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Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 - The Year in Reading and the Best Books I've Read this Year

Alright, it's the festive season and this is the time of the year I assume this air of self-importance & write about the best books I read in the year, just like what I did in the dying hours of New Year's Eve, 2012. If you were kind enough to read my list from last year, thank you. For those who didn't, well, please do & note that the books in the list were not exactly published in 2012 but they were read by yours truly in that year, so they made their way onto it. I'll be doing the same for this year's list as well, but since I accomplished my best-ever yearly haul till date (90 to be exact), I will feel criminal if I had to restrict the list to just 10 books. So to make it a bit poetic, the list will comprise the 13 best books I read in 2013. (13 - 2013, see?)

Before I start on the list, let's take stock of what I set out to do in terms of reading at the start of 2013 & what I eventually ended up doing. I read quite a bit of sports literature in 2012 but the focus this year was primarily on fiction, the sports books' count being a meagre 5 out of 90. I have to admit that figure includes short novellas (Fitzgerald's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Kafka's The Metamorphosis, Stephen King's Throttle & Nick Hornby's Everyone's Reading Bastard! among others) as well as graphic novels (Herge's Tintin & Mark Millar's Kick-Ass) but everyone needs a break at times from serious literature & if you think I was slacking a bit, I wasn't. Here's the proof -

Yeah, the actual amount exceeds even that since these stats arrived in my mailbox in mid-December & I've continued to read long-form pieces on Pocket. Though I haven't read The Great Gatsby yet. Yeah, shame on me. Next year, definitely.

Thanks to the Goodreads Reading Challenge, I backed myself to pick up writers I'd never read before - some of them being Jhumpa Lahiri, Haruki Murakami, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Orhan Pamuk & Chuck Palahniuk. My initial target was set at 50, but I completed that in just over six months which induced me to raise it to 75 & that was accomplished by the end of October as well. So thank you Goodreads & everyone present on my friends list there, for you have been very helpful through your recommendations, reviews & discussions.

I also finally bought a tablet computer (which is no big deal though I'll try to make it sound like that) in June & that has given me access to hundreds of books I only imagined I would buy someday. That's right - I perhaps bought around 200 books (from used-book stores) in the period from September 2012 to June 2013 but my crazy buying habits declined considerably after the purchase of a tab. That being said, I still feel the buzz when I walk into a bookstore that I'd probably never feel when I browse through the Aldiko app shelves on my tablet.

Enough of the digression, though 'The Year in Reading' is clearly mentioned before 'The Best Books I've read' in the title of the post itself. Let me proceed with my list of the 13 books I felt were the best ones I've read in 2013. Every book on the list possibly has its merits & limitations, so the order I'm sticking with is chronological i.e. the order in which I read them this year. Here you go -

Animal Farm

Author: George Orwell

Publisher: Rupa Classics Library [Paperback]

First Published: 1945

Summary: Manor Farm is like any other English farm, except for a drunken owner, Mr Jones, incompetent workers and oppressed animals. Fed up with the ignorance of their human masters, the animals rise up in rebellion and take over the farm. Led by intellectually superior pigs like Snowball and Napolean, the animals vow to take charge of their destiny and remove the inequities of their lives. But as time passes, they realize that things aren't happening quite as expected...

Animal Farm is, on one level, a simple story about barnyard animals. On a much deeper level, it is a savage political satire on corrupted ideals, misdirected revolutions and class conflict - themes as valid today as they were sixty years ago.

Review: I remember reading it in the college library the day after I returned from our college trip to Hyderabad. I finished it under two hours & by the end, my mind was blown. On the face of it, it looks like one of Aesop's Fables but it's actually a hard-hitting work of political satire in which Orwell criticizes Stalin's highly-flawed Communist philosophy & tears it apart to shreds through dexterous use of allegory. One runs out of words admiring the way Orwell does it. 'Animal Farm' is a masterpiece of English literature & The Economist was not much off the mark in its praise - "Some classics are more equal than others."

The Sense of an Ending

Author: Julian Barnes

Publisher: Jonathan Cape [Hardcover]

First Published: 2011

Summary: Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they would navigate the girl-less sixth form together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they all swore to stay friends for life.

Now Tony is in middle age. He’s had a career and a single marriage, a calm divorce. He’s certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer’s letter is about to prove.

The Sense of an Ending is the story of one man coming to terms with the mutable past. Laced with trademark precision, dexterity and insight, it is the work of one of the world's most distinguished writers.

Review: I was bit unhappy with trying to make sense of the ending of this aptly-named Booker Prize-winning novel, but I love how the story unfolds - the now-sixty-something narrator Tony Webster first gives us a version of his side of events (as in whatever he manages to infer from memory) & tells us about his school life, friends - in particular Adrian Finn (the most pivotal character in this book) & his romantic forays during his youth. Just when you start drawing out your conclusions about the characters' personalities, a letter arrives out of nowhere & sets wheels in motion, of which nothing good can ever come out. As the letter manages to refurbish Tony Webster's memories about his relationship with Veronica among other events, the true nature of every character is revealed as the novel progresses there onward.

Where this novel's brilliance is most evident is how it manages to tell a rather long story in 150 odd pages. In fact, you never get the feeling that it's such a short read. All in all, 'The Sense of an Ending' by Julian Barnes is a must read for fans of literary fiction & those who are looking to grab a slice of life's innumerable tragicomedies. Highly recommended.

Life of Pi

Author: Yann Martel

Publisher: Canongate [Paperback]

First Published: 2001

Summary: After the tragic sinking of a cargo ship, one solitary lifeboat remains bobbling on the wild, blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen-year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a zebra (with a broken leg), a female orangutan... and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger.

The scene is set for one of the most extraordinary works of fiction in recent years.

Review: I'm not an atheist. I'm not agnostic. I'm not deeply religious. And I'm not much of a spiritual person either. But when I consider this book as a work of literature, I'm lost for words. This book is essentially a fantasy novel, but there are so many other elements in this novel. There's science fiction. There is magical realism. There's fable & there's allegory. There is spiritualism & there is religion too - two concepts which are separated from one another by a marginally thin line. When all these elements are combined together - you either get an incredible mess of philosophical shit that would be hardly understood by anyone, or you get an extraordinary tale of adventure, survival & courage in the face of adversity. And the latter is what Yann Martel's Booker Prize-winning novel 'Life of Pi' exactly is.

It doesn't matter whether you've watched Ang Lee's excellent movie adaptation. It's not very dissimilar, but I still reckon you read this book just because it's such a fantastic story on so many levels. Highly recommended & a must read for readers across all genres.

Look at the Birdie

Author: Kurt Vonnegut

Publisher: Vintage Originals [Paperback]

First Published: 2009

Summary: Look at the Birdie is a surprising and often hilarious collection of stories set in post-war America, a world of squabbling couples, high school geniuses, misfit office workers, and small-town Lotharios.

Though written early in his career and never published before, these stories showcase all Vonnegut's trademark skills - a deep sense of humanity, a sharp eye for the absurd and humour in the most unlikely of places.

Review: The stories in this compilation dabble in a variety of genres - ranging from sci-fi to romance to whodunit to allegory to Depression-era coming-of-age tales to life's tragicomedies. There is a maverick inventor who creates a billion-dollar talking machine that delves into the darkest recesses of one's mind ('Confido') & then they are tiny beings who fly around in a spaceship that looks like a paper knife ('The Nice Little People'). You have a dull, boring PR officer whose bright new assistant gives him love & his life back ('FUBAR'), a squabbling couple who have lost love on account of one spouse finding fame ('Shout About It from the Housetops') & then you see two naive rich love birds having their first brush against poverty in the Depression era ('King and Queen of the Universe').

There are two tales of crime & mystery too - 'Ed Luby's Key Club' moves at the blistering pace of a thriller while 'The Honor of the Newsboy' is a classic whodunit. And let's not forget the one from which the compilation gets its title, where a once-upon-a-time quack finds a new way to make his living. My personal favourite, however, has to be 'The Petrified Ants' - all I can say that for me, it's somewhat of a crossover short story equivalent of George Orwell's two greatest works. I'm not kidding.

In each of the stories here, you find that touch of humanity in the narrative, the raw emotions, the deep understanding of how people react to different situations & Vonnegut's uncanny ability to find humour in the unlikeliest of places. The storytelling is simplistic & straightforward but yet so good & pleasant to read. Highly recommended for those who enjoy short stories & fans of the author, for it does provide valuable insight into the making of one of America's greatest post-war writers.

City of Thieves

Author: David Benioff

Publisher: Sceptre [Paperback]

First Published: 2008

Summary: In the coldest winter in history, in a starving city under siege, two prisoners are thrown together on a desperate adventure.

Lev, a shy, chess-loving teenager and Kolya, a charismatic chancer.

They are given one week to complete an extraordinary mission: to scout the ravaged countryside and find a dozen eggs.

Or come back empty-handed, and die.

Review: I really didn't think I could be shocked by anything in Stalinist Russia after 'Child 44', but I was wrong. In a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt to find the impossible. A search that takes them through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and the devastated surrounding countryside creates an unlikely bond between this earnest, lust-filled teenager and an endearing Lothario with the gifts of a conman.

Set in the backdrop of the siege of Leningrad during WWII, 'City of Thieves' is an intimate coming-of-age tale with an utterly contemporary feel for how boys become men. It is a mix of all the right ingredients in just the right amounts & you're never bored or distracted once you're into it. A terrific & brilliant book - an absolute page-turner from start to end.

Norwegian Wood

Author: Haruki Murakami [translated by Jay Rubin]

Publisher: The Harvill Press [eBook]

First Published: 1987

Summary: Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.

A poignant story of one college student’s romantic coming-of-age, Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man’s first, hopeless, and heroic love.

Review: Perhaps the novel that I connected with the most on an intimate & extremely personal level. That perhaps explains why I failed to write a review for the book on Goodreads at the time & am still unable to. Laced with Murakami's beautiful & surrealistic writing, this is a heartwarming tale of love, loss & life. If you're looking to pick up Murakami for the first time in 2014, this is probably the best place to start.

Em and The Big Hoom

Author: Jerry Pinto

Publisher: Aleph [Paperback]

First Published: 2012

Summary: In a one-bedroom-hall-kitchen in Mahim, Bombay, Imelda Mendes – Em to her children – holds her family in thrall with her flamboyance, her compelling imagination, her unspoken love, her sometimes cruel candour. Through this, her husband, to whom she was once ‘buttercup’, her son and daughter learn to cope with her mania and her frequent wish to die.

A searing, and at times darkly funny, study of mental illness, Jerry Pinto's first novel is also a deeply moving story about love and family relationships.

Review: Jerry Pinto took twenty-five odd years to write his debut novel but when he finally managed to finish it, you can only stare in amazement (after you've read it, of course) at his marvellous achievement. Writing a book about mental illness is pretty much equivalent to walking a tightrope, but Pinto infuses this story with just the right doses of humour, love, frustration, sorrow & nostalgia. Winner of the Hindu Literary Prize & the Crossword Book Award for Fiction, this is a gem of a book & I highly recommend it for its sensitive handling of a difficult subject.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Author: Stephen King

Publisher: Pocket Books [Paperback]

First Published: 2000

Summary: "Long live the King" hailed Entertainment Weekly upon the publication of Stephen King's On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer's craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King's advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999 -- and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, "On Writing" will empower and entertain everyone who reads it -- fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.

Review: Part memoir & part writing manual, Stephen King gives us a modern classic of sorts in 'On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft'. Having been touted by fans & critics alike as the undisputed king of storytelling, King starts off by explaining the reason behind writing this book in the first place. He then moves on to telling us about his journey towards becoming the writer he is today - his childhood, inspirations from pop culture in his adolescent years & the struggling phase of his career as he barely managed to make ends meet. In 'Toolbox' & 'On Writing', King lists down the essentials one would require to become a successful writer as far as popular fiction is concerned. He covers aspects like vocabulary, grammar, dialogue, narrative pace among others while illustrating the points he makes with the help of numerous excerpts from his own works as well as those of others. In the final third of this book (On Living), King narrates the near-fatal road accident he suffered in agonizing detail & how writing eventually helped him recover both physically & mentally.

Recommended for those who love to read, highly recommended for those who intend to pursue a career in writing & a must read for those who wish to discover the love of doing both.

Shalimar the Clown

Author: Salman Rushdie

Publisher: Vintage [Paperback]

First Published: 2005

Summary: Los Angeles, 1991. Maximilian Ophuls ius knifed to death on the doorstep of his illegitimate daughter India, slaughtered by his Kashmiri driver, a mysterious figure who calls himself Shalimar the Clown. The dead man is a World War II resistance hero, a man of formidable intellectual ability and much erotic appeal, a former United States ambassador to India, and subsequently America's counter-terrorism chief. The murder looks at first like a political assassination but turns out to be passionately personal.

This is the story of Max, his killer, and his daughter - and of a fourth character, the woman who links them all. The story of a deep love gone fatally wrong, destroyed by a shallow affair, it is an epic narrative that moves from California to France, England, and above all, Kashmir: a ruined paradise, not so much lost as smashed.

Review: I've been a reader for some time now & I've read a few good books but none of them have made me realise the power of fiction. Until I picked up 'Shalimar the Clown'. By all means, Salman Rushdie is no mean writer. What he does is that he weaves an epic narrative that transcends time, space as well as continents as we follow the lives & fortunes of the major players of this tale.

We see ourselves transported back in the past, to a time when Kashmir was still what the Great Mughal emperor Jehangir pronounced as 'Paradise on Earth'. We're then whooshed away to Europe, where bloodshed & strife is rife in the midst of World War II, as a young Max Ophuls establishes his reputation as a master forger in the Resistance against the Nazi forces & through his acts of daring and espionage, he is elevated to hero-like status. There is Shalimar the Clown, who ditches his vocation of a public performer & turns to terrorism to avenge the betrayal of the love of his life. And there is that woman - the Woman - a free-thinking spirit feeling trapped in a closely-knit community, who wishes to fly away to distant lands & like the legendary Anarkali who desires the forbidden love of a prince. Finally, an integral part of the story despite technically being a sub-plot in itself - Kashmir. Being of Kashmiri descent himself, the issue of Kashmir is obviously close to Rushdie's heart & as we watch the paradise turn into living hell for its residents as Kashmir is hammered & smashed by militants as well as that uniformed military force that calls itself the Indian Army, whose actions are no less questionable than those of the extremist groups.

'Shalimar the Clown' by Salman Rushdie is undoubtedly an important book & I highly recommend it for anyone who wishes to understand the Kashmir issue. A must read for fans of literary fiction & should you decide to read this, be prepared to be mesmerized by one of the most sublime storytellers of our times.

The Lowland

Author: Jhumpa Lahiri

Publisher: Knopf [eBook]

First Published: 2013

Summary: Born just fifteen months apart, Subhash and Udayan Mitra are inseparable brothers, one often mistaken for the other in the Calcutta neighborhood where they grow up.  But they are also opposites, with gravely different futures ahead. It is the 1960s, and Udayan—charismatic and impulsive—finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty; he will give everything, risk all, for what he believes. Subhash, the dutiful son, does not share his brother’s political passion; he leaves home to pursue a life of scientific research in a quiet, coastal corner of America.

But when Subhash learns what happened to his brother in the lowland outside their family’s home, he goes back to India, hoping to pick up the pieces of a shattered family, and to heal the wounds Udayan left behind—including those seared in the heart of his brother’s wife.

Masterly suspenseful, sweeping, piercingly intimate, The Lowland is a work of great beauty and complex emotion; an engrossing family saga and a story steeped in history that spans generations and geographies with seamless authenticity. It is Jhumpa Lahiri at the height of her considerable powers.

Review: 'The Lowland' resonated with me far more than some works of fiction I've rated five out of five stars before. Maybe because I'm a Probashi Bengali (expatriate Bong) myself & I can empathise with the kind of emotions some of the main characters of this book go through as the plot progresses. Like 'Norwegian Wood' by Haruki Murakami, I was able to relate to the characters much better because of the phases of life they happen to be in, which perhaps struck a chord.

'The Lowland' by Jhumpa Lahiri certainly makes for a compelling read. Highly recommended if you wish to experience the work of a writer unafraid of exploring complex relationships of blood & bond, creating difficult situations & indulging in moral dilemmas.

The Great Indian Novel

Author: Shashi Tharoor

Publisher: Penguin [Paperback]

First Published: 1989

Summary: In his award-winning, internationally acclaimed debut novel, Shashi Tharoor has masterfully recast the 2,000 year-old epic, The Mahabharata, with fictional but highly recognizable events and characters from twentieth-century Indian politics. Chronicling the Indian struggle for freedom and independence from Great Britain, Tharoor directs his hilarious satire as much against Indian foibles as the bumbling of the British rulers.

Review: Shashi Tharoor's debut work of fiction is essentially a retelling of the Indian epic Mahabharata, but it falls in the realm of political satire by drawing parallels with major events in India's political history during the freedom movement as well as in the post-independence era.

The author deserves to be applauded for deciding to reinterpret & present Indian history in a different light and his courage (yes, in a country where many people seem to lack a sense of humour when it comes to 'culture') in assuming an irreverent attitude towards some of India's greatest political leaders throughout the narrative. Also, credit must go to Tharoor for making brilliant use of prose as well as verse as a literary device, which pays homage to the epic itself. Tharoor also indulges in exploring the relevance of the Hindu concepts of dharma & karma in today's world, questions the writing of our official history books & leaves the small matter of the motto 'Satyamev Jayate' (Truth Alone Triumphs) open to discussion.

'The Great Indian Novel' is without doubt a great Indian novel & I'm certainly in agreement with those critics who have hailed this book as arguably one of the finest works of fiction as far as post-modern Indian literature is concerned. A must read for every Indian who doesn’t mind having a laugh at those we usually revere.

A Most Wanted Man

Author: John le Carre

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton [Paperback]

First Published: 2008

Summary: A half-starved young Russian man in a long black overcoat is smuggled into Hamburg at dead of night. He has an improbable amount of cash secreted in a purse around his neck. He is a devout Muslim. Or is he? He says his name is Issa.

Annabel, an idealistic young German civil rights lawyer, determines to save Issa from deportation. Soon her client's survival becomes more important to her than her own career. In pursuit of Issa's mysterious past, she confronts the incongruous Tommy Brue, the sixty-year-old scion of Brue Freres, a failing British bank based in Hamburg.

A triangle of impossible loves is born.

Meanwhile, scenting a pure kill in the so-called War on Terror, the spies of three nations converge upon the innocents.

Poignant, compassionate, peopled with characters the reader never wants to let go, A Most Wanted Man is alive with humour, yet prickles with tension until the last heart-stopping page. It is also a work of deep humanity, and uncommon relevance to our times.

Review: I still haven't figured out what it is that makes me like John le Carre's works. I mean, he's the only one among my favourite authors whose books are more than often overflowing with excruciating & tireless amount of detail & the writing verging on being boring & tedious at times. And yet, when I get to the end of it, it all seems worth the effort. And then Le Carre surprises me by something like 'A Most Wanted Man', that seems to carry none of the aforementioned traits.

'A Most Wanted Man' is in line with the trend of Le Carre's pessimism & sense of doom regarding the West (esp. the Bush-Blair era) that has been ongoing since the brilliant 'The Constant Gardener' & continued in the tragicomic 'Absolute Friends'. In fact, one could say it surpasses both works on that count, for one feels engulfed by this sense of sadness on finishing this book. Brimming with tension till the final page, this is a book that only reaffirms that even in the post-Cold War era, John le Carre's ability to write books that are deeply relevant with the times is unparalleled.

Soccer in Sun and Shadow

Author: Eduardo Galeano [translated by Mark Fried]

Publisher: Byliner Classics [eBook]

First Published: 1995 [updated in 2013]

Summary: Eduardo Galeano’s Soccer in Sun and Shadow has established itself over the last decade as one of the most celebrated books on the world’s greatest and most popular game. Readers all over the world have been drawn to the hundreds of magical stories that Galeano conjures and to his confession, "Years have gone by and I've finally learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good soccer. I go about the world, hand outstretched, and in the stadiums I plead: 'A pretty move, for the love of God.' And when good soccer happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don't give a damn which team or country performs it."

In this new edition, which encompasses Galeano’s reflections on the 2010 World Cup, tragedy spins a continuous thread through these pages - remember Andres Escobar, the Colombian defender, whose own goal lost his country a game in the 1994 World Cup and was subsequently gunned down in Medellin? - but where there is shadow there is also the bright sunlight of joy and beauty, of the Italian striker whose shorts in the run up to a penalty kick in the 1938 World Cup fell down around his knees   he pulled them back up, and with the goalkeeper and stadium in pleats of laughter, scored the goal that saw Italy to the final. Galeano concludes that "soccer is a pleasure that hurts, and the music of a victory that gets the dead dancing is akin to the clamorous silence of an empty stadium, where one defeated fan, unable to move, sits in the middle of the immense stands, alone."

Review: I'm still to write a review for this on Goodreads, but I can safely say this is arguably one of the most compelling books ever written on the Beautiful Game. Eduardo Galeano's riveting commentary on the history and politics of soccer discusses everything from the leveling of the Twin Towers to the death of the sole survivor of that extraordinary match between British and German soldiers in 1915, robotic soccer in Japan, the mass-production of the game as a sign of the decline of civilization, the amazing success of Senegal and Turkey in recent World Cups, and how Nike beat Adidas.

And there we are done with CJ's Thirteen, but that cannot be all, can it? I would feel criminal if some more were not given their due, for they too did not fail to delight me. Here are some more worthy of a mention -

Complicity by Iain Banks

A roller-coaster ride involving murder, sex & dark secrets buried in a forgettable past.

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

If anyone can make suicide a laughing matter, it's got to be Hornby.

Enigma by Robert Harris

A WWII spy thriller set in the backdrop of Bletchley Park, the hub of English code-breakers.

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

Not your classical whodunit murder mystery.

One Day by David Nicholls

The most heartwarming romantic novel I've read this year.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Transcends genre & time in the most surrealistic manner literature could have imagined.

A Prisoner of Birth by Jeffrey Archer

Entertainment, entertainment, entertainment. A Bollywood-ish masala thriller with high-tension courtroom drama.

Provided You Don't Kiss Me by Duncan Hamilton

A extremely enjoyable & insightful memoir of the legendary Brian Clough by his one-time closest media-confidante.

11.22.63 by Stephen King

A fun-filled, rollicking time-travel saga in which the protagonist attempts to prevent the JFK assassination.

My Autobiography by Alex Ferguson

Come on, it's Sir Alex Ferguson. How can he be not on the list?

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

For the sheer magnitude & extra-ordinariness of it. A profound tribute to human willpower.

And finally, we come to the books I reviewed on request this year & the best book would be anointed as the 'Discovery of the Year' (we're getting used to fancy names by now). There were three serious contenders for the prize - A Virtual Love by Andrew Blackman, The Hangman's Replacement by Taona Dumisani & The Shadow Throne by Aroon Raman. And the winner is -

Yes, it's Aroon Raman's debut novel that takes the honours!

And that's it for this super-long post. Pray forgive yours truly for being a bit cocky & probably irritating the heck out of you (in case you sincerely read the whole of it instead of just skimming over the titles) coz you don't carry along any grudges into the New Year, do you?

That's all Folks!

Here's wishing you, dear Reader, a very Happy New Year 2014. Happy Reading!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Van Persie hungry for success

Robin van Persie says Manchester United are hungrier than ever to win silverware ahead of the new season.
The Dutchman moved to Old Trafford last summer and made an immediate impact, firing a total of 35 goals in all competitions as the Red Devils reclaimed the Premier League title from local rivals Manchester City.

Although the Manchester clubs have largely dominated English football over the last two years, the latest Premier league  betting suggests the upcoming campaign promises to be one of the most intriguing of recent times following the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson from the United hotseat and the return of Jose Mourinho to Chelsea.

David Moyes has been handed the task of replacing Ferguson and it’s been suggested by some punters who bet on football  that the Scot’s failure to win a major trophy during his time at Everton could see United lack the killer instinct that they always had under his compatriot.

Despite being yet to do any real business, the Red Devils are expected to bring in a number of new stars to Old Trafford in the next few weeks in a bid to build a side capable of competing in Europe.

Van Persie is likely to be at the forefront of their challenge this season and says he and his team-mates are hungrier than ever to win yet more silverware for the club.

“I still have more years left and it's not like I'm saying, 'Yes, we won the league so that's me done'. I want more now. It makes me hungrier,” he told the Sun. "I was hungry last year but now I'm more hungry. We have a great bunch of players so we can win more and do better.

"Last season we won the league and that was great but this time we want to win the league and more as well."

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Where do United go after Fergie?

With the news Sir Alex Ferguson will be calling time on his spell at Old Trafford this summer,
Manchester United are set for what could be their most turbulent time for over the 26 years.
By turbulent, that does not mean the Premier League giants are set for a dip in form or success in the coming years but having had so much stability at the helm under Ferguson, it’s going to take some time for adjustment at the Theatre of Dreams.
The combination of the Scottish tactician and chief executive David Gill, who is also set to step aside this summer, has brought about so much success for United on and off the field over the last few decades.
Ferguson has by no means left his beloved United in the lurch and having claimed the Premier League title from rivals Manchester City this season, the Red Devils are very much in a good place.The only issues to deal with will be the Wayne Rooney transfer saga. The England man has requested to leave for a second time and although that had been turned down, it remains to be seen whether he will be in a red shirt at the start of next season.
There will be plenty of speculation as to who will take over from the 71-year-old this summer but again stability has to be the key for this club.
The football betting odds  suggest Everton boss David Moyes is the frontrunner to take over. He has long been tipped to succeed his fellow Scot and the pair have had a close relationship ever since Fergie tried to employ him as his assistant way back in 1999.
Continuity in management has been a key factor in United’s success over the years and just because Ferguson enjoyed a reign which started in the mid-eighties until now, does not mean that like many of their rivals they must go through a host of managers in a few-year stints.
The selection of the next manager at Old Trafford is undoubtedly a huge decision but whoever is given the chance to take the helm at one of the biggest footballing institutions in world football, he will have all the tools and the infrastructure to continue where the great Sir Alex left off.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Fergie expects tough Villa test

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson is expecting a tough test when his side take on relegation candidates Aston Villa on Monday.
A victory could see United crowned Premier League champions, depending on if Manchester City lose at Tottenham on Sunday, but it certainly won’t be easy for the Red Devils, with Villa having just as much to play for at the other end of the table. That said punters who bet on Premier League games have probably had their title bets paid out such is the dominance of Fergie’s men this season.
With five games to go Paul Lambert’s men currently sit 17th in the Premier League standings, three points above Wigan but at this stage of the season every point matters, especially with them still play Chelsea before meeting the Latics on what promises to be a dramatic final day of the campaign.

Having lost just once in the last five, confidence is also high within the Villa camp and they certainly won’t be afraid of United, having opened up a 2-0 lead during the teams meeting earlier this season, only to eventually lose 3-2. Some brave punters who bet on football have already backed a shock result at Old Trafford.
Ferguson knows his team won’t have it easy against the plucky Midlanders and expects his players to come under plenty of pressure against one of the country’s most exciting young sides.
"We expect a scrap," the Scot told reporters. "The least you expect is for a team to fight for everything when they're down there.
"Villa showed against Stoke that they have a bit of life about them and they should have won their game against Fulham last week.
"When I saw the structure of those teams, they looked really positive selections. A lot of teams in that situation may pick a team to get something out of the game. Paul Lambert picked a team to win. There is a distinction," he added.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Book Review: 'A Virtual Love' by Andrew Blackman

When this year gets over, I'm going to write a post mentioning the 10 best books I read in 2013, just like last year. I'm not sure this book will make that list, but it is surely a strong contender for the 'Discovery of the Year' honours.

Real & online identities entwine with each other in Andrew Blackman's second novel - 'A Virtual Love'. Jeff Brennan is an average guy at best, working in the IT Support section of a law firm. His namesake is Britain's numero uno political blogger, famous for his balanced views & his anonymity. So when Marie, an avid reader of the blog, assumes that the 'average' Jeff Brennan is 'the Jeff Brennan' & he doesn't correct her perception, a romance develops between the two on the basis of one lie. Jeff thinks he's found the perfect girl when his illustrious namesake decides to make his first public appearance, throwing his life into jeopardy. Will he tell Marie the truth?

Andrew Blackman won the 2008 Luke Bitmead Writers Bursary for his debut novel 'On the Holloway Road' & though I haven't read the book, I've come across favourable reviews from those who have read it. The good news is that 'A Virtual Love' doesn't disappoint either.

The style of narration in this book is not new to me, having read a couple of books written in a similar manner earlier this year. Each chapter is narrated by one particular character in this novel, but what's different is that not one single chapter is narrated by the protagonist Jeff Brennan (the average one). What this ensures is that his character is sketched by all those characters who form a part of his social life - his grandfather Arthur, his girlfriend Marie, his best friend Jon, his work colleagues Annie & Dex & even the namesake blogger gets to voice his side of events. I also liked how Blackman successfully portrays the true nature of Jeff's manipulative friend Marcus through extracts of the latter's Twitter feed. Characterisation in this novel is indeed praiseworthy.

What I liked most about this book was this sense of nostalgia that abounds especially when Jeff's grandfather Arthur takes on the mantle of narrator. I loved how the character talks about his past life as a journalist, how people around him have changed & how he feels like he's still frozen somewhere in an earlier time during his conversations with his grandson. The comments made on the subject of 'generation gap' with references to technology & online social networking through Arthur's character are very relevant to our times & I'm somehow glad that Blackman explores these themes in depth & with immense clarity. That sense of confusion in Arthur's mind regarding the difference in real & online identities of today's youth is immaculately captured in words.

There were also some parts that struck a chord, such as the incident when Jeff tries to teach Arthur about operating the computer, which sort of reminded me of my own efforts to teach my mother about using Facebook. Another one is how Jon feels deserted & left out when Jeff enters into a relationship with Marie. Thumbs up to the way these underlying sentiments are expressed.

What annoyed me about this book was its ending. It's not that the author plays too much with it, but I just couldn't bring myself to like it. It seemed like it was too abrupt & that the author just wanted to give a rather swift conclusion to the whole affair. I also thought that the plot loses a bit of steam in the second half, which was frustrating.

3.5 to 4 stars for this well-written novel by Andrew Blackman. It's not an extraordinary book, but I'd say you read it for the sense of nostalgia & because it is so much more than just real identities getting entangled with virtual ones. Recommended.

P.S. I won an eBook version of the novel in a personal giveaway by the author through his blog, and I solemnly state that it does not affect my review of the book in any way.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Vidic refuses to claim title race is over

Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic insists the title race is still far from over despite his side extending their lead to 15 points on Saturday.
United have dominated the Premier League for most of the season and their 1-0 win over Reading, combined with Manchester City’s defeat at Everton, means they now have a huge advantage going into the final nine games of the campaign. Indeed many punters who beton premier league games have seen their title bets paid out by some bookies, convinced United will finish top of the pile.

However, United also led this time last season, but a series of poor performances allowed the Citizens to cut their gap before Sergio Aguero’s last minute goal saw Roberto Mancini’s men clinch the title in dramatic manner on the final day.

After the Red Devils won at the Etihad Stadium in December, the two sides are still to play for a second time this season and their return meeting will undoubtedly provide City with the perfect chance to cut the gap.

If any team can play their way back into contention it’s certainly the champions, who on their day have ability to totally blow their opponents away, almost at will.

Having lost out last season, Vidic knows how dangerous City are and has told his team-mates that they cannot afford to get complacent in the final months of the campaign.

"It is a big gap and we shouldn't let that change. We have the title in our hands," said Vidic to premierleague betting news reporters. "What happened last season is the reason why sometimes you can feel the fans get nervous.

"But I don't think we should allow that to happen again. We can't allow that to happen again.

"But we still have some tough away games at places that are traditionally hard for us so nothing is finished yet,” he added."

Friday, March 8, 2013

McClaren tips Rooney to stay at United

Former Manchester United assistant manager Steve McClaren says he fully expects Wayne Rooney to remain at Old Trafford, despite the recent speculation linking him with a move away from the club.

The striker was sensationally left out of the starting line-up for the Red Devils’ Champions League clash with Real Madrid on Tuesday and now a number of high-profile pundits, including former United skipper Roy Keane, as well punters who bet on Premier League transfers, have tipped him to move on in the coming months.

Rumours have been rife that Rooney himself has hinted that he wants to leave the club and its thought that the board will be willing to listen to offers in the summer, with a number of top sides monitoring his progress.

However, it would be a huge decision for the former Everton youngster to take, as there are only a handful of teams who would be able match his massive ambitions.

One of these would be crosstown rivals Manchester City, who he was previously linked with before signing a new deal at Old Trafford in 2010.

Over the decades a number of players have left United at their peak, only to fall from grace and McClaren, who coached Rooney during his time in charge of England, believes the rumours are untrue and expects the striker to stay put.

“Sir Alex always says there is only one way to go after Manchester United, and that's down. He's right, that's proved,” he said to football betting news reporters. "I know Wayne Rooney and all he wants to do is play football and win, all he wants to do is win trophies.

“He is a winner and there is no better club to be at than Manchester United if you are a winner. He won't want to leave unless told he can leave.”

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fletcher given assurance over international career

Darren Fletcher’s importance to the Scotland national team has been outlined by new manager Gordon Strachan, who insists the midfielder has a part in the squad when he returns from injury.

Fletcher is currently recovering from chronic bowel disease surgery and is out of action for the rest of the season. That means that while he misses Manchester United’s campaign for another famous treble this spring he will also sit out of Scotland’s World Cup qualifiers against Wales, Serbia and Croatia.

These are three huge games for Scotland in their quest to resurrect some pride from their World Cup qualifying campaign and Fletcher will be sorely missed in the centre of their midfield.

“The quicker he gets back, the better for Manchester United and for me,” Strachan told BBC Radio Manchester. “If you look back at Manchester United over the last six or seven years – any time there's been a big game, Darren’s played in it.”

Indeed, many fans in the betting world over at Betfair Football feel Fletcher’s return to international football could help Scotland qualify if not the World Cup then at least Euro 2016. Under Strachan the team have started well, winning their opening friendly 1-0 against Estonia earlier this month to set the foundations for a successful tenure at the helm.

What Scotland need going forward is a voice in the middle of the park and although they have Scott Brown to bark out the orders he is a class below Fletcher. The United star has won four league titles and a Champions League medal during his 10-year stint at the club and has developed into a top quality defensive midfielder.

When he returns this summer Scotland will have their captain and leader back in the team and should start growing into their potential ahead of qualification for France 2016.

For more information on FA Cup betting, head over to:

Monday, February 25, 2013

Ferguson refusing to get carried away with advantage

 Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has warned his side that they cannot afford to take anything for granted despite their substantial lead at the top of the Premier League table.

After losing the title race last season, the Red Devils have bounced back in supreme manner this time around, sweeping everyone before them and now look almost guaranteed to win their 20th league championship. Indeedmany football betting news sites have already paid out on United winning the league once more.

However, they also found themselves in a similar situation this stage last year, only to lose form and eventually finish second behind bitter rivals Manchester City, following a dramatic last few weeks of the campaign.

Part of their problem last term was their lack of goals but they are currently the league’s top scorers charts, with summer signing Robin van Persie leading the way with 19 strikes.

He’s not been the only one on target though and Saturday saw goals from two unlikely sources, as Rafael and Ryan Giggs found the net to seal a 2-0 win away at bottom club Queens Park Rangers.

This moved them further clear at the top of the table but with 11 games left, there is still plenty of football to play, especially when you take into account that they are still to face nearest rivals City for a second time this season. Even if punters who bet on premier league markets have made their minds up.

Ferguson has now urged his players not to rest on their laurels and says they must continue to take things one game at a time.

"We're in a better position today (Saturday) than we were yesterday," the veteran boss told reporters.

 "It's one game less and it's really important and the way we can approach it is by winning the next game and then trying to win the next game and seeing where it takes us."