Category Archives: readings

Tears of the Giraffe

Another highly entertaining novel by Alexander McCall Smith, he of the Mma. Precious Ramotswe of Botswana’s no. 1 ladies detective agency fame.

Languid, slow moving, engaging, simple language – the hallmark of McCall Smith’s writings. This time he has to factor in a case of a missing son of an American expat, her own impending marriage to Mr. J.L.B Matekoni the best ever mechanic of Gaborone. Add to that the ambitions of her secretary, Mma. Makutsi, who got 97% marks from the Botswana Secretarial College and the additions to their family even before their marriage in the form of who orphan children to take care of.

I like the way Ramotswe goes about solving the case as well looking after all other affairs including her own office with no hurry in the world. The Bostwanian pace of solving detective cases obviously hinges on kindness and empathy rather than the whole truth. Goodreads 5/5

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The Silent Coup

Josy Joseph’s “The Silent Coup – a History of India’s Deep State” is a brutally brilliant book exposing the flaws within the democratic structure of India.

India never had any history of a military coup since its independence, but this book shows that India’s security establishment comprising of its military and various intelligence and policing structures like the CBI, IB, state police, NCB are all deeply connected to the ruling party whomsoever it is whether at the centre or state. The security establishment creates narratives to favour the political executive whether it is at the beck and call of the political establishment or to curry favour with the political elite is not known but it is rampant and destroying the very moral and social fabric of a democratic nation.

In the process, innocent persons are randomly picked up as suspects under some draconian anti terror laws and held without bail or charges for years together. These poor people who cannot afford rich lawyers are then beaten and tortured in police cells forcing them to confess or kept for years together in cells denying them basic human rights.

Joseph has given various examples of such political party – security establishment nexus from the Gujarat riots of 2002 to the Kashmir insurgency, the militancy in North East, the Salva Judum case, the fiasco in Sri Lanka to a plethora of train bombing cases of Mumbai. The rot as per Joseph started from Indira Gandhi time and has continued unchecked but has assumed deadly proportions post 2014 with the government hell bent on creating a singular narrative.

Fortunately for many of the victims, the higher courts have come to their rescue throwing out the shoddy prosecution charges without any iota of evidence. The professionalism of the security establishment has been severely compromised in the process. This is a very difficult book to finish, what with such brutality being used by security forces against innocent persons in India. Goodreads 5/5

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Lasseter in Quest of Gold

A harrowing account of the expedition undertaken by Harold Bell Lesseter in 1930 in search of an elusive gold reef into the heart of Australia in its aboriginal territory.

Lesseter had apparently come across this gold reef as a young boy but forgotten about it for 30 years when he went about and into America in search of other jobs. But come 1930 he mounts an expedition in which several shareholders take interest, a company is formed, Board of Directors named and funds released for them to go into the desert in the hot summer months with Lesseter having only a vague idea of where the gold reef is located.

Skirmishes, fights between the members of expedition, harrowing tales of suffering from lack of water, trucks being bogged down in the marshy land, trucks breaking down, planes crashing and becoming derelict – all the sufferings and adventures become part of the history and the name Lesseter became famous in Australian legend and in the end the mystery regarding the gold reef remained what it was – a mystery.

Whether there was a gold reef, whether all this was a cock and bull story by Lesseter, whether he did find the gold and escaped or died in the outback – Interesting biography this, different from the usual ones. Goodreads. 3/5

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Hanuman: The Heroic Monkey God

An illustrated story of Hanuman, the heroic monkey God of the epic tale Ramayana.

Its a simple story of a monkey rescuing the princess from the clutches of the villain. On a metaphorical level its a story of hope, faith, confidence, devotion, belief, righteousness, goodness prevailing over evil.

A simple tale assumes mythological proportions and a simple devoted monkey becomes a venerated god. People pray to Hanuman to remove all the obstacles in their life. There are temples devoted exclusively to Hanuman and of course he gets his permanent place at the feet of Lord Rama, the virtuous king.

The illustrations in the book are absolutely exquisite and mind blowing. Goodreads 5/5

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Marilyn Monroe – The Biography

Probably the most detailed, exhaustive and explosive biography one can ever get of the enigmatic, beautiful and mysterious Marilyn Monroe.

Donald Spoto has done full justice to Marilyn Monroe by bringing to light all aspects of Marilyn’s life from her birth to her sad and unnecessary death. She had a tragic life for sure, being born an illegitimate child, with her mother leaving her to foster home at the age of 6 months itself. Father unknown and a history of mental illness from the supposed father side, succession of foster homes, being treated like a burden by the families, mother becoming a mental patient and incarcerated for the better part of her life in an institution.

From that emerged a star, hesitant at first, but with clutching to one friend after another, one affair after another not finding happiness anywhere. Succession of marriages with Joe DiMaggio the baseball star and Arthur Miller, the playwright, being the famous ones. Both marriages ended in fiasco with DiMaggio physically abusing her and Miller a mediocre playwright depending upon her for succor. In the end Joe DiMaggio was the one who truly loved her and understood her fully.

Psychological problems, health problems, one after another doctors, psychiatrists, all clinging like leech to her and using her for their personal gains, all selfish, ambitious at her expense. And then her nervousness in front of the camera, studio bosses berating her, blaming her for production losses – all that a girl alone in the world has to endure, she did it with equanimity without blaming anyone.

A really tragic story of a life snuffed out prematurely, possibly murdered because of jealousy and hatred. No connection to the Kennedys which according to Spoto was pure humbug. Brilliant biography of a troubled star by Donald Spoto. Goodreads 5/5

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Edward & Alexandra

A royal biography of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra by Richard Hough.

Bertie as Richard refers to the king in the book was the eldest son of Queen Victoria and Alix as Alexandra is referred is from the royal lineage of Denmark. They spend more than half of their life waiting to be the king and queen until the demise of Queen Victoria. They are into their 60s, when he ascends the throne.

As long as she was alive Queen Victoria did not deem it fit to give any important jobs of the state to Bertie but after her death he was more than anxious to undo the damage and got into hectic parleys with the rulers and kings of France, Germany and Russia which were not on good terms with Britain up unto that time.

Bertie was a devoted husband but he had his own mistresses by the side all through his life and Alix suffered for that. They had their own rich life with liveried servants, parties, races, luxury yatchs, and scandals galore though none from Alix side. Their grandson, another Bertie was the husband of the present Queen Elizabeth of England.

Too many names & characters in the book got me confused a bit at the beginning of the book. The monarchy is all related between countries in Europe. Kaiser of Germany of World War I fame was his nephew and Alix’s sister Minnie was married off to the Russian monarchy the Tsar, who went through much tragedy in 1917.

Goodreads 3/5

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The Innocent Bystanders

Spy thriller from James Munro a.k.a. James William Mitchell.

John Craig is a tough hard as nails British spy set out to find a missing Russian scientist who has the knowledge to convert desert into life. Impracticable as it sounds, Craig is on a mission and in the process he travels to Turkey, America, Cyprus with Department K following him with two young recruits, and Force Three also on his trail. KGB is also interested in the missing scientist.

The scientist Aaron Kaplan is one of the ten men who broke out of a deadly prison in Siberia of whom apart from him, only two survived the escape. Force Three sends in Miriam Loman as the all in one help of Marcus Kaplan, brother of Aaron, who has not seen his brother for 25 years. Joanna and Royce are sent in by the Department.

There are plenty of thrills and spills and action in this fast paced adventure thriller from James Munro. The action moves from one location to another pretty fast. My first one of James Munro, and its good. Goodreads 3/5

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The Vulture is a Patient Bird

Another one of those fast moving thrillers from James Hadley Chase, my favorite author of all time and my go to author when i am bored of other books.

He writes of a fixer/ arranger Shalik’s quest for recovering a 400 year old Cesar Borgia diamond encrusted ring which has poison embedded into it, for a client. He arranges four people to do the job to recover the same from the estate of Kahlenburg, an invalid South African magnate owning a vast house and an underground museum somewhere off Johannesburg. He is surrounded by Zulu warriors who move silently and stealthily at night and are accurate with their weapons.

Garry is recruited along with Ken and Fennel, the last one for his expertise in picking any lock in the world. He brings in a beautiful, sensational model Gaye who is the poison pill to take apart Kahlenburg.

How they reach his estate and how they escape forms the rest of the book, which in typical Chase fashion is fast paced and thrilling, to say the least. James Hadley Chase does’nt disappoint with this one. Goodreads 5/5

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W.G. Grace

Unarguably one of the best biographies on one of the greatest all rounders of cricket ever.

Simon Rae has done full justice to the man, a colossal of his times, the man singularly responsible for making cricket popular in its initial stages of development of the game. He was in one part responsible for the bitter rivalry between England and Australia and the Ashes urn, when he taunted Fred Spofforth during the 1882 test series when England required 85 to win and could not make it because of the some defiant bowling by Spofforth.

This book gives a detailed account of practically all of W.G. Grace’s first class matches including some club matches as well, his keen interest on developing Gloucestershire as a cricket team and later Crystal Palace, which did not fructify. Grace was involved in some of the rule changes in the initial era of cricket such as number of balls per over, declaration etc.

Grace started playing cricket even in his pre teens and went on to play it well unto his 66th year just a year before his death. Apart from cricket he was vigorously involved in fishing, shooting, golf, and in his later years lawn bowling and curling. The man had a massive appetite for sports and indefatigable strength to pursue it day after day.

The book also mentions some delectable innings by Ranjitsinghji the famous Indian prince who was unarguably India’s best batsman overseas and after whom the primary cricket tournament in India is named viz. Ranji Trophy. Ranji was a brilliant batsman in his own right until he lost sight in one eye due to a shooting incident and his later responsibilities as a prince of Jamnagar.

This book took a long time to read as Simon Rae has meticulously compiled each aspect of Grace’s life from his early years to his first class career, test career, sibling rivalry, personal life, personal tragedies etc. Grace was a phenomenal all rounder in cricket, more than even Gary Sobers, i would assume. He could grind the attack to pieces, defend it vigorously when the situation demanded and bowl over after overs sometimes the whole day. He was also a brilliant fielder at point position, his overall persona dominating the cricket field like nothing else.

Had W.G. Grace not been around in that era, cricket would have assumed some other milder form, i presume. Goodreads 5/5

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Sponge

This is one of the best business reads i have come across in a long time. Ambi Parameswaran has captured his years of experience at top notch advertising firms like Rediffusion, FCB Ulka to give us a masterpiece.

And he has said in a story form. Various stories culled from his vast experience in a beautifully written simple format. Every story is dovetailed into a theme with lessons garnered from that theme and plus he gives us book recommendations relating to that theme, so i have a long list of “to read” books, which i am going to delve into. The story headings are also very apt for each story like “The Chaiwala Test”, “Biases, Biases, Biases” etc.

Most of the stories have positive endings but a few of them not so good, but there are lessons to be learnt from them as well. So all in all, its an excellent book, the narrative is quite good and not at all heavy like many business/ management books. Goodreads 5/5

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Butter Chicken in Ludhiana

The tagline read “travels in small town India” yet this is most untravel travel book that i have ever read – “Butter Chicken in Ludhiana” by Pankaj Mishra.

This book is less of a travel book and more of the author’s observations of people in few small towns of India. The towns he visited is not even a representative sample as he randomly went across from one place to another without any plan or strategy. He does not talk about the cultures of a place, its monuments, gardens, food, style, like a typical travel book. Mostly observatory and partly imaginative, he writes of a new and emerging India that has been recently liberalised in 1991 (the book got published in 1995, so his writing must have been around that time after 1991).

His travels takes him to small towns where the aspirations of people were beginning to rise, they were getting more ambitious with a swagger of confidence coming by. But he invariably saw a lot of filth & garbage everywhere he went in the railway stations, hotels, roads, alleys so in a way this book is like a scathing indictment of new India.

What saves the book is the writing, Mishra has written beautifully, his narrative is flowing with his travels and his thoughts on various subjects. It is a very beautifully written book but not a travel book. Goodreads 2/5

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I am the Clay

Agonising story of an old couple in Korea fleeing the war as a refugee as Chinese and North Korean forces attack the South.

The old couple are on the road with their meagre belongings in a cart when they come across a boy lying in a ditch, wounded and barely alive. The woman suddenly feels compassion towards the boy and starts the nurse him whereas the old grumpy man wants to move along. They pick up the boy and lay him on the cart and the woman nurses him day and night.

The reach a refugee camp by which time, the boy has restored his strength a little and starts being useful to the old couple, though bewildered he is. On the way to the camp, they are forced to stay a few days and nights in an old abandoned cave, where the old woman thinks both the old man and the boy would die. But that does not happen and she feels the boy has bought them good luck. The boy fishes in a nearby frozen pond and brings back fish for them to eat.

They reach back to their own village and find it miraculously intact. By now even the old man is convinced that the boy has some magical powers so he urges him to stay on. But the boy has to go to his own village to find his people there.

Its a beautiful moving story of love, hope, courage, redemption, in a war torn country. Goodreads 3/5

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The Devil’s Feather

SPOILER ALERT: This is one incoherent rambling by the narrator who is a war correspondent with Reuters and suspects serial killings by a British contractor MacKenzie on women in Sierra Leone. She encounters the same person with another name in Baghdad and there were a couple or more of such killings of women in Iraq.

Connie Burns digs deep into this man’s antecedents and lands in trouble, she is abducted and held captive for 3 days but we are told about it in bits and pieces. Connie then retreats back to England, does not give the mandatory press conference, goes into hiding using her mother’s name and rents a house somewhere in rural England.

There she encounters like a crazy neighbour hood with Jess Derbyshire and a doctor and there is like a very complex web of stories around them. It goes back to three generations involving the landlord of the house, her daughter Madeleine, her painter husband. The narrative is terrible, it just goes on and on at odds and ends, half of which the reader does not understand.

The Baghdad / Sierra Leone serial killer comes back to her rural England house and again holds all three of them captive, he gets injured in the ensuing fight and disappears. Then the police keeps on questioning Connie on the whereabouts of MacKenzie suspecting her to have killed him and buried his body somewhere. Finally the misery ends. My first one by Minnette Walters and i am deeply disappointed. Goodreads 1/5

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Hornett Flight

Outstanding fast paced world war II espionage/ spy thriller from Ken Follett.

Eighteen year old Harald Olufson a bright kid with a lot of potential and likes to tinker with machines and engines. One day while returning home he does a short cut through an army camp of Nazis in the island of Sande to find some unusual kind of disc like equipment.

Meanwhile there is an underground Danish resistance movement against the Nazis a secret group called Nighwatchmen involving a group of Danish men and women. The British were losing a lot of their fighters due to German technical air superiority and a radar system which the British did not have at that time. Hermia Mount is the British officer directly involved in this espionage activity. She has a Danish boyfriend and speaks Danish language well, having lived there for many years.

Their main goal is to take photograph of the radar system of the Germans so that British can work on it to prevent their losses. Paul Kirke is the Danish air force commander who gives Harald his first flying lesson in a Tiger Moth airplane. Karen Duchwitz is a ballet student and her parents are Jewish and own a property in Sande, which includes an old disused Hornet Moth.

How Harald and Karen risk their lives to fly the photographs across 600 miles into Britain against some unrelenting Nazi fire is the rest of the story. Goodreads 5/5

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Tell No One

A fast paced suspense thriller from Harlan Coben “Tell No One”

Dr. David Beck, a pediatrician who is mourning his wife Elizabeth who was murdered 8 years ago. He starts getting mysterious e-mails with coded messages, suggesting his wife is still alive.

Apparently, his house and phones are all bugged by somebody who is interested in Elizabeth coming back. There is a background and a motive to it. Meanwhile his wife’s close friend Rebecca Shayles a famous fashion photographer in New York is killed at close range. Dr. Beck goes on the run against the police and assaults a police officer.

Dr. Beck is helped by his client Tyrese who is from the underworld and knows a thing or two. The plot swings like a yo-yo from one end to another. Its a convoluted story with lots of twists and turns and lots of suspense to it. The rich Scope family is somehow involved in all these things.

There is mystery to Dr. Beck’s father’s death 12 years ago and even his father in law a retired cop has a few aces up his sleeve. Everybody has a story to tell. Goodreads 4/5

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