Friday, December 1, 2017

Book Review: Hell! No Saints in Paradise by A.K. Asif

© Written by Tarang Sinha

Hell! No Saints in Paradise  (Harper Collins India)  by A. K. Asif is a political satire. It tells the story of Ismael, a Pakistani American student who ventures into a spiritual journey (even though he is a non-believer) that takes him from New York to Pakistan (to his estranged father), and then his life just jumbles. 

The opening line of the book is interesting:

'I met Petra on a Friday night in late October, 2050.'

I picked this book mainly because of really good reviews it has got. The blurb seemed intriguing and I thought it would be a different read, but for me, it turned out to be a difficult read. I'd tell you why –

First of all, the book cover. It’s so irritating. Doesn’t reflect anything about the story. It may sound odd, but book covers matter to me.

The story: It actually started off well. But then, after some pages it felt like ‘what’s going on!? And why?’ It doesn’t feel like it’s 2050 and it doesn’t feel like a satire. I was expecting some bizarre situations (As it’s 2050?) and witty dialogues. That’s missing. However, I liked some conversations between Ismael and Laila. For example –

‘What’s your name?’
‘You know what that means?’
‘Darkness,’ she replied.
‘Night,’ I corrected.
‘Same thing.’
‘No, not at all.’
‘Why not?’
‘Night is not darkness.’ I longed to see her face.
‘Do you want to see my face?’ she asked softly, as if reading my mind.

This was interesting, and it made me know more about Laila and her connection with Ismael, but this character vanishes for a long time.

Also, there are several things and terms that I struggled to understand maybe because of the difference in the culture or something, but that was another difficult aspect of the book.

I didn’t get the purpose – basically, after some time, I didn’t really care about the story.

On a positive note, the writing is neat (Obviously, it’s from Harper Collins), but as a reader, for me, story, its execution and character development are also important, in fact more important.

But, as I said (or you can see on Goodreads), it has got some nice reviews, you can pick this book especially if you like to read satires and dystopian fiction.

I received this book from Writer's Melon for an honest review. 

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Book Review: The Goat Thief by Perumal Murugan

© Written by Tarang Sinha

This is my first book by Perumal Murugan, a little controversial yet highly acclaimed author. The Goat Thief (Juggernaut Books) is a translated work of fiction, a collection of short stories. I'm not a fan of translated works, mainly because the translated language often lose the essence of the storytelling. But, kudos to N. Kalyan Raman – the translator of this collection – for maintaining the original voice.

There are 10 well written, unique and sometimes strange stories in this collection. Strange because in some stories the core and active element of the stories are strange – like toilet or well or tumbler.

While some stories are strange, some stories are realistic like ‘Musical Chairs’ that tells about the feelings and dilemma of a lonely house wife. And, ‘An Unexpected Visitor', my favourite story in this collection. It beautifully tells about the tender, burgeoning bond between a little boy and his great-grandmother who was once a stranger. I adored Paati, the grandma. 

The most interesting thing about these stories is that they cover so many different perspectives. Some stories have even supernatural touch!

I really liked the opening story 'The Well' – mainly because it’s a very well crafted story. ‘The Wailing of a Toilet Bowl’ is a gripping story but honestly, I did not get it. ‘The Night the Owl Stopped Crying’ is one of my favourite that tells about Raju, a night watchman who feels terribly lonely and finally finds a companion in a ghost. ‘Mirror of Innocence’ is a simple yet nice story about a wailing child.

The title story, ‘The Goat Thief’ was a story that did not interest me. Other three stories were okay.

I felt that the writing has this distinctive tone of folktales, which is good because the blurb says, 'Set in the arid Kongu landscape of rural Tamil Nadu, these tales illuminate the extra-ordinary acts that make up everyday lives.' It’s commendable how the author manages to find striking stories in simplest and commonest things.

If you have read and liked this author, you must pick this one. If you haven't read this author, you should read this collection. 

Thank you Juggernaut Books for sending me this book (Paperback) for an unbiased review.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Book Review: Ravana Leela by Radha Vishwanath

© Written by Tarang Sinha

Ravana Leela – sounds strange as we always have heard of Ram-Leela. But, that’s the title of this new book by Radha Vishwanath. The title itself draws attention, and promises to be a unique read.

It has a powerful tagline - 'The One who forced God to become human.'

The story of Ravana Leela (Rupa Publications) is a unique take on Ramayana where author tells the story from Ravan’s point of view. It’s about his childhood, his relationship with his siblings, his love life, his aspirations, his achievements, his justification, and of course his journey from being a stubborn child to the the ruler of Lanka. Alright, we all know about it, so there’s nothing much to say about the story, but what makes this book different and interesting is its different approach.

When it comes to mythology, the story is not the star as we all have already heard/read about it. I believe that one thing that makes mythology intriguing is the lesser known characters/anecdotes. And, here this book is a winner! There are many interesting anecdotes, taken from various versions of Ramayana, which you might not have heard.

Writing is good, descriptions create apt imagery. However, it's a tad too descriptive for my taste sometimes, but it’s understandable that those details were somehow necessary for the development of the story, so I’m not complaining.

I like the way it started – the conversation between Dhara and Sumali. The kind of bond Saraswati and Narad share is endearing. I loved the way the author has concluded the story.

All the basic characters (of Ramayana) have been covered but this book is all about Ravana and Kaikasi –  their motive, aim and ambition, and transformation. Others, including Ram and Sita, are supporting characters. It also tries to highlight some social issues, voiced by outspoken Surpanakha.

Overall, Ravana Leela was a different read – a good reading experience. If you like reading mythology, you must pick this one.

About Radha Vishwanath

Radha Viswanath was born in Andhra Pradesh and spent most of her life in Delhi. Trained as a teacher, Radha entered journalism late in life. After a distinguished career as a political correspondent spanning three decades, she retired from active journalism. She has the honour of being the first woman journalist to be admitted in the long and distinguished category of parliamentary journalists, in 2006. An avid reader with a keen interest in Hindu mythology, she aims to bring the complexities of the Indian political discourse into intricate and rich mythological narratives

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Author's Interview: In Conversation With Saiswaroopa Iyer

© Written by Tarang Sinha

Today, I am in conversation with Saiswaroopa Iyer, author of two best-selling mythological fiction - Abhaya and Avishi. The most interesting thing about Saiswaroopa's writing is that she chooses lesser known protagonists for her stories - that's certainly a plus point for this genre.

So, let's talk! (And read her enriching and enlightening answers!).
Hello. Welcome to my blog. Please tell me and your readers about yourself and your writing journey.

Thank you Tarang :). I am an investment professional turned author. My first novel Abhaya started out as an exploration of Lord Krishna’s personality. He is my love since childhood (and probably in past and future lives too!). 

Growing up, I found that fascination turning into a drive to question, explore and I enjoyed the personal journey reading various interpretations about him and about Mahabharata. Same manifested in the form of a story. Abhaya explores the episode of Narakasura Vadha and that episode has a special place in my heart as it celebrates female valor and also raises a lot of relevant questions on gender parity. My book is an attempt to look at various interpretations from the perspective of a fictional character, Abhaya. 

My second novel Avishi explores the story of Queen Vishpala in Rig Veda who is one of the earliest known female warrior and the world’s first reference to prosthesis. I like my books to focus on lesser known episodes from our Vedas and Puranas. Expanding those episodes into full length novels sheds light on a lot of under explored aspects and gives us creative wings too.

Why did you choose mythological/historical fiction? Is writing in different genres on the cards? Apart from mythology, what’s your favourite genre?

Being the only child of my parents, both building their careers and doing their best to give me their best, I grew up listening to a lot of stories from our ancient history. Gods and historical personalities became my imaginary kin and kith since my toddler days (Confession: I still haven’t grown out of that habit!). I think the stories that manifest in my mind are basically their work. 

Apart from this genre, I like reading crime thrillers, romance and non-fiction. I am not sure whether I would write other genres because I love staying back in 2000 BCEs :D. But that said, I think it is important for me to challenge my own comfort zones and explore new shores as far as creativity is concerned. Let us see how things pan out. :)

Where do you get the inspiration from? Is there any book or author you find inspiring?

KM Munshi’s books and Kalki Krishna Murthi’s historical classics top the list as far as inspiration is concerned. I love their feisty female characters, the way they blend philosophical discussions, historical and social intrigues and keep the reader glued. That said, my inspiration is also highly internal. I need a character to come alive in my mind and compel me to write.

What are the challenges of writing mythology? How do balance facts and fiction in your stories?

The key to writing (or understanding) ancient literature is in understanding the macro aspects of the society and the choices our ancestors made. It is also about observing and understanding the legacy of poets and their motivations behind the varied interpretations of our Gods. Once we shed the lure of making opinionated conclusions and enjoy the process of study and enquiry, the creative liberty empowers us to explore interesting facets and aspects. An artificially motivated portion where the writer’s prejudices come in interferes with the readability. This is the reason why an involved reader would immediately feel alerted when a motivated paragraph makes its way into the writing. That said, reading, understanding, re-interpreting and writing this genre is a great journey. We grow a lot when we surrender to the characters and give them the lead to write their own stories.

What’s the importance of research in mythology?

Research is everything. But as someone who loves the genre, I don’t feel the fatigue of research and it often happens hand in hand with writing. The challenge is that some very good books which look deeply into the Vedic past are going out of print and we are left with a lot of politically motivated interpretations flooding. It is important to stick to scientific proofs and literary rigour and not to some colonial inspired invasion theories that took root in the 19th Century. 

For instance the so called scientific proof of the Aryan Invasion was just a bunch of 36 skeletons found in some excavations by some 19th century western historian with some very racist prejudices. I don’t know how our historians fell for that. Fortunately a lot of false assumptions are now being questioned and I hope scientific basis would be given preference and we shall discover our origins with more rigor. That would help our understanding and consequently fiction writing too.

What’s your pattern of writing? Do you plan before writing or just go with the flow?

Outlining helps me stay on track as well as pursue multiple story threads. When I begin a new project, I give myself the pleasure of ‘pantstering’ outtill I forge a ‘kinship’ with one or two of my characters. But after that, I spend some quality time outlining the story. My two level plot outlining has seen me past 3 manuscripts and I hope it keeps my productivity up during my future projects too.

Would you like to talk about your upcoming projects?

I am currently wrapping up my third work of fiction, a novella which is a sort of sequel to Abhaya but can be read as a standalone too. I want to explore shorter fiction for a while, something like the length of 20K-40K words pieces that can engage the digital readers more. Apart from that I am exploring the possibility of writing a historical series on the Eleventh Century Telugu King Raja Raja Narendra. But this would be a long term project as it would involve a lot of research and travel.

You are a successful self-published author. Would you suggest aspiring authors to self publish? Please share your experience & suggestions.

Self-Publishing is a great way to tell your stories to the world while circumventing a lot of ‘gate keepers’. To be honest, the traditional publishing industry experiences and operates through a lot of constraints we can’t even imagine. So I don’t understand a lot of this angry Self Publishing vs Traditional Publishing rhetoric that happens. 

There are also some very illiterate prejudices around Self-Publishing and some people don’t consider it ‘mainstream’. But I can say with reasonable confidence that being a Self Published author has taught me a lot about the industry and market, right from setting expectations and goals to pursuing ways to achieve them. 

Going Traditional or Self is a decision one has to make after due thought. But if an aspiring author makes this decision, I have the below advice:

Hire professional editor and cover designer and be prepared for the costs involved. The output should not give a less professional feel. It is important to listen to the advice of a more experienced editor.

Spend some time trying to learn how Amazon works. It is still the biggest market place for Independent authors. Many people resort to immature ways to gaming Amazon algorithms. But it is important to understand that such ‘games’ would be easily found out and Amazon penalizes such books which show artificial spikes. I suggest the ‘boring’ route of writing more books, learning marketing techniques the conventional way and mastering Social media at our own pace. Two books I suggest the aspiring authors to read are Lets get Visible by David Gaughran and 10 Step Self Publishing Bootcamp by Susan Kaye Quin 

Don’t treat writing books as a short cut to fame. Be there for a longer haul. Learn and grow with each book.

Network with other authors, share your learning and be generous with your appreciation for their learning.

Thank you, Saiswaroopa! Pleasure having you on my blog. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Shadow On The Stairs

© Written by Tarang Sinha

Many years back, we had a courtyard in our house, and our bathroom was situated in the far corner of the courtyard (Some people in India still prefer to keep bathrooms away for hygiene purpose or whatever). We needed to come out of our rooms and walk through the courtyard to reach the bathroom.  
I was in school. While studying until wee hours at night, whenever I came out of my room and walked toward the bathroom, my grandmother, sleeping in the room next to mine, would call me asking questions like “Where are you going?” or “You are still awake?”.
 One day I asked her “Why do you ask me questions every single time I am out?”
 She said, “So that you don’t feel scared.”
I didn't feel scared , but it made me thinking. True that! Darkness, silence and solitude enhance the impact of fear. Why is it so? I wonder. When you hear someone's voice (er..human voice), you don't feel scared even in the complete darkness or solitude.
 It was 3:30 am. I woke up before the alarm. I had to take an important test, so I wanted to freshen up. I opened the door of my flat and came out in the open courtyard. There were four more flats that shared the same courtyard. It was moonlit night. No one was awake. Crickets were chirping, breaking the stunned silence of the night.

I approached the tap and started brushing. Suddenly, my eyes landed on the stairs of another flat nearby. A woman, wearing white, flowing dress, sat on the stair. My heart skipped a beat. 

This fear is a monster, always ready to overpower you. We need to handle it bravely. 

In this condition there could have been two options.

One: I would have panicked out of fear and raced towards my room, closing the door with a bang.

Two: I could have given my conscience some time to think and analyze.

I chose the second option. With throbbing heart I had an intent look at the woman. Who could that be at this hour? After a few seconds of analysis, I realized that the woman was actually my illusion. Moonlight, filtering through the pillars, landed on the stairs in a peculiar way that it created an impression of a sitting woman.

Had I chosen the first option, I would have believed for the rest of my life that I had actually seen a ghost!

In maximum cases, ghosts are illusion. It’s just a state of mind, sudden fear and panic that tend to overpower our conscience and we fail to comprehend things logically. 

What do you think? Share your moments of illusions. Or have you actually seen a ghost?

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Book Review: Breathing Two Worlds by Ruchira Khanna

© Written by Tarang Sinha

Finished reading this thoughtful novel Breathing Two Worlds by Ruchira Khanna. The story of Breathing Two Worlds is about Neena Arya who goes abroad to fulfill her dreams and aspiration. She tries to mix well in the new world by adopting the new lifestyle and accent while having a live-in relationship with her boyfriend, Adan.

Sudden medical emergency strikes, and Neena heads home - to India - and her thoughtful boyfriend accompanies. And, here starts a challenging phase in Neena's life when she needs to balance the differences in the culture and mindset. How she manages breathing two worlds, balancing the differences? How does this medical emergency change the course of her life? You will have to read the book to know the answers.

First of all, I loved the title of the book. It's intriguing. The theme/plot is unique, thoughtful and realistic. People settled abroad have to face this tricky situation, I believe.

But, there are certain things that make this interesting plot a little plain. Considering the plot, I wish the story and situations were more imaginative. There is a scope for some witty/tricky situations as Adan belongs to a totally different country and culture, and he is visiting India/Neena's family for the first time. Sometimes, the situations seem hurried.

Talking about Adan - his character deserved more attention. The story revolves around Neena, and Neena only, however, I liked her character. She is caring, sometimes, practical and stern. I liked the way the author has portrayed an independent woman.

Also, I thought the dialogues could have been more interesting.

Overall, it was a thoughtful read. If you're looking for a light read, if you like family drama, if the theme of cultural difference interests you, you can pick this book.

I received this book from the author for an unbiased review.

Monday, October 9, 2017

What Ruins A Story? What Authors/Readers Have To Say

© Written by Tarang Sinha

The world of story is a wonderland. If told well, you can live them. But, not all stories are wonderful. Why? What ruins a story?

In this post, I'll be sharing some expert views on this topic.  Before I start, I'd like to clarify that when it comes to my opinion, I'm talking as a reader.

So, let's get straight to the points.

Boring Writing Style:

Writing style is not just about lyrical prose, it's also about execution and the voice that connects the writer to the readers, and this connection is crucial. Once I was reading a Literary fiction by an acclaimed author. While the writing was flawless, I did not enjoy reading the book as it was too descriptive, without any what next factor.

Beautiful storytelling is about interesting writing style and smart execution. No matter how interesting the plot is, a story does not interest me if I don't like the writing style or if the story isn't executed well.

Lack of Research:

Madhuri Banerjee, one of the most popular Indian authors (of 8 books), says, 'Lack of research kills the charm of the story.'

When we think about research, we tend to believe that it is needed only for heavy or some specific genres. The truth is - research (however, different kinds of) is important and essential for even a common story. It makes the story authentic.

Recently, I read 'Empire by Devi Yesodharan', a historical fiction. Even though I was not fond of this genre, I liked this book for it's a very well researched book.

Too Many OR Minimal Dialogues:

Dialogues are important but too many, unnecessary dialogues are boring and immature. Characters don't have to say something about every single thing. Dialogues should be interesting and witty; must indicate or reveal something about the characters and situations, plus they should move the story forward.

When it comes to witty, interesting dialogues, I'd like to mention dialogues of Will Traynor from Me Before You by Jojo Moyes and Jugnu by Ruchi Singh (that I read recently, and loved! If you enjoy reading romances, read this book).

Poorly Fleshed Characters:

When you read a story, the characters are your companion. So, it's very important the you feel that special connection with the characters. 

Kavita Devgan, author of Don't Diet and an avid reader says, 'As a reader, if you don't feel for them or even against them are a kill joy. You should feel invested in the protagonist and even the sidekicks. Like in The Spy by Paulo Coelho, one lives the life of Mata Hari along with her. That's good story telling.'

Overdose of Information:

A Writer is telling the story, right. (Most of) The readers are not writers, right. But, readers are intelligent enough to grasp what the writer is saying. Trust your readers. Also, sometimes overdose of information acts as spoilers.

'When authors giveaway too much information for a reader to process and then proceed with the story; it takes away the joy of reading' says Namrata, author of Metro Diaries, editor and popular book reviewer.

Slow Pace:

Slow reads are not my cup of tea.There are many unfinished books on my bookshelf, mainly because most of them were painfully slow, and I couldn't manage.

'In my very personal opinion, lack of pace or slow actions, and lack of intrigue ruin a story,' says Saiswaroopa Iyer, author of mythological/historical fiction Abhaya and recently released Avishi.


When asked on Twitter, Swati Rai, popular book blogger said, 'Predictable endings ruins the joy of reading.'

Unpredictability is one of the most important ingredients of a story. However if told well, I can enjoy certain genres like love stories, even though predictable but unpredictability, of course, enhances the pleasure of reading.

When it comes to unpredictability, I'd like to mention Sriramana author of Frankly Spooking for the 'what next' factor in his stories.

Lack of Coherence:

Clarity of voice is important. And, even though it's fiction, it has to be plausible. 'With coherent narration, everything just snuggles in place,' says Deepa Govind, a reader and blogger.

That's all for now. What's your take? Share your views.