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Review: The President is Coming

By Anuvab Pal. Grade: B+

The President is Coming premiered as a play on 19 January 2007 at the Prithvi Theatre, Mumbai. It opened nationwide in India as a film on 9 January 2009. It was produced by Rohan Sippy (RSE Entertainment) and directed by Kunaal Roy Kapur. The original cast inclided Shernaz Patel, Konkona Sen Sharma, Shivani Tanksale, Anand Tiwari, Namit Das, Vivek Gomber, Ira Dubey and others.

It’s 2006 and George Bush is about to come to India on state visit. As part of his tour, armed with the knowledge that 70 per cent of India is below thirty, he asks to meet one young Indian achiever who represents the new face of the nation.

The US consulate shortlists India Today’s six ‘top Indian achievers under thirty. They are a stockbroking genius, unfortunately named Kapil Dev, a possibly lesbian novelist, the CEO of a lipstick company, a not-for-profit activist with sexist views, a call center owner who once lived in America, and a Microsoft programmer who likes the ladies.

The winner will be selected through a round of tests, each more absurd than the other. The next day, the President will shake their hand among a long line of waiting Indian luminaries. And all six candidates are desperate to win—some are even prepared to sell their soul for it. Who will come out first?

Smart, slick, and sarcastic, The President is Coming is a searing comedy that captures the pulse of the nation like no other book has.
For example, check out this excerpt that describes India’s reception to Bush:

TPIC is a slapstick comedy that first premiered as a play, but received such an enthusiastic response that it was subsequently turned into a movie and a book. The book itself is a mere two hour read; a slapstick comedy à la  Salman Khan.

The premise is this: George Bush is preparing to make an official visit to India because of burgeoning Indo-US relations, and a person needs to be selected to shake his hand. The person is the representative of new India, and a nationwide hunt is done. The six candidates thus chosen are finalized by a shady PR company headed by the kleptomaniac Sam, and her assistant Ritu.

…The Times of India reported, ‘Bush Waves, India likes’ with a photo of the President waving from the Red Fort (where he was taken for a joint address to the nation after his press conference at Indira Gandhi International Airport where he said, ‘Namaste India’). ‘Namaste India’ is also a cooking show on Star TV but the President’s aides later explained that he was not endorsing the cooking show (which the US State Dept was confident was excellent) because the president hadn’t seen it. About a few hundred protestors gathered in clusters near the possible route of his cavalcade through New Delhi but the whole city was heavily cordoned off with commandos and Secret Service wearing gas masks. Some protestors burnt effigies, reports from Calcutta claimed that one person burnt himself (but subsequent reports said that he did that accidentally, quite unconcerned to the Presidential visit), and one large banner read, inexplicably, ‘Cut Down India’s Bush’.

The six candidates are a laugh riot of their own: A closet homosexual, a vain socialite fancying herself an entrepreneur, a math genius, a slightly deranged novelist, a stockbroker genius, and an anglophile call center owner. In those barely 200 pages, it would have been easy to get lost in their murky personalities, but the author brilliantly keeps a tight reign on every single one of them. While most of the narration is third person, the first person POV has also been very ingeniously used to give keen character insight, and acts as a source of much humour for the readers.

If it hadn’t already happened, my recommendation would have been to make it into a movie/play. An excellent way to while away a few hours, but don’t pick it up if you’re looking for some grey-cell stimulation.

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Review: Gideon’s Corpse

By Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child. Gideon Crew #2. Grade: C

I still can’t believe it took two, not one, very talented writers to pen down this particular piece of disaster.

A top nuclear scientist goes mad and takes an innocent family hostage at gunpoint, killing one and causing a massive standoff.
A plume of radiation above New York City leads to a warehouse where, it seems, a powerful nuclear bomb was assembled just hours before.
Sifting through the evidence, authorities determine that the unthinkable is about to happen: in ten days, a major American city will be vaporized by a terrorist attack.

Ten days. And Gideon Crew, tracking the mysterious terrorist cell from the suburbs of New York to the mountains of New Mexico, learns the end may be something worse–far worse–than mere Armageddon.

Gideon Crew is a brilliant nuclear scientist who suffers from a rare form of brain aneurysm and has been diagnosed with less than a year to live. All he wants to do is go back home for some R&R, but his boss has a tricky hostage situation that only Gideon can solve. The person who has taken an innocent family of four hostage in their own homes is an old co-worker of Gideon, and Gideon is sent to calm him down. As often the case is in novels, things are not what they seem. The scientist is killed in the showdown and is found to be radioactive. Everyone involved is quarantined and cleaned.

A recent conversion to Islam raises some red flags, and a conspiracy is pieced together: nuclear attack on Washington in the next ten days. Gideon is asked to pair up with a by-the-book FBI agent Fordyce, and asked to uncover the truth. There is also a romantic subplot. (Why? Why? Why do thriller writers shoehorn in ridiculous, utterly unbelievable romances into their novels? It’s painful.)

To sum up, I found the entire book absolutely overdone, contrived, and ridiculous.

First of all, if these are the kind of officers that are in charge in case of a nuke attack, I’d be seriously worried for myself. Gideon chases down an absolutely flaky lead (which of course turns out to be the antagonist later) mainly because the daughter is cute. Yep, that’s what your priority should be when you know the world is about to end in nine days.

There were a lot of unnecessary scenes, and in an effort to make Gideon look interesting, he has been given the following traits: brilliant nuclear scientist, an untraceable art thief, a tragic past, witnessing the death of his own father, and exactly one year to live. Yawn. The scenes were out of a computer game, or a bad Hollywood movie.

Fight the cult with chainsaws? Check.
Near Plane crash which they mysteriously survive? Check.
A heart-racing mine-cart ride, hurtling into oblivion? Check.
Lots of explosions, fire rings, and a movie set? Check.

Bad. Really bad. It was painful to finish. Please don’t waste your money on this. Go check out the duo’s Pendergast Series instead.


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Review: The Apple Revolution

By Luke Dormehl. Grade: A+


In the beginning (of the Information Age) was the void. And the void was digital. But lo, there came upon the land, the shadow of Steven Jobs (and Stephen Wozniak). And Steven (Stephen) said, ‘Let there be Apple.’ And there was Apple. And Steven (Stephen) beheld Apple. And it was good. And Apple begat Macintosh. And it was good. And soon upon the land there began to appear, The Cult of Macintosh. For they had tasted of Apple. And it was good.

Russell W. Belk and Gulnur Tumbat,
September 2005

After reading Walter Isaacson’s excellent – if a little hagiographic – authorized biography of Steve Jobs, I wasn’t interested in exploring another book along the same lines. But beware! The Apple Revolution by Luke Dormehl tells the same story, but follows a different path altogether. It takes a hard look at how a business empire such as Apple, known through the world for it’s unsurpassed innovation and creativity (yes, we know, Samsung tried), could emerge from the bearded-and-sandals-loving hippies of the 1970s California.

This is the story of how the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll generation changed the world for ever. Meet the Crazy Ones who created Silicon Valley – the hippies who started the Homebrew Computer Club; the young ad executive who first sketched out Apple’s iconic logo; the engineers who met lying down in a cardboard geodesic dome at Stanford University. From Steve Wozniak, who built the first breakthrough Apple computers, to Jony Ive, the young Brit who imagined the iPod – the designers and programmers, the geeks, creatives and dreamers, they are all here.

And at the centre of it all, a bearded and barefoot Steve Jobs, whose singular vision would will Apple Inc. into a future that it would come to own …


Steve Jobs is an interesting person to read about. He is brilliant, charismatic, incredibly photogenic, and the dressing on top: highly cranky. He is a legend, the college dropout who became a supercool billionnaire and single-handedly led a digital revolution that transformed billions of lives across hundreds of nations. And the technology writer and filmmaker makes full use of that. Luke Dormehl gives a broader take on that legendary man’s life by including his time at Reed College, at Atari, NeXt and Pixar, topics that have never been looked at from that angle before. The author argues that the 60s counterculture – which took in anti-war protests, the civil rights movement and the sexual revolution – was a formative experience for Apple’s bearded and barefoot founders, Steves Jobs and Wozniak, and paved the way for the digital revolution we’re enjoying today.

The writing is smooth, and rich with anecdotes that even the most devoted fans would not have heard. However, it does drag on at times, with the author discussing people and topics that have little connection to the big picture for pages and pages (the author of Apple Writer Paul Lutus gets as much as footage as two Apple CEOs).

Some may argue that Apple is cashing upon it’s “snob factor” marketing strategy: we make amazing products because you are amazing and you wouldn’t have chosen us otherwise. Some may also argue exactly what Apple is countering today? It is the counterculture. Towards the end, even the author admits that “today it’s difficult to think of Apple as a countercultural entity”.

To sum up, this is a story about how a garage business started by two long haired college dropouts rose to become the tech giant that Apple, Inc. is today. The author also narrates in an  engaging and often hilarious manner the story of the rise of the all-conquering Apple ideology; the revolution it came from, the one it helped start and the one it left behind.

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Review: A Coupla Shades of Taupe: A Parody

By Court Burback. Grade B+

After I read Fifty Shades of Grey, and posted a few hate messages to E. L James on her Twitter handle, I still couldn’t stop making fun of the book. Yes, I admit, the hours I spent reading FSOG are the ones I’ll always loathe.

After a month of reading it, there came a savior to get my life back on track after reading FSOG- It was Court Burback with her book A Coupla Shades of Taupe.

Pagan Taupe is the wealthiest man in all of Arkansas. He’s got a home with a working refrigerator, a private rickshaw driver, and a respected empire of taxidermy/fro-yo chain stores. The only thing that’s missing is a whiny young co-dependent named Alexandra Aluminum. From the moment he sees her tripping over an angry raccoon, it’s clear that Alexandra dills his pickle. Pagan becomes obsessed with 

Alexandra at a level normally portrayed by Rob Lowe in Lifetime movies. But unlike Rob Lowe, Pagan doesn’t want to beat her with a tire iron and bury her beneath the town bridge—he wants to make her his live-in sex slave.

But if eager young Alexandra wants to feel the caress of Pagan’s ear hair against her cheek, she’s going to have to play by his rules. When Pagan reveals the special room he’s built to live out his sexual proclivities, Alexandra’s natural reaction is to cold cock him and call the police. But the clown chained to the wall assures Alexandra that Pagan is a stand-up guy, and if she gives him a chance he can introduce her to a world of unimaginable pleasure. Alexandra takes the leap and agrees to be Pagan’s unquestioning “submissive,” and the two embark on a sexual journey that would make Gloria Steinem put a loaded gun to her temple.

A COUPLA SHADES OF TAUPE is a romantic, tender tale of blossoming emotions and hardcore schtupping. A Pulitzer is inevitable.


As the name says, it is a parody of the record breaking, crappy bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey. The action of the spoof starts right from the name of the book. After that there’s no stopping. While Anastasia Steel dies over the looks of the rich and young entrepreneur Christian Grey in FSOG, in ACSOT, you’d find Alexandra Aluminum’s heart captured by the wealthy Pagan Taupe who plays the dominant in their BDSM relationship.

The book has a slow start, but after just a few pages, I was laughing into my palm, because it was that funny. My ribs hurt. Soon after ten or so pages, I had a million of “WTF!” moments at the awkward situations Pagan and Alex created. Ahead of that, it made me laugh like mad.

There’s nothing about FSOG that the author has not made fun of in the book. Be it their names, the incidents, the characters or the novel on the whole, you have everything to chuckle at. The best part of it was the spoof at E. L. James and her writing style. That absolutely cracked me up. I’ll quote a few examples:

“I’m sorry if I came off as a bit…controlling,” he says with a mischievous grin. “But I’m a man that enjoys exerting control, you see. And I believe that there are those that would actually enjoy relinquishing their will to feed my—” He sighs. “I don’t know how many other ways there are to insinuate that I like control, Miss Aluminum. But it’s important that someone, say, a bored, sexually frustrated housewife, understand that we’re blatantly and unimaginatively setting up a future sexual dynamic here.”


 My eyes drift around the office. The room is cold, clean, and clinical, and, like his garments, bathed in colors that a lazy romance novelist might describe to insinuate his personality.


 He nods. “Alexandra, do you know that it’s been, like, two whole pages since we had sex?”

My eyes widen. “Really? Shit.”

 “Should I just, I don’t know…do you on the desk or something?”

“Yeah. That’s cool.”

I bend over the desk and Pagan pulls out his pork sword and whispers generic sexy things and then velvet caresses, moans of ecstasy, castles in the sky, blah blah blah. Five minutes later he’s sprawled naked on a couch scarfing a hoagie and watching Say Yes to the Dress.


 Pagan sighs. “Alexandra, this is my sister Mina. She’s another fairly forgettable character and only appears in this one scene.”


There are hardly many writers, I believe, that can pull as good a comedy as Ms. Burback. Be it Alex’s syphilis stricken friend Candy, the ‘Sometimes Girlfriend’ goat of Pagan, the tied up clown Bill, or the human rickshaw that Pagan gifts Alex, Ms. Burback gives you something to giggle at in every single paragraph.

I hate comparing authors, but since we are talking about a lampoon here, I’d like to tell you that while FSOG was gross and erotic, ACSOT is a hilarious tale of the sexual tragedies and comedies of Alex and Pagan’s relationship.

Ms. Burback has a graceful writing style of her own, and the way E. L James writes is not even worth the comparison. ACSOT, unlike FSOG, is very well written, well edited and not repetitive at all.

I’m sure that you will crack-up after reading A Coupla Shades of Taupe, if you read and Hated FSOG. Even if you haven’t read it, you would surely have a nice laugh reading the book.

Nevertheless, I do not recommend this for FSOG lovers. They better wait for E. L James’ next, while I will be looking forward to the coming works of Ms. Burback.

I wish her good luck with the book!

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Review: The Affair

By Lee Child. Jack Reacher #16. Grade: A

All the Reacher novels are in chronological order, but The Affair is a prequel of sorts. It tells us why Reacher left the army, and fills in that particular gap in his resume.

March 1997. A woman has her throat cut behind a bar in Carter Crossing, Mississippi. Just down the road is a big army base. Is the murderer a local guy – or is he a soldier? Jack Reacher, still a major in the military police, is sent in undercover.
The county sheriff is a former U.S. Marine – and a stunningly beautiful woman. Her investigation is going nowhere. Is the Pentagon stonewalling her? Or doesn’t she really want to find the killer?

The adrenaline-pumping, high-voltage action in The Affair is set just six months before the opening of “Killing Floor”, and it marks a turning point in Reacher’s career. If he does what the army wants, will he be able to live with himself? And if he doesn’t, will the army be able to live with him? Is this his last case in uniform?

Let me be the one to admit it: this is my first Child novel. No, no, I haven’t been living under a rock for the last eighteen years. I just never got the chance to check him out, but when the opportunity presented, I grabbed it by the horns.

The premise looked good from the very beginning. Jack Reacher is the kick-ass anti-hero whom Captain America wouldn’t want to cross. In this particular affair, he is working undercover to solve three unexplained murders in a small military-base town in 1997 Mississippi. Reacher is here an MP and was sent only after the third murder in nine months – a slit throat of a young white woman. There he meets the stunningly beautiful Elizabeth Deveraux, who was an MP herself and figures Jack out in five minutes. She comes across as a very smart woman, which was why I was so terribly disappointed by her non-stop stupidity a hundred pages later.

Anyhow, Reacher investigates, and when his investigation leads back to the military base and an officer with strong connections to Washington, D.C., Reacher realizes that this is no ordinary investigation: the powers-that-be don’t want to uncover the truth, and in fact are set on burying it. Reacher, though a U.S. Army officer, holds his ultimate allegiance to the truth, which puts him in direct conflict with his superior, among others.

The novel is written in first person POV, with a terse narrative that I have come to recognize as typical Reacher.

I didn’t want to be late for dinner. I wasn’t angry, really. Well, not at first. I got a bit frustrated later. You know, mentally. I mean, when there were four of them, I gave them the chance to come back in numbers. And what did they do? They added two more guys. That’s all. They show up with a total of six. What is that about? It’s deliberate disrespect.

There is some great back-and-forth dialogue, despite the short sentences often coming across as incondite and repetitive. There is also some dry humour woven through the narrative, spicing things up. The mystery is excellent; the build-up is slow in places, but required  for the plot to work. It would have made it to my favourite books of 2012 if not for a couple of reasons:

1. Elizabeth Deveraux aka The Stupidest Woman Alive. Readers may point out that the reason she pissed me off so much because despite eating pies and cheeseburgers for years daily, she still looks like a supermodel. Nobody’s metabolism is just that good.

But no, that’s not my problem with her. She falls for the hero almost immediately (and goes to bed with him) even though she figures out exactly what he’s up to in the first five minutes. More importantly, she has no investigation in place. Two (black) women have died, but she really snaps into action with the third one. It’s not like she has much to do, living in this small hick of a town. She does not investigate family, check relationship history, and fails to make important – and easily deductible – connections. She is said to have a thirst for justice, but boy, you could have fooled me.

She quit the Marines after 16 years. Who would do that when she would be four years away from a life long pension, PX and medical privileges, etc?

2. I also did not care for Jack Reacher’s moral depth in this story. Too much unwarranted killing and too little compassion make the main character seem as malevolent as the bad guys he is after. What you have is an invincible hunk, an MP by profession, who is the investigator, enforcer, judge and executioner. Somehow in this odd tale Reacher kills four – yes, four - people without breaking a sweat or even being asked to explain his actions. In a novel that already lacks a moral core, this is unsettling.

At the end of this book, he begins his wanderings, leaving a stunningly beautiful woman behind, who wants nothing more than sex with the Major, anywhere, anytime. Sure, he’s out of the Army, but why would he leave her? He even likes her. She used to be an MP, too. There was a distinct lack of character depth.

“I was thirty-six years old, a citizen of a country I had barely seen, and there were places to go, and there were things to do. There were cities, and there was countryside. There were mountains, and there were valleys. There were rivers. There were museums, and music, battlefields and birthplaces, and legends, and roads. There was company if I wanted it, and there was solitude if I didn’t.

I picked a road at random, and I put one foot on the curb and one in the traffic lane, and I stuck out my thumb.”


Overall, I’d say that the ending was a little unsatisfying, and the goof-ups and technical irrationality in places will make your skin grow cold, but if you want an excellent action-packed novel where the hero always kicks butt and saves the day, go for Lee Child.

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Review: Dream Lake

By Lisa Kleypas. Friday Harbor #3. Grade: A

I really like Lisa Kleypas’s contemporary romances. The historical ones…not so much. I had loved Rainshadow Raod, and had been waiting for this one for quite some time. It was even better than I expected.

They say that opposites attract. But what happens when one has been devastated by betrayal and the other is so jaded that his heart is made of stone? Enter the world of Friday Harbor, an enchanting town in the Pacific Northwest where things are not quite as they seem and where true love might just have a ghost of a chance….

Alex Nolan is as bitter and cynical as they come. One of the three Nolan brothers who call Friday harbor home, he’s nothing like Sam or Mark. They actually believe in love; they think the risk of pain is worth the chance of happiness. But Alex battles his demons with the help of a whiskey bottle, and he lives in his own private hell. And then a ghost shows up. Only Alex can see him, Has Alex finally crossed over the threshold to insanity?

Zoë Hoffman is as gentle and romantic as they come. When she meets the startling gorgeous Alex Nolan, all her instincts tell her to run. Even Alex tells her to run. But something in him calls to Zoë, and she forces him to take a look at his life with a clear eye and to open his mind to the possibility that love isn’t for the foolish.

The ghost has been existing in the half-light of this world for decades. He doesn’t know who he is, or why he is stuck in the Nolans’ Victorian house. All he knows is that he loved a girl once. And Alex and Zoë hold the key to unlocking a mystery that keeps him trapped here.

Zoë and Alex are oil and water, fire and ice, sunshine and shadow. But sometimes it takes only a glimmer of light to chase away the dark, and sometimes love can reach beyond time, space, and reason to take hold of hearts that yearn for it…

Dream Lake is written in parallel to the other books in the series. Faithful readers of the series must already be aware of Alex and the issues he was dealing with – his recent divorce and his parents’ drunkenness have turned him into a mean alcoholic who is barely functioning normally, but refuses to accept there’s a problem. However, in this book, we see this in a much brighter light. Alex isn’t your charming hero. He’s dark, and brooding and a mean bastard a lot of the time. But when he is with Zoe, some of that changes a little.

Zoe Hoffman is a wonderful cook and a beautiful person, inside and out. Her dishes were described in great detail and made my mouth water. Her father was a total bastard to her, and that is why she has been attracted to emotionally unavailable men all her life (or so her cousin summarizes). She is immediately attracted to Alex, but still hurting from her ex-husband’s betrayal, and knows in her head that Alex is not the heart-and-flowers guy she needs. Both of them decide to keep their distance from each other, but the heart knows better.

My first impression of this story was I couldn’t believe that a ghost’s POV was starting out the book. The ghost, who has no idea what his name is, where he came from or even what he looks like, can only be seen by Alex, a man spiraling downward at a fast pace, losing himself in a bottle every night and watching his life fall apart after a failed divorce. Alex can see and talk to the ghost and where Alex goes, so does he. The ghost has a strong attachment to Rainshadow Road and asks Alex to go through the many boxes in the attic in the hopes of figuring out who he is and why he might be stuck here. The start of this book was very ghost heavy, setting up his connection to Alex and how he’s also connected to Zoe. The first half is like that, with the author concentrating on character development and establishing relationships. It works very well.

Despite his brittle exterior, Alex has decency left in him, and you fall for him – hard and fast. Zoe, too, was extremely likable. I have nothing to complain because the book was all good. Emma, Zoe’s grandmother, was a delight to read. Her affair with the ghost will cause many brimming eyes, and some quiet moments of introspection about opportunities lost and chances missed.

I will never forget you and your obnoxious singing and smartass comments, and the way you saved my life. You became the friend I didn’t even know I needed. And you made me realize that the worst thing isn’t dying, but dying without ever having loved someone.

The humour quotient perhaps could have been upped a little, and I wanted to see some scenes with Lucy, but overall, the book’s a romance novel the way romance novels were meant to be. There was a perfect balance between all the emotions, and this new magical theme that Kleypas is trying is working really well for me.

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