Tag Archives: Book Reviews

The Duchess by Danielle Steel | Book Review

The Duchess by Danielle Steele is the first book that I have read of the author. It was recommended to me by a colleague. She said if I enjoyed any feminist work, I’d like this book.

The truth is, I am ambivalent towards feminism. But once in a while it makes sense to read books referred by others, if only to expose yourself to different types of writing. And I haven’t been reading a lot lately.

The Duchess is a coming-of-age tale of a teenaged girl. Set in an era in England where women did not inherit their parents’ money or properties, even if they were duchesses, this is a story of Angelique, who gets thrown out of her house when her step-brother Tristan steps in as the new duke, after the death of her father. It is the story of how she gets forced into a life of service, and eventually, due to the cruel turn of events, ends up running a high-end brothel in Paris. She does find the love of her life and her happy ending, but none of them come easy.

What I liked best about this book is how Danielle keeps the story real. At no point does it feel that Angelique has it easy. Her life is hard. She has no family, and no one to take care of. She finds herself in difficult situations but she tries to make the best of what life deals at her. She does not give in, and she never pities herself. She accepts her fate and tries to deal with it in a manner which she finds befitting herself. The writing is easy to read and relatable, and it becomes easier for the reader to sink into the story.

The only thing that I don’t like about this story is how it keeps repeating itself – especially in the first hundred odd pages where the author keeps reiterating Angelique’s pain in losing her father and her brother’s cruelty. It becomes unbearable after a point. Also, for a book which is about a woman, it is surprising how it paints many of the other women characters in a shallow manner, and never tries to give a voice to women who choose to love their parties and their frivolities over caring for their children. Even with a protagonist who ends up running a brothel and fighting to give a better life to the prostitutes, this book in many places just end up reiterating what’s traditionally acceptable for a woman, and shows little tolerance for women who don’t care to have a blazing mission in life.

Be it as it may, it’s been a while since I read a work of fiction and this one made me want to get back to my reading. Maybe, we’ll see more book reviews on the blog in future.

Until later!

Review | The Everything Store by Brad Stone

Hello and welcome to the brand new year 2019! I hope the new year is treating you well so far. One of my 2019 resolutions is to read more books, so I thought why not start the year with a book review? Y’all ready? Let’s start!

If you are reading this post, it means you have access to internet. If so, chances are you have purchased something online at least once. And if you have, there is no way that you have not heard about the internet behemoth, Amazon. Built from scratch by Jeff Bezos, Amazon is the superstar of online marketplace, and The Everything Store is a lovely narrative that captures that journey.

Personally, I have been a huge Amazon fan, and I almost exclusively buy things on Amazon, even though Flipkart in India is not doing too bad. Why do I choose Amazon? Because most often than not, Amazon has the thing that I need, and it has a competitive prices. Plus, I can’t remember even one scenario since I started shopping online when I have received a product from Amazon late or not in the shape that I expected it to. Customer service is prompt and polite, and you feel like you are dealing with people who care for your concerns. So, I was more than a little excited to understand Amazon’s journey through this book.

The name of the book is depiction of Jeff Bezos’s vision for Amazon: to be that store where you can get anything that you want, so much so that, there was a time that he wanted at least one copy of every book that has been printed on Earth in Amazon’s catalog. That, coupled with the conviction of being a customer-centric company, is what makes Amazon what it is. And this book depicts Jeff Bezos’ never-ending dream of doing what is best for the customer: giving him what he needs at the least price that’s practically possible. To do that, he has not only gone to the extent of upsetting his board of directors, but also the Wall Street and more often than not, Amazon employees themselves.

Amazon’s journey can probably be divided into two parts: The Journey of a Fledgling Internet Company and The Journey of a Behemoth. The journeys may definitely have differently evolved, but at the core of it, Amazon’s guiding principles have remained the same throughout the years.

The Journey of a Fledgling Internet Company

Jeff Bezos, as depicted in the book, was nothing short of a child prodigy. He was focused and determined, and ended up working a good job at the hedge fund, DE Shaw. He also saw an early opportunity in the internet and bet on it, and like a lot of Silicon Valley startups. started Amazon in his garage. The challenges he faced were similar to an early start up, but he also managed to entice investors and raise initial capital for it. There were two stories from this period which helped me understand the fundamentals of Amazon.

One was the story of Toys ‘R’ Us and how Amazon embraced the very seasonal toy business. The toy industry runs on trends. What is in fashion on Christmas becomes useless once the new year starts. Knowing that, Bezos confidently got his executives to channel millions of dollars into the the toy inventory, saying that he would personally drive the remainders away in his truck if they did not sell. And Amazon did end up losing millions in that deal that year (probably 1999 or 2000), upwards of ~$30M if my memory serves me right. But in that effort, Bezos showed that he was willing to take chances that could mean huge financial losses, but he was all in. This is a key lesson for entrepreneurs: the stomach to take risks.

Similarly, during the period when analysts predicted fall of Amazon in the early 2000s, at the heart of the dot com bubble burst, and the stocks kept falling like a self-fulfilling prophecy, Bezos stood his ground and told his employees that when the stock rises by x times you don’t feel x times smarter, so there is no reason why you should feel dumber when the stock plunges. Here was a man who was thinking long term, and was able to steer his company through tough times to favorable grounds.

In this period, you cannot but admire the man behind the driving wheel, in spite of all the stories of his temper tantrums and poor treatment of his senior execs.

The Journey of a Behemoth

As Amazon grew from a toddler to a giant, it started doing business in a ruthless manner: cutting down prices that manufacturers and sellers could not sustain, forcing them to negotiation by removing their stock from Amazon and digging a hole in their balance sheet, and practically driving smaller startups to buyout. Meanwhile, Amazon bots constantly hunt for the lowest price on the internet, and provides the same or lower to customers, even if it means losing millions.

One story from this period is of Diapers.com, a startup selling diapers and other baby products. As Diapers.com started doing good business, they were on Amazon’s radar, and Amazon started wooing them for a buyout. When they would not agree, Amazon priced the diapers 30% less than Diapers.com, and after a while, during which they put up a great fight, the young startup had to give in. Similar was the story of Zappos.com. From that book, we learn that there is a dedicated team in Amazon which looks out for rising stars like Zappos or Diapers.com, and goes mercenary style in its acquisitions.

This is the period when you fear Amazon. This is the period when you question the ethics which guides the company. This is the period which reminds us that business in itself is a jungle, and that the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest definitely holds true. Yet, to a large extent, as readers of the book or Amazon customers, we tend to forgive the giant because at the heart of it, they believe that customer is king, and that all inefficiencies from the supply chain must be eliminated so that the best prices can be delivered to customers. In that way, Amazon is almost a saint.

I believe the true assessment of this giant will happen in the years to come. I believe Amazon has a long way to go, especially in developing nations when internet penetration is increasingly gradually. And in the process, it will evolve too as a company, hopefully in the right direction. And while today it seems strange that some other company may overpower Amazon, history has taught us it is possible. So, I’ll be on the lookout to see how someone takes on this giant and emerges on the other side, victorious.

The Everything Store is definitely a well-researched book. The best part is, it is impartial in its approach: while this book makes you cringe at the prospect of working at Amazon, you also learn that there are some amazing things happening, and you can’t but be in awe of that. To keep a balance between that is not easy, and the depth of the research is simply commendable.

If any of you is interested in biographies of people and companies, you should definitely give this book a try!

That’s it for today! Watch this space for more updates, as we proceed into the new year. See you guys very soon!



Train To Pakistan by Khuswant Singh | A Review

I just finished reading the Train to Pakistan by Khuswant Singh. I have read very little of fiction on India’s partition. Most of my knowledge about it is through the history books that I had read till tenth standard. Of course, I remember the partition being bloody, but the chilling extent of it has never been truly exposed to my mind. Until I picked up this book, that is.

Khuswant Singh’s prose is straightforward, within the expanse of 190 pages, he talks about a lot of things, and that too in exact amount of detail as required. Set in the backdrop of 1947 India-Pakistan partition, this novel sheds light on the religious massacre that happened during the time, where Muslims and Hindus on either sides of the borders killed each other and sent trainloads of corpses across. The writing is graphic. Singh sets his stage in the silent village of Mano Majra, a quaint one whose life is dictated by the comings and goings of the train at the railway station. Muslims and Hindus here live harmoniously, though through the course of the story it will change.

This book is a deep meditation of different kinds of people. It almost feels like the author wrote the book as a contemplative thesis of the human mind, shaped by love, hatred, political and moral education, politics and other elements. There are the religious heads of the Muslims and the Sikhs, who are predominantly peace-loving people and try their best to maintain peace. Then there is a morally-unstable District Magistrate and his counterpart in the police department, a Sub-Inspector, who want to do the right thing but do not really have the guts to do it. The other striking character is that of Iqbal Singh, the foreign-returned political activist who wants to make a name for himself by going to jail, but when the time comes for him to truly do something of value, he drowns his conscience in whisky and tells himself that in moments of chaos, the best course to take is of self-preservation. I do not completely hate the person. Maybe in his shoes, I would have behaved in the same manner. The more learned we become, the more we see the futility of our actions, which in turn drives us to become more apathetic towards life, more like a passive audience in a theater. On the other hand, there is the village badmash, Juggut Singh, a man who often gets in trouble with the police, who seems to tower above everyone else, both literally and figuratively, and do something that no one else is able to do. Somehow it feels like the remainder of Mano Majra, apart from Juggut, are like puppets in a show and cannot really control their destinies.

I have not read anything else by Khuswant Singh, but with just this one, I am a fan. His writing is very plain, his English far from superfluous, but it has a deep contemplative tone to it. He builds his characters well, lets us get into their head and understand their actions and see life from their lens. Which is why, you don’t really end up hating anyone in Majo Majra – you just feel sad for the lot of them.

This book opened my eyes to the extent of horror of Partition. Sometimes, given the current political scenario of India, I wonder if we are at any better stage compared to 1947. If we took a lesson from the pages of history, maybe we would stop playing the divisive game of the politics of religion, and begin to truly celebrate the diversity of India. This soils of this country has been reddened by blood time and again. Hopefully, we will leave it a better place for our children.

Have you read Train to Pakistan? How did the book make you feel? Do let me know in the Comments below.

Taste in books – Short review of Memories of Midnight by Sidney Sheldon

This Monday, I was travelling back to Bangalore from a week-long vacation at home. I had about half an hour to kill at Kolkata airport before boarding, so I decided to check out the book-store.

I picked up two books: Memories of Midnight by Sidney Sheldon and A Train to Pakistan by Khuswant Singh. I had not bought a book for myself in the longest time – thanks to the online library facility, Kwench, that my company provides. Besides – I had not read something really interesting that would make me want to invest financially and space-wise. But this time I wanted a good way to spend the two and a half hours flight (too used to having internet, and flight mode basically sucks), so ended up purchasing these two books.

I can’t remember if I have read other Sheldon books, but needless to say, he’s a popular author. Even if I have not read his works, I remember reading such fast paced, mystery thriller books growing up – I was quite a fan of the genre at the time. I loved Gone Girl when I read it in 2016. However, when I revisited the genre through Memories of Midnight, I can’t say I was quite excited. Some of the key traits that jumped out for me are:

  • The fast pace of the writing, which is characterized by more telling than showing
  • While the character development is not poor, it does not feel like a priority, but more like a secondary requirement
  • The primary focus is on mind-boggling actions, bringing people back from the dead, showing larger-than-life (and in my mind, sometimes quite impossible) victories in business deals or courtrooms
  • Lastly, there are multiple scenes which leave nothing to the imagination on the reader’s part – with too many obvious paragraphs which can easily be dropped to make the narrative stronger

While I have nothing against the writer or people who enjoy such writing (thrill is always exciting), from a writer’s perspective, a lot of the book felt like poor, lazy writing. I realize that over the years my taste has changed towards more muted, and closer-to-life narratives. I am interested in the story of the common man, the trials of regular life that s/he faces. Which is why I avoid most of Bollywood flicks, unless I am really in the mood for some drama.

However, I must credit the writer for his research on how different professions work: from information on oil fields to courtroom dealings to a psychiatrist’s clinic – this book covers a lot of ground.

All that said, I guess each author has a specific audience. In fact, even though the writing was poor, I did end up finishing the book, because I wanted to see it through to the end. Moreover, even though I had another book to choose from in the flight, I started with this one, coz, well, I was looking for a popcorn style book, made for light read! 🙂

How do you feel about these popcorn-style books? Should publishing houses continue to publish such books? Which are your favorite authors in this genre?

The God of Small Things – Final Thoughts

The nice thing about books is they generate numerous conversations. While I was nose-deep into The God of Small Things, my roommate said, “How long will you keep reading? Ab bas bhi karo! (Translation: Stop it for now!).” Another flatmate flipped through the pages of the book and said how much the book had depressed her when she read it – so much so that she left it midway. I, for your information, did not leave it midway. Though I had every intention of doing so at first and in the middle.


The day I got this book through Kwench and was into the first ten pages, I wanted to return it right away. However, post-understanding the voice of this book, I learned to appreciate the beauty in it.

The God of Small Things is poetry in prose. The clever adjectives, the poignant yet vague details are part of a poem that takes Time to sink in. A few times I felt that I need a few more years to appreciate fully where the author was coming from.

The peculiar thing about this book is, its strengths are its weaknesses too. The moving back and forth in time generates active interest in the reader, increasing the want to know how things came to what they are today. According to the author,

“…the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again.

That is their mystery and their magic.”

– The God of Small Things

Following this reason, Ms. Roy lays bare the facts of the story early on. You know what has happened, and the story eventually comes around, after meandering this way and that. However, at times, having known the end, I found myself continuously going through different permutations and combinations in my mind, trying to form my own idea as to what might have happened on that fateful day (when things changed) that led to the pervading gloom of the protagonists’ lives. It was distracting for me, because I could not simply enjoy the story as it was being told. I was wondering if it would not be better if things were told in a simpler way, facts led bare as and when they happened, rather than the whimsical back and forth-ness in time.

Reading this book is like being in a daze. You are with the characters, you know sad things are happening in their lives, but after you close the book it is not really the characters’ pain that stays with you. Your head  is not populated with their world. There is a strange disconnect. For example, until quite late into the story, I had no idea how much Ammu loved the twins, how the twins themselves were connected – in short I was clueless about the personal interactions among the characters until quite  late – that is most probably because of the absence of that kind of dialogue and actions in the beginning. For example, we do not know what any given day, a normal day, in the lives of the people in Ayemenem is like.

One interesting thing about this book is the repeating catchphrases (Anything can happen to anyone, Things can change in a day etc.). They stay with you and make you nod your head when they appear. At the same time, especially when the story is going slow in the middle, it plays with your patience – you wonder if it isn’t entirely unnecessary, whether a straight time-frame might have suited the story better.

That said, for an aspiring writer, The God of Small Things is a treasure. It is the most experimental book that I’ve read so far. While reading it, you can see for yourself which devices work in a novel and which don’t. You can see for yourself how well being vague may actually work in a book if done well. Most importantly, The God of Small Things gives you the freedom of experimentation – it is like you have a palette and a canvas to yourself and you can do as you feel with it. For me, the author has re-created the English language itself, by choosing to use it as she willed, exploring the boundaries of the language, bending and twisting it. For someone like me whose first language is not English, this factor is very significant, because for most of us the language feels like a solid object, with rigid rules. Ms. Roy’s language is fluid and it flows of her will, not the other way around.

Like I said previously, this is one book that totally makes you choose sides: you either like it or your don’t. And indeed, The God of Small Things is a deeply melancholy book, so take care to know someone well before you suggest it as a must-read.

The God of Small Things – Initial Thoughts

While we are in training at office, every instructor starts by asking, “What are your expectations from this session?” Most of the time the answer is: We came with an open mind.

When I ordered The God of Small Things via Kwench, I did so with an open mind. I did not know what the book was about. I did not even read the book extract. I had heard the name of the book often and that it was famous. “So, let’s read it!” That was the thought.

Since I had no prior information as to the narrative and structure of this book, it caught me off guard. The adjectives are creative and new, certain non-noun words italicized. It felt like poetry. With the first chapter, I felt I had been forced inside the private life of a family, without even getting to know the family-members first. By the first chapter we know bad things have happened. The following chapters build on to that bad thing that happened.

The capitalization jagged my reading – I saw no sense in it. Eventually, I Googled the reason. Turns out the story is told through the limited point of view of a young girl. After I figured that out, the voice in the story felt much more natural.

When you read this book you realize that the young twins through whom this story is told are very sensitive to the visuals, smells and emotions around them. That’s why the adjectives hit you so hard. That said, I wondered if it is not beyond the a young mind to be so perceiving of the world around them, especially in such poignant details. Was the author trying too hard?

The God of Small Things is definitely one of those books which make you choose sides: you either like it or you don’t. That’s why it has got both one star and five star reviews. If you’re someone who likes experimental writing, disjointed narrative with jumping time-frame, totally uncommon adjectives to describe normal, commonplace events and emotions, you can’t help but fall in love with Roy’s masterpiece.

If you’re into reading to take your mind off things, relax yourself, get yourself a different book. This book has the potential to knock you off the edge and leave you hanging, disturbed and with a book-shaped hole in the universe of your mind.

Bound by Life – The Grand Release!

O my! It’s 20th June already. After all these weeks and all the hard work, my first book is finally releasing today!  For those of you who are visiting this blog for the first time, here’s some context: Bound by Life is a  collection of ten short stories based in India written by me, Arpita Pramanick. If you’re wondering who Arpita is, please check out my About page.


To honour the birth of my precious little book, I had decided to write stories every Saturday of this month. But since it’s the grand release today, I decided to make an exception. Today, I’d like to share with you the stories behind the stories in Bound by Life. By that I mean the stories of what/who inspired me to write each story of Bound by Life.

As a little girl, I had been indecently touched by a man at a local fair. I couldn’t have been more than twelve or thirteen at the time. That left a deep scar in my mind. I was so shocked at the time that I had not able to share the incident with anyone. For years, I tried to stay as far as I could from crowded places. I was scared of getting onto public buses. In general, I tried to stay as far as I could from men. When I started to write Bound by Life, that incident was one thing that I knew I had to share. I had kept it within myself for too long! Ultimately, that led me to write The Silent Victim, the very first story of the book.

Earlier this summer, a small circus had come to show in our neighbourhood. It was nothing fancy. In fact, the kind of props and lighting they had, I kinda thought the people at the circus were not making a lot of money. They had the usual tricks that they show in circuses: acts with knives and hats, trapeze. There was even an elephant. But the star of the humble show was a small, black goat. Now, I am not going to divulge how that little quadruped was special (you must read the book for that), but that inspired me to write The Last Show.

There are ten stories in Bound by Life, and each story has a story behind its origin. I’d have loved to share those here. But it’s not possible to do so without giving something away about the stories themselves (Spoiler Alert!). Hence, I want you all to read my book and find them out.

Bound by Life is my first book, and of course it is very special for me. I have already written about the things writing this book has taught me. Oh, in case you’re interested, I am still looking for bloggers to spread a word about this book on their blogs/websites. I have been giving away free Reviewer copies in exchange of an honest review since last week. Check this blog-post to receive a free reviewer copy.

Bound by Life is available in thirteen marketplaces through Amazon. I am sharing six of those here. It is priced at $3.00 (US dollars).  Please search the name of the book with the author’s name (that’s Arpita Pramanick for you) to see if it’s available in your local marketplace.

Bound by Life US       Bound by Life UK       Bound by Life India       Bound by Life France     Bound by Life Canada     Bound by Life Japan