28 February, 2012

#BookReview :: Destinies by Karleene Morrow

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Take a blender. Pour a dose of facts, another dose of fiction, some amazing characters, some romance, a dash of conspiracy & violence and some suspense. Blend it all and you get “Destinies” as a result!

The protagonist of this novel is Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great. She was the most renowned and the longest-ruling female leader of Russia, reigning from 1762 until her death in 1796. Ms.Morrow has managed to keep her character very real & true to the original person. She is fierce yet giving, cruel yet loving, ruthless yet caring… The character has so many facets that as a reader I loved to love and hate her simultaneously throughout the novel. The other prominent character in this Novel is that of the ‘fictional’ Christian. We are introduced to him as a 14 year old boy who is worried about leaving behind his best friend and his horse when his parents decide to take Catherine’s offer of settling down in Russia. The innocent little boy grows through and with the Novel and the book is mostly narrated through Christian.

For those weak in world history (like me) this is a great treat. An interesting history lesson that takes us back in time to Catherine’s rule and gives us a glimpse of the lives of the noble bloodline. In the Foreword of the book Ms.Morrow has mentioned that she has portrayed Catherine and few members of the royal court have been portrayed as they lived. Indeed she has done a great job of it as she has done with building and maintaining a sense of suspense throughout her work.

An amazing and gripping page-turner!

Review Copy received from the Author

24 February, 2012

#BookReview :: The Universe at Your Feet by Graciela Zozaya

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At the very beginning of this review I have to mention that I am a big Skeptic… When I was approached by the author to review her book, I wasn’t sure about it. I knew very little about Channeling and even lesser faith in it.

In 2007, Graciela came across box of 5 CDs titled ‘The Law of Attraction – The teachings of Abraham by Jerry and Esther Hicks’ in a bookstore by chance. This was her introduction to the world of Channeling. She even attended an ‘Abraham-Hicks’ seminar. What began as a curiosity, slowly developed into something interesting & attracting subject matter that mother-daughter bonded over. That in turn turned into something more serious and eventually her way of life. Graciela started channeling ‘The Essence’. She became an Interpreter.

In this book, the author mainly deals with the basics – basics about Channeling and the basics of our everyday life. There’s an introduction that tells you more about what to expect from the book and more about the author herself. Slowly, the author delves into further details about ‘The Essence’, facts about the Universe, God, meditation and about how to understand ourselves better. The book also covers about aspects of spirituality & religion. The only thing that the author asks of us readers is that we keep an open mind.

There are two topics in particular that I myself found interesting. The first is about meditation. The book tells us what exactly is meditation, how to do it and also tells us about visualization. Meditation is something that we all need to understand and enforce into our lifestyle. What with the fast paced life that we lead, we hardly have time to stop and compose ourselves. Meditation can help us all in some way or the other. It can help us get rid of the negativity or bring peace or simply give time to ourselves – our body and mind. The other topic that captured my interest was that of homosexuality. There’s so much of noise about it, so many different opinions and even a taboo of sorts in some cases. This is a direct quote from the book about this aspect:

‘This person comes saying: “I am me. Love me as I am or continue on your way, because no one says that I should be or behave according to what you think is normal. What’s more, even if I wished I could change to please you, I can’t”.

I absolutely loved this particular part and I don’t think it is possible to put things forward in a better manner.

In the end, I still am not sure whether to believe in the concept of Channeling or not and I feel it is up to you readers too. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in Channeling or the Essence or not. If you do – you are more than welcome to learn more and try it out yourselves. If you don’t then it’s fine too. You can still read this book because it doesn’t really matter how these messages reach us – what matters are the messages that this book is trying to impart. That nobody is conspiring against you. You can be happy any time you want to provided that you let yourself be happy. That we are all loved and blessed!

If you are still unsure about the book, keep it on your to-read list and read it on one of those days when nothing seems to be going right…

Had I been believer of Channeling or similar concepts, I would have given this book 5 Hearts. But being the skeptic that I am I rate this book as: 

Review Copy received from the Author

21 February, 2012

#BookReview :: Down the Road by Ahmed Faiyaz

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Here’s the thing – I am yet to meet a person, girl or boy, young or old, who doesn’t like to reminisce about their school and college days. Even the fresh graduates seem to realize that the days that just passed by are never going to come back and the life they have just lived is going to be the best part of their entire existence. We love to think back over to the times we were so carefree, daring, fun-loving and a tad bit irresponsible.

This book, “Down the Road”, will help you remember those memories even more fondly. A collection of twenty eight short stories by sixteen authors, revolving around the student phase of a person’s life that takes you right back to those golden days. It was really impossible to read the stories and not relate to them. I kept on thinking back and realizing that there was a boy/girl my class at some point of time who was a direct reflection of the character I was reading about. Also, it would be a mistake not to comment on the number of topics touched by the authors in this book. Starting from first crush, to a teacher who brought out the best in a student, to the class bully, to the dreaded teacher, to reunions, to young love, to failures, to politics – this book has it all. 

The stories are categorized under 5 sections. 'Attendance is Compulsory', 'Festivals, Elections and Placements', 'Lights Out’, 'Looking Back’ and ‘Essays’. Each section dealing with separate stages of school/college life. The first section being the first stage – deals with the ‘fresher’ experience, sometimes of the students and sometimes of the teachers. We look back at adjusting & settling down in new atmosphere. The next section is the next stage, i.e, the settled ambience of the student life. The first crushes, young love, the friendships and the celebrations. ‘Lights Out’ & ‘Looking back sections deal with the discoveries made, lessons learnt and the unexpected experiences that comes with this life. We get a chance to see how our protagonists matured through time in introspect about that phase. The Essays –‘Fiction on Campus’ & ‘Bollywood on Campus’ are takes on the media’s take on Campus life.

The best thing about the book is that while it has stories by well-known names like Ira Trivedi, Ahmed Faiyaz and Paritosh Uttam, it also puts a few new names under the spotlight. It actually brings out new talents to us readers. In fact, my favourites in this book are: ’Learning & Unlearning’ by Rohini Kejriwal and ‘Bellow Yellow’ by Chinmayi Bali. Both the stories are by new authors and they have managed to capture the ‘negetive print’ of campus life amazingly well. Also, I must say that the last few times I picked up books by Indian authors, whom I am not going to name here, I was disgusted by their fixation with sex and female statistics and practically threw away a couple of books! This book has managed to restore my faith in Modern Indian Authors with their flow of words and in some cases with their depths.

So go on and get this book for yourself. It is a light read and will help you feel young again. [Ahem!! ‘Young ones can always feel ‘Younger’, right?]

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!

20 February, 2012

#BookReview :: Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

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The Hunger Games is the first book in a trilogy. It is followed by "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay".

The background is set in post-apocalyptic USA --  only USA doesn't exist any more. Instead, a new nation called Panem, has taken its place. There are twelve districts in Panem and each district solely is dedicated to different requirement. For instance, District twelve is in charge of mining, another in agriculture, another in military, so on. They are ruled by the Capitol under strict rules and regulations. Their whole life, in some way or the other, is under control of the Capitol.

Each year the capitol hosts "The Hunger Games" where each district has to send in a boy and a girl, between the age of twelve and eighteen as 'tribute'. The twenty four participants are then taken to the Capitol and trained  in the art of survival. The game in itself is something like "The Survivor" -- only the eliminations are in way of death! Katniss Everdeen, is a sixteen year old girl from district twelve and our protagonist. When her sister Primrose Everdeen (Prim for short) is selected as a Tribute, she volunteers to be the tribute in order to save her twelve year old sister. The other Tribute is Peeta Mellark, the Bakers son of district twelve.

The story then revolves around the Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta. We are shown glimpses of life at the Capitol, the bureaucratic section of Panem and of the other districts through their Tributes. The Games itself is designed to test everyone's survival skills. Only the toughest and the shrewdest can survive. But as the story progresses, the readers realise that the Capitol has ulterior motives behind holding the Games every year. What Motives? You have to read the book for it.

Katniss Everdeen, is our protagonist. But I have to admit it - I don't like her much. She is stubborn and very slow at picking up things. Whether at the games or in her life at district twelve, she wants things to be done her way and often fails to understand that some of the people around her loves her and are doing things for her well being. She is also very much confused about her own feelings and is damn impulsive. Her only redeeming quality is that she truly loves and cares for her family, specially her sister Prim.

Peter Mellark is our hero of the story. Though he is meant to a support system to Katniss, his character emerges as strong and confident. As a reader you will not be able to help but feel his triumphs, disappointments and every other emotion that he feels. He turns out to be the strength of not only Katniss but also the whole story.

Gail Hawthorne is an eighteen year old from district twelve. He is Katniss's friend. Common heartbreak and situation had brought them together. Together they have learned to survive under the Capitol's cruel rule. They have a strong bond between them and with each other's family. Gail doesn't have much role in the first book, but slowly develops from the second part.

The authors style of narrating the story is simply great. It keeps you hooked onto the story and keeps you wondering - whats next!

18 February, 2012

#BookReview :: The Bridge of Deaths by M.C.V. Egan

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First and foremost, I have to say that I am amazed at the amount of research that has gone into this book. From researching plane crash, visiting museums/archives, reincarnation, to the past life regression, to psychics, to simple internet research… she has done it all. When I received the book, I obviously checked the official website “The Bridge of Deaths” and browsed through to get an idea about the plot. The name itself is quite appealing, but the fact that the author had been researching the book for over 18 years really grabbed my attention. So, I took my time in reading the book, going back to the website for the references and images. All that hard work deserves special acknowledgement.

The book in itself is a magical world that brings fact and fiction together. The author narrates the whole story sometimes in her own words and sometimes through the lead characters – Bill & Maggie. It is about a journey full of discoveries. As we follow the characters in the book, we find them discovering truths/facts about the plane crash, discovering about the people involved in it and discovering about more about themselves! The twists in the plot, the truths uncovered were startling and often left me dazed. I loved the way the characters of Bill & Maggie were built through the story – they are so different from each other, yet they were brought together by ‘fate’?! Both struggling to find out more about their past lives find solace in each other. Their relationship evolves along with their different characters right in front of us. And though these characters are a work of fiction, they are very much alive in all of us. Ms.Egan’s has done a great job in portraying them.

The Highlight of this book is the way the author has maintained a balance between fact and fiction. Writing just facts or pure fiction would have been way easier. But the way the author has mashed up both with perfect balance to create this novel is simply awesome. And Hey, Facts are Stranger than Fiction!

Overall, the author’s smooth flow of story-telling, the main plot, the twists in the tale and the romance between the two main characters will keep you involved with the story. Looking for romance, you got it! Looking for suspense & intrigue, you got it! Looking for Paranormal, you got it! Looking for historic influences, you got it. In short – this book has something for everyone.

I am glad to have had a chance to read this book even though I am not a big fan of World War Era stories. It is an incredible read and I would like to recommend it to everyone. Give it a chance even if you feel that this is not your ‘cup of tea’.

A quote from the end of the book that I liked the best & would like to share:
“I think people in general are good people, and I am sure that in the world there are many more substantially good people than there are bad people. I also think that the younger people with global communication and so much more travel are less intolerant. I believe that my generation and the ones that follow are capable—world wide—of being more peaceful. Look how the entire world wants to help and is helping Haiti! We are capable of being a peaceful planet. I have to believe that.”

14 February, 2012

#BookReview :: The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu

The story starts by giving us a look into Vimbai’s life, background and psyche. She is a single mother, struggling to make a good life for herself and her daughter. She works for Mrs.Khumalo as a hairdresser – the best in Harare. She is mostly in control of her life and almost content with it when enters one Dumisani. Dumisani soon takes over her position in the Salon. In her personal life, bills that need paying keeps piling up. Before she realizes it, Dumisani is living with her as a paying guest. Their animosity slowly turns into friendship because of Vimbhai own nature and also because of Dumisani…

What happens then? Read it to find out the secrets that some of the characters have been keeping. You have to read the book to feel the betrayals portrayed in it. The characters develop in front of our own eyes and sometimes you see things coming and sometimes (especially if you are like Vimbhai) things just take you by surprise.

What I liked best is that this book gives us a glimpse of Zimbabwe. If you think your country has problems – well then you are not alone. The country’s problems and turmoil is depicted in a fantastic manner. At the same time, it also shows how the people are dealing with it. Some people like Vimbhai, are matured and hardened by their experiences while some just accept things the way that they are. Also, readers are introduced to certain local lingos and culture. The subjects that are handled in this book may make it seem like a “heavy read” but it’s not. The author has handled the plot and its characters in such a manner that there’s a hint of humour at every turn that keeps it from getting too heavy, yet delivering the actual message anyway. The author, Mr.Huchu, has certainly done a great job in keeping a smooth flow in the story too. There isn’t a point in the book where you would feel that the story is dragging or not moving forward.

What I didn’t like about this book is…. Ummmmmm…. Nothing. There is nothing in this book that I can turn  into its weakness. It’s a fantastic book. 

Review Copy received from the author

13 February, 2012

#BookReview :: Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard

Pretty Little Liars Series on Amazon

I started on this series when I came across quite a number of fair reviews on it.

The novels revolve around the lives of 4 girls of Rosewood Day School -- Spencer, Hanna, Aria, and Emily. They were almost nonentities in their school till Alison chose them to be a part of her posse. Together they became the most enviable group and suddenly the girls found themselves to be the center of attraction at Rosewood. Then, Allison went missing and the girls fell apart even though they were bound by a few secrets.

Alison is continuously described as the most popular girl at Rosewood Day school. She chose the other girls to be a part of her posse and thus giving them whole new identities. However, as the story progresses, we find that she was not very kind to her friends and often held their secrets on their heads. She emerges as this popular, unkind and manipulative girl with a hell lot of secrets of her own.

Aria is again maybe the most confused girl in the series. She is someone who wants to stand out and always feels misunderstood. She is connected with a lot of guys, including a teacher, her friend’s ex and even her mother’s boyfriend.

Hanna starts out as a chubby girl who wanted to be like Alison. Her fixation with becoming the “It” girl, leads her to developing Bulimia. She is prepared to give everything else up for becoming someone like Alison. So much so that even though she starts of as the girl obsessed with winning the love of her childhood crush, yet over the time she even gives up true love for her fixation of becoming the “it” girl.

Spencer is supposed to be a very talented academic, yet someone never seen to sit down with a book. Instead she cheats and lies her way through. She is very competitive with her elder sister Mellissa, another excellent academic person, but is shown to take it out only by going out with elder sister’s boyfriends. Later on she has problems with her identity crisis.

Emily is obsessed with Alison. As a person who is confused about her own sexuality, Emily is in love with Alison. She then proceeds to date both girls and boys in an attempt to understand herself.

To be frank, after reading the first three books, I wanted to dump the series. But I do not like leave things unfinished and so I toiled through the rest of the books. I was amazed to see how the central characters always focused on only boys and fashion while there were surrounded by murders, suicide and threats at any point of time. I could not relate to even one character in the book, whether it be a boy or a girl or even an animal!!! The girls were more concerned about what brand handbag was in fashion rather than the murders of their friends. While murder investigation was on or someone was on trial, all they could think of was who they could hook up with. And, then there are the parent-children relationships that were so appalling that made me wonder if my parents are abnormal!

The only positive thing about this series is that the title is appropriate for it as the characters are pro at 'lying, cheating and stealing'. I would not recommend anyone to read this series, unless they are interested in making a list of branded products or ways of committing infidelity & adultery.

11 February, 2012

#BookReview :: An Untimely Love by Tendai Huchu


The story is narrated by Khalid Patel, a first generation Pakistani in Britain, who turns into a suicide bomber  only to fall in love with Selina Ashraf on the last day of his life. Khalid a.k.a Lab Boy is a 20 year old who is brainwashed and turned into a suicide bomber for the cause of Islam. Fresh back from a training camp in Pakistan, he is ready to fight for the cause that now drives him - even if that means sacrificing his own life for the 'greater good'. But what he was not prepared for was 'falling in love'. On the day he was scheduled to perform his 'task' he unexpectedly falls in love with Selina Ashraf a.k.a Smokey. On an impulse, they even get married. What happens next? You have to pick up the book to know it. Without giving out any spoilers, all I can say is that what they thought was going to be their last day, turns out to be only the beginning of a roller coaster ride.

Khalid Patel is portrayed as a typical first generation Asian in Britain. Son of a man, who had come to Britain to make his fortune only to end up as a taxi driver, Khalid is used to be in the back ground of everything. Though the author hasn't spent much time on exploring the family ties of Khalid, from what ever glimpses we get, we know that he loved and respected his family. His relationship with his friends, Bishnu and David, is like that of anyone else of his age. Overall, he comes off as an average guy off the street. Selina Ashraf on the other hand comes off like a rebelling Asian teenager. A medical student, who wears tight western clothes that compliment her figure, refuses to wear Burqa/Hijab and is a chain smoker. She is a perky-vibrant girl whose reason for taking up this mission is a bit obscure. The one character that surprised me really was Khalid's friend David. At first impression, it seemed like he was someone who was too caught in the web of drugs. Ironically, he turns out to be Khalid's only lifeline as the story progresses.

What I like about this book is that the author has given us a peek into Khalid's mind - a mind that belongs to an average guy and also that of a suicide bomber.  The psyche of the same person at two different stages/situation - one that of a brainwashed youth and one that of the same youth who was beginning to see beyond. We also get a glimpse of what life at a terrorist training camp might be like. The action and thrills in the story are good - unless you are expecting James Bond to materialize. The description of the landscapes are also good.

What I would have loved to read as a part of the story is how Khalid got into the clutches of Imran & Tony in the first place. It would have been great to be able to understand how the youth are brainwashed. Also, I thought that Selina's reason to join the Jihad group and become a suicide bomber was simply dumb.

Overall, it has a little bit of everything - Action, Drama, Romance & Suspense. I liked it and would like to recommend you to read it.

Review Copy received from the Author

10 February, 2012

#BookReview :: The Postcard Killers by James Patterson

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After a gap of quite a few months I finally managed to get my hands on this James Patterson novel. I was originally introduced to James Patterson Novels by the Movie 'Along Came a Spider' based on the novel of the same name. I was so impressed by the plot, that I simply had to read the novel. Ever since I am hooked onto James Patterson and specially Alex Cross.

The novel follows the journey of its protagonist, Jacob Kanon, a NYPD Homicide Detective. Jacob is dragged into the trail of a serial killer when they murder his daughter and son-in-law in Rome. Ever since he follows the trail left behind and makes it his life's mission to catch the killers. When the killers send a post card to a Swedish journalist, Dessie Larsson, the two team up to see the case through that takes them across the borders. 

Jacob Kanon had a one track mind throughout the novel. His only concern is to catch the people responsible for his daughters death, no matter what. He has some good connections from the past who provide him with important information and he himself does some good sleuth work. However, I personally thought that he lacked the charisma and certain 'x-factor' that we expect from our protagonist.

Dessie Larsson is a small time journalist, who wants to do good and quality work. She doesn't care much about making the headlines or being famous. She works in a male dominated work place and strives to do her best. Also, she had some background in psychology that helped her immensely in this case. She was able to connect and solve a lot of things that Jacob and the Swedish Police missed. In fact, I found her character to be more of what we expect from our protagonists than Jacob.

The book is filled with gruesome murder details and a lot of blood. Its not really one of Patterson's best work. But it is worth reading...