Bestseller by Ahmed Faiyaz

The publishing industry does not garner nearly as much limelight as entertainment industries do. But Ahmed Faiyaz’s Indian contemporary fiction, Bestseller, more than makes up for it by adding heaps of glitz and glamour to an intriguing premise. Kalim Publishing is a sinking ship that has been nearly reduced to the position of swatting flies because of the great paucity of titles to be published as well as motivated personnel who could make that happen. Picture a decrepit building in some corner of Mumbai and three bored-looking workers. Into such a scenario steps the savior of the day; Akshay Saxena has recently been fired from his job as an editor of a magazine in the UK. In order to be able to go back and work on starting an imprint, he is tasked with the responsibility of making Kalim a successful business once again.

All was well and good up till the first chapter of the book. Thereafter, the appeal of the book was on a steady decline, as we are introduced to character after character who hold no real significance. I didn’t find an ounce of professionalism in most of the characters and they were supposedly experienced in their own respective fields. The entirety of the novel is colored by a very carefree, “chalta hai” (blase) attitude which undermines the importance of the industry. Because it gives you the impression that all sorts of funny business are brushed under the carpet in order to push a title onto the bestseller list. There wasn’t a single character I found likeable. Zorah tries too hard and before you know it, she and Akshay have begun an office romance that is at times unreasonable and otherwise, cringe-worthy.

The plot in itself could’ve been executed better. I was really looking forward to reading a well-structured novel based on the synopsis. But it felt like the author chose to fast forward over the parts that were the most important and instead focus on unconvincing aspects of the story like:

  • Akshay and Zorah’s romance.
  • The painfully demeaning representation of writers (all most everyone who approaches the publishing company either didn’t know basic English or had some ridiculous story proposal or employed tricks like seduction, blackmail to have their books published).
  • Akshay being caught in an elaborate tug of war between celebrities and politicians.
  • His rather silly plan to make the books sell.

Peppered by a couple of sentences in Hindi, the author’s writing style is the one thing I found moderately enjoyable. It has all the qualities of being colloquial and can easily be understood. However, there were a handful of errors that had been overlooked in the editing phase of publishing this book.

What ultimately got on my nerve is Akshay’s mental commentary. It follows you everywhere from the beginning of the book till the end. During his interactions with the various characters, his clear disdain for them is evident from his thoughts. So there are comments printed in italics in between conversations that show us what exactly he thinks about the person he is speaking to. And mind you, it just all makes him look like an arrogant imbecile who can’t fathom enough courage to speak his mind to his clients. Here’s a line that’ll help paint a picture in your mind about the kind of relationship Akshay and Zorah have:

This is easy, she’ll crib, I’ll say sorry and we’ll end up in the sack.

I’m sure it is apparent from this review that I was extremely disappointed by the book. There was nothing that made me smile or feel happy about reading it.

Note – This book was sent to me by Writers Melon in exchange of an honest review.

★.5

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A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi


Narratives on religion and the implications of shifting blame have been written time and time again. But what is extraordinary about Tahereh Mafi’s brainchild is the brandishing of a character, a 16 year old American girl of Iranian descent, whose integrity is questioned simply because she happened to exist in a time rife with terrorism and extremism. Before 9/11, Shirin led a relatively more peaceful life. But ever since the heinous incident set the world against those of Islamic faith, she too has been marked as the harbinger of all evil. She can’t set foot in public without having to hear racist slurs thrown her way, and for what? Choosing to display her religious inclination without fear?

Told from the point of view of a person of color, A Very Large Expanse of Sea is more than a YA romance. In all its honesty, it brings to us the extremely fickle nature of high school hierarchies. Even the hypocrisies that underlie societal behavior towards men and women of similar backgrounds is seen in the novel. It is apparent in the way Shirin and her brother, Navid are treated. While she is constantly battling remarks like, “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?”, he receives no such flak for being a Muslim. That begets the question, are symbols of diversity what propel people into deepening cultural barriers. Simply because Shirin chooses to wear her hijab and be empowered by it, she seems to remind everyone of her “otherness”. Moreover, the interactions, that Tahereh Mafi puts to paper in this book, are appalling enough to make you wonder if people are so blinded by fear as to fuel a fascist society.

Some of the things I really appreciated about this book is the inclusion of Persian words and a passing mention to a learning disability. You don’t really find that a lot in books. I was really pleased to read about a family that hadn’t allowed modernization to scrape away at their roots and traditions. The author’s writing style is crisp and straight forward. Shirin’s voice appears to be blunt at first, but her increased attachment to Ocean thaws her resolve and by the end of the book, her personality changes a bit.

One of my biggest pet peeves with regards to stories is having a character make sacrifices on the behalf of another (for the betterment of another) and I was quite afraid that was going to happen in the book. While Ocean is an incredibly supportive and open-minded character, it was Shirin’s story that appealed to me more; her struggles and her opinions. All in all, I would definitely recommend reading this book for the sake of the themes it juggles with, not necessarily for the love story aspect of it.

★★★★

Book Review — Fortune’s Soldier by Alex Rutherford

If I’ve learned one thing about Hindustanis, it’s their endurance, their patience. When I hear my fellow officers whining on in the mess, I think how much we could learn from these people if only we wanted to… if only we made an effort…

Nicholas Ballantyne was meant to enjoy his life in Glenmire, Scotland, but when an unprecedented move on his uncle’s part sends him across the world to Hindustan, he becomes deeply involved in the changing political scenario of the nation. As an employee of the Company, Nicholas ventures into the heart of its presidencies in Calcutta and Madras. It is there that he displays the true meaning of loyalty and humility, racing from one battlefield to the next, protecting those he loves and serving the Englishmen who’ve given him a chance to rebuild the name, Ballantyne.

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

I enjoy reading historical fictions and this one features my homeland, so of-course I wasn’t going to pass it up. Moreover, it promised a great deal of adventure surrounding the operations of the East India Company in the 1700s. That is a subject I’m not very familiar with and so, I couldn’t wait to see how Alex Rutherford would combine this fictitious storyline with the recounting of events that actually happened in world history. What impressed me from the very beginning is the authors ability to characterize Nicholas in such a way that he becomes a full-fledged, realistic person, one who begins to surprise you with his strength of character. And I feel that it is this very quality about the writing style that prevented the entire tome from being dull. Even though we read about many battles and war council meetings, I wasn’t bored of it (barring the last couple of chapters) because I was fully invested in Nicholas’ as the lead.

The writing style is not over the top and neither is it too simple or plain. It doesn’t make allusions to any event or occurrence in a way that leaves you perplexed or unable to proceed reading the book without a quick dash to Google. That was another aspect that made me the like the novel. Apart from Nicholas, I enjoyed reading about Tuhin Singh. He is a respectful steward and friend to Nicholas, often shown to be just as (if not more) brave and has strong opinions about the Company’s operations in Hindustan. He is not easily fooled or subjugated. I felt that Meena’s and Lucia’s characters were not explored enough. They could have played a more significant role.

From the beginning, we know that Nicholas is going to be this heroic character, and so it is the stories of Robert Clive and George Braddock that introduce the themes of greed for power, communal rivalry, corruption, betrayal etc. This book also brings to light the opinions of several Mughal rulers towards Hindus. And so, religion is evidently a common symbol throughout. By the time I’d read past page number 350, I was getting worn out by the sheer quantity of battles that are spoken about in this book. That said, I appreciate the ease with which these stories are delivered to us. A majority of this book makes for a very immersive read which will surely have your rapt attention. Nicholas’ adventures were thrilling to read about! And so, I’d definitely urge you to give it a try, if you are interested in historical fictions.

Rating – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? An insightful story about the East India Company’s interest in Hindustan and the resultant changing dynamics within the nation.

Book Review — Land of the Living by Georgina Harding

Georgina Harding’s war narrative seeks to remind us of the debilitating nature of such crimes against humanity. By positing a husband-wife duo at the centre of her novel, Land of the Living, the author allows us a glimpse of how intricately the trauma following war permeates a relationship.  Charlie’s experiences in the Battle of Kohima haunt him till date and Claire’s attempts to get through to him, comfort him remain futile. This unforgettable story takes on more meaning with the recurring themes of memory and grief.

My foray  into WW2 fiction has been very limited and as with any book containing sensitive topics, I didn’t know what to expect. But from the very beginning we get familiarised to Georgina Harding’s feathery writing style. It focuses quite a lot on elements of nature in a way that is meant to add to the ambience of the novel. And that was one reason I wasn’t hooked to the book. This kind of ambient writing is not for me. The chapters aren’t very long and are split into separate sections, each of which are different observations or happenings. So there isn’t a linearity to the narration.

I particularly enjoyed reading about the Naga tribes. The parts where those instances were being recounted added some flavour to the book. It is interesting to observe how these people take on roles of healers and nurtures immediately without a care for treating him as an enemy or being hostile towards him.

It is also heartrending to read about Claire, because she is shown to be a supportive wife, who doesn’t demand a great deal from him and is always trying to be understanding. But her affection is not really reciprocated, since Charlie is still battling with his own emotions and thoughts.

I felt that the strong imageries of the environment sort of overshadowed the important parts – Charlie’s memory, his connection with other characters. Another note you should keep in mind is that the dialogue in this book, although very minimal, is not put in quotation marks. So that was a unique reading experience. It is left to you to realize at what moments a dialogue would pop up in between observational passages. On the whole, it is definitely worth a read because of the subject matter that is dealt with and the way it has been written. The writing style may or may not suit your tastes, but give it a try!

Rating – 3 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? An atmospheric narrative about how war affects people who’ve had first-hand experience, as well as those who know the survivors.

Book Review — Goodbye Freddie Mercury by Nadia Akbar

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Nadia Akbar’s debut novel, set in Pakistan, narrates the stories of the youth, as they grow up in a society ripe with corruption, volatile politics and gender bias. Nida and Bugsy are two such teenagers whose lives get entangled when they meet at a party. After her brother’s death, Nida has grown estranged from her family and chooses to spend her days smoking one joint after another. Bugsy is an RJ trying to harmonize rock music into the music scene in Lahore, a place that is still clinging to the tunes from years gone by.


Other than its hypnotic cover, the title and the premise of Goodbye Freddie Mercury were what drew me to the book. As I kept reading, I began to realize that there wasn’t a specific plot governing the storytelling. There was no discernible start, mid and end to the narrative; no conflict or climax driving the novel forward. Instead, it flowed with the ease of a story gradually unraveling at the touch of a reader. The author’s writing style is very poised and at the same time, makes frequent use of Hindi and Punjabi slang; thus catering to the readers of our subcontinent. It is also observant in its descriptions and fills in necessary details of the surroundings during a scene.

On the surface, this is a typical youth drama fiction. There’s a whole lot of drug and alcohol use, sexual content, petty rivalry, stereotypical characters. The extent to which the characters in this book are shown to be inebriated is quite alarming, considering the fact that they are barely young adults. Nida is your quintessential new girl, who quickly gets assimilated into this group of friends when she starts dating Omer, the supposed leader of the pack. The impression I got from her character depiction is that she is often not mindful of her actions, she doesn’t really stop to think what’s good for her and make choices based on sound judgement. Omer is a rather distasteful spoilt character, objectifying others and paying no heed to consequences. I had placed all of my faith on Bugsy to be somewhat more mature than the others. He is a lot more approachable and considerate.

All throughout, I was wondering how the title connects to the novel. Towards the end, you begin to understand the deeper meaning and I was super impressed. I wished there weren’t as many stereotypes in the book. On the whole, I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to everyone solely on the basis of how different the style is. It is more realistic and raw than you’d expect it to be.

Ratings – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A novel about teenagers from the upper echelons of Lahori society, where insobriety and abuse of power are the norm of the day.

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

Book Review — Legends Over Generations by Ashraf Haggag

Legends Over Generations is a nonfiction book that highlights the contributions of various global leaders in fields like art, literature, science, human rights, politics etc. Each chapter is dedicated towards bringing to light basic facts about the life, upbringing, education, career and legacy of these revolutionary personalities.

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I found this book to be extremely insightful. There’s not a lot of information, just the necessary facts about all the individuals. That said, in certain chapters, the narrative was fluid and story like, whereas in some others it felt like a research report because of the chunks of factual information put together paragraph after paragraph. If you want to make the most of this book, then read it slowly, maybe a couple of chapters a day. That way you’ll retain maximum information.

Some interesting additions to each of these chapters were the quotes section and the signature. Looking at the signatures of so many influential people made me feel like I was going through historical documents at a museum. I understand that it’s never easy to compile a list of important historical figures because there are way too many of them, but I wish the author had included a couple of Indians who have been prominent in the arts and literature fields.

My favorite section was the one about human rights activists. If you wish to brush up on some basic G.K, then this a perfect book, give it a try!

Ratings – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? Basic knowledge about some trailblazers like Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Edison, Martin Luther King Jr., Ava Gardner and more.

Thank you Blue Rose Publishers for sending me a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review. 

Book Review — The Soldier Prince by Aarti V. Raman

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In The Soldier Prince, we come to read about Prince Alexander Heinrickson of the Royal House of Stellangard, who is not in the least bit interested in putting on the princely attire and carrying out the duties of the royal family. The loss of a loved one pushes him to swap that life for one in the military as a soldier. But when a fated catastrophic encounter with the attractive Sasha Ray threatens to expose his true identity to the world, he must rush back home and let his family handle the matter. Sasha is a waitress who, apart from being curious about her regular customer, has no clue as to what she is dragging herself into when she jumps at the chance to save Alexander from a possibly fatal incident.

I actually really enjoyed this book, more so than I’d thought I would. It’s much more than just a romance. It’s about one’s duty to their family, their nation. It has a couple of action scenes as well. The writing style is compelling and makes use of sufficient descriptions, which had me really excited because well, a majority of the book is set in the snowy clad terrain of the Swiss Alps. We’ve seen and heard a lot about forbidden love stories and so, the main plot wasn’t very unique.

My favorite part of The Soldier Prince is not the inevitable romance between Alexander and Sasha, but the subplot involving the royal family and their lives. The setting also added to my enjoyment of the book. I even liked Sasha and Alexander separately because of their character compositions. But their relationship was not something I was entirely convinced about; parts of it were downright cliched. And while you could take this book as being just about their connection and how their relationship evolves over time, I was able to set that aside and appreciate this book based on its stories about individual characters.

I really liked the bond between the three siblings – Michael, Alexander and Lena. The little glimpse of Princess Lena that we get from this book interested me enough to want to know more about her. The treatment of the royal family is not stereotypical, which is something that impressed me. Because usually when you talk about monarchies, there’s atleast one snobby person in the family who looks down upon commoners and is arrogant, but in this case, all of them were very welcoming towards Sasha, they’re polite and respectful towards others.

Depending on how much you enjoy romance – contemporary fictions, I would surely recommend this book to you, because it’s a delightful read! I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A charming story about love, family, and duty.

Thank you Aarti V. Raman for sending me an eARC of your book in exchange of an honest review. 

Book Review — A Cage of Desires by Shuchi Singh Kalra

Shuchi Singh Kalra’s A Cage of Desires comments on the state of Indian marriages within a conventional family, while giving wings to the sexual identity of a woman. Renu is a married woman who, between taking care of her children, her father-in-law and the house singlehandedly, finds no relief for herself. Her loneliness and lack of affection in a loveless marriage urges her to get lost in the words of renowned erotic fiction author, Maya. This novel draws parallels between a woman subdued by patriarchy and a woman who is unafraid to give voice to her fantasies.

From the synopsis itself, I was intrigued by the premise of this novel because it promised a contrast in female character types that I’ve never read of before. We are introduced to the two personalities and how they differ from each other. Renu is shown to be meek, she doesn’t speak up for herself when she is mistreated by her father-in-law and husband. This habit  of hers doesn’t prepare her for the continued suffering she gets subjected to. Maya, on the other hand, is someone who knows how to put people in their place, is extremely confident and unapologetic about her desires.

I didn’t like any of the characters in this book except for Renu’s friend Akriti. From the moment we are introduced to Arjun, I knew he was a good for nothing character. All of his portrayed charm signaled warning bells in my head. Renu, to me, came across as someone very selfish and often negligent of how her actions would reflect on her children. She has no self-respect and clearly doesn’t care enough about herself to keep from going back and forth between two horrible choices. The writing style is not flowery and distracting; you can breeze through the book. The chapters are short and comprise of some colloquial usages.

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There’s a hint of mystery in the beginning that gets resolved by one third of the book. What I liked about the book is that it highlights the plight of married women doing thankless jobs and that it also strongly puts forth the idea of women owning their sexuality. But maybe if it had done so in a more appealing and ethical manner, I would have loved reading this novel. As of now, it’s my strong dislike for the characters that left a bitter taste. I wouldn’t say it’s a bad book, but I’d hoped to enjoy it a lot more than I did.

Ratings – 2.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A taste of hypocrisy and patriarchal beliefs held by old-fashioned Indian families; a glimpse of what women have to go through to be heard and accepted for who they are.

Thank you Shuchi Singh Kalra for sending me a copy of your book in exchange of an honest review. 

Book Review — Who Owns That Song? by A.R. Venkatachalapathy

C. Subramania Bharati is a renowned Tamilian poet whose works spoke of nationalist sentiments and paved the way for the future of poetry in Tamil Nadu. Who Owns That Song? chronicles his journey as an artist and how his works changed hands a few times before finally being released by the government into the public domain, free of any copyright claim. A.R. Venkatachalapathy’s nonfiction also introduces us to the early stages of the media industry in India.

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Having studied about copyright in class, I was really interested in understanding the role of copyright in the consumption of a piece of creative work. Divided into 4 concise chapters, this book tells us about Subramania Bharati’s life as a writer and then proceeds to recount events concerning the publication of his works. The writing style takes on the tone required in a nonfiction and yet possesses the quality of being fluid and engaging.

As I was reading this book, I often felt myself light up with pride on learning just how passionate he was about writing and how much he contributed to society with his writings. At the end, you’ll find some of his poems and I loved them! What I didn’t like much about the book is that I felt it clubbed together the stories of too many people involved in the process. Of course I understand that it is important to know the role they played in either purchasing the rights to Bharati’s works or striving to make them copyright free, but every chapter was further divided into sections about these people. At times, it felt a little textbook-ish because of the amount of details packed into a page.

That said, this book begets the question of whether an individual’s work (regardless of the subject matter and how much of an influence it has on society) should ever really be dropped into the public domain for people to make use of as they wish. And also, should any one person unrelated to the artist be allowed to own the rights to the artist’s works? Shouldn’t it naturally be passed down generation after generation as heritage? The character of Bharati as portrayed in this book is one of an intellectual man. I wonder what he would think of all the tug of wars that took place. Who Owns That Song? is definitely a very insightful read and I would recommend to all!

Ratings – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? Knowledge about C. Subramania Bharati as a writer and how his writings underwent copyright battles before finally being declared public property.

Thank you Juggernaut Books for sending me a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review. 

Book Review — Swear You Won’t Tell? by Vedashree Khambete-Sharma

It was supposed to be one press release. That’s all the tolerance Avantika Pandit, Bombay based journalist, had built up towards her school time archrival, Aisha Juneja. But that one event exposes her to the astounding news of her old bestfriend’s death. This discovery sends Avantika hurtling towards the people from her past, whom she had been glad to see the end of. And as she gets closer to understanding how Laxmi Swaminathan passed away, she begins to comprehend just how far from the truth she had been straying, inevitably placing herself in grave danger. Vedashree Khambete-Sharma has spun an engaging tale of women who still carry the scars from their younger days.

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With a protagonist as sarcastic and unapproachable as Avantika, this book could easily have been one of those cases where the plot is great but the main character spoils all the fun. However, that is totally not what happens. A couple of pages in, I was already inching towards disliking her for her callous behavior, when the author takes us back to the 1990s i.e. Avantika’s childhood. We come face to face with a character whose experience with bullies has compelled her to build an armor of steel as a defense mechanism. And all throughout the book, the narrative alternates between the present and the girls’ school years.

Being a media student and a 90s kid, everything about this book appealed to me. I could relate to the references made about campus culture, the lingo used in Indian English medium schools etc. Something I particularly loved about this book is its tone, that is the narrative through Avantika’s voice. It is colloquial and upfront, witty and attuned to Indianness. Undoubtedly, there will be moments when you can’t help but crack a smile at the humor imbued in the writing. I felt strongly about Avantika’s past, having had to deal with girls like Aisha who are drowning in their sense of entitlement and corrupt mind.

A couple of things I wasn’t a big fan of were Avantika’s possible chemistry with Aisha’s brother, the high school clique representation where one of the girls had to be shown as daft, gullible and Laxmi being given this clean chit for never standing up for her former bestfriend (Avantika). Of course, at the root of it, this book is a mystery fiction. And it’s no wonder that I finished it in a day. Fast paced, thrilling and finally, surprising, because that’s an ending I would never have thought of, even though it makes some sense. I really enjoyed reading Swear You Won’t Tell? and I’m sure you wouldn’t want to miss it! So pick it up now!

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A suspenseful story explored through the perspective of a snarky journalist.

Thank you Writers Melon and HarperCollins India for sending me a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review.