Yama’s Lieutenant – Anuja Chandramouli – Book Review


YamasLieutenant

Goodreads blurb: The inhabitants of the thousand hells of Yama have broken free from their prison and vowed to wreak havoc on the heavens, the earth and hell. With the fiendish Hatakas and Narakamayas teamed up with Naganara, a terrifying necromancer hungry for power, the universe is headed for war and destruction unless one human has something to do with it.

Agni Prakash, a debonair young man whose world has been turned upside down by the death of his twin sister, Varu, has been enlisted to stop these forces and be Yama s very own lieutenant. As the mythical world clashes with his own, Agni discovers a manuscript left behind by his sister. Hauntingly, it draws parallels to the treacherous path upon which he has been thrust. Equipped with an acerbic wit and winning charm, Agni undertakes a battle, where the odds seem tipped wildly against him, and finds unlikely companions along the way.

Will he be able to uncover the secret behind his sister’s writings? And more importantly, will he be able to avert the destruction that seems imminent?

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Most regular readers of my blog would know that I am a huge fan of mythology and Anuja Chandramouli remains one of my favorite authors in this particular genre. You can read my reviews of her books Kamadeva: The God of Desire here [Link to review] and Shakti: The Divine Feminine [Link to review] to know how much I like her style of writing and way of interpreting mythological tales with a modern and contemporary point of view. It therefore was a no-brainer that I would then pick up her latest mytho-fiction book Yama’s Lieutenant and read and review the same on this blog.

This book marks a distinct departure from the other books she has penned in terms of the genre itself. While all her earlier books were her take on tales from Indian mythology and their characters, this one falls squarely in the fiction genre, or the mytho-fiction genre as I’d like to call it, given that it straddles mythological themes with good old fashioned fantasy fiction. As the blurb states Agni Prakash is the only person who can prevent the imminent destruction of the world as we know it today. An unwitting recruit to be ‘Yama’s lieutenant’, Agni was looking for a way where he could productively channelize his anger against evil and thus overcome the tragic loss of his twin sister Varu, and this mission of his proves to be just what the doctor ordered for his anger management issues.

What starts off as a personal crusade for Agni soon ends up being a relatively more critical mission on the basis of which the fate of the entire world would rest upon. Whether Agni is able to deliver on the mission, does he manage to prevent large scale destruction, will he be able to hold the forces of evil at bay form the crux of the narrative.

What I really liked about the book was the fact that the character of Agni was fleshed out very well. His back story, his motivations, the justification for his anger and subsequent actions, all of these have been highlighted very well by the author in the course of his adventures. Why he does what he does, and how he does them, are quite well justified with nary a loose end in this aspect.

Another part of the narrative I quite liked was the use of a parallel manuscript penned by Agni’s twin Varu to keep the action moving forward. While I did find it somewhat irritating at times, the main reason behind its use comes to the fore only during the last few pages of the book. In fact its usage to delivery the final twist in the tale is something that I didn’t quite see coming despite the large red herring right at the beginning of the story.

What however was a little bit of a dampener for me was the excessive usage of promiscuity in some parts of the book. Some unnecessary references to bodily parts and their daily functions could easily have been avoided by the author and they don’t add anything either to the narrative or to character development. The book would have been no less nice for their exclusion. Apart from this minor irritant, the book itself was quite lively and a relatively fast read as well.

Click here to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

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A review copy of this book was given to me by the author in return for an honest and unbiased review of the same.

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Patang – Bhaskar Chattopadhyay – Book Review


Patang

Goodreads blurb: ‘I hate the rain…I hate it, hate it, hate it. But the rain can’t stop me. No one can…I’ll go out and play tonight. I will kill only four. No more, no less. Just four.’

In the midst of one of the worst monsoons in Mumbai, a man is found brutally murdered, his body posed like a kite on the tallest cell tower in the city. As one corpse after another turns up in the unlikeliest of places, each gruesomely killed and carefully arranged in a grotesque manner, the Mumbai Police realize they have more on their hands than they can deal with.

Enter Chandrakant Rathod, a maverick investigator the police turn to in times of need, who plays by his own rules and lives for the thrill of the chase. Pitting his sharp instincts against the machinations of the sadistic, ruthless killer, the detective succeeds in nabbing the psychopath and putting him behind bars. Then, three months later, the killings begin again. A deadly game is afoot – a game that will challenge Rathod to the utmost, for it is a game that he cannot hope to win…

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Very few books have the ability to hook you right from page one, line one, word one and keep you hooked till that last page, last line and last word. And believe me when I say this Patang by Bhaskar Chattopadhyay is one surprising candidate for such a book. Given that I was sent a review copy of this book by the publishers without even asking for it, the only reason I picked it up and read it almost immediately was the cover design, the back blurb and the relatively smallish size of the book. And man, did it turn out to be quite an enjoyable experience or what!

While most well written crime thrillers and more so murder mysteries are always a joy to read, the happiness is doubled when the setting is local and the characters Indian as the ability to relate to the narrative is that much more when compared to books by Western authors. And when the book is as well thought out, scripted and narrated in a crisp, cut-throat, and breathless manner like the author has with this one, then the joy is more than quadrupled.

Trying to write murder mysteries involving serial killers is always tricky as the author has to walk a thin rope balancing the development of the character of the antagonist with relatively credible motives while making the narrative interesting enough for readers to thoroughly enjoy the book. And to his credit the author has balanced both these disparate ends very well coming up with a crackerjack of a first half. And as if the first half was not good enough, the second half takes us readers on a dizzying roller-coaster of a ride with the lovely cat and mouse chase between the protagonist and the antagonist.

And the ending, well, that portion, to me, took the cake and the entire pastry shop with it. I didn’t see it coming the way it did at all. Full credit to the author for having made it so shocking while being entirely believable and credible as well. For sure any homicide thriller lover worth his name should surely read and enjoy this book.

Click here to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link]

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A review copy of this book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest and unbiased review.

My Gita – Devdutt Pattanaik – Book Review


MyGitaGoodreads blurb: In My Gita, acclaimed mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik demystifies The Bhagavad Gita for the contemporary reader. His unique approach—thematic rather than verse-by-verse—makes the ancient treatise eminently accessible, combined as it is with his trademark illustrations and simple diagrams.

In a world that seems spellbound by argument over dialogue, vi-vaad over sam-vaad, Devdutt highlights how Krishna nudges Arjuna to understand rather than judge his relationships. This becomes relevant today when we are increasingly indulging and isolating the self (self-improvement, self-actualization, self-realization—even selfies!).We forget that we live in an ecosystem of others, where we can nourish each other with food, love and meaning, even when we fight.

So let My Gita inform your Gita.

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Despite reading a fair bit of Indian mythological tales and assorted articles on the same, the Bhagvad Gita remained one of those formidable tomes which I was even scared to touch with a barge pole. However, numerous conversations with my wife on various aspects discussed in the Gita and the fact that my all time favorite mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik (www.devdutt.com) wrote a book on the same, My Gita meant that it was finally time to put aside all misgivings and doubts about my ability to assimilate the vast volumes of learning from the Gita and get myself introduced to it formally. And believe me when I say this, it has probably turned out to be one of the wisest decisions I have taken in recent times.

In his own inimitable style, Dr Pattanaik takes on a subject (which in his own words has been dealt with in greater detail and better style by people more knowledgeable than him) as complicated as the Gita and goes ahead and makes it ‘his own’, quite literally given that the book is called My Gita and not The Gita. As the title suggests, the author is of the opinion that the Gita is not thematic, it is not subjective and it is not obsessed with the self. He feels that everybody reading this verse, this rhyme, this song, will do so and end up taking learnings from it which might just go on to be entirely different for the next person in line reading and studying it. Simply put, that is how powerful and life-changing this subject is.

Breaking away from the usual norm of translating the verse from Sanskrit in which it is originally written and providing his interpretation of the words and the flow of the verse, the wise Dr Pattanaik takes an entirely different approach to the Gita. He goes on and makes the book his own take on this immortal song. Instead of approaching it by chapter by chapter in a linear manner, he divides the book into various sub-themes under the overarching three main themes, viz, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Gyaana Yoga.

Peppered with various insights into his vast pool of knowledge in Indian and Abrahamic mythologies, the author manages to draw various parallels and analogies between various verses in the Gita and makes things extremely easy to understand, more so for first time readers of the Gita like myself. And I am more than sure that even people who have read and studied the Gita more than I have will surely find this book a worthy read and will enjoy the entirely different style in which Dr Pattanaik has presented this immortal song sung by Krishna to Arjuna.

While I could go on and on about how wonderfully well presented this book is, especially the various small little diagrams which are present on almost every page to explain and elucidate the various concepts, the fact remains that this is one book which needs to be read in its entirety to be enjoyed, rather than trying to understand the same through this small review of the same. As is the norm with all his books, Dr Pattanaik’s illustrations also enhance the overall book reading experience more than quite a bit.

Click here to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

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A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in return for an honest and unbiased review of the same.

Shakti: The Divine Feminine – Anuja Chandramouli – Book Review


ShaktiGoodreads blurb: Lose yourself in Maya, the divine game of the Goddess!

She is the Mother Goddess, Mahamaya the enchantress, the supreme consciousness, the pure source from which all creation emerges and to whom all must eventually return. As Usas, the enchanting goddess of the dawn, she is loved passionately and hated fiercely, leading to a horrific tragedy. As Durga, the invincible warrior, she defeats the savage Mahishasura, whom none of the male gods could vanquish. As Kali, the fearsome dark goddess, she delights in chaos. Yet she is also Shakti, beloved of all, who, when united with Shiva, restores balance to the universe.

In this captivating narrative, explore the contrasting facets of the sacred feminine; experience her awesome power, forged on the flames of love and hate; and watch her teach the male-dominated pantheon a lesson in compassion. Witty, engaging and thought-provoking, Shakti: The Feminine Divine will force readers to re-evaluate everything they know about the gods and goddesses and inspire all to embrace the Shakti within.

One of the few explorations of the story of the Mother Goddess, Shakti, retold in modern language, this book humanizes the gods

Witty and laced with sarcasm, it is a refreshing change from the heavy language of mythological texts

Draws analogies with the modern-day situation of women and contains a powerful message of woman empowerment.

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As was the case with her earlier novel Kamadeva: The God of Desire [Link to my review], author Anuja Chandramouli takes the story (or actually various stories) of Shakti, the mother goddess, adds her own uniquely interesting perspective to the same and retells them in quite a riveting manner in her book, Shakti: The Divine Feminine and man, does she deliver quite the mean punch with this book or what!!!

Starting off with the story of Usas, the goddess of dawn and how she is wronged due to the jealousies and insecurities of Sachi, Indra’s wife the book goes on to narrate the stories of the origins of Durga, the slaying of Mahishasura and Vritrasura, Karthikeya’s birth, a unique take on Ganesha’s origins, and more. One overarching theme throughout the book remains Shakti’s uniquely wonderful relationship with The Holy Trinity – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. While one of these relationships ends up driving most of the action in the first half of the book (am not revealing which one as that would amount to a spoiler), the other two relationships end up delivering sanity to the otherwise volatile nature of Shakti. In a nutshell, these three relationships pretty much drive the book.

And of course, one simply cannot overlook the contributions of the main ‘antagonist’ to most of these stories, Indra, the king of gods. His contributions coupled with his wife Sachi’s interventions in the various stories make up for extremely interesting reading and it is quite clear that the author has used Indra more as a figurehead for all that is wrong with men and their attitudes to women nowadays rather than being honest to how he is portrayed in most traditional mythological retellings. While it did irk me quite a bit that Indra was painted with such dark hues almost throughout the book, how his character ends up by the time the book is finished somewhat redeems him.

Powerfully written, hard-hitting, the almost irreverent tone with which the book is written works really well in communicating the author’s well-articulated point of view about the plight of women in Indian society today which woefully remains largely patriarchal showing no substantial signs of improving anytime soon. Here’s hoping more men read and understand this book for what it truly is – a commentary of the times we live in today in India rather than just another mythological retelling of tales we probably already know.

Click here to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

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A review copy of this book was offered to me by the publisher in return for an honest and unbiased review of the same.

Palm’s Foster Home for Peculiar Stories – CG Salamander – Book Review


PalmsFosterHomeGoodreads blurb: NIGEL THE LAST BRIT IN INDIA

There is chaos and pandemonium in the streets of Madras, and it is up to Nigel (an officer of the Imperial Police) to restore order to the city… only he hasn’t quite learned about India’s Independence. Yet.

GAYATRI AND THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY VEGETABLES

When the newest and most successful religion (Cabbagism) threatens to bring about the destruction of the world, it is up to a melancholic zombie and a collection of rowdy farm animals to save the earth.

ALIENS, DINOSAURS, PORCUPINES

A porcupine, after setting out on a journey away from home, falls in love with an armadillo.

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As if the name of the book weren’t funny enough, the cover and the back blurb is so zany crazy that any curious reader would immediately pick this book up and read it. Since this book is divided into three parts, I am going to review each part separately below.

Book 1 – Nigel, the last Brit in India

Dealing with the escapades and adventures of Nigel, an officer of the Imperial Police just about when India becomes independent, this series of stories forms a lovely introduction to what promises to be quite a bittersweet whimsical and atrociously hilarious book. Starting with how Nigel is almost killed for being ignorant about India gaining her independence, we are introduced to his Indian wife Agni, her brother Daaresh and her ignoramus of a father-in-law. The last story in this series is nothing short of over-the-top craziness as Nigel is drafted into the Secret Service, no less, to complete an important mission.

Book 2 – Gayatri and the Church of the Holy Vegetable

With this story, the author has let loose his already active imagination and weaves together a fairly complicated story where multiple forces, primarily large animate cabbages, connive together to take over the world, with their wonderfully weird theory that only 6% of the human population is the optimum volume of humans that the earth can safely sustain. Standing against their evil plans is a group of zombies led by their ‘prophet’ and ‘deliverer’ Murali who is on an asinine quest of his own. Suffice to say that this story is a riot-fest, quite literally and when all is done and the dust is settled……well I will leave that portion for you to read and figure out yourself.

Book 3 – Aliens, Dinosaurs, Porcupines

To me this was the weakest part of the book itself. While the stories seemed to be multi-layered and probably had more meaning to them than met my eye, I somehow couldn’t quite connect with this portion of the book at all. Continuing in the same vein as the earlier portions, the stories deal with talking animals, plans to take over the world and funnily enough a seemingly normal story with the last one. But then, one thing that I missed in this portion was the lack of a connecting over-arching theme like the first two portions.

Summary

In a nutshell, this book is a quirky, brave attempt by the author whose experience as a digital artist and a ‘storyteller’ in different forms is clearly brought to the fore in this book. In my opinion, this book is quite a brave and an extremely competent attempt at a completely different from of storytelling, albeit in an extremely offbeat and quirky manner. Nevertheless, this book is a good one time read, no two ways about that at all.

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A review copy of this book was provided to me by the author in return for an honest and unbiased review of the same.