Flight of Eagles – Jack Higgins – Book Review


FlightOfEaglesGoodreads blurb: In the early days of World War II, nations were forced to choose sides in the epic battle that would change history forever. But for two brothers, fate had already made the choice. Separated as boys, Max and Harry Kelso have grown up to become ace fighter pilots — Max with the German Luftwaffe and Harry in Britain’s RAF. Now, the machinery of war has set in motion an intrigue so devious, so filled with peril, that it will require them to question everything they know, everything they hold most dear: their lives, their families, their loyalties. Against impossible odds, it is their courage alone that will decide the course of the war…

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From my teenage years I have been a big fan of World War 2 stories, more so when they involved points of view from both sides of the war like this book Flight of Eagles by Jack Higgins does. It therefore goes without saying that I quite enjoyed the book. Although it must be said that this was the first WW-II novel that I have read and all of my exposure to such stories so far was via the Commando and its affiliated series of comics.

That being said, the yarn that the author spins with this book, of twin brothers separated during their teenage years, fighting for opposing airforces with their stories following an eerily similar pattern as far as their flying career goes makes for interesting reading. With a shared love for flying, courtesy their fighter pilot father, Max and Harry Kelso quickly make a name for themselves in their respective fighting units and rise among the ranks amassing as many medals and honors as they can.

While Max and his mother Elsa get embroiled on the wrong side of the Nazis and the Gestapo, Harry falls in love and his life is not without its own fair share of worries; all this apart from the raging war that is going on around them. How their lives become interesting and intriguingly intertwined and how the fact that they are twins is tried to be used by the ‘powers that be’ form the interesting climax of this book.

The author Jack Higgins himself is a war veteran and therefore leaves his indelible stamp on the book itself. While he has let his fantasy fly a little bit when it comes to a few plot points, overall the book makes for good reading.

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

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Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in return for a honest and unbiased review.

A Trip Down Reality Lane – Ian Thomas Malone – Book Review


ATripDownRealityLane

Goodreads blurb: College life can be tough…

For a junior pursuing a degree in English with no plans for his future, living in the present is far better than the alternative.

One morning he wakes up and embarks on an acid trip to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts with two of his friends.

A step outside reality might be the best way to come back down to earth…

Along the way, the three friends discover what matters most to them, and more importantly, that life is not so much about answers as it is about the exploration of the questions.

When the real world doesn’t quite cut it, take a journey down the rabbit hole.

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The protagonist (unnamed throughout the book) decides to spend a Saturday ‘tripping’ on LSD and visiting the Museum of Fine Arts and then watching The Lion King in 3D. While the expectation was that he would have some fun with his friends on the trip, he didn’t quite anticipate the ways in which this particular day and the experiences he had would end up changing him.

This is a ‘coming of age’ story dealt with in an extremely unconventional manner and probably in a form which might appeal more than other conventional modes to college-going students in the US. In fact, I would go as far enough to say that it probably is as close to ‘real college experiences’ as any book can get and the author seems to have successfully mined into the psyche of the average US college going kid. Although, I must confess that all of my knowledge about US college life and the kids there are based purely on hearsay and popular depictions of the same in television and movies.

The experiences they have on their ‘trip’, some of the funnier incidents, some of the fleeting thoughts and profound ‘eye openers’ that the protagonist has during the trip makes up the major portion of the narrative as it should. Suffice to say that the author has the knack of keeping the reader engaged, especially in portions where he draws reasonably decent analogies between the sights and sounds they encounter with his personal experiences and the current dilemma he faces in terms of the uncertainty regarding his future.

A decent one time read for sure, this book will surely appeal to almost all college students and teenagers universally. Click here to purchase the book from Amazon [Link].

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

The first firangis – Jonathan Gil Harris – Book Review


thefirstfirangisGoodreads blurb: The Indian subcontinent has been a land of immigrants for thousands of years: waves of migration from Persia, Central Asia, Mongolia, the Middle East and Greece have helped create India’s exceptionally diverse cultural mix. In the centuries before the British Raj, when the Mughals were the preeminent power in the subcontinent, a wide array of migrants known as ‘firangis’ made India their home. In this book, Jonathan Gil Harris, a twenty-first-century firangi, tells their stories.

These gripping accounts are of healers, soldiers, artists, ascetics, thieves, pirates and courtesans who were not powerful or privileged. Often they were escaping poverty or religious persecution; many were brought here as slaves; others simply followed their spirit of adventure. Some of these migrants were absorbed into the military. Others fell in with religious communities—the Catholics of Rachol, the underground Jews of Goa, the fakirs of Ajmer, the Sufis of Delhi. Healers from Portugal and Italy adapted their medical practice in accordance with local traditions. Gifted artisans from Europe joined Akbar’s and Jahangir’s royal ateliers, and helped create enduring works of art. And though almost invisible within the archival record, some migrant women such as the Armenian Bibi Juliana and the Portuguese Juliana Dias da Costa found a home in royal Mughal harems.

Jonathan Gil Harris uses his own experience of becoming Indian through the process of acclimatizing to the country’s culture, customs, weather, food, clothes and customs to bring the stories of these shadowy figures to vivid life.

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At the outset let me confess that I was extremely piqued by the title of the book and its blurb primarily because most of what I know about Indian history before the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 was what I had read in my history books and the occasional Amar Chitra Katha during my younger days. And on the one off instances where I had the opportunity to read up about this fascinating period of Indian history, I was more than taken aback by the interesting set of circumstances that our country found itself in during these days, especially the days before The East India Company and its British employees arrived on the scene here. And it wouldn’t be too much to tell that this book more than satiated my curiosity in this regard, and in the process has kindled a newfound interest in this period of Indian history more than ever before.

While the book itself tries to tell the stories of a seemingly disparate set of individuals with only the common thread of them having settled down in India, the book at its core has India, Indians and more importantly ‘Indianness’ and what it takes to actually ‘be an Indian’ in more than one way. The author very cleverly hooks the readers in by narrating his own initial experiences in India and his own home-grown methods to cope with the country and its effect on his mind and body. And by cleverly using the human body and the travails it undergoes in a new environment as a metaphor for the ‘firangi’ experiences in India, Jonathan Gil Harris goes on to chronicle some of the lesser known foreigners in India.

What follows are my observations about almost all the individual foreigners’ experiences that the author has chronicled in this book, but be assured, no ‘spoilers’ have been given away.

The first two chapters deal with the subtle yet noticeable influence of Indian food and more specifically fruits on the ‘firangis’ Garcia De Orta and Thomas Stephens, while the next chapter deals with three warrior slaves Malik Ayaz, Chinali and Dillanai and their respective stories as to how they found their way into the armies and the hearts of their Indian masters.

The story of Malik Ambar and his contribution to the origins and growth of guerrilla warfare in the North Deccani regions of Maharashtra is the next chapter while the stories of the Naqqash and Javaheri in Jahangir’s court where the firangis exhibited an exemplary knowledge and appreciation of the  fine Mughal arts of painting and jewelry making is quite a nice chapter.

The chapters on the two firangi women, both named Juliana make for interesting reading, although not quite as interesting as some of the earlier chapters. But this is made up by the wonderfully interesting story of Thomas Coryate, who was as much a performer, as a traveler and one of those rare firangis who managed to assimilate as much of the local cultures that he encountered throughout his travels, or ‘travails’ as he termed them.

An interesting character who went by the name Sa’id Sarmad Kashani, who among other things was most notably remembered for the nudity which he embraced for almost the entire second half of his life. This particular firangi’s story has more than enough meat in it to pique the attention of readers who are philosophically and spiritually inclined.

What follows is a small yet interesting story of a firangi pirate king Sebastian Goncalves Tibau from the eastern coastal city of Chittagong in Bengal makes for some interesting reading, especially for those who enjoyed the Pirates of the Caribbean series of movies like I did.

The whimsical story of Nicolas Manucci who seems to have harbored quite the ‘racial’ hatred against all non-Europeans but still managed to successfully lead quite a colorful life in India over the course of at least four decades or so. So much so, that he seems to have become more ‘Indian’ than any of the other firangis mentioned in this book.

To conclude, I reproduce one of the last few sentences in this book “one might even say that the authentically Indian can never be identified with a singular trajectory but, rather, has always been a series of interruptions and creative responses to those interruptions” and this, in a nutshell, is what this book is all about; the earliest firangis who came to India for various reasons via various routes but stayed on despite all the interruptions they faced and thrived to become ‘authentically Indian’ which reflects the author’s own life, personality and choices in so many ways.

Click on the following link to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link].

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Disclaimer: The publishers offered me a review copy of this book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

The Magician who lost his wallet – Gautam Acharya – Book Review


TheMagicianWhoLostHisWallet

Goodreads blurb: Debu Haldar is ready to grasp at anything that offers some excitement to his mundane life. One day, while at a multiplex, he finds a lost wallet. When he tries to return it, the owner disappears in front of him in a way that defies logical explanation.

Two days later, from a newspaper article and a business card found inside the wallet, he learns that the owner of the wallet is actually a fugitive from the law. More sinister facts emerge, and Debu gets a chance to fulfil one of his childhood ambitions – to get to the bottom of a devious crime. Only two people stand between him and his dream: a brutal psychopath with an extraordinary scheme, and a mild-mannered intellectual who is also trying to unravel the mystery before anyone else.

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I am yet to read a novel in the crime thriller genre with a more lovable and memorable protagonist than Debabrata Haldar of The Magician who lost his wallet. With Debu, the author Gautam Acharya manages to tap into the latent desire of all his readers to become private investigators and unearth ghastly crimes and bring criminals to justice. I can unashamedly say that I have spent more than my fair share of teenage days and nights conjuring up mysteries and unexplained phenomena that needed resolution. And in those days, when the only network we had was the coterie of neighborhood aunties and the only broadband was that of the police constable’s belt, believe me, it were these ‘detective fantasies’ which kept me busy without causing too much mischief.

Just like the rest of us, Debu also tried his hand at being a private detective immediately after his studies but just like the rest of us, life, circumstances and destiny caught up with him and he had to settle down for a normal mundane life, just like the rest of us. And therefore, when he finds a lost wallet whose owner almost literally disappears in front of him, he immediately knows that this is one mystery he owed it to himself to solve.

However, what Debu didn’t quite account for or anticipate was that there was more to the situation that initially appeared. And when one thing led to another, he soon found himself embroiled in a mystery involving the disappearing man, his devious past activities, a broken marriage and more. As if these weren’t problematic enough, his neighbor Ritvik Sen always seemed to be a couple of steps ahead of him in coming up with theories and deductions regarding the missing man, and this enraged Debu who considered this mystery his own and nobody else’s.

In fact all the scenes involving Debu and Ritvik are so hilariously penned down that I wouldn’t doubt for a second that the author has probably mirrored Ritvik’s image on himself and Debu on that of his readers. At no point in the book does Debu manage to get the better of Ritvik, and the chapters involving both of them are nothing short of laugh-riots.

And one aspect of this book which really endeared it to me was the fact that although this was a crime thriller at the heart of it, the author didn’t restrict himself to the genre very strictly and managed to include more than a fair share of dark humor when it came to the characterization of Debu Haldar, his back stories, his circumstances, the settings he finds himself in and his journey from finding the wallet till the very end.

Given the size of this book and the easy language in which it is written, this proved to be quite a breezy read and I managed to finish the book in a course of 4 odd hours flat. So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and click on one of these links to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link]. Yes, I will earn a small commission if you buy the books using these links, but your purchase price will remain the same as otherwise.

Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy of this book by the publisher, but the review above is unbiased and has not been influenced in any way.

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Book The Magician who lost his wallet
Author/s Gautam Acharya
Goodreads link Goodreads
Flipkart link Flipkart
Amazon link Amazon

Private India – Ashwin Sanghi and James Patterson – Book Review


PrivateIndia

Goodreads blurb: When Santosh Wagh isn’t struggling out of a bottle of whisky he’s head of Private India, the Mumbai branch of the world’s finest PI agency.

In a city of over thirteen million he has his work cut out at the best of times. But now someone is killing women – seemingly unconnected women murdered in a chilling ritual, with strange objects placed carefully at their death scenes.

As Santosh and his team race to find the killer, an even greater danger faces Private India – a danger that could threaten the lives of thousands of innocent Mumbai citizens.

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While the blurb doesn’t give away too much about the book and is just about enough to pique any potential readers’ interest, the fact remains that Private India remains one of the most anticipated book of the year for almost over six odd months now. It was around that time that Ashwin Sanghi of The Krishna Key [Link to my review] and Chanakya’s Chant [Link to my review] fame announced that he was collaborating with James Patterson, world renowned author of multiple bestsellers and was co-authoring an India based book with him and this announcement has caused quite a flutter in the online world.

This led to me reading up quite a bit about James Patterson and as luck would have it, he turned out to be a specialist in the crime action thriller genre of books with his Private series of which Private India would form the latest installment. Along with the Alex Cross series and the Women’s Murder Club series, the Private series of books formed quite the formidable portfolio of this wonderful author. And given that I had immensely enjoyed Ashwin Sanghi’s earlier books as well, it was a no-brainer that this book belonged to the ‘must-read’ category as far as I was concerned.

But surprise, surprise, even before I could lay my hands on the book, Sid B (of iwrotethose.com fame), a blogger and more importantly a dear friend surprised me by ordering the book online for me and having it delivered to me just two days after its official release. Only true friends realize what you want without even waiting for it to be stated. Thanks Sid, owe you one for the book and many more for your thoughtfulness.

The plot itself deals with a series of seemingly unconnected serial killings across Mumbai where women are found strangulated by a mysterious murderer who leaves harmless little everyday objects behind as clues to the cops. Private India, a team of super exclusive private investigators is brought into action and headed by Santosh Wagh, ex RAW, the team of Nisha Gandhe (ex Mumbai CID), Hari Padhi (tech wizard) and Mubeen (forensic expert) take it upon themselves to try and find the killer before he strikes again.

What starts off as a murder investigation gets murkier and murkier as the team starts unravelling a plot much more complex and bigger than they ever anticipated. For Santosh who is already dealing with ‘ghosts from his past’ and has resorted to alcoholism to overcome them, this case is a nightmare in the sense that it tests his patience, his intuition, his skills of detection and his analytical skills to the core. With the loyal, smart and committed team by his side, the investigation takes up on a whirlwind journey where the killer, his story, his motives are finally brought to light. But the fun part about the book is the riveting roller-coaster ride it takes us through in the course of its journey.

What really worked well for me in the book was the fact that the pacing was pitch perfect. Not once did I feel that the book slacked or lagged with its momentum. It kept me going on and on till I reached the very end. The main protagonist Santosh Wagh was also quite well written, although I must admit that at some level I am tired of the alcoholic ex-cop who is constantly trying to deal with the demons of his past. I guess having seen quite a few movies in the recent past with this character, it struck me as somewhat clichéd. But otherwise, Santosh comes across as someone who you can relate to and like a little bit as well. The supporting cast in the form of his team also comes across as quite memorable.

What didn’t quite work for me was how the murderer was portrayed right at the end of the book, especially his motives for the last planned victim. That portion of the plot seemed a little contrived, just to make the plot a little more personal, and in my opinion could probably have been re-written. But then, who am I to question narrative geniuses like Ashwin Sanghi and James Patterson.

In summary, this book is surely a must read for all fans of the crime action thriller genre. It is a page-turner which will keep your mind ticking during the entire time that you read the book.

So, what are you waiting for, please click here to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link], or here to purchase the book from Amazon [Link]

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Disclaimer: Yes, I will make some money as commission if you purchase the books by clicking on either of the links above, but rest assured that it will not increase your purchase price of the book.

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Name Private India
Author/s Ashwin Sanghi, James Patterson
Publisher Arrow Books
Year published 2014
ISBN 13 9780099586395
Goodreads link Link
Flipkart link Flipkart
Amazon link Amazon