Book Review, Books

Book Review – The One From The Stars by Keshav Aneel

When I watched the excellent cinematic trailer of this book a few months ago, I knew Keshav Aneel, the bestselling author of Promise Me a Million Times, had come out with another masterpiece.

The cover is gorgeous, enticing any potential reader, and along with the blurb, it sowed seeds of intrigue in my heart. I began reading with interest, and within a day of receipt, I finished it—the book is so well paced and captivating. When I put the book down beside my pillow after reading it, my eyes were wet and my heart was fluttering. It took me a while to rein in my emotions and calm myself.

Once again, this young author has done a phenomenal job. I must say the protagonist is one of the best characters I have ever encountered in the world of international fiction. Vishesh is extremely realistic and beautifully etched. He has some flaws and weaknesses (thus making him more real), but he is so adorable that he makes space for himself in your heart and compels you to root for him. Even the supporting characters—his parents, his girlfriend, and his friends—are well written, thus adding to the charm of the book. The emotional conflict of the protagonist with his loved ones and the struggles that he has to face while chasing his dreams is described so realistically that you can totally relate to it, especially if you belong to an Indian middle-class family.

Throughout the book, as is expected now from Keshav Aneel, wonderful motivational quotes come to greet you and teach you valuable life lessons. The language is lucid, simple, and thus perfect for a short book like this. The ending is also wonderful, and I’m sure that any mildly emotional person will be reduced to tears.

‘The One from the Stars’ is a memorable, inspirational, and emotional book, and I would recommend this to readers of all fiction. 4.75 stars from my side.

inspiration

The Need for Inspiration

Although it may sound like a cliché, we need a lot of inspiration in this brutal, competitive world of today. The burden of unfair competition and expectations falls on our shoulders from our very childhood. Fighting against that, we grow up and finish our education. Even after that, more challenges are ready to greet us. Searching for a suitable job, finding a life partner, saving your marriage, everything is a challenge. Somewhere in between, failures rear their ugly head. Sometimes they just prick you, allowing you to proceed on your journey. But sometimes, they gain such frightening enormity that they choke the life out of you, sucking all positivity from within you. You feel lost, helpless, and your will to fight disappears like a whisper in the wind.

That is when your soul needs the drink of inspiration, the touch of positivity, the voice of encouragement to help you get up and move on. That is when you need to seek out these sources rather than sitting idle and thus allowing the hopelessness to devour you. You need to talk to your friends and share your pains, let out that frustration from within you. You need to find a source of enjoyment in your life, any passion, any hobby, whatever you like doing, and immerse yourself in it. You need to look for other career options if your current one is not working. You need to try harder to maintain certain relationships, and if they are not working, brace yourself to let go and move on. You need to read or watch inspirational books or movies, go through motivating quotes and try to inject that positivity into your life. You need to understand that millions of people are out there suffering more than you are. Some are blind, deaf, disabled, some are orphans, some don’t have shelter, some are penniless. At least you are better than them in some form; at least you can treat your vision to this beautiful, colourful world; at least you can listen to a plethora of magical sounds; at least you can walk and run; at least you have enough money for a decent life.

So why don’t you buck up and try to make something better out of this precious life that God has given you? Why do you want to end it or destroy it by indulging in alcohol or drugs? Try your best to move on from your personal tragedies, your failures and try to bring your life on a right track. I know it is easy to say encouraging stuff from a third person’s point of view and sometimes it is difficult to gather yourself in dark times.

But you have no other option than to hang on to a thin ray of hope.

Book Review, Books, Uncategorized

Book Review – Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

Although I was aware of the existence of this book—I had seen it mentioned in a few articles on Facebook—it was only after a suggestion by Raman Shrestha sir, owner of Rachna Books, the local bookstore at Gangtok that I visit often, that I decided to try it out. The blurb doesn’t betray much about the story, so when I began reading the book, I had virtually no idea of what lay in store for me.

By the end of the first few pages, though, I was immersed in the story. Although the language is simple, it is laced by a unique grace and elegance. It flows so naturally; there is no pretense and effort seen in most commercial and even some literary reads. The narration is brilliant and classy. Although almost the entire story is “told” by the narrator, betraying the show-don’t-tell rule, this being a short novella, probably this was the best way to fit the story and show everyone’s perspective. Nevertheless, the scenes that are reminisced are never left incomplete or rushed. Every emotion, every feeling of the narrator, is told in satisfying detail. The humor is wonderful throughout. I even laughed out loud in several places; the wittiness of the author is admirable. This type of classy situational yet black comedy is rare in Indian fiction. I loved it.
The characterization is exceptional. The shades of gray in every character are painted with commendable expertise. I could relate with each and every one of them. They are so genuine that they bear scary resemblance with people whom I’ve encountered in real life. The adorable helplessness of the narrator is also portrayed so beautifully. I really felt for him.

The editing, as expected from a big publisher like HarperCollins, is top-notch. Although I tried a lot to locate grammatical or punctuation errors—it has sadly become a bad habit now—I couldn’t find even a single one in this book. It felt amazing to go through such a well-manicured novel.

The ending is also perfect for a mystical book like this. It is open-ended, leaving several questions unanswered, but it is still strangely satisfying, leaving you wanting for more. For the whole day after reading the book, the ending and the several possibilities that could have transpired kept haunting me. I must thank Raman sir for recommending such a wonderful book to me. This book has got an award, and deservedly so. 4.8 stars from my side.

 

Books, Uncategorized

Ten Writing Tips for Fiction Authors

I have been writing for the past few years. In 2015, I authored a novel and got it published by a small publisher. However, as I began getting reviews, I realized the monumental blunders that I had committed, as far as writing is concerned. Over the years, experience has enabled me to cultivate certain writing tips that I would like to point out so that it could be of some help to aspiring writers.

  1. Avoid big words and read extensively before beginning writing: In order to be different from other commercial authors, I committed a huge mistake in my first book: I used a lot of big words. Perhaps, it was one of the primary reasons that my book failed to be lapped up by prospective readers. The idea of using big words came to me when I read a book containing flowery language and happened to check out its review in Amazon. The reviewer stated that this is the kind of writing that young authors should emulate rather than trying to copy the bland language used by popular commercial authors. Misguided, I began to use big words, hoping publishers would be impressed by my vocabulary, but alas, it turned out to be a blunder. Later, after the debacle of my first book, I began reading some critically acclaimed books. Strangely, before writing my first book, I had not read many books. I’d just read a couple of mass market books similar to my genre, and as I had a story ready, I foolishly dived into the stream of writing. Somehow, I did manage to finish my book, but since I hadn’t read much, dangerous tips like the one mentioned above trapped me in their tentacles and thus I ended up corrupting my own book. The turning point came when I read the award-winning novel ‘The Kite Runner’. Then I realized that the key to good writing isn’t using big words, but weaving together simple words to create a magical effect, like Khaled Hosseini does. After that, I read a lot of books, which ended up influencing my writing style. So I would advise you to read a lot of books, especially critically acclaimed books before even venturing into writing. Also, while reading you should ensure that you are very observant. Whenever you come across a beautifully constructed sentence, a wonderful metaphor, or a magical simile, note it down somewhere and try your best to form a mental imprint of it. This will really help you to take your writing to the next level, as when you sit down to write next time, your brain starts suggesting those sentences when you come across similar scenarios in your book. You can then refer to your notes and try to imbibe those writing tidbits into your narrative. Once you have read a variety of books, a blend of different writing styles seeps into your subconscious, which eventually helps you forge your own unique writing style/ voice.
  2. Use fewer adverbs and adjectives: Another mistake that I had made in my first book was the blatant overuse of adverbs. As the prominent writer, Stephen King, says, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs”. Adverbs are a reflection of weak, lazy writing as they don’t form a good enough picture for the reader, thus violating the show-don’t-tell rule. For example, consider this sentence: “You are wrong,” Fred said angrily. Does this help you picture or feel anything? How was the anger? How was Fred’s voice? However, consider this alternative: “You are wrong,” Fred barked, his eyes glinting with anger. Now, with the stronger verb bark, you can imagine the rough tone of voice. Also, his eyes are shining with anger, helping you visualize the scene better. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use adverbs at all. Occasional use of adverbs, especially if it is not in dialogue tags, is alright. Also, try your best to remove redundant adjectives from your narrative. For example, instead of saying the smelly, intoxicated drunkard was walking, just say the drunkard was walking, as drunkards are already smelly and intoxicated.
  3. Show, don’t tell: This is a slightly confusing rule as, traditionally, a story is meant to be told. However, if you remember, even the good traditional storytellers made us visualize the scene, which made the story much more compelling. The reader should feel as if he is travelling, seeing, hearing, experiencing everything along with the characters. For example, instead of saying that it was a rainy day and Mary got wet while going home, show her walking towards home, raindrops flirting with her hair, her shirt sticking to her skin. The traits of the characters should be shown by their actions, their mannerisms, rather than being told in a blunt way. For example, instead of saying that Tom was a funny man and he used to make everyone laugh, show Tom cracking a joke and everyone laughing at it. Also, weave the backstories of the characters as either plain remembrances or a photograph or object taking you to the past, which helps develop the character, rather than writing direct blocks of telling in between scenes. Also, writing dialogue is the best way to follow the show-don’t-tell rule. The characters are actively involved and their expressions, actions come to the fore. It is also easier to reveal certain things (character traits, backstory) in a dialogue rather than telling it in the narrative, but you should make sure that the revelation doesn’t seem forced or else it might backfire.
  4. Don’t do head hopping: If you are writing in the third person, ensure that you don’t end up showing the thoughts of other characters apart from the main character. That ends up confusing the reader and diminishes the emotional connect that the reader has with the primary character.
  5. Ensure proper punctuation: Read about the proper usage of commas, semicolons, colons, em dashes, parenthesis, exclamation marks before beginning your project. Make sure that your dialogue tags end with a comma if it is followed by he/she said/asked, but if the dialogue tag ends with an action, ensure that you use a period. For example, a dialogue ending with he said/asked: “I will kill you,” he said. A dialogue ending with an action: “I will kill you.” He banged his fist on the table. Ensure you use as fewer exclamations as possible, as it is considered as a form of casual, weak writing. Parenthesis/brackets also should be used very sparingly in a literary work.
  6. Use proper editing tools: Don’t forget to use the grammar checking functions of Microsoft Word. It helps to identify a lot of errors like split infinitives, passive sentences, punctuation errors, and other basic grammatical errors. Also, I would recommend using the Grammarly tool, which weeds out all the bugs that Microsoft Word overlooks.
  7. Be careful with descriptions: Ensure that you strike a perfect balance between insufficient and excessive descriptions of surroundings and feelings. The feelings shouldn’t be redundant, and you should weed out any descriptions which may seem unnecessary to the theme of the particular scene. But of course, some description is necessary to create a proper ambiance, and you should not remove them altogether. It is a fine line, but you have to tread it carefully to ensure that the book turns out to be perfect or at least close to it.
  8. Write shorter sentences: The shorter and simpler the sentences, the lesser the chances of making a mistake. Short sentences contribute to easy readability, too. However, longer sentences are also necessary sometimes. You should be able to weave paragraphs with care, mixing short and longer sentences skillfully. It is an art which takes times to master.
  9. Use unique metaphors and similes: Some metaphors and similes have been so overused that they have now become cliched and should never be used. For example, metaphors like ‘dead as a door-nail’, ‘as tall as a giraffe’, ‘only time will tell’ etc. will mostly put off the seasoned readers. Instead, unique metaphors and similes should be constructed. If not, then you should remove the metaphor/simile altogether and try to frame the sentence in a simpler way. To write a simple sentence is better than to write a cliched sentence.
  10. Research and read your book’s reviews: Keep reading articles about writing tips and fuel your fire for knowledge daily. If you have already published a book, read reviews with a positive frame of mind and try to learn, even from the harshest review. Although negative reviews might dampen your spirits for some time, you should try your best to understand which aspect of the book the reviewer didn’t like and try to improve upon it in the next book.

On a parting note, I would like to say that writing is a never-ending journey. There is scope for improvement even for accomplished writers and the process of learning always has to go on. Cheers!

Book Review, Books, Uncategorized

Book Review – A Thousand Times Over by Sudhanshu Bisen

I met the author of this book on Facebook a few months back, and he suggested this book to me. Since the publishers were Fingerprint, one of my favorite publishers, and the blurb planted seeds of intrigue in my mind immediately, I decided to give this book a go.

After I finished reading the first chapter, which is a dream, I was confused. If the dream was from the girl’s POV, how could the feelings of the boy be shown (the excitement between the legs, etc.)? That seemed like an error. But even after that, throughout the story, the author does do head hopping quite frequently. I can understand that the author has used the ‘Third Person Omniscient’ technique, wherein the narrator is the all-knowing entity, but this narration technique is not recommended nowadays as it tends to involve head hopping (multiple POV’s in a single scene), which makes the read confusing as the reader gets to know the thoughts of all characters in a scene instead of just a single narrator. Also, there are too many long blocks of telling in the narrative instead of showing, which again violates the show-don’t-tell rule. It requires a lot of hard work to weave small blocks of telling into a scene, which the author didn’t do consistently. But of course, these minor technical glitches can be forgiven as he is just a debut author. With experience, he will improve.

Although veiled by a sense of mystery, a good part of the story is an ordinary campus romance. The narration, though, is good enough to make you keep turning the pages. However, I didn’t like the way the boy, without even trying to be friends, directly proposes to the girl. It seemed too forced and unnatural. But once their friendship began, things settled down for good. Since I’m not quite good as far as prediction goes, almost all the plot twists were surprising to me. The language is very good; the sentences are quite poetic at places, and the overall editing is also tight, as expected from a Fingerprint book. However, it felt strange to spot a few spelling and punctuation errors here and there, a rarity in other Fingerprint books. At one place, ‘clam’ is written instead of ‘calm’, and I noticed a few punctuation errors, especially at the end of dialogues that are followed by an action. A period should be used instead of a comma in those cases. I think the blame falls on both the author and the editor. Also, the language sometimes bordered on casual (too many f-words and colloquial lingo) to flowery (sometimes overly complicated words pop up in an otherwise simple sentence, breaking the flow). But I am nitpicking here; overall the language is satisfactory.

Some quotes are very good, especially this one: ‘Isn’t love the best festival that life celebrates?’. I liked these occasional philosophical touches that the author flavors the story with.

The characterization of both the characters is quite good. The back stories are good, and their complex relationships with their families are written with a rare eloquence. Although the story could never pull my heartstrings enough to make me cry, I could feel for the characters throughout. Till the ending of the story, I was immersed in the story, the plot twists plunging me into a sea of intrigue. But alas, then came the ending, throwing me down a cliff of disappointment. It is really weird and unbelievable, throwing black ink over an otherwise well-weaved story. Although it is a fictional book, yet only if the story is a reflection of reality does it become more relatable to readers. In that aspect, the ending, in my humble opinion, totally fails.

Be that as it may, this book is still a good one time read. I would rate it 3.3 stars out of 5. The author is talented, and I’m sure that in his next book, he will give me lesser reasons to complain and snatch a better rating from me.

Book Review, Books, Uncategorized

Book Review – The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

I came across this book with this gorgeous cover while scanning for new books at Rachna Books, a popular bookstore at my native place, Gangtok. The blurb was intriguing too, coaxing me to try it out.

The story begins well, and the mystery element strikes bells of intrigue in your mind immediately. The language, as expected from an international bestseller, is brilliant—simplicity bathed in a rare class, luring you into the story like a magnet. In the beginning, though, the flashback does play with your patience a touch, making you wonder when Julia’s father’s story will begin. Even now, after finishing the book, I do feel that that portion was a bit unnecessary and instead of elaborating on the characters of his parents, maybe the story could have cut right to his birth. However, after Tin Win’s arrival, the story does become quite gripping.

The author has played a clever card as far as the narration is concerned. As a major part of the story is a flashback from the perspective of the omniscient U Ba, he has been able to get away with certain writing techniques that are considered ill-advised. For one, he could do head hopping without hesitation, and secondly, he could go for direct, raw telling in several places, violating the show-don’t-tell rule. Nevertheless, the story is beautiful and poignant. The unconditional love between Tin Win and Mi Mi is written magically. In a few scenes, I found myself reduced to tears, a characteristic of a wonderful book in my opinion. The blindness of Tin Win and the manner in which he can hear heartbeats and subtle sounds around him are described with magnificent artistry. The characterization of both Tin Win and Mi Mi is exceptional, and their relationship with each other and their loved ones is weaved with a rare grace. The descriptions of Kalaw and its landscape once again deserves applause. The way Tin Win and Mi Mi are shown to handle their disabilities with such optimism and strength sowed seeds of inspiration in my heart. Sometimes you go through bad phases in life, but when you read about people like Tin Win and Mi Mi, you feel ashamed of yourself for complaining about minor problems in your lives when people with such disabilities are living with a smile on their faces.

However, once Tin Win leaves Kalaw, although the strength of the narration didn’t dip, the lackluster reasoning why Tin Win fails to return to Mi Mi left me disappointed, pouring black ink over the near spotless papers of my admiration. The discontent accompanied me till the last few pages, but a certain revelation at the end salvaged the story somewhat. Despite the minor dip as mentioned above, the story is beautiful and for those romantics who believe in true, unconditional love, it would serve as a delightful read, but I somehow could not relate to such obscene levels of patience in human beings. It’s certainly not impossible, but I couldn’t come to believing it.

As far as the language is concerned, I did feel that there was a slight overuse of adverbs, but apart from that, the language is close to perfect. The dialogues are wonderful and thought-provoking, and the inspirational quotes are believable and don’t sound preachy. Almost all metaphors and similes are dipped in admirable originality, lending a poetic touch to the narrative. Thus, the language, without a doubt, is classy.

All in all, this book is certainly a must-read for all lovers of fiction. 4.4 stars from my side.

Book Review, Books, Uncategorized

Book Review – This Is Not Your Story by Savi Sharma

Savi Sharma is, without a doubt, the most popular writer in India right now. I have heard about her debut book ‘Everyone has a Story’ for a while (it is all over the place on social media), but when I checked out Goodreads—the most genuine book review site—some months ago, the unflattering reviews that I read caught me in a web of reluctance. And I have not had a great experience reading bestselling Indian commercial books in the past, so I kept myself from trying her first book out. However, recently, I saw that her second book had come out. A few days back, I thought of checking out the reviews of this book. I could not find even a single negative review. I was feeling bored that day, so somehow, I decided to give it a go.

I must admit that my expectations were quite low before flipping the first page. I don’t know if the author will read my review, but I feel like mentioning that I met her at the Bangalore Times Lit Fest prelude last month. I even asked her a couple of questions. One of them was—how do you tackle negative reviews and whether you soak in points of improvement from them? She replied in the affirmative but said that she doesn’t pay heed to reviewers who purposely try to down the book. I have not read her first book, but I feel that the negative reviews did form a preconceived notion in my mind—that she was just another Indian commercial fiction author (and there are many) using bland language and delivering a cliched story. In her first book, the author had, presumably, not focused on the parents of a particular character. I think those reviews have had an effect on her because, in this book, parents of almost all the characters have a major role to play.

The story begins with Shaurya unable to break himself from the chains of his hesitation and flee to Mumbai to achieve his dreams. The other characters are also introduced well. But the one thing that really pushed me down a ledge of astonishment was her language. As my eyes swept through each beautifully constructed sentence, the wall of my presumption broke brick by brick, and in no time, a flower of admiration sprung up from the ashes. Poetic sentences are littered throughout the narrative. I was amazed. I have read almost all popular commercial Indian authors, and apart from Preeti Shenoy to an extent, no-one has even come close to achieving this level. I read only literary fiction nowadays, and throughout the book, I never got the impression that I was not reading another literary fiction novel. The language is so good. The metaphors are brilliant and quite original, and the way she plays with words is magical.

The story is also built up quite well, especially the parts dedicated to Shaurya, his girlfriend, and Miraya. Using Miraya’s notebook as a narrative tool is also a well-played card. Doing that, the author could directly tell Miraya’s emotions instead of having to show them if she was given another POV, thus saving a lot of words. However, the character of Anubhav isn’t given enough justice. Even when the tragic incident happens in his life, I could feel no emotion as neither I knew the character properly nor was his relationship with his parents lent the detailing it should have. Even after the disaster, almost no memories are shown; why he couldn’t resist alcohol, smoking, nothing is shown, just told in a few sentences. It is difficult to feel sorry for the character. I feel that about 50 pages should have been added to flesh out the character a bit more.

The descriptions are written nicely, and they never felt excessive or insufficient.

I liked the fact that no expletives have been used throughout the book. Hinglish and Shayaris (found in many other Indian commercial fiction books) have also been thankfully avoided. Sex is conspicuous by its absence, thus making this read safe even for early teenagers. However, one thing I didn’t like was that some of the dialogues were too preachy and artificial. And Anubhav’s dialogues directed at his girlfriend towards the end of the book were just too cheesy. And the particular phrase ‘I will write my story again’ was overused. Generally, people don’t talk like that. However, apart from these minor issues, the book is good. The only reason why it couldn’t become memorable for me was that it never made me cry. I could feel for the characters throughout; the emotions were portrayed skillfully, but I just couldn’t find those heartbreaking moments that tear your heart apart.

The ending was predictable and a bit too sweet, everything falling into place. I know it’s an ideal culmination to an inspirational novel, but it still felt too good to be true. The intimate portion was again a bit unrealistic, especially considering that it takes place at a busy Indian railway station.

But this is just the second book of the author. She has a long way to go, and with the array of exceptional writing tools in her repertoire, I don’t think it’s long before she writes a classic, especially if she keeps improving with each book and doesn’t mind increasing the length of the book to flesh out the characters more. Wishing her all the best for her subsequent books.

4 stars from my side.