Dec 22, 2015

The Cheongsam Bombshell (A Frank Keegan Mystery #2)- Book Review

Book Title: The Cheongsam Bombshell
Author: Aki Liao & Al McDermid

Publisher: Red Betsy Press
My Rating: ****
About the Authors:

Aki Liao was born in Paris, France, but is a graduate of Yale University (1989) . He received his M.A. from the University of Hawaii at Manoa (1993).

Al McDermid was born in Michigan, where he spent most of his life until joining the U.S. Navy upon graduating high school. Remaining in Hawaii when his tour ended, he attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa, receiving his B.A. (1990) and M.A. (1997) in History.

Their debut novel penned together- 'A Halo for Red Betsy' is the first book in this 'Frank Keegan Mystery' Series. 

The author-Al McDermid, now my virtual friend, sent me a Proof copy of this wonderful book sailing across the seas to me. I am hugely thankful not only because the author has been extremely generous in pampering the voracious reader in me (twice over) but also because there are so many things about this book that I connect with.
'Cheongsam'- this piece of Chinese garment is my personal favourite style of clothing and who knew it would feature on a book cover and in a mystery book series title some day. So that's one major reason why I was attracted to this book. 
Then the cover is once again beautifully hand-illustrated by Mark Anthony Taduran. Like book #1, I give another +1 * especially for the amazing book cover.
And the last but not the least reason that made me sit up and take interest in the mystery story was that Chapter One opens dated Sunday 25 December 1949. Christmas has a special place in my heart because its my birthday!!!
So with all these elements raising all my hopes and expectations from the book #2 in the Frank Keegan Mystery series, I must say that it did not fail me as a reader at all. 
Try as I might, I cannot stop myself from referring to the previous book in the series and comparing between the two books- #1 A Halo for Red Betsy & #2 The Cheongsam Bombshell. However I still cannot decide which I like better for each comes with its own flavour and page-turning intrigue.

The previous book had a slew of characters, each more interesting than the other, each etched more creatively than the other. The main protagonist- U.S. Navy Gunner's Mate and former San Diego Police detective Frank Keegan found himself unexpectedly involved in solving the murder of Navy Lieutenant Elizabeth "Betsy" Vale.  By the end of book #1, right after Frank Keegan, I was drawn and enamoured by one particular not-so-ladylike lady in the book- Julie Flynn. I had a hunch that the foul-mouthed young hooker who was apparently a less important character in the story, could easily keep the readers mesmerised if developed into a full blown central protagonist. And like they'd read my mind, Al McDermid and Aki Liao brought out book #2 of The Frank Keegan Mystery with my favourite character in the spotlight. 

 Julie Flynn has given up her raunchy lifestyle as a taxi-dancer. Still clad in her trademark Cheongsams that accentuate the curves on her body, Julie with her height,good looks and brook-no-bullshit attitude made for the perfect bartender at 'The Golden Lotus'. Just as she was getting comfortable in this new role, and also as Frank Keegan's steady girlfriend, Julie's estranged grifter mother-Elsa shows up out of the blue on Christmas Day. The very next day Elsa is found murdered in her hotel room and Julie inadvertently being the only witness to the crime is first attacked, and then framed for murder. Frank has to keep the head-strong girl under wraps while clearing her name. His efforts take him from the seedy world of Honolulu’s Chinatown to the home of one the island’s wealthy patriarchs, who may be shipping contraband arms to Communist rebels in the Philippines.

The Cheongsam Bombshell is also a fast paced and kind of racy murder mystery. The storytelling transports you to a very different world in Hawaii. If you are not able to build mental pictures of the locales, if you haven't watched enough of the Hollywood cop movies for reference then you just got to log onto the Facebook page launched for Red Betsy Press and feast your eyes on some gorgeous B/w images. Such is social media, a boon for the authors and their readers! 

What I have come to enjoy the most about the pennings of this author duo is the language used in the dialogues. It has an old world quality to it that definitely brings to the readers the quintessential flavour of the 40s'. Frank Keegan is an ex- Naval officer and the whole book is spiced with the lingo, probably used by the officers in those days. Not once do the authors let the present century slip into the storytelling and that is quite a feat! Also I have heard a lot of authors discuss how the first person POV is a difficult style to adopt for narrating an entire novel. I think, Aki Liao and Al McDermid seem to have pulled it off pretty neatly. They have not only employed a challenging style of narration but also maintained it, flawlessly, through both the books. 

The one and only downside of this particular book#2 is the sort of loose editing that has let more than many typographical errors slip in for eg. Officer Schultz is spelt as Shultz in many portions of the book. However that is something one can easily get corrected in the following edition, right?

By the time Elsa Flynn's murderer is revealed, there's an even more scintillating character gracing the scene. Is Frank game to play along with Carmen Devereaux, the patriarch's unstable, power-hungry  daughter and does it flourish into a steamy love triangle? Is there going to be a jilting end again to this book too? Will Frank Keegan once again find himself drowning his days in tequila, aboard his boat? 

I do hope this author duo has the book #3 ready and waiting to roll, soon! 

As per Good Reads, 'The Cheongsam Bombshell' is the 'least popular' book on my list of books read in 2015. I'd like to correct that title by calling this book as a 'Lesser Known' book on the shelf. I'm sure if given the right spotlight, this Bombshell can  make a lot of noise. And I already want to read more of the Frank Keegan Mystery.
Kudos to the authors and
 BOOKMARK this please, all you murder mystery fans! 

Dec 20, 2015

#IAm16ICanRape- Book Review

Book Title: #IAm16ICanRape

Author: Kirtida Gautam
Publisher: Read Out Loud
My Rating: ***1/2
About the Authors: Kirtida is a clinical psychologist turned screenplay writer who completed her education from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, India. Her passion for psychology and writing inspired her into writing psychological thrillers. 

This book has been the most unique read of all times. #IAm16ICanRape has been written by an author who seems to have a whole lot of spunk in her. Everything is gutsy about this book, starting from the subject to the style in which the prose has been rendered. I think writing an entire book in the present progressive tense is a mean feat. Also there are a whole lot of characters that are introduced with every new chapter. Each character gives us an in depth peek into their psyche by narrating their own story in the first person. This must definitely have been a brain wracking task for the author and it has a sort of similar effect on the reader too I believe. At least I found myself mulling over each new character's POV for a bit longer than I normally do. Well, then the subject is also such- thought provoking!

Rudransh Kashyap or RK Ji is an impressive patriarch and Aarush Kashyap- his 16 years old grandson is the sole heir to the gigantic empire established by him. The billionaire's life comes collapsing one day when he realises that the apple of his eye- Aarush, has been arrested and accused of a brutal gang rape. The story has been penned  in parts, often switching the sequence of events. And this keeps the reader on the edge of the seat. 
I however found that the sheer enormity of the book is a tad bit overwhelming. Since the subject is so intense, the story may have required that kind of elaboration and fastidious attention to details but half way through the book, I was tempted to give it up. 
Mujh se tu puch ne aaya hai wafa ke maane, 
Ye teri saada dili maar na dale mujh ko!
Kirtida Gautam has successfully woven Ghazal lyrics and also nursery rhymes into the fabric of the prose, adding flavour and variety. They uncannily fit into place too!
At 592 pages if you manage to read each and every word of it, this book is quite an epic in itself. Kirtida seems to have researched the various topics around which the story rotataes, like Indian Juvenile Law, Cryptanalysis, etc. Being a clinical psychologist, I shoudl have pre-empted that the storyline would be this intense. Quick, light, easy, such words will definitely not be used while describing the kind of reading material #IAm16ICanRape makes for!
Despite the volume of the book, the editing has been kept quite tight and the quality of the paperback is definitely good. I hope all the readers read and assimilate every last word of this painstakingly written book project. Soul-stirring in its format, this book has the potential to bring about a paradigm shift in Indian society.
Wishing the author luck for her next thriller in the making....

Dec 11, 2015

The Guardians of the Halahala- Book Review

Book Title: The Guardians of the Halahala
Book 1 of The Vikramaditya Trilogy
Author: Shatrujeet Nath
Publisher: Jaico Books
My Rating: *****
About the Author:
Besides exploring various business opportunities Shatrujeet Nath has written ad copy, and reported on business as a journalist and assistant editor at The Economic Times. 
His first book, The Karachi Deception, was published in 2013. The Guardians of the Halahala, his second book, and the first in The Vikramaditya Trilogy series, was published in 2014. At present, he is writing The Conspiracy at Meru, the second volume of the trilogy. 

Like a true blue Indian Mythology fan, one of the first few stories I grew up listening to and demanding of my mother to repeat every other day at bedtime, was that of the 'Sagar Manthan' or 'the Churning of the White Lake' as Shatrujeet Nath calls  it. I remember being enthralled by the story of how Lord Shiva of the Holy Trinity drank up all the poison or Halahala, to save the world from annihilation. Coincidentally, I still have a tiny story book in my collection, also from the Jaico Publishing House that I was very attached to as a child and remember having read it over and over again. Undoubtedly my favourite, that book was titled 'The Great Throne of King Vikramaditya'. Now you can very well imagine the kind of excitement I must have felt when I spotted all three words on one book cover- Halahala,  Vikramaditya and Jaico!

The Guardians of the Halahala opens with a map of Sindhuvarta and I'm already loving it. For me, maps attached with tales of a bygone era instantly transport me into the imaginary world, making the fictional tale a tad bit more believable already. There's also an Index of Major Characters that follows, segregating and listing the Humans, Devas and Asuras. A fleeting glance on this list and their quirky descriptions had me intrigued. The Index also told me, what a keen eye for detail the author had. These elements clearly confirmed that much thought had been put into the development of this saga. 

I just love this current trend where old Hindu mythological stories are being retold. There's a contemporary style of narration and the authors take the creative liberty of breaking away from the staid age-old beliefs established through legends. However the real beauty of Shatrujeet Nath's story telling came through when I began to forget the old and got completely absorbed by the new.

The Halahala was not completely destroyed and a small portion was sneaked by an Asura called Veeshada and incorporated into a weapon that would guarantee victory over the three worlds to whoever possesses it. Once the knowledge of that dagger is in the open, both the Asuras and the Devas covet it.  Lord Shiva turns to mankind to safeguard it from their murderous clutches and calls upon Samrat Vikramaditya  to protect Veeshada's dagger that had been lying in his custody. How the Samrat and his Council of Nine fight the forces of the Devaloka and Patala, led by Indra and Shukracharya respectively is definitely a masterpiece of a tale spun by Shatrujeet Nath.   

The tale of 'The Guardians of the Halahala' has numerous high points like the attack by the Maruts. The descriptions so vivid and the characters are so strong that I could see the battle scene unfold before my mind's eye. Oh! How beautifully the legend of Samrat Vikramaditya and his Council of nine or Nine Pearls has been revisited and presented in a new light. Amazing command over the language, apt usage of a rich vocabulary, a multi-layered but intriguing plot that unravels at a steady pace in all directions, together make for what we can easily call one of the best works of good Indian literature. Such penmanship  is surprisingly rare to come across among the present gen' of Indian authors. 
My favourite among the myriad impressive character sketches is that of the Mother Oracle. Though a comparatively smaller role to play, she adds that lovely flavour of mystic. My most favourite part of the book was Vikramaditya's journey into the Borderworld. What powerful imagination and creativity taken to another level with the Ghoulmaster.

"Good books don't give up all their secrets at once."- Stephen King
I think the author has taken this quote to heart while writing 'The Guardians of the Halahala', for every chapter that I finished reading in this book only left me more intrigued and wanting to read more. What happens to Vishakha? Does she recover completely? Will Vikramaditya be able to save Veeshada's dagger and keep it out of the Devas or Asuras hands? Will he be able to keep the Hunas and Sakas at bay while a huger task of protecting the dagger threatens his life? Does the war waged by Magadha on the Vanga in the south affect Avanti's future too? Will Shukracharya's real identity be ever revealed? Book 1 of the Vikramaditya Trilogy is a cliffhanger in entirety but I'm not complaining because I have grown up reveling in mystery and mythological stories. This book series here promises both! And that Shatrujeet Nath is able to keep the mystery and awe built up till the last word of the last page is a feat in itself. 

Try as I might, I'm not able to see any negatives in this book. Really! Only a nitpicker would be able to point out incomprehensible flaws in the narration. However I do wish there was more about Samrat Vikramaditya and his grandeur too. Read a lot of stories revolving around his magical throne so was looking to find that element woven into the fabric of the story. Would have loved to read more of the Ghoulmaster and the Samrat's interaction too, but guess this is just the first book in the trilogy and there's a lot to look forward to in the sequel!

It was a sheer delight to have received an author signed copy of the book and I must say that I'm in awe of the author's storytelling skills. Definitely, absolutely, looking forward to the next book in the series. 

Happy to declare, we have yet another MUST READ story series to collect and flaunt on our book shelves! 

Dec 10, 2015


Book Title: Mashenka
Author: Agnia Barto
Translated from the Russian by Avril Pyman
Drawings by Willi Trubkovich
Publisher: Progress Publishers 1976
Printed in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
My Rating: *****

MASHENKA by Agnia Barto

With this book my 6yo son + 3yo son (Together known as 'Udhishu'!) + I have set off to complete the ‪#‎100bookpact‬.
This book is a Russian publication- a 1980 EDITION!
So it basically means this book has been in existence even before I was born.
The whole of December carries the mood of Christmas for me.(Its also my birthday and hence the celebrational mood is in an overdrive! Teehee.... )

So what better time than this to let my children-Udhishu, inherit this book? I clearly remember Pa gifting me this poetry book among a huge pile of other great books for my third or fourth birthday and then mum would pick out one book for me and read from it.
I am immensely attached to the book and I know where my love for the verse and words comes from.
While Udhishu and I read from this book, my 6yo learnt two big but great words. He also understood how poetry can convey a simple yet beautiful story. Its about Mashenka, and how the little girl sees the world from her little curious eyes. In just a few words this poetry book actually teaches children to appreciate the beauty around. 

My 3yo just loved the illustrations and he had his own story to tell while I read the verse...LOL
SANTA CLAUS was and now is a tad bit more enchanting because of 'Mashenka'.

A little about this  ‪#‎100bookpact‬

 DO YOU WANT TO JOIN ME IN the #100bookpact?
Please feel free to embark on this beautiful journey....
(Please copy into your first post as a participant.)
Here are the guidelines:-
-To show case your love for reading.
-This is not a competition.
-There is no strict timeline.
-As you read, you post the picture of the book you read with hashtag #100bookpact.
-You get to know what others are reading and can pick up recommendations.
-You can include books that you have already read too. It does not have to be, from now on. If so make sure that these book have been something that fundamentally touched you in some/many ways.
-If you have a child, you can post your child's reading updates also.
In that case there can be repetitions too. My children take pleasure in reading the same book again and again and I believe that they dig deeper with every repetition.
Here is the format:-
(1) Add #100bookpact mark the book as 1/100, 2/100..etc
(2)Post front cover of the book
(3)Add review - optional
(4)Tag people who you would think would enjoy the book _OPTIONAL
(5)If it is your child you are posting for do #100bookpact 1/100 nickname/name of child.