Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Of Common Signs by Ashok Srinivasan : A Review


BOOK TITLE: Book of Common Signs
ISBN: 9789351361619
AUTHOR: Ashok Srinivasan
GENRE: Fiction – Collection of short stories
NUMBER OF PAGES: 179 pages
FORMAT: Hardbound
REVIEW BY: Shree Janani
HOW I GOT THIS BOOK: Requested a review copy from Harper Collins in exchange for an honest review. Thanks a lot guys!
She moves forward with mincing steps in time to an air inaudible to all but her, as if in precise synchrony with a phalanx of other dancers. But she is alone. Weeping and wailing she beats her breasts rhythmically. She passes by—a mourning sleepwalker moving in measure like a male Muharram dancer in a penitential procession in Karbala—bearing the unbearable weight of her dead child as though it weighs nothing at all.

An evocative collection of thirteen short stories, Book of Common Signs is set among the women and men who inhabit the streets and by-lanes, the high-rises and hutments of middle-class India. Passionate, seductive and pulsating with raw energy, they break the boundaries of life and art to inhabit a landscape that is a metaphor for the dark anxieties of their own minds.

Ashok Srinivasan explores the human condition with clarity and compassion. In ‘Mother and Child: Charcoal on Charred Paper’ he tells us the story of a married woman whose life unravels after a miscarriage as she finds solace in the love of another woman. In ‘Not to Be Loose Shunted’ he narrates the story of a young man coming to terms with the absence of a missing father. ‘Ex-votos for a Mask Maker’ is at one level about Srinivasan’s own anguish as a writer—telling the tale of a playwright whose dramatic characters come to life in order to destroy him.

Elegantly crafted and richly layered, these are stories of profound insight and great emotional power.
A book of short stories is not exactly my cup of tea. I prefer reading a continuous proper story with proper character development and substance which I always felt that a short story lacked. My bestie/co-blogger, got me interested in short stories after she sent me few written by her. Having met the humble writer at The Hindu Lit for life 2015, I couldn't help but wonder what exactly he had written to win a literary award. It is not every day does a book of poetry or short story sell like hot cakes - Thus landed this unbelievable literary work in a hardbound form.
How do I review a collection of short stories that is far more intense, well developed and a literary marvel? The “parameter” method seems to be the best suited method for this book, for a story by story would lead to a lot of spoilers.
Character Development – Astoundingly elaborated characters for a short story
Depicting various shades of human behavior which would be primarily instinct based and irrationally rational is a close to impossible task unless the writer has understood the very kernel of human behavior. For a man of 70, I am sure this writer’s own life experiences would have been a rich fodder to process as writing – which the writer has marveled at. He claims to be a painfully shy man who procrastinated publishing this book, in a way I felt he did the right thing. With age and experience comes a deep sense of understanding which is very evident in all the stories. There isn't a single story in this book that “slacked” or scathed just the surface.
Writing – Portrayal of details and flow of the story line – “flawless” would be the apt term to describe it.
Giving importance to minuscule details like surroundings, building structures and clothes of the characters in a short story would ultimately lead the “short” story running to many pages. Filtering, processing and weaving a tale with just the right amount of details which could be vital for the story to convey subtle emotions or imply an action is a herculean tasks. This writer seems to be comfortable with that task. I can’t think of a particular story that lacked or had an overdose of minuscule details.
The detailing in fact aided the progression of the story line in almost all the stories. To quote an example, in the story “ In the Wake”, the protagonist Ambaal, loses her husband (he commits suicide?), the writer describes the surroundings in depth which very simply convey the gloom that has come upon Ambaal. The attention to minute background details beautifully delivered the emotions that could be expected out of death and loss.
The language used was really simple. I was dumbfounded that such simple language could be employed to pack more than just a punch.
The cover & general theme and the dedication
The cover depicts diverging tracks in a crimson-black combination, which to me actually signifies the entire spectrum of human behavior ranging from compassion to insanity.
Though the writer manages to various shades of human behavior, he has concentrated more on the darkness. All the stories are depressing in a luminous way. In sense, there is a rather blurred line between reality and illusion. Almost all the stories dangerously hover around that line, which I wasn't really comfortable with – that would be my only complaint.
The writer has dedicated the book to people afflicted with war and have borne much more than just the hard reality of life. I believe he has done immense justice to this dedication. This is definitely not the work of a debut writer.
My personal favorites : A Hangman’s Tale, In the Wake, Mother and Child : Charcoal on Charred Paper (This is the best!)
VERDICT: Hats off sir! For people who can’t appreciate the true beauty of literature, human emotions, harsh reality – this book is not for you but is best suited for the likes of you (That’s oxymoronic isn’t it? Lest, that is the truth)
RATING: 5 on 5
Ashok Srinivasan began writing at the age of 14, and after courting obscurity for decades, finally decided to publish his collection of short stories Book of Common Signs.
PRICE: Rs. 339 (Hardbound)


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Winner's Curse by Dee Walker : A Review

BOOK TITLE: The Winner’s Curse
ISBN: 9789382665243
AUTHOR: Dee Walker
GENRE: Fiction/ Political Thriller
FORMAT: Paperback
REVIEW BY: Dhivya Balaji
          I thank Nimi Vashi of Readers Cosmos for this review copy. Special thanks to the author for his autographed message.
          A political thriller about national ID numbers, power and greed.

          Orphan Harsh makes it to the billionaire club with a burning vision, sheer intellect and the blessings of his political Godfather. The favours must now be paid back through a huge Guru Dakshina. To honour his Master’s wish, Harsh, with the help of his fellow IITians, sets out to create a never-seen-before governance technology around the national ID numbers, that will change the face of democratic India.
          Everything is at stake: money, reputations, egos and morals. Even lives.
          Will they succumb to insatiable greed in the murky games of politics, backstabbing and subterfuge or will they be redeemed by the ‘Ten Commandments’ that once forged their ideals at college?
          If you thought that supreme technology and unalloyed power can bring lasting change or that e-governance and transparency can address the ills of our system, The Winner’s Curse will force you to think again. For what’s at stake is: YOU.
          The Winner’s Curse: the turbulent voyage of talent and intellect in the morass of turpitude.
          First Impression: For a seasoned reader, I shamelessly admit that I still give brownie points for a well designed cover and aptly worded book back blurb. In this day and age, the packaging and the promotion need to be done meticulously and eagerly – writing the book is half the battle, selling it is the other half. So good covers and blurbs make people pick your book from the thousands of other choices they have.
          I usually give points in excess for an aesthetically designed cover, the first impression. But the same generously given points will be reassessed and changed based on the relevance of the cover image to the content and the adherence of the plot to the summary. Thankfully, The Winner’s Curse manages to keep each and every single one of its well deserved marks for this.
          Not to mention too much about the plot, it includes everything that is given in the book blurb. And to manage all that within 300 pages, while introducing Ten Commandments and too many characters would have been a feat by itself. A political thriller should have enough elements to keep up the pace and add the intrigue factor, while making sure people relate to the characters.
          The Winner’s Curse sounds like exactly the title for a book where the lead character would pray a heavy price for finally achieving what he had always wanted – victory. And yes, I am not going to disappoint you by saying anything else. The book shows you what it means to be cursed – that hopeless curse of having everything you ever believed, you ever stood for being shattered right in front of your eyes. Harsh and the Master – and their introduction scene, wow!
          Well written, seamlessly executed political thrillers are rare, agreed. But politics and a mild suggestion of some undercover activities by seemingly genuine people would always elicit an interest in the reader’s mind – mostly because the maximum they can do is read about it, in newspapers, books, and TV news scrolls, without actually doing anything. This book banks on that aspect and manages to deliver all those ‘Masala’ elements in healthy sized doses. Maybe that is one point in its favour when it has to compete against many other books of its genre.
          The book manages to hold interest mainly due to its fast pace and a myriad of interesting characters that capture each reader’s attention in their own way. But the same in depth characterisation will be a bane and pace dampener for this book. No one likes to remember too many characters and simultaneous plot lines and most often than not, only seasoned readers can breeze through the book at a comfortable pace. General readers would have to keep going back pages to regain their equilibrium.
          The plot is racy, the story is different, though not unique, and the characters are developed well. Or rather, developed in too much detail, thereby bringing the narrative to a snail’s pace sometimes. It is actually best to leave certain aspects of a character to the reader’s imagination! Mr Dee Walker please do take note. Though I enjoyed reading this book very much, too much information dampens the pace.
          The incredible amount of research that has gone into the whole concept of ‘UID’ – and the excellent explanation as to how this is a weapon that has the most power in the hands of the person who wields it.
          If you have so far been ignorant, you would start looking at every single piece of data collection equipment (starting from the phones to the automatic teller machines) in a new light hereafter. If you are already paranoid, it will make you even more so.
          The process where they took not only your finger prints but also your iris (eye) scan when they gave you that card.
          Remember the most personal details about you stored in some impersonal computer somewhere. All everyone would need is the QR code that comes in your card to know your house address and your bank account details. It isn’t probable, but it is very much possible.
          Remember that time when you enjoyed having all your accounts (both email and bank) in your single Smartphone – everything synchronised seamlessly in third party apps. Imagine that falling into someone else’s hands. Don’t blame Dee Walker if you start being paranoid about linking your AADHAAR number to your LPG cylinder connections! (Local reference understandable to Indians)
          The Ten Commandments ring so true and are apt for a peaceful life in modern days.
          The characterisation detail, though too high, will really help if the book gives way to some sequels or something in similar lines.
          Divvaakar, oh, my bad, Dee Walker has managed to turn every famous person/ corporation/ event into a ‘pun’.
          While you are reading the story, you would be struck dumb by the ‘similarities’ of the book’s characters to real, living people, though it might be entirely a coincidence (Disclaimer)
          So the next time you see ‘Doodle’, forget that it is, in fact, a very much recognised, registered trademark of a famous company and instead substitute a few letters to shine ‘light in a new angle’ upon what it actually refers to. I burst out laughing (inappropriately, in a public transport, for that is when I was reading the first few pages of the book!) at this reference.
          ‘Coolmail’ anyone? Antonyms, probably. ‘CoolSMS’ would have done the trick!
          The detailed research, the story that does justice to its summary.
          Too many characters in short spans of time mean the characters don’t leave lasting impressions. And the puns. It would have been better to generalise than substitute each name with a easily recognisable pun.
          If political intrigue and the constant tug of war between good and evil is something you like reading about, give this book a try.
RATING: 3.5/5
          SV Divaakar has written this book under the pseudonym Dee Walker.
EDITIONS AVAILABLE: Kindle, Paperback.
PRICE: Rs. 132 for paperback

This book review is a part of The Readers Cosmos Book Review Program and Blog Tours. To get free books log on to

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Accidental Fiancee by Zeenat Mahal: A Review

BOOK TITLE: The Accidental Fiancée
ISBN: 9781927826690
AUTHOR: Zeenat Mahal
GENRE: Fiction / Romance/ Short Story.
FORMAT: Digital / ePub
REVIEW BY: Dhivya Balaji
HOW I GOT THIS BOOK: The author contacted me via goodreads and sent me a review copy. Thank you, Zeenat!
          ‘…Tell me why exactly you want that ring on your finger so badly that you’ll even succumb, pitifully I may add, to your arch enemy?’

          ‘Bad boy’ Akbar and ‘firebrand’ Khayyam were rivals and enemies back in college, while studying architecture. While he laughed at her feminist sentiments and views on preservation, she denounced him as a commercial sellout with no originality or talent. Humiliated in front of his admiring hangers-on, Akbar will not pass up the chance to get his revenge when fate presents Khayyam as his unlikely fiancée.
          Read this delightful story to discover what happens to these wildly different personalities when they reluctantly exchange rings.
          How long should my review be for a single short story of 20 pages? How best to phrase the review to reveal the simple elegance of the story and the writing without revealing too much of the story itself? How am I actually going to bring out the pluses and minuses of the story in a few short words, much like the author has brought out the features of her characters?
          The Accidental Fiancee is a good read. In trademark Zeenat style, the story is about two people who are at loggerheads, and are accidentally brought together by fate. The reluctance of the main characters, the oblivious attempts of others around the lead characters and the well written story with in depth character development make this story a treat to read.
          Zeenat has managed to give a decent and understandable character sketch with enough details to form an impression but with enough details hidden to create just the right amount of enigma and excitement. The basis of the story is simple enough but the magic lies in the development of the plain story line.
          On the lee side, if you skim across one paragraph almost near the end of the story, you will miss the whole plot line. Read every line fully, for the surprise reason behind firebrand Khayyam’s subdued manner is revealed in a veiled manner.
WHAT I LIKED: The plot line and the character development.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER: The way the reason is revealed could have had a bit more credibility.
VERDICT: Go for it. It is short, sweet, romantic, and ends well!
          Zeenat Mahal (@zeemahal) is an avid reader and has been writing for as long as she can remember. She has an MPhil in English literature from Government College Lahore and an MFA in creative writing from Kingston University, London. She won a BBC short story competition in 2001 and has been a regular contributor to newspapers.
          ‘Haveli’ and 'The Contract' are Zeenat’s first two published novellas. Her next novel. She Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, is due for release on 14th February, 2015.

She can be contacted on
PRICE: Rs. 49 for Kindle Edition.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Haveli by Zeenat Mahal : A Review


ISBN: 1927826020
AUTHOR: Zeenat Mahal
GENRE: Fiction - Romance
FORMAT: Digital        
REVIEW BY: Shree Janani
HOW I GOT THIS BOOK: Review copy from the writer in exchange for a honest review. Thank you Zeenat J
SUMMARY : It’s the 1970′s in Jalalabad, an erstwhile princely state in Pakistan. Chandni is a self-proclaimed cynic and prefers to be called C. An orphan brought up by her domineering grandmother, a.k.a. The Broad, C is rebellious, quick-witted and stunningly beautiful.  . 

The stakes get higher when the father, who had so cruelly abandoned her at birth, returns and C’s dream of reuniting with him becomes a reality. But now she has to choose between her father and his hand-picked groom on the one side, and Alpha Male and The Broad on the other.
 A charming breezy romance set in Pakistan in the 1970s. Add to that a the concept of “prince”, luxurious lifestyle – Isn’t that a perfect setting for a perfect little romance.  The story is just that – A picture perfect romance.
Our protagonist, Chandini, is a live wire with a soft core who was abandoned by her father and raised by her grandmother. Enters our hero, Taimur who annoys Chandini but is too hot headed to admit she is in love with her. Re- enter C’s long lost charming dad who can manage to charm even a stone who picks out a groom for C. C sadly, seems to be in love with a man who is quite older than her. Thus happens the “triangle” of men with C in centre. Eventually, C picks one of the three men.
The literary charade between Tiamur and Chandini is an absolute treat for pure literary fans. The writing is filled with humor and spunky comebacks which makes the story a pleasurable read in spite of few critical elements missing - I felt there was a vast potential with that "daddy-daughter" episode which the writer sort of missed cashing into. Nevertheless, it's all about perspectives. 

I felt the writer did a bit of injustice to the “daddy-daughter” episode. In sense, the ending felt all too easy (Spoiler in making, I don’t wish to purse this thread of comment. Please read the book to get what I meant)

The characterization is perfect for a short read, though I would have loved to read a bit more of C’s long-lost dad.

VERDICT: Short and sweet refreshing read. Provided the perfect break I needed between hectic project deliveries (The day job circus show that I orchestrate).
RATING: 3.5 on 5
Zeenat Mahal (@zeemahal) is an avid reader and has been writing for as long as she can remember. She has an MPhil in English literature from Government College Lahore and an MFA in creative writing from Kingston University, London. She won a BBC short story competition in 2001 and has been a regular contributor to newspapers. 
‘Haveli’ and 'The Contract' are Zeenat’s first two published novellas. Her next novel. She Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, is due for release on 14th February, 2015.

She can be contacted on her FB page
PRICE: Rs.150


Saturday, February 14, 2015

She Loves Me, He Loves Me Not by Zeenat Mahal : A Review


BOOK TITLE: She Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
AUTHOR: Zeenat Mahal
GENRE: Fiction - Romance
FORMAT: Digital
REVIEW BY: Shree Janani
HOW I GOT THIS BOOK: Review copy from the writer – Thank you Zeenat!
SUMMARY :  Zoella didn’t know whether she was devastatingly happy or happily devastated. 

Zoella has been in love with Fardeen Malik, her best friend’s gorgeous older brother, since she was ten, but he’s always seen her as a ‘good girl’—not his type—and he can barely remember her name. Besides, he’s engaged to a gorgeous leggy socialite, someone from the same rarefied social strata as the imposing Malik family. In short, Zoella has no chance with him. 

Until a brutal accident leaves Fardeen scarred and disfigured, that is. Suddenly bereft of a fiancée, Fardeen is bitterly caustic, a shell of the man he used to be, a beast that has broken out of the fairy tale world he once lived in. And a twist of fate lands him his very own beauty—Zoella. This man, however, is a far cry from the Fardeen of her dreams. Stripped of her illusions, Zoella creates her own twist in the fairy tale, beating him at his own game.

Zeenat Mahal explores themes of love, longing and arranged marriages in this modern, unusual interpretation of the old-age fairy tale
I don’t normally pick up a book without reading the book back summary. This book is my first exception and I don’t regret it at all. Having read all of Zeenat’s book, I had become quite comfortable with her style of writing and characterization. Particularly, strong female characters are like a much needed dose of caffeine.
Our protagonist, Zoella, has been in love with her best friend’s brother Fardeen ever since she was 10. While he has never given her anything more than a cursory glance, fate brings them together into matrimony when he is left badly disfigured with an accident which brings out the beast in him. La! You have the beauty (Zoella) and the beast ( Fardeen). The story then moves on to elaborate if the beast finds the beauty’s heart.
There are few elements of the book which I would like to elaborate upon thereby reasoning my verdict.
The Socio-Cultural backdrop – A good way to show modernization of thoughts.
Set in Pakistan, the Socio- cultural practices described in this book are simply intriguing, especially for an Indian who is clueless about the neighboring country. The marriage of Zeenat and Fardeen is essentially a result of a narrow minded social setup where girls are looked upon nothing short of a burden and being open minded is thoroughly frowned upon – especially in the middle class families. Eventually, Fardeen goes on to point out this prejudice to people who think upon Zoella as a liability.  Score one for the writer!
Characterization & Emotions
Zoella, the name itself sounds thoroughly exquisite – the character herself was even more exquisite. That character was everything a simple girl from a similar social set up could relate to.  Her determination, her take on “seduction” and her emotions are something I was able to completely relate to, for I felt I was reading a story that portrayed me. Fardeen’s character would be the quintessential caustic beast. All the other characters (the best friend, the sister-in-law, the brother) supplemented the story perfectly emoting perfectly. A double goal for the writer!
The story was written in a very simple manner that effectively packed the punch. The writing was laced with appropriate amount of humor and emotions. There is a very fine line between being romantic and erotic. The writer thankfully never ventured anywhere near that boundary and stuck to the classic sense of pure romance. Score 4 there!
VERDICT: A well written romance which does immense justice to the age old concept of beauty and beast. The perfect Valentine’s Day read ;-)
RATING: 4 on 5
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Zeenat Mahal (@zeemahal) is an avid reader and has been writing for as long as she can remember. She has an MPhil in English literature from Government College Lahore and an MFA in creative writing from Kingston University, London. She won a BBC short story competition in 2001 and has been a regular contributor to newspapers. 
‘Haveli’ and 'The Contract' are Zeenat’s first two published novellas. Her next novel. She Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, is due for release on 14th February, 2015.  She can be contacted on her FB page

Her email:
PRICE: Rs.150 (Digital)


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Rapescars... They Never Heal by Gaurav Sharma : A Review

BOOK TITLE: Rapescars… They Never Heal
ISBN: 9788192982748
AUTHOR: Gaurav Sharma
GENRE: Fiction
FORMAT: Paperback
REVIEW BY: Dhivya Balaji
HOW I GOT THIS BOOK: I thank Readers Cosmos for the review copy.
Rape Scars… They never heal
          A girl is raped! Her parents insist to report. Police tries to scuttle the case. Her fathers influence works! Doctor, the fourth man, sees her bare. The defense lawyer encounters with obnoxious questions. As if, she had inveigled the innocent boys. As if, shes the one accused and her violators are seeking justice against her. She feels & experiences being raped in public again. Her lawyer manages to seek conviction! Akriti wins the case but refuses her culprit to have imprisonment.
          Why does she do this?
          What does she decide then?
          Is this the decision of her or raped mind?
          Rape Scars is the voice of a rape survivor who thrives to stand against the violation of her persona.
          Before I start the review in detail, I would like to talk about why and how I took up this book for review! We at Readers Muse have reviewed the author Gaurav Sharma’s earlier book Love @ Airforce. (Find the review here). And we have know this book since it was in the conceptual stage. So we were glad to have had an opportunity to review this book.
What to expect when you take this book up:
o   If you have read the author’s previous book, please don’t expect this to be the same. They are radically different.
o   This is a book about a girl who is subjected to rape, and the decision she takes after she goes through the horror. As the disclaimer at the end of the book says, this book does not suggest the correct decision to be taken for every such case.
o   The book takes up a caustic approach towards the holes in the legal system of our country, and most lines are acerbic, too.
o   There are a few logic holes and eyebrow raising moments. Only the readers who could take them in flow would be able to enjoy it.
Now for the story:
          Akriti falls for a boy while studying in college. Ram Chaudry takes advantage of her and gets intimate with her. Once she is confident with him, he invites two of his friends over to the flat where he is alone with Akriti and she is raped. All this is only the first part of the story. The part where it all starts getting interesting is the part from which Akriti’s parents are supportive of her and immediately try to report the matter to the police. Naturally, the police advise against it but they firmly lodge the complaint.
          Soon the legal process starts, with Akriti bearing the humiliation from arrogant doctors to Lawyers who are intent on defaming her character. But her parents and Lawyer are standing with her through the ordeal. Finally Akriti ‘manages’ to prove that she has been raped. But Akriti refuses the conviction of the primary accused. She makes a drastic decision instead. She chooses to marry him. Her reasons are neither meek nor thoughtless.
          What is to be appreciated in the book is the description of the entire humiliation of the victim. Not only during the rape but also when having made to live the whole ordeal again and again through the court processes. The words are not exactly clearly formed but they give the illusion of having poured out of the victim in a rush. (The story is a first person narrative).
          This is just one version of the things that could have happened’. There is no point in pointing out the improbabilities. There are, however a few inconsistencies in the given storyline. Sometimes, readers wish some things had happened differently and made more sense. The book is a good attempt at trying to portray the emotions of the victim but could have had a stronger female protagonist.
          The apathy of the legal force of the country, not to mention the medical examiners and the lawyers are brought out well. It is sadly, the truth behind that portrayal is what hurts the most.
          The story falters in some places, and some tough words hamper the flow of the reader. But basically it has some powerful dialogs too. Some lines are memorable, some are cringe worthy but are needed to bring out the brutality of the incident of rape.
          The cover page looked novel and unique, but on closer look revealed that the text itself was not translated to English. Hope the future editions correct this mistake.
WHAT I LIKED: The whole attempt – that of giving voice to the woman who is raped.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER: The language is inconsistent in some places. But the dialogs are powerful. It would have been even more enjoyable if the language had more structure.
VERDICT: A good attempt on a very sensitive topic that is sure to raise a few eyebrows. Kudos to the author for attempting this on such a sensitive topic.
RATING: 3.5/5
          Gaurav Sharma, a Mathematics teacher by profession and a writer by passion. His first novel is ‘LOVE @ AIR FORCE’ which is a bildungsroman literary novel, brought out by Blackbuck Publications.

          He also contributed a poem in ‘THE ESSENCE OF ETERNAL HAPPINESS’ which is a collection of poems from 29 poets from six countries.

          Lunacy for his dreams, he claims, has helped him being a published writer. As a writer, he doesn’t want to be just a storyteller but yearns to create a stir.
          He can be contacted at,
PRICE: Rs. 130 for paperback