Thursday, 29 December 2016

A Tale of Two Cities .. By Charles Dickens

This book does not need a review, as it is a Classic! Yet I would like to share my views on this beautifully written story by Dickens that concentrates on the life of the people of Paris and London during the French aristocratic reins leading to the revolution.
It was the best-selling novels of all time and its popularity has remained steady ever since, as one of the best-loved works of Charles Dickens. 
The book is divided into three parts and I would like to reel off a very short summary of it:
Book 1 (Recalled To Life) -
“Recalled To Life” is a coded message given by a train passenger, Mr. Lorry to Lucie, daughter of Dr. Manette to let her know that her father is alive and has been released from Bastille (French Prison). Lorry takes her to her father, who is unable to recognize her but eventually does. She starts to take care of her father and bring him back to London.
Book 2 (The Golden Thread) -
During a trial in the British court, a French immigrant named Charles Darnay is tried for treason against the British Royal Crown, but the key witnesses fail to testify against him because Darnay’s attorney presents a doppelganger of Darnay in the court, Sydney Carton, due to which the testimony against him is discredited and he gets exonerated.
While in Paris, Darnay’s uncle, a much-hated aristocrat, Marquis St. Evrémonde accidently kills a peasant’s child by ordering his driver to recklessly drive his carriage and abuses the peasant by throwing a coin as a compensation towards him. However, the Marquis gets killed in his sleep by the same peasant.
In London, Darnay and Carton both fall in love with Lucie. However, Darnay gets to marry her. On the morning of the marriage, Darnay reveals his real name and family lineage (Relation to the Aristocratic Evrémonde’s family) to Dr. Manette, for whom this is an extremely shocking news, for reasons he does not reveal to his daughter.
After few years, when Lucie and Darnay are happily settled and raising a daughter in London, the storming of Bastille takes place in Paris and throughout the countryside, local officials and other representatives of the aristocracy are dragged from their homes to be killed. Darnay finds a letter from his uncle's servants who has been imprisoned by the revolutionaries, pleading for the Marquis to help secure his release. Without telling his family or revealing his position as the new Marquis, Darnay sets out for Paris.
Book 3 (The Track of a Storm) -
In Paris, Darnay gets arrested for being a French Aristrocrat. 
After few years, Darnay is tried in the presence of his family, who arrives in Paris. Even after Dr. Manette, who is viewed as a hero for his imprisonment in the Bastille, testifies on Darnay's behalf at his trial, he gets arrested again under new charges brought in front of the court, that is the written account of Dr. Manette’s imprisonment at the hands of Darnay's father, which was hidden in his cell and was found while the storming of the Bastille.
The written account of Dr. Manette contains a tragic story of the horrific acts conducted by the Evrémonde brothers and describes how they imprisoned Dr. Manette after he refused their offer of a bribe to keep quiet of what he witnessed. 
Dr. Manette is horrified, but he is not allowed to retract his statement. Darnay is sentenced to be guillotined the next day. However the story concludes, when Sydney Carton sets up a plan to save Darnay and his family by impersonating him in the prison and sacrificing himself in place of Darnay and helping Lucie, whom he truly loved and her family to safely pass out of the country.
In my opinion, it is one of the greatest classics of English literature and I love this story since I first read it and the way he portrayed the barbarism and perverted law of the French Revolution will always stick with me. Every person in the story had a purpose, and Dickens brings it all together beautifully. 
The mention of this book cannot go without Dicken’s famous opening passage that truly describes the drama and the atrocities that the French Revolution brings:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
                                                                              -Charles Dickens
Happy Reading !!!

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Empire of the Moghul # 5 .. The Serpent’s Tooth .. By Alex Rutherford

This is the fifth published version of the Empire of the Moghul sequel and very significant as well because this one features the evergreen era that gave us the symbol of love and loss and wonderment that till date is still the most beautiful monument in the world to look upon. I am of course talking about, the lovable tribute given by the emperor Shah Jahan to his dearest wife - “Taj Mahal”.
As soon as Shah Jahan succeeded as the fifth Moghul Emperor, he started basking in the glory of all the luxuries of his kingdom and happiness of the secured position of his rule, without his half-brothers to fight against him for the throne and his entire family and most importantly his beautiful and caring wife, Mumtaz Mahal, together with him. 
He ordered to make the most beautiful peacock throne for himself for which he himself selected and weighed the most precious gems from his treasure vault. He also was a very generous ruler and tried his best to widen his empire as much as possible. 
But he was also the most unfortunate of all!
Soon after gaining the kingdom, he set forth to capture Deccan from the Maratha rulers and as always his loving wife adamantly refused to be left behind in Agra and ventured with him to stay in the so-called ill-omened fort of Burhanpur while he tries to gain the South-Western Province. However, everything sort of fell apart for Shah Jahan after reaching Burhanpur. The great famine hit India during that time. Not only did his entire kingdom suffer because of lack of food and water. His wife died, giving birth to their daughter Gauharara. After which, he lost interest to all the things that once mattered to him the most, even his children.
He only cared for creating the greatest resting place for his wife, whose last wishes were to be laid to rest under the most beautiful tomb ever constructed in the history of mankind. For which he appointed a Persian, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri, as the architect and spent lavishly on the construction of Taj Mahal, which took almost 20 years to get completed, during which time, he himself oversaw the designing of this white marvelous beauty, that till date stands on the banks of Yamuna as a testimony of the Emperor’s love for his wife.
This book also tells us, how after years of trying to hold his life back together, Shah Jahan sort of drifted apart from his children, especially the younger ones. Sensing that he is finally losing his touch, they rebelled against each other for the throne. 
Aurangzeb, the most ambitious of all took over the kingdom, imprisoning his father and declaring himself the sixth Moghul Emperor, whilst his father lived.
It was kind of depressing to read this book because the story of Shah Jahan made me really sad, as to how, disliked by his step-mother, he had to wander around as a nomad while trying to win his father’s affection back. Then when finally he thought that life is kind of stable, he lost his wife, afterward, he lost the closeness with his children as well and finally his throne and then his life.
The narration was, however, no doubt, superb and captivating. 
With this let me bring you very soon, the finale book of this series, “Traitors in the Shadows”.
Till then, Happy Reading!!!

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Tuesdays with Morrie .. By Mitch Albom

Not only the one greatest lesson, it teaches you so many valuable things that we as humans usually take for granted. 
This is a short story that tells us about the relationship, Mitch Albom had with his old college professor, who was dying from  Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a terminal neurological disease and how Mitch ignored him after graduation, moving on with his life and never looking back to know what happened to his favorite teacher, even though after promising to keep in touch. It tells us about their reunion, how his professor remembered his former pupil despite the lapse of 16 years.
The story continues when Mitch goes to visit his professor every Tuesdays until his professor’s dying day because Tuesdays were the time of the week when they both used to meet during college days to take a walk around the campus or to sit and talk about Mitch’s dreams of being a pianist and about how they also called themselves “Tuesday People”. 
They both talk about acceptance; about fears and about how death can end a life, but never a relationship. There are so many such blessed conversations he has with his teacher that is surely going to move your emotions out of control and will make you think back in time, where you wasted your time, arguing with friends and family members or bitching about people or worrying about meaningless things.
Would like to quote a saying from this book, that touched me more than anything else:
“If you're trying to show off for people at the top, forget it! They will look down at you anyway. And if you're trying to show off for the people at the bottom, forget it! They will only envy you. Status will get you nowhere. Only an open heart will allow you to float equally between everyone.”
I recommend you all to read this book, as this is not your average fiction novel but a teaching that will help you think about life and will make you understand that once you learn how to die, you will learn how to live and why do you want to wait till then?
It was a truly enlightening experience and a wonderful example that gives you the ultimate moral of a lifetime.
Happy Reading!!!

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Zero Day .. By David Baldacci

As promised, let me bring you another of David Baldacci crime novel review, which is an intense drama mixed with mystery and is the first of John Puller series.

First, let me tell you something about John Puller, our hero of this suspense thriller. He is an ex-military man and has selflessly served his country almost his entire life. Now, however, he has taken up another job with the US military CID commission to fight internal crime, but of greater significance. 

The story starts when he is called upon to investigate the murder of a family of a Colonel in a small coal-city called Drake, West Virginia. Together with a smart local sergeant, Samantha Cole, he is faced with an assignment to probe a staged and well-planned homicide committed by a professional. And it is up to him to find out, why and by whom? His investigation leads him to a much darker and terrible secret that has the power to destruct his country and himself.

I liked this moderately staged dilemma of John Puller much more than was my expectation. However, it has nothing exceptional to offer to you, but if you are a fan of action-packed thrillers with some military mind reading into the criminal’s psychology, you will thoroughly enjoy this.

I would also like to point out the similarities of this book of Baldacci with the John Carr’s Camel club series. This is almost the same without the camel club members to help him. The elite ex-military man, John Puller is on his own but is faced with the same US government departmental politics and the pressure and one’s own conscience to catch the bad guys before it's too late.

Even though I enjoyed it, I was expecting a little more non-cliched thriller with a fast-paced story. However, I liked the fact it has less number of characters than his other books and all of them were likable enough to have a good read. 

Keep watching this space as more exciting stuff is coming soon.

Happy Reading!!!

Monday, 5 December 2016

Empire of the Moghul # 4 .. The Tainted Throne .. By Alex Rutherford

Here comes the review of the fourth book of the Empire of the Moghul chain. I am not going to lie to you guys, I am absolutely loving the series! This is already in my favorites collection and I think I am already living in that era these days. It's kind of hard for me to come back to the reality that seems boring after deep diving into this magnificent period.
This book continues with the story of Jahangir, who after Akbar’s death is proclaimed his successor and is immediately faced with a rebellion from his eldest son Khusron. Although he captures and imprisons his son, he is on a constant lookout for trouble from his other son, Khurram (Later known as Shah Jahan). However, Khurram turns out to be a docile son, ready to accept any responsibility given to him and proves an effective commander during campaigns.
While living and enjoying his life in this new found glory, Jahangir also pursues his love interest from Kabul, the exquisite and brave girl, Mehrunissa, wife of Sher Afgan, a Moghul courtier of Jehangir from Bengal province. After getting her husband killed, he marries her and gives her the title of “Nur Jahan” (Light of the World).
Mehrunissa, however, turns out to be extremely cunning in dealing with stately affairs and always ensures she is benefitted in all the decisions taken by Jehangir. She supports the marriage between Khurram and Arjumand Banu (her niece; who was later known as Mumtaz Mahal) and then deceives both of them, when she feels insecure by the growing bond between father and son and fears that Jehangir might name Khurram his heir and in turn making Arjumand as the Empress, instead of her. So, she manipulates her husband to send Khurram away on an expedition to the south.
In Khurram’s absence, Mehrunnissa becomes an important member of Jahangir's court and wields considerable influence by gathering Jehangir’s favor over his own family. She continuously supplies him wine mixed with opium to befuddle his consciousness and take important court decisions herself on his behalf.  Prince Khurram resents the influence Nur Jahan hold over his father and is angered at having to play second fiddle to her favorite Shahriyar, his half-brother, and her son-in-law.  This fear brings Prince Khurram to rebel against his father with a few supporters of his own and only his wife and children for company and all this follows even more thrilling tale ahead.
I found the fourth book following Jahangir's ascend to the throne, the most interesting story of all, mostly because of Mehrunissa, who was like a soul-mate to Jehangir. And yet, she harbored many ambitions within her and wanted more and more power and was ready to stop at nothing.  
The book is well written and the narrative is fast paced and if you still have not started reading this awesome saga, the time is ripe now. Meanwhile, continuing the tradition, let me bring you the beautiful, yet tragic love story of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal and the history behind Taj Mahal, in the fifth book “The Serpent’s Tooth” very soon.

Happy Reading!!!

Friday, 2 December 2016

A Clash of Kings ... By George R.R. Martin

Back again with the second installment of A Song of Ice and Fire series, which is all the more fascinating, brutal, bleak and unyielding than the first.
After the death of Robert Baratheon, his son Joffrey proclaims himself the King, while Robert’s brothers, Renly and Stanis Baratheon challenge Joffrey’s claim to the throne, not to mention also against each other and assert themselves to be the true heir.
While in the North, Robb Stark, eldest son of Ned Stark declares himself ‘King of the North’ and wage war against the Lannisters with the support of the kingdoms in the north, the Tullys of Riverrun and Walders of the Twins, while Balon Greyjoy declares himself ‘King of the Iron Islands’ and his son, Theon (Ned Stark’s ward) attacks Winterfell and takes Bran and Rickon (youngest sons of Ned Stark) as captives.
So, in Westeros, while the five kings claiming the Iron Throne are waging war against each other, Tyrion Lannister (By far the most interesting character) becomes the new Hand of the King by planning marriage alliances of his niece and nephew with the two great kingdoms, Highgarden and Dorne, in order to secure King’s Landing and plotting cunningness so uncommon, to make his sister’s life difficult.
If you are wondering what happens to our favorite family, the “Starks”! Be prepared for some bad news because while Ned Stark was beheaded, the others get separated from each other. Robb is busy fighting wars, while his mother acting as his counselor is trying to persuade the Baratheon brothers to support Robb. Arya escapes King’s Landing by impersonating a boy, to take the extremely difficult journey back to the North, whereas Sansa is left behind to bear the torture of Joffrey and his mother. Bran and Rickon are taken captives by Theon. And Jon Snow and the other Black Brothers travel North of the Wall to try and capture the Wildlings.
This book also features Daenerys Targaryen, who travels with the remaining Dothrakis and Jorah Mormont, after the death of her husband and with her three baby dragons to the magic city of Qarth where she faces unknown enemies who are trying to steal her precious dragons from her.
A very beguiling character was also introduced in this book, ie. the Red Woman from Asshai, Melisandre who is the priestess of the Lord of the Light and who sees visions in the fire and predicts future. She assists Stannis Baratheon in his campaign and attributes a very dark nature.
I think this is an acute summary of this enthralling book without giving out the spoilers. It was like the most intoxicating drug to me with the most interesting mythology, culture and history mixed together with all the more fascinating characters. I particularly enjoyed the Battle of the Blackwater Bay with the wildfire and Cersie’s bitch full attitude during the coup.
Again, I want to say that I am stunned at how Martin came up with this overwhelmingly exciting imagination of a story with so many interesting plots that could arouse one’s curiosity of fascination to the point of reverence.
I'd say, go for it! Because you won't regret the 768-page long trek of this wonder.

Happy Reading!!!