Sandstorm – James Rollins

Ever since i discovered the “historical genre”, i have been trolling the bookshops for any author who might fit the category. I discovered James Rollins at the airport and within a few months, i had read all the books in the “Sigma” series. They are entertaining, lots of fighting and always a historical mystery to save the world. Reading James Rollins books without wikipedia can often be frustrating (at least for me) since the more involved you get into the history, the more you want to find out and read about it.

Sandstorm is the first book in the Sigma series – and at the onset itself, the team is betrayed by the boss. Post a mysterious bomb blast at British Museum, Painter is assigned to discover the cause and contain any discoveries / materials that could lead to the destruction of the world. At the museum, while escaping the villainous group, who is always one step ahead, he saves the life of Safia (historian) and hence on they embark on the earth saving journey. First half of the book deals with the travel arrangements, lay out of complicated relationships and past and identification of the antagonist.

The story revolves around the discovery of keys to the lost city of Ubar (which i googled and read about, obviously) and why the city was sealed by Queen Sheeba long time ago. The story is set in the desert sands of Oman and the historical places referred to in the book do exist in the modern times. We also encounter a group of Parthenogenesis females – who are genetically capable of giving birth without any contribution from the male species and are the descendants or part of Queen Sheeba herself. The book comes to head with the confrontation of the good and the bad guys. It ends with the death of the treacherous Sigma head.

The main plot is predictable, however what makes it super interesting are the historical details and much trivia thrown in. The authors effort shines through the book and apart from weaving the history into the story line, most of the discovered facts remain as close to the truth as possible. The lineage of various words, beliefs and events are described as are common and yet different from tribes, regions, religions etc.

If you are a historical fiction fan and have the patience to go through a regular thriller for the joy of reading about unusual history (since the author has already done all the hard work for you) this series will definitely resonate with you.

Book List

Honestly, picking a few books out of thousands you’ve read is insanely difficult (never realised this before). After much deliberation, i am listing out the ones which are my favorites in my mind at this moment, though this list changes by the hour, so dont be surprised if i quote something completely different as my favorite later:

1) Gone with the wind by Margaret Mitchell– recommended by my mom and from where my reading journey and my love for Scarlett O’Hara started and is still going strong “with enough courage, you can do without a reputation”

2) I, Claudius by Robert Graves – Initiation into “historical fiction” as a genre which soon became my favourite

3) From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman – Post Leon Uris Exodus, i did a lot of googling on Israel and its formation, this book helped put things in perspective. I can re-read this book and still get the same pleasure even now.

4) Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak – if you are feeling low, open this book at any page and it infuses a sort of positive energy in you….the pleasure of visiting Rumi’s home town in Turkey was much enhanced for me. “If we are the same person before and after we loved, that means we haven’t loved enough”

5) Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – Looking for a laugh, open this one at any page “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so”

6) Montalbano series by Andrea Camilleri – interesting, funny and short…thanks  to a fellow traveler and now a good friend for introducing me to these hilarious yet poignant detective series.

7) Did i say i read all genres, so yeah romance features as well – right? Susan Elizabeth Philips is my favourite romance writer…my favourite being “Fancy Pants” predictable, funny and teaches you a lot about golf

8) The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins – How do i define this book – poignant? “The re-dipping of the dishes was a small matter, but the emotional texture of married life is made up of small matters. This one had become invested with a fatal quality” How would a wife feel when the husband leaves her not for a younger and a prettier woman but for an older and an uglier woman. Which alternative is better – really?

9) The Paris Wife by Paula Mclain – recently read this one and top of mind is high. It changed the way i read Ernest Hemingway….he became human, a man with faults and immaturities and insecurities instead of this super amazing writer i always admired. I truly believe, behind every successful male writer there is a woman

10) Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley  – this not yet teenage girl ( in the beginning of the series) is a precocious child with ediatic knowledge about poison and chemistry, who takes unusual pleasure in playing pranks on her elder sisters when in need of attention. This character is quite a budding detective to the chagrin of the local police. “If there is a thing I truly despise, it is being addressed as “dearie.” When I write my magnum opus, A Treatise Upon All Poison, and come to “Cyanide,” I am going to put under “Uses” the phrase “Particularly efficacious in the cure of those who call one ‘Dearie.”

Get cracking! Its your turn now 🙂 tell me about the books you love.

Chanakya Chants – Ashwin Sanghi

“Politics is far too serious a matter to be left to the politicians” Chanaya’s Chants – Ashwin Sanghi

Since i started reading “historical fictions” a decade or so back, i have been contemplating writing one myself. If a “Da Vinci Code” can be created taking religion as the basis, Hindu religion is full of such instances or episodes which could be converted into a mythical and yet a gripping story line.

Alas, that never happened but i chanced upon this book by an Indian author which at first go promised to be a peek into Indian History. However, what i was not counting on was a well written and compelling storyline drawing comparisons to the “oh-so-old” times” and the contemporary ways. As you read the story you wonder if “Pandit Gangaprasad Mishra” is the modern day “Chanakya” putting into action the learnings and cunnings that Chanakya is known for or is it just a disillusioned world of politics where the author is out to prove that political discussions or media may have changed slightly however, the arena itself is exactly the same as it was 2300 years or more ago.

I do think that author should have dramatised or atleast illustrated the part of story which is entirely based on a curse on Chanakya a lot more – which was coming into action only after a few centuries. Some of the episodes are avoidable and give a Bollywood like feel to the book at times. Nevertheless, the script is witty and well written with no compulsive description of surroundings and atmosphere etc, keeping the readers imagination active along with the book. There are pages in the book which ensure a few chuckles and then at times when you pick up the current newspaper – it makes you wonder if all what we read, is just a game between some politicians and their entourage.

Chandni Gupta the protagonist in the book is portrayed to be a bold and intelligent woman, however at times comes across as a puppet. Pandit GangaPrasad Mishra who seems like the anchor / narrator of the story is portrayed to be infallible. When i finished the book last night for a few minutes i kept thinking if making her the prime minister was panditji’s main aim which he achieved – who is now going to ensure that she stays where she has reached and with goodwill. Chandragupta Maurya, who was in a similar way installed on the throne of Bharat, by Chanakya, was a strong leader and a courageous warrior, who lacked the political acumen of Chanakya but more than made up for it where it came to other qualities

Well, without giving away the entire plot my dear readers, i highly recommend this book to all the fiction lovers – from entertainment value.

in the name of the father (of the son) – Immanuel Mifsud

“Now that the last sentence has been written and i’ve turned the page and found the cover, I can finally take a deep breath and turn out the light.”

Not my usual run of the mill book choice. Well, while going through Facebook at the airport, i came across a national geographic link which said ten books describing / about different countries. Some of the book choices are quite interesting (like the one i am reviewing now).

The book “in the name….” has been translated from Maltese and though, its a skinny 50 page book, i found it hard to read at one go. I would come across a line / paragraph / poetry and it would completely derail my thinking, digressing inwards and deeply introspective. For example, while reading one entire page full of what the author is afraid of, i came up with pages and pages of things/people/situations that scare me. I enjoyed it – my time through the book as much as my time sorting out my thoughts.

“You wanted to write your story so that some day your son would write the story of your story” is an apt summary of this book contents. The son reading the diary of his soldier father, goes through various emotions in this book – childhood / boy hood memories, conflicts, confessions, resentments, admiration and deep, sometimes dark, thoughts. It is sometimes a poem and other times a diary, never truly one or the other.

The language is beautiful and sentiments heartfelt. There is cruel selfishness as only a child can feel towards the parents, there is idolisation and disillusion of it turning into a mundane human, pathos and disdain along with pity and loss.

I did enjoy reading the book, though the end confused me, i did not understand what it implied.