Book Review — The Sacred Sword by Hindol Sengupta

Thank you Penguin Random House India for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

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Summary – The Sacred Sword chronicles the rise of Guru Gobind Singh, a Sikh warrior to be reckoned with. At the prime age of 9 years, Gobind Rai’s childhood came crashing down when his father, Guru Tegh Bahadur, was assassinated by the Mughals. In order to restore the Sikh faith in the minds of thousands of people, Gobind assumes the position of guru and begins to train villagers. He builds the Khalsa, a group of extraordinary warriors who mirror the values of Sikhism and fight to defend its honor. Despite all of his successes, the northern kings underestimate his power, plotting with Emperor Aurangzeb to defeat the guru. But they too learn by experience, what it is to cross Guru Gobind Singh. Hindol Sengupta’s novel merges history and fiction to create an empowering tale.

Review – Historical fiction is one of my all time favourite genres. I have never read anything by Hindol Sengupta, so this one was a pleasant surprise. Even though the author forewarns us that there’s a good mixture of fiction in the novel, I found myself rooted to the spot with all of the events I was learning about. I have never been exposed to stories about the Sikh community. And I felt like this book was great in conveying their values, mannerisms and other sensibilities. The fact that their sayings or proverbial phrases were even translated in English was a wonderful addition. You get to understand their religious texts and their perspective about God. Naturally, religion is a major theme in this novel. It poses quite a few questions about the clashing of two religions. In light of their outlook, you find yourself evaluating certain perspectives of yours. Further, the novel also explores elements like war, blind faith etc.

The writing style is refreshing and vivid. For a majority of the novel, I was so inspired by the portrayal of Guru Gobind Singh that I could almost imagine myself as a character in the story. Aurangzeb’s depiction did him no good. I wanted to punch him every time his narcissistic persona made an appearance. The battle scenarios were invigorating to say the least. All those who aren’t familiar with Hindi or Punjabi terms, fear not; there’s a sizable glossary at the end. While the story reflects Guru Gobind Singh’s expertise, we are not made privy to how he became so well versed. I would have liked to know about his upbringing and training. That would have made the story more realistic. Some of the poetry included is truly splendid. I really enjoyed reading The Sacred Sword because it was a worthy history lesson devoid of the monotony of textbooks. It is told from the point of view of Gobind and that makes it more special. If you enjoy historical fictions, PICK UP this novel.

What do you get out of it? Invaluable lessons about loyalty, bravery, the Sikh faith and the tyranny of the Mughals. Overall, a good update on Indian history.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review — Against All Odds by Danielle Steel

Thank you Pan Macmillan India for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

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Against All Odds comes together in the most seamless manner, portraying all the sentiments and decisions that knit a family close together. Kate Madison, after the death of her husband, has adeptly managed bringing up 4 children. She has also made a name for herself in the fashion world with the success of her clothing resale store, Still Fabulous. Now that her children are all grown up, she is more worried than ever, for they seem to be testing fate and making irrational decisions. Izzie, Kate’s oldest daughter, has fallen for a drug addict, with no job and no sense of responsibility. Justin, one of her twins, is planning to have children with his gay partner outside of wedlock. Whereas his sister, Julie can’t fathom the change in tide that threatens to rip her apart from her family. Willie, the youngest of the four leads a sparkling life, disparate from his family, who know nothing about his whereabouts. Despite her warnings, Kate’s children are hell bent on having their way and pay no heed to her. How she manages to protect them is a tale told in delicate and homely fashion in this novel by Danielle Steel.

Family drama is a genre right up my alley and this one was no different. It has all the makings of a winter, cozy read, while still exposing you to the alarming nature of some people in this world. It brings to light the woes of a single mother, who stops at nothing to prevent her children from making mistakes. Danielle Steel’s writing style is very comforting and easy to grasp. Her descriptions aren’t heavy, but just right. One thing I found odd is the repetitive sentences, i.e. a single sentence would be written in two different ways back to back, which made the paragraph a little monotonous. Some scenes weren’t as fluid as they could have been. Apart from that, I have no complaints. The way this story is narrated is quite different from Danielle Steel’s other novels.

The plot is wonderful and circles three generations of a family, along with their differing perspectives. Grandma Lou is a fun-loving character, without a worry and brings to life the term “wanderlust”. While she shares her daughter, Kate’s concerns occasionally, she has a more modern approach to parenting. Kate, on the other hand, takes way too much stress. I guess, it’s understandable. But at times, she’s bit of a hypocrite. Izzie and Julie’s characters were beyond my comprehension. They failed to see what was right in front of their eyes, particularly for girls of such high caliber jobs. I wished they had been smarter in dealing with their personal lives and had been more open with the rest of the family. I liked the section’s pertaining to Justin’s story a lot. His determination to start a family of his own perfectly reflects the values that were passed down to him. I loved the bond that all six of them share. It was the highlight of the novel. Willie doesn’t make much of an appearance in the book, except for the last couple of chapters. Initially, you are wont to think that Kate’s fears are irrational. But as the story progresses, I began to wonder if she was a psychic or not. There’s nothing extraordinary about this book, but the emotions that hold it together, makes it so endearing. I definitely enjoyed reading it and I’d recommend the book to all those who like Contemporary Fiction.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review — Dangerous Games by Danielle Steel

Thank you Pan Macmillan India for sending me a copy of this book for review. 

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Alix Phillips has always been a zealous reporter; racing headfirst into the most risky jobs. She cares little for her own safety and so is able to devote her every waking second to the tasks at hand – be it visiting terrorist laden countries or interviewing volatile protest groups. But when she gets neck deep into a political affair that threatens to impact the nation at large, she is forced to reflect on the repercussions of her action. Not only her life, but the lives of people she cares about, is jeopardized as a result of her daring. Danielle Steel’s Dangerous Games, while juxtaposing the ethics of a reporter to that of the corrupt morals of a politician, brings to the limelight the transience of human life.

I was positively intrigued by the synopsis and was even more pleasantly surprised to find that the novel does great justice to it. The theme of politics is explored to a certain extent, but not so much so that it becomes draggy. Alix’s job and her perspective holds the entire story together. Battling the constant odds of surviving, she and Ben make for an excellent duo. It was a matter of time before the inevitable happened. Tony Clark’s mien has been penned down so meticulously that, as a reader, I abhorred him wholeheartedly. I wished that a certain community of people had been represented in a better fashion, as they tend to be naturally compartmentalized as villains. The characterization in the novel is wholesome and somehow, in the span of 300 pages, we are able to see characters grow and flourish.

A predictable plot point, in this novel, is fueled after the climax, which I felt added uniqueness to the structure. Usually with suspense novels, the climax is the absolute ending of the book. Here, Danielle Steel goes on to tie all the loose ends. The way things are delineated in this book makes for an interesting play on concepts. There is very little stereotyping and a larger questioning of the boundaries set by society, with special emphasis on labels, education and societal norms. As the story progresses, we are forced to think about life, priorities and weighing the pros-cons of a predicament. All in all, it was a bountiful experience and I would surely recommend this book to those who enjoy a good suspense.

Ratings – 4 stars on 5

Meera

Book Review — Redemption by Laxmi Hariharan

I received an e-arc of this book for review, from the author. Thank you 🙂

Redemption by Laxmi Hariharan is a kaleidoscopic view of the new world inhabited by humans, shifters, vampires and other beings. Guilty of a horrendous mistake she made, Leana, curbs her inner-wolf, as she fights battles to win a livelihood for her orphanage. Rohan, her human cousin, is neglected by his family and finds himself in wrong company. Unable to remember anything from his past, Mikhail sets out to meet the one woman who caught his eye in the new world. Whereas, the Mayor of Bombay will stop at nothing to vanquish the villainous vampires that threaten to ravage her city. Little does she know what she chances to encounter in her war.

This book is filled with so many elements and wonderful concepts. I have always enjoyed a good paranormal fiction. This one goes above and beyond to incorporate the genres of romance, thriller, adventure into the meticulously thought-out plot. The idea of patterns and colours, as playing an important role in individual identity, is exquisite. It’s something that I have never heard of before. The author’s writing style draws you in and somehow, you find yourself sympathizing with even the most notorious of characters. Rohan and Daniel are sketched to be the bad guys and yet, at several points in the novel, I felt that they deserved better. I would love to read a novella featuring their story.

Leana’s plight is deplorable. She is haunted by the mistake she has made and is unable  to come to terms with her wolf-self. As the story progresses, her personality undergoes some changes and she becomes a stronger individual. Some of the themes that the book explores are redemption, abuse, LGBTQ, violence, power etc. One thing that irked me a bit was the fact that vampires are once again depicted to be the villains. I’d like to have seen a different perspective. I like how characters from the different books are woven into this story. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more content by the author. I recommend this book to all those who enjoy Supernatural Fiction.

Ratings – 4 stars on 5

Meera

Book Review — This Was A Man by Jeffrey Archer

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Thank you Pan Macmillan India for sending me a copy of this book for review 🙂

The final book in the Clifton Chronicles, This Was A Man is a finale like no other. Jeffrey Archer, effortlessly, brings together several generations of the Barringtons and Cliftons; binding them in a stronghold of family, friendship and love. While Emma and Harry Clifton are steadily climbing the ladder of success, knocking off obstacles with a flick of their hand, their granddaughter Jessica gets blinded by a carefree lifestyle, careening into a destructive future. Lady Virginia Fenwick plays the part of a puppeteer in an attempt to stay afloat at the cost of others’ despair.

Brother and sister are pitted against each other in their own battle for justice when Emma and Giles’ views on a bill demand their efforts to be poured into oppositional political parties. Whereas, fate plays its part in the lives of Adriane Sloane, Desmond Mellor and Jim Knowles, as a wicked turn of events has them scurrying to gather support. This last installment, applaudable in every right, is a reminder of the glory of a writer – be that of Jeffrey Archer or Harry Clifton – both of whom, have left a marvelous legacy behind.

Having read the previous book in the series, I was eager to know how everything would be concluded in this one. Even though the book opens with a mystery, I felt that the initial few chapters were a little slow paced and often, I found myself trying to hard to stay tuned to what was going on. I didn’t care much for the politics. But Jeffrey Archer is no ordinary writer. And I was buckled in for a thrilling ride soon after. One of the major brownie points that this novel garners is its characterization. The depth of character is evident as we follow multiple storylines taking place simultaneously. I particularly loved the sections with Jessica Clifton and Lady Virginia, because they were so unpredictable. Samantha Clifton doesn’t have much of a presence in the book, but that is alright.

This novel only gets better and better with each chapter. It engulfs you with myriad emotions at the most unexpected of times. Needless to say, Giles Barrington is a splendid orator. His speeches, his points of debate left me in awe of the power he possess to tide over his audience with mere words. I haven’t read the whole series and yet I was so drawn towards the book, I can’t begin to imagine the state of other Jeffrey Archer fans who have been following the Cliftons from the beginning. The bonds of family and friendship that have been highlighted are beyond commendable. So much so that I wanted to be a part of something as magnanimous. I definitely loved this book a lot more than the previous one. And would encourage you to pick it up, if you haven’t already. It will keep you hooked till the very end and when it does end, you’d be left with a feeling of something great that has washed over you and is now receding. Kudos to Jeffrey Archer! This Was A Man, indeed.

Ratings – 4 stars on 5

Meera

Book Review — Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Sarah Dessen’s Saint Anything brings to light the adverse effects of being neglected by one’s family and the importance of social support to build one’s esteem. Sydney has always felt disregarded, for her family only ever pays attention to her elder brother Peyton.  In their eyes, Peyton could never do anything wrong, after all, he is the very essence of good upbringing. Until he finally does. Even then, they refuse to acknowledge Sydney for being the mature, well-behaved daughter that she is. Overwhelmed by the untoward behavior of her brother, Sydney seeks solace in a new environment. She meets the Chatham family, who welcome her with great affection. They become her otherworldly escape; from the callousness of her mother, indifference of her father, remorselessness of her brother and leery ways of Ames, the “family friend”. A touching read, Saint Anything is like hot chocolate on a cold morning.

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I have always been a fan of anything and everything that Sarah Dessen writes. Needless to say, i grew up reading her books about introverted girls and handsome boys next door. Her characters and plots are the very substance that makes the content of psychology text books come alive. Through her stories, she stresses on the importance of family, friends and love in one’s life; the wonders that these three elements can do are shown exemplarily. Saint Anything is no different, if not even more lovely. The way Sydney’s story has been narrated, you can’t help but sympathize with her. Sarah Dessen’s writing style has always been on point. She draws you in and makes you a part of the story.

The only thing that bothered me a great deal was Sydney’s stubborn refusal to speak up for herself. She would tolerate the most excruciating of circumstances without a word, although, one can always consider that a brave endurance on her part. You can see some of the self-righteousness seep into her once she gets close to the Chathams. The entire family is so lovable. They were part of the highlight of the novel, for me. The Chathams aren’t pretentious or greedy. They are so beautifully simple. Whereas, Sydney’s family is so infuriating. They are careless and think of themselves to be mighty. This novel covers Sydney’s metamorphosis . I loved reading it and would definitely recommend it to all those interested in Contemporary Fiction. It was an absolute lyrical delight!

Ratings – 4 stars on 5

Meera

Book Review — Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross

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Set in 1880s Paris, Belle Epoque explores commercialization of beauty but with an appalling twist. In an attempt to leave behind her restrictive life back home, Maude runs away to Paris, with grand dreams prodding her escape. But the Paris of her dreams shatters to present her an unwelcome reality – that wealth and appearance are what elevates one’s status in society. By chance, she comes across a job opportunity that requires her to abandon all shame and pride, so as to work for the upliftment of the upper class folks. Will Maude give in to serving others while disregarding her esteem or weave a better future for herself at the risk of losing her means of survival?

This book was a gem from the start. Maude’s plight is truly deplorable and so I was more than overjoyed when she makes the acquaintance of Paul. Initially everything passes smoothly, even though she has to swallow her esteem. But soon, she is balancing two swords on her head, and any mistake on her part will definitely lead to chaos. The storyline is exceptional, nothing I’ve ever read before. It is not draggy at all and everything is narrated superbly. The author’s writing style is easy to get accustomed to and doesn’t distract you from absorbing the story. I found myself enjoying every bit of it. The author makes references to the construction of the Eiffel Tower and how some of the people in Paris considered it a monstrosity. This further reiterates the fact that tastes are always changing and what is of value at one point, need not remain so later.

Maude’s character has been penned down to be a survivor – strong and diligent. No doubt, she makes some silly mistakes. But with the concept being about embracing your flaws, I think the book sends out a wonderful message that is very relevant even today. Her friendship with Marie-Josee is a welcome reprieve. Marie-Josee acts like an elder sister and I felt that her support was what made the whole ordeal easier for Maude. Isabella’s character was refreshing, because not only does she stand out with her unconventional views but also because she fully makes use of the rebel in her. All in all, this was a lovely book; one that I would recommend to all who enjoy contemporary fiction. I will definitely be looking out for other works of the author.

Ratings – 4 stars on 5

Meera