Book Review: Sirens Spell Danger

Self-published books are not my choice of reading material. In fact, I would prefer not to read them at all as my experience of reading such books has not been a very happy one. I know it sounds like a sweeping statement, not to mention prejudiced, but…

Now consider this scenario. A fellow blogger and a friend, Suresh Chandrasekaran, whose writing I admire and like very much, comes out with a self-published book. This leads to a dilemma or what can even be called a “situation”: I really want to read the book, but the self-published tag is a big deterrent of sorts. While I am mulling over this, Suresh (who I think is aware of my views on self-published books) requests for my feedback on the book. I agree, buy the book, read it and one afternoon over a long FB chat give him feedback on the book. This happened about 6 months back.

Sirens Spell Danger, ebook, Suresh C

Recently, I participated in an excellent discussion on “Self-Published Books” (do click on the link to read more about the discussion) at The Sunday Book Club (TSBC). It was an enlightening discussion and one that spurred me to to convert the feedback I gave Suresh on the book, Sirens Spell Danger, into a full-fledged book review.

Sirens Spell Danger (2013, Amazon eBook) is a collection of three longish short stories edited by Suresh. As the title suggests, all the stories in the book have women or “sirens’ as the pivot.

The sirens are not necessarily the protagonists of the stories; instead, they are characters without whom there would have been no story in the first place.

The first story in the book is “Femme Fatale” by Suresh and the “siren” in the story is Tanya. One look at her in a bar at Bangalore and Vikram’s, the protagonist’s, life changes for ever. The opening lines of the story set the tone for the story to follow:

How could I have known that merely turning to ogle at a lovely girl would lead me into so much danger?

It’s a fast paced story with a murder, a set-up, RAW agents, the ISI, a time-bomb, a politician, bike rides, gun shots, and what not. However improbable it sounds, I liked the plot and the way the story is written, particularly the parts where the author’s trademark wry, self-deprecating humour came through. I felt that this story could have done with some editing as unnecessary phrases like “frenzy of hurry” have come through. In my opinion and the context in which the author has used them, the words mean the same.

The second story is “Bella Donna” and is written by Radha Sawana. This is a story of serial killings, of puzzling clues left by the killer, of exploitation and revenge, of atropine and cyanide, and a “siren” called Aakriti. Bella Donna is a good story and easily has the best plot among the three stories in the book. It could also have been my favourite story of the lot, but for two things:

(i) Every chapter begins with an italicised part, which has no bearing with the section that immediately follows. Sure, it adds a hint of mystery, but does nothing for the story per se. In my opinion, such things work only if they add to the story from the beginning and not leave me wondering about it till the end. I found the whole thing quite unnecessary.

(ii) Too much of stuff like this:

The LD50 value of cyanide was 8.40 mg/kg. However the LD50 value of cyanide was significantly increased 1.5-fold when atropine (32 mg/kg) was injected… Furthermore, the combined administration of atropine (32 mg/kg), Ca2+ (500 mg/kg), sodium thiosulphate (1 mg/kg) tremendously increased the LD50 value by 5.6-fold…

While it is nice to have technical stuff and all in books, it should never make the reader’s eyes glaze over as mine did. While I appreciate the research carried out by the author, good research, like good writing should seem effortless

“Bellary” by Karthik L. is the third and last story in the book and has two “sirens”, Shenaya and Ruksana. A story of a missing CBI agent, gang wars in Bellary, a roadside brawl, a fight in the train, local superstitions, imprisonment, paranormal activity, human sacrifice, reincarnation… it is quite a heady mix, and the twists and turns are engrossing. Yet, this was the story I liked the least.

In my opinion, the story could have done without Shenaya’s character altogether and the story re-written without her in the picture. “Bellary” is also weighed down by unnecessary descriptions like that of Shenaya’s outfits, airplane in-flight announcements, and what not, none of which contribute to the story. I like my stories, especially short stories, to be crisp. If this story had been cut down by 1,000 words or so, it would have read much better and made a greater impact on me.

It is a good thing that I don’t judge a book by its cover for I would never have read Sirens Spell Danger otherwise. The cover design by Vetrikumaran is terrible. Not only are the colours too dark, the combination of red and green does not work for a colour blind person. One of my colleagues, who is colour blind, could not pick out the red lettering in the green background of the book. Also, the particular shades of green and red are not browser friendly colours, something that is very important for an e-book.

When I finished reading the book (and it was in one sitting !), I admit to feeling a little cheated. With just 3 stories in the collection, I had just about warmed up and settled in, when the book got over. My biggest grouse with the book is that there should have been more stories to give it some body and add to the variety.

Overall, I liked the book very much and in spite of the little issues I had with each of the stories, they did make for a good read. The book is error free, well-edited, offers variety, and left me asking for more stories. In fact, I would say that this book is far better than many of the books I have read recently and which have been published by traditional publishers.

And herein, I come back to the topic of self-published books. I have read a few of them in the last 6 months or so (in fact, I’m now reading an excellent self-published book β€” a translation of a classic). Some of the books have been good and some not-so good. Just like books published by traditional publishers. Many self-published books are nothing more than vanity publishing for the sake of seeing your name in print, but then there are an equal number of books published by traditional publishers that follow a set formula and promote only famous authors, never mind the quality of the book. It is a level playing reading field out there

Reading this book, and then the discussion on TSBC led to an important realisation that ultimately it is about books. And it shouldn’t matter if it is a self-published or a traditionally published book. What matters is that feeling that you get after reading a good book. Like the one I got after reading this one. πŸ™‚

22 thoughts on “Book Review: Sirens Spell Danger

  1. The Storify link really summarizes all that one can say about self publishing. I believe we have strayed in our search for fiscal benefit to a point where the artist (who chooses to pursue art to the exclusion of other livelihoods) can no longer sustain himself unless he monetizes his art. The relevance of art can be seen in the fact that it works, to the point that an entire industry has built up around it – lit agent, publisher, printer, distributor, auction house and retailer – all of it making money. If society cannot figure out ways to support the artist outside of putting a money value to his work of art, then it is only fair that the artist cuts out the traders at the doors of the temple. At least till we find ways of supporting artists where they will not have to scan trends and measure markets.

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    1. The Storify link also conveys the general mood towards self-publishing. Speaking for myself, I never looked at self-publishing from a self-published author’s point of view. It also didn’t help that that the self-published books that I had read till this one had all been pretty bad. leading me to label all of them as bad. I forgot that books are just good or bad books for a reader and started labelling them.

      Thank you Subho, for you comment and succinct analysis. While I agree with all of what you have said, I would also like to add one thing. While I respect creativity and fully acknowledge and realise that it cannot be measured or ranked, I also say that not all books deserve to be published – traditionally or by self.

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  2. Ah, Sudha, you are the perfect book reviewer out there, did you know that? How else can you have alternately praised and panned the good and the bad in the book so effortlessly? Of course, the subjective element helps makes the choice of picking up a book easier. Having taken part in the TSBC episode on self-publishing, I agree with the summing up of the review. On an aside, crime thrillers are not my cup of tea, or even coffee for that matter, but I might have picked it up had it been a print edition.

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    1. Perfect book reviewer? That’s high praise, Zepyr. πŸ™‚ While I thank you for the lovely words, I must say that I am most definitely not one. Just as there is no perfect book, there is no perfect book reviewer. πŸ™‚

      The #TSBC event on “Self-Publishing” was on of the best discussions we’ve had and it was quite timely too.

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  3. wonderfully reviewed, Sudha! I second Zephyr when she says u are the perfect book reviewer out there πŸ™‚ about the self published books u are reading, pls pass on any u have in print form… really needed to change my perspective on the genre in general

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    1. And I’m going to repeat what I just replied to Zephyr. Just as there is no perfect book, there is no perfect book reviewer. All the self-published books I have are e-versions and on my Kindle. You can borrow my Kindle, if you wish to πŸ™‚

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  4. This is definitely one of the best reviews I have read about the book. Extremely honest and sensible πŸ™‚ When I read reviews of the book, I wondered how noone pointed out the italicized blurbs at the start of every chapter in the second story. So glad you did πŸ™‚

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    1. A very warm welcome to my blog, Seeta. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting and appreciating the review. I visited your blog yesterday and saw that you, too, have reviewed this book and our views on the book are pretty much similar. Cheers πŸ™‚

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  5. Apropos of Self-Publishing in general – the problem, always, is that the writing has not gone through a process of filtration and, thus, you are bound to get the good, the bad and the indifferent in any given book you pick, not to mention the fact that professional editing cannot necessarily be expected. The odds of getting a good book to read are, still, better with a known publication house, though you cannot claim that ANY given traditionally published book will be better than ANY given self-published book. Though, I must admit, that traditional publishing no longer seems to have the same standards I was accustomed to in my youth. Personally, I would pick a self-published book ONLY if I know the author’s abilities from before OR when a known and able reviewer gives me reason to think that the book would be worth my while. Just as I pick either a known author OR a respected Publishing house from among the platter of traditionally published books.

    As for why I chose to self-publish this book, my reasons were multifold. First, I wanted to know whether Amazon as a platform worked well for sales of books. Second, I found that nearly all traditional publishers also wanted the author to do selling for them – some even seek to know what the author’s marketing plan is,at the stage of considering the MS – and I needed to know whether people liked my writing from my blog enough to go out and buy my books. Third, the wait period, as I understand, in traditional publishing was close to 2 years and, being in my fifties, I would prefer the faster route of self-publishing if it worked. Lastly, of course, the royalties were much better in Amazon πŸ™‚

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    1. I used to work for a leading publishing house early on in my career and I saw manuscripts that should not seen the light of the day getting published and some that should have been published, getting rejected. The scene, nearly two decades later is no different.

      Self-publishing existed even then, but was mostly restricted to poetry, which didn’t have takers or coffee table books. The best kept secret, perhaps even today, is that a lot of academic books in India are self-published β€” the need to have published books for promotions and increments is overwhelming. And with salaries what they are in universities, it is not too difficult to spend some money and get a book published.

      The advent of digital publishing opened self-publishing for all. Suddenly you could get your writing across to your readers in an instant. The successes of the first few books fueled the desire to be published. And as you have mentioned, if one had to market one’s own book, it might as well be self-published.

      While the publishing scene has remained the same in certain ways, it has changed in other ways. It is dominated by excessive promotions and gimmicks and hype, and only a handful of authors can actually handle and ride that wave.

      I find it amusing and significant at the same time that traditional publishing houses are setting up a self-publishing imprint, and that separate awards are being instituted for self-published books. Amusing because these were the very people who dissed or ignored self-published books, and significant because the importance of this type of publishing has been recognised.

      My only worry is if self-publishing will get subsumed after a while by these imprints of traditional publishing houses. Only time will tell.

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  6. A reason why I never wrote a review of this book. Two of the authors, I consider my friends; and I could not be neutral while writing about it. However, would love to read more from them. πŸ™‚

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