Sunday, July 20, 2014

E-Book Review: Heritage / Author: S.M Boyce


Received an ARC from the lovely Boyce last year, couldn't review it then, by the time I did, Daily Times (my paper) had decided YA wasn't suitable for it OP-ED Pages. This Blog is only for my published work but I promised the author a review, so here it is. Apologies for the delay S.M.

P.S: I am looking forward to Illusion.


Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Heritage’ which was to mark the grand finale of the Grimoire trilogy is now the third installment in a series of four. The YA fantasy still hurtles towards the end but the adventure is far from over. And former rookie Kara Magari is busy trying to balance two thankless jobs as the wise Vagabond, and her true nature revealed at the end of ‘Treason’. Change is in the air for both realms and newcomers vie for Ourea - the fictional land envisaged by S.M. Boyce and brought to life in ‘Lichgates’ - Book I.

Book III that was supposed to wind up our heroines arc, marks the continuation of the same journey that began when Kara, a human fell off the grid. That her new address says Ourea, a treacherous terrain stocked with magical creatures of known and unknown origin with an ‘abandon hope sign, all ye who tumble through here’ probably lying somewhere makes her a constant target. Readers rediscover the restive heart of the land which holds many attractions and features familiar faces alongside conniving Bloods (ruling faction), conniving Heirs (Bloods in waiting) and Kingdoms under siege geared for the mother of all battles. Duplicity runs in their collective blood-line.

Though the vibrant landscape remains the same, and fleet-footed muses or soul sucking Isens darken the horizon, wonderland’s seething underbelly, and complex politics continue to fascinate. The components used to propel its supernatural core come in outlandish gear, and churn out promised twists, a rising body count and some family melodrama. This is escapism, littered with emotional debris where magic, mayhem and monsters come and go, and matters of the state override potential rides into the sunset.

The Grimoire Saga, which has a collection of genres at its beck & call links those two pretty leads, and has readers rooting for their future. There is a lot of ground to cover and many loose ends to tie up. The story was too big, according to Boyce, and could not be compressed in a trilogy but she promises ‘Illusion’ will be the final chapter.

‘Heritage’ is where Kara – an ordinary girl turned Vagabond becomes the lynchpin though nothing on the protagonists resume spells savior. Kara & Braeden (resident Ourean with secret past) are otherwise typical teens, busy battling an identity crisis or two as things go sideways. Ourea, is as unwelcoming as ever, a viper’s nest of brittle alliances, exquisite cultures and toxic relationships, leaving its residents chasing the elusive mirage of peace. The spotlight is on Kara’s training as she comes to terms with her family’s troubling history while Braeden’s personal demon hunting quest gains traction. The evolving tapestry gives one a chance to test her new-fangled diplomatic skills in full on warrior mode and the other to get comfortable in the role of a spy.

This time around there is a more grounded feel to the layout and Boyce can be counted on to pull mandatory rabbits out of Ourean hats towards the end responsible for those major seismic shifts in plot. The storyline operates on two levels – one uses lightweight caricatures of magical critters to liven the tension, and the other left to create a whole new playfield filled with enticing visions and opaque agendas that deepen the mystery. The series hums with intrigue; there will be political entanglements and revenge fantasies aplenty as readers become reacclimatized to the shiny new dimension. This version is more involved with the turning point in Ms. Magari’s life and therefore less consumed with the domestic feuds and complex inter-Kingdom rivalries, though glimmers of intrigue do filter through. The characters are all headed in the same general direction, different agendas in tow - the end game, however remains hazy.

‘Heritage’ mercifully dials down the torture but keeps the double dealing coming. Kara & co. are no longer on an exploratory mission and neither are the readers. The author leaves room for guest perspectives in each book that provide valuable insight allowing readers to break away for a bit and explore the countryside under the guidance of eager stakeholders. The side trips are meant to enlighten, even as the inherent cruelty keeps testing the limits. Despite its elaborate set-pieces, the latest chronicles of Ourea retain the look and feel of a primer before the finale kicks off. The ultimate showdown presumably arrives in Fall (2014), via ‘Illusion’. It is available in Paperback & Kindle edition.

• Paperback: 296 pages
• Publisher: Caffeinated Books Publishing, LLC; 1 edition (October 27, 2013)
• ISBN-10: 1939997127
• ISBN-13: 978-1939997128

Friday, July 18, 2014

LADIESFUND Speed networking comes to Karachi


Published in Daily Times / 18 July 2014

The myth of the subjugated woman made one person laugh mirthlessly. ‘…subjugated, really…where then did all these ladies come from? And why, o why is the foreign press not covering this side of Pakistan.’ It was a valid observation. The senior journalist, one of the few men invited to cover the event, appeared overwhelmed by the sight of so much enlightened moderation milling around the British High Commission that January afternoon.

The first LADIESFUND® speed networking luncheon (Karachi), which is the result of a partnership between Dawood Global Foundation and British Deputy High Commission had recently added some Harvard style networking to the menu. The intimidating sounding concept was simply a chance for enterprising women from all over to come together, explore avenues of possible collaboration, update the client list, strengthen corporate connections, and be amazed by sheer number of talent gathered under one shady tree (it was an out-door event).

The highly sought after invites suggested that the ladies come armed with business cards, and prepared introductions. There were L shaped tables, a gong set on a 5 minute timer, a dress code and rules of engagement that directed guests to talk to the person in front and not that lady on the side, however interesting she may be. Many had already ‘slow networked’ while window shopping at the stalls, and later by the glorious buffet – the temptation to converse with the neighbours interfered with the prepared script. That, and the blazing sun streaming down dampened the ardour even though it was the middle of January. But the networking would go on unabated, even if it didn’t conform to the stated SOP’s.

The grounds of Acton House and Runnymede were a haven for little start ups seeking capital, noble causes in need of patronage, and new initiatives in search of visibility. Here the attendees could marvel at the great strides Pakistani women have made despite the hurdles conjured up by the mere mention of gender empowerment.

150 powerhouse women had been thrown into the same orbit. It was an inspiring mix that included Kehkashan Awan, who played the lovably ditzy friend from the play ‘Dhoop Kinaray’ (1980’s) and now plays a successful HR Director for EFS (Education Fund for Sind). Shah Khan (CEO KHANZ designs) passionate about promoting local artisans, and proudly wielding the ‘Made in Pakistan’ banner. And a former Scotland Yard staff member, who had a magazine, and a beauty business.

People kept circling back to the stalls that had been set up at the entrance; some offered a taste of local tradition like Munawara Sultan’s beautiful collection of Ajrak and pottery from Nawabshah. Others like ‘Alle’nora Annie Signature Salon’ promised to create that perfectly coiffed hair – on the house. One could sample ‘Isabel Landry’ product range, survey the pretty giveaways, or indulge that inner philanthropist at the ‘Educate a Girl’ corner. All proceeds reportedly would be diverted towards women’s advancement.

As the acting British Deputy High Commissioner Gillian Atkinson acknowledged these tectonic shifts that bode well for Pakistan’s future, Tara Uzra Dawood (LADIESFUND ® President) and Nazneen Tariq Khan (Fundraising Chair, owner Heavenly Regalia) brought out their ‘Invest in yourself’ playbook and helped the guests navigate the strange, new terrain.

LADIESFUND® continues to expand its reach. A few months later, the 6th LADIESFUND® Women’s Award honored a mix of trailblazers, humanitarians and valiant heroes on the frontlines. They also held a ‘Women of Influence’ power lunch at Okra, which replicated the ‘networking’ part of the equation without the ‘speed’. LADIESFUND® Speed Networking Luncheon intends to come to Islamabad later this year.

Image taken from Ladiesfund Facebook page.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Karachi Diaries: The House of GUERLAIN


Published in Economic Affairs (Islamabad) / July 2014

“….one Terracotta powder is sold somewhere in the world every 20 seconds” – GUERLAIN (Twitter)

On the last weekend of June, Karachi was invited to discover the world of French Luxury Fragrance & Beauty. GUERLAIN (1828) is a French Perfume House ranked among the oldest in the world, and has reportedly created over 300 fragrances. Its founder would go on to become His Majesty's Official Perfumer after developing a fragrance for French Emperor Napoleon III and his wife Empress Eugénie. Guerlain (pronounced Ger-lah) is also credited with inventing ‘Rouge Automatique’ (1884) - the first modern lipstick which would be re-released in 2011.



Their makeup and skincare range is now available at Debenhams at Dolmen Mall, Clifton – the signature fragrances will be carried by Scentsation Flagship stores across Pakistan. The event was managed by Tehmina Khalid (Take II) and her team and hosted by model / actress / DJ Hira Tareen sporting a Shehla Chatoor outfit. There were makeup presentations by Nabila & co., models in striking gold capes, and a fashion show in a mall thronged by curiosity seekers which made navigation challenging.

Film, social media and fashion royalty that graced the red carpet, included Maheen, Moammer Rana, Khalid Anam, Angie Marshall, Tapu Javeri, and Khurshaid Haider. The blogger community seen tweeting, instragaming and later reproducing press releases sans quotation marks, is now a permanent fixture.

Guerlain has been brought to the market by Mohsin Feroze C.E.O MULTITECH. The Parisian brand also offers the legendary ‘Shalimar’ (1925) - ‘the first oriental fragrance in history,’ reportedly inspired by the tale of Emperor Shah Jahan, & Mumtaz Mahal, and ‘Jicky’ (1889) - its first and oldest modern perfume ‘…that does not imitate a scent found in nature.’ Another called ‘Guerlain Vol de Nuit’ (1933) owes its name to the novel ‘Vol de Nuit’ (Night Flight) by French aviator, author, aristocrat - Antoine de Saint-Exupér.


The brand pays tribute to the old masters, and sculpts its Magnifique design around the needs of the modern world.

PR: Take II Client Management/PR & Media Consultants
MARKETING: MULTITECH


Karachi Diaries: Walk in Klauset


Published in Economic Affairs (Islamabad) / July 2014 P-34

Dressing well is a sign of good manners” – Tom Ford fashion designer / film director

A Canadian based clothing giant that opened the doors of its flagship store in Karachi offers custom made menswear (for now), touch screens to craft unique profiles, and a coffee bar to placate waiting customers. Klauset’s ‘Made in Pakistan’ label has to be clarified since labor is local, the cloth is imported, and standards are international. The owners try to outline the process for Sindh Education Minister Nisar Khuhro, and regale him with a lesson on texture, weight, limitations (220 gms) and material (micro light, poly wool). Tuxedos that are the rage and come with snazzy cummerbunds raise some eyebrows. It is the first taste of colonial style for those who hadn’t read P.G. Wodehouse, and were unfamiliar with Bertie Wooster’s delightful collection of alpine hats, purple socks or scarlet cummerbunds.


Later, the guest of honor will be swarmed by media-men yearning to discuss the importance of looking elegant, which he did. Having forgotten to turn the audio on the first time, they would be forced to redo the bit; the Minister grateful that no political statements were expected, happily complied. Their Kurta range was duly admired, remarks that the Party flag wasn’t represented were seemingly taken to heart; the management promptly offered to make one flag patterned Kurta within 24 hours. Mr. Khuhro was last seen getting measured for something.





There was no catwalk – some thought a fashion show would have brightened up the presentation. Also present was Mrs. Rubina Qaim Khani - Sindh Minster for Social Welfare, Women Development, & Special Education.


As the spotlight shifted to the architects of the dream, Chaudhary Mehboob Ali, remembered (late) Amir Mehboob’s legacy who supervised the project as the Director Operation, and spent his days in the proverbial trenches. Mehboob Senior now continues his son’s mission. Klauset plans to expand its base in the future and bring the joy of a perfectly tailored suit, and silken cummerbunds to the rest of the land.