationship and the emotional dynamics between Karun and Jaz, Karun and Sarita, and Sarita and Jaz is very well and sensitively written. You really feel the emotional turmoil these characters are undergoing. Kudos to Manil for such a brilliant portrayal of these complex characters and their interactions.

Here is where the book could have been better – the whole set-up of pre- apocalyptic Mumbai. I expected more imagination and creativity here. The whole idea of a movie sparking extreme religious fanaticism which leads to intense riots between Hindus and Muslims and divides Mumbai into two parts – each dominated by one religion, seems far-fetched. Same for everyone blindly following a fake Devi and her antics. Also, except for Karun, Sarita and Jaz, other characters are not very strong, some are stereotyped caricatures, others are too shallow to bring any substance to the story.   

The book cover compares Manil Suri with Narayan, Coetzee, Naipaul, Chekov and Flaubert. He definitely is a good and promising author, but has a long way to go before such statements would start making sense.

Note: Homophobes would be better if they avoid this.

PS: I received a complimentary copy of this book, in order to review it, from MySmartPrice Books. Know more about them here