Friday, October 9, 2009

Book Review : The Notebook

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Author : Nicholas Sparks

This is also one of the titles from the list of "must read books", that was published in the newspaper - Times of India.

A very mushy typical love story where it is evident that the souls are meant to be together. A story about Noah and Allie. Their first meeting was magical, got to spend whole summer in each other's company but got separated to finally get united after fourteen years, during which they kept longing to be with each other and kept remembering their summer together. They get to spend a fulfilling life together, sharing common interests, encouraging each other all along. Allie starts showing signs of Alzhiemer and the story is about how Noah stays with her inspite of his own old age and other physical problems. With great love, commitment and affection he does get some rewards when Allie comes out from her own dark and lonely world and reaches out to him.
The story has a good flow and these kinds of books manage to grip the attention of the reader. But I think my interests are changing in the sense I do like nicely written books but they should offer more than a simple, compelling love story. Many times while reading this I was reminded of another such book - Bridges of Maddison County.

An average timepass book. Such books come under my category of "one day books" when you want to take a break for a day in between some heavy reading. I had heard a lot about this author so wanted to read atleast one of his books.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Book Review : My Sister's Keeper

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Author : Jodi Picoult

I came to know about this book from a list of "must read" books, which was published in the newspaper - "Times of India", a few weeks back. I had put this title in my wishlist too and bought it when I got the next chance to go to the bookstore. I bought it on one Friday and could not keep it down during the whole weekend and managed to finish it in two days. That is enough evidence of how good the book is.

Sara and Brian Fitzgerald, come to know that their two years old duaghter, Kate, has a complex kind of lukemia and their elder son - Jesse cannot be a match to be the donor of bone marrow for his sister. Sara and Brian opt for a genetically designed child to save their dying daughter and thus Anna comes in their lives. Anna goes through lots of medical procedures to keep her sister going, right from her birth for thirteen years. But it all changes when Anna decides to not being Kate's donor anymore and she wants the legal rights on her own body. The author vividly describes the struggle of all characters involved here, the parents, who, while taking care of their sick daughter and trying to increase her life with every possible effort, loose touch with their other children - Jesse and Anna. Jesse trying to grab the attention of his parents, gets himself into difficult situations. Anna suffers the most as even winning the case would mean loosing her own sister without whom she could never imagine her life. They all go through some very difficult and strange choices which are forced upon them in their lives. There are no obvious easy answers to all the queries which get raised in the book as we go along.

Along with this family's struggle there is a side story of lawyer Campbell and his past with Julia. Towards the end, when we think that everthing is taken care of, there is an unexpected twist and I could not read the last 3-4 pages without struggling with fuzziness in my eyes. This is the first book which actually made me cry.

The story and the whole sequence of events to narrate it make it a wonderful reading experience. The story is very touching and my mind is still full of all the characters of the story. One think I liked about the author is that she could portray the turmoil in the minds of the characters really well. When handling an emotional topic and close realtionships, this part becomes really important.

I would strongly recommend this book to those who like emotional and sensitive subjects.

Book Review : The Hundred-Foot Journey

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Author: Richard C. Morais

I think its really been a long time since I came across such a bad book and surprisingly I managed to read it full - cover to cover, while waiting for the plot to build up all through the book. In my opinion, the authors should first see if they really have some good plot before starting to write a book and I am surprsied what did the publishers see in the written matter that they agreed to publish it too. The only attractive part of the book was the cover page which drew me towards this book when I bought it.

Anyway, the book is about a Hajji family, a family running a restaurant in Mumbai and after a certain unfortunate incident the family moved out of India and finally got settled in a French village. The Hajji son - Hassan has natural talent for cooking which a famous French chef Madam Mallory identifies and she selects him to pass on her culinary skills to. Hassan's destiny takes him to Paris and then finally he attains the far fetched dream for any foreigner - of attaining a 3-star status.

I still do not understand what was the purpose of this book - to walk the readers through the journey of an Indian chef to become a 3-star top French chef or to reveal the inner workings of French cuisine world.

My recommendation - stay away from this book.

Book Review : Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time

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Author: Mark Haddon

Christopher, who is fifteen years old is an autistic person. He has extraordinary picture memory. He is very good in doing complex mathematical calculations and understanding the concepts of science but finds it extremenly difficult to understand human beings and human feelings.

One night he notices a dead dog in his nighbourhood. While trying to investigate the murder of this dog, on which he decides to write a book, he gets to unravel many more mysteries concerning his life. His whole secured world comes crashing down when he stumbles upon some facts which were deliberately kept hidden from him. He struggles to save himself from the dog killer.

It is a good attempt by the author to give a glimpse of an autistic mind, how they see things in black and white and the grey portions are beyond their comprehension. Everything has to be logical with either a 'yes' or a 'no' as an answer without being able to understand the reason behind that answer. There is no problem with the IQ of such people, its just that the finer human feelings go unnoticed for them.

Book Review : Eat Pray Love

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Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

The book begins with the time when the author is going through a long and bad divorce seeking process followed by a not very promising another relationship, which leaves her in a very depressed state of mind where she has to take anti-depressants to retain her sanity. After a very pricey divorce settlement, she decides to dedicate one whole year to travelling to three countries - Italy, India and Indonesia. In these three places she finally ends up eating alot, praying alot and then loving alot, in that sequence.

In these three countries, she witnesses totally different cultures and lifestyles. She comes to Italy to satisfy one of her cherished dreams to learn Italian. She notices how Italians are masters of appreciating the beauty of doing nothing. They are hard working people but behind all the work they are actually working towards fulfilling their "doing-nothing" ideal. Whereas Americans need the convincing for the pleasure after hard work. They simply do not know how to do nothing. It is not uncommon that Americans go for regular stress relieving vacations but end up not feeling fully relaxed there too.

Then she comes to India for finding and making peace with her inner self. And ultimately she does attain that peace and enjoys the state of meditation. She has narrated this journey of hers very vividly, her inner apprehensions and questions and dislikes for some of the routine things. But ultimately everything falls into place so nicely that she ends up spending the whole time of her India visit in the ashram whereas she had set aside half of her time for travelling within India and visiting different places. She understands that the misery of all humans is love and control and how the solution is so simple to just let go. It is simple yet very difficult to practice every day.

What all we keep searching every day in the outer world is somewhere deep within ourselves. We fail to recognize our deep divine character. We do not realize that there is eternal peace somewhere within ourselves and that is the supreme Self. A guide or a Guru helps us realise our dream of attaining that divine peace. A Guru, with the aid of his own merits reveals the hidden greatness in the disciples.

After successfully spending her time in the Ashram she reaches Bali. She learns another path of peace from an old medicine man, she helps her new best friend realise her dream of owning a house there and finally finds love of her life.

The author has written this book very sincerely without trying to hold back her thoughts or questions anywhere in the book. That makes it an interesting read. Personally I liked the part when she is on her spiritual journey in India whereas her time in Italy was least impressive as most of the time she has written about what she was eating and how good that was. I understand, that part was anyway devoted to "eat" of the title "eat pray love.

But overall a very transparent portrayal of her feelings throughout the book.

Book Review : Sister Of My Heart

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Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

As I had promised to myself, I went ahead and read another book of Chitra Banerjee. I am really impressed by the author's style of writing and narration, her books are too gripping and it is hard to leave them unfinished once you start them. In both the books the high point is the beautiful portrayal of human emotions.

"Sister of my Heart" is a story of two girls who are cousins - Anju and Sudha. They are born in one household on the same day. They have different temperaments and different dispositions but inspite of all these differences they love each other dearly. A bond, which can not be compared to anything else in this world.

Sudha's life appears to be a little more complicated than Anju as she comes to know the half truth of his father and his crime, and how she has to endure that pain alone. The guilt that her family has been responsible for the misery of Anju's family makes her sacrifice her happiness for Anju's sake without even letting her know about it. But later when Sudha needs support, Anju silently does her part to help her and while doing that she loses her unborn child.

The detailed account of how their lives change slowly as they grow up and some mysteries like their driver Singhji's story makes it an interesting read.
But personally I would recommend "Palace of Illusions" to this book.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Book Review : Palace Of Illusions

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Author : Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

In simple words - the story is that of a great epic, the Mahabharata, which we all grew up listening to. The story in itself is complex and its characters even more complicated. Compared to another major Hindu epic - Ramayana, this one is too intricate with endless (almost) side stories of each character. The incarnations of God Vishnu in both the epics are also very dissimilar - Ram with his simple and truthful ways leads a much simpler life compared to Krishna who comes across as a very cryptic personality.

In this book, Chitra Banerjee has narrated the story of Mahabharata, from the eyes of one of the main characters of the story itself - Panchaali or Druapadi. The book starts with the story of birth of Panchaali and his brother Dhristadyumna through a yagna which was performed by their famous father - Dhrupad to take revenge from his one time bosom friend - Drona. Both these siblings knew right from the beginning that they have been brought in this world for a special purpose. In the course of time Dhraupadi comes to know through Vyasa himself, about the future that awaits her. How she will be instrumental in making history. While telling her so, he gives her advice to
- hold back your question
- hold back your laughter
- hold back your curse
when you desperately want to do these at some points in your life. But as she becomes part of destiny, how the same moments come and she does the same as has been destined already.
I appreciate the author's attempt to peep into the mind of Draupdi and narrate the incidents from her perspective. How slowly with time she comes to realise the essence of life - the freedom she feels towards the end in finding out that one was not as important as one had always assumed. She learns quite a few lessons that the great ups and downs in her life teach her. While undertaking her last journey, she remembers all the goodness of the dear ones in her life and how she had the chance to appreacite the goodness while she spent the time venting her dissatisfaction on them.

She dearly loved her "Palace of Illusions" but as she is taken by destiny through different times, she realises that actually all places are palaces of illusions and like every other home, the body is also a crumbling palace.
Throughout her life, she feels the presence of one of her closest confidant - Krishna with her, till her last moments on earth. He had always been there with her, sometimes in the forefront, sometimes just blended in the shadows of the life. But all through her experiences she does not miss noticing that even though Krishna takes care of her dearly, she does not get anything if she does not deserve it - like the Virat form that Krishna reveals to Arjun only and not to her even though with Vyasa's boon she chould see everything happening on the battlefield. This makes me think, the divine justice is so fair and no short cuts are possible.

A really engaging book and personally I liked the way it makes the readers also realise the common follies that we get entangled in while on this earth. A lot of material to ponder upon. Compliments to the author for such a well written product. I haven't read any of her other books but would love to read some soon.

Book Review : Letters To Sam

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Author: Daniel Gottlieb

This book is a collection of 32 letters written by a grandfather - Dan, who is paralysed neck down since last 25 years, so he has quadriplegia. Dan is a practicing psychologist and a family therapist. He starts writing these letters to his grandson- Sam, when he was born. But after two years he comes to know that Sam is an autistic child. Still he continued writing these letters in the hope that with all the therapies, someday Sam will be able to pick this book up and read what all his grandfather wants to share with him, especially how he managed most of his life being different from others and how Sam also needs to get comfortable with his different-ness in his life.
He has written some very fine life lessons from which each of us can learn something to incorporate in our lives - being more compassionate, making our container bigger so that we see our problem through a wider angle to get the correct perspective. Accept the uniqueness in individuals.

Besides these lessons that he has presented in an interesting manner, the way he has depcited the parent-child emotions, is very touching. He has shared his feelings as a son with Sam and even after his father is long gone, how he misses the final touch of his father.

Overall a very well written book and a good read.

Book Review : Speedpost

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This book is a compilation of letters written by Shobha De to her six children ( not all biologically her own) at different times of their growing up. Before writing anything about the book, I would like to say that I am not a great fan of Shobha De or her writings. I have read a few of her articles and one of her books "Spouse". Everytime I have felt that this is one of the writers who is popular not exactly for her writing work. I do not find anything special in the way she writes and the content that she brings in her writings.

In 'Speedpost', the letters range from personal emotional feelings, some basic instructions that she wants to convey; to education, changing lifestyles and same words getting new definitions with changing times. With these letters she comes across as a very understanding mother with visibly some very strict guidelines which she expects her children to adhere to. The letters show her concern and the interest she wants to take in the lives of each one of her children despite having very tight schedule and she doesn't shy away from apologising to her kids when she feels that she erred at some point. Being a mother myself, I think that is a very good quality to have.

After reading the whole book/all the letters, my thoughts about her work got even more firmer, I did not get the feeling of having read anything extraordinary. It was not one of the books which I would recommend to others to read or would like to keep with me forever as "must have books". It is now lying in the pile of books which I will sell as second hand books whenever I go to that bookshop next.

My suggestion: Go for a better book than spending time or energy on this one.

Book Review : The Last Lecture

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Author : Randy Pausch (Professor, Carnegie Mellon).

The author diagnosed with terminal illness - Pancrreatic cancer, gives his last lecture to his students, his colleagues and to his family so that they all have some part of him with them when he is no more. The author died in July,2008 but the disease gave him some time to make preparations for that day and for the loved ones when they have to spend their lives without him. He left his wife and three little children behind and while reading the book, I could feel the pain of the author of not being around his children in their growing up years. But before leaving this world, he tried his best to leave his mark on their lives which they can keep feeling as they grow up.
He formulated his thoughts in a lecture which he gave to his students in the Carenegie Mellon hall and named it "Really achieving your childhood dreams", which was video recorded for his children to understand how their father was and he expanded his lecture into a book with some more details. The video recording of this lecture is freely available online.
The author has walked the listeners of his lecture and the readers of his book through his life. He had a fulfilling childhood with loving parents who encouraged the children by being the role models themselves in whatever they wanted to teach the children, letting them listen to their hearts and being with them rather than filling their childhood with material things. In the second part of the book, he has given some tips on living life positively and with satisfaction even when you are facing the last moment of the life so closely.
After reading this book, I felt that he really tried to do full justice with the remaining time he had with his family, his students and with the world at large and he succeeded in his attempt to a great extent. He has tried to make a capsule of his life ( in the form of book and lecture), whatever he learnt in his years on earth and whatever he wanted his children and people to learn from him and that was the next best he could think of doing if he could not control increasing his time being alive.
He has given the wisdom of living life by just not preaching what to do and what not to do but instead by actually quoting his own experiences. So he actually practiced before he told other people to follow those things - telling the truth, working hard, apologising sincerily if a mistake has been made and keep trying even if you come across brick walls while trying to achieve something, not trying to fix things when they do not need one. The one that I liked the most is how to view things in the perspective they deserve and not blowing the issues out of proportion.
Overall it was a very interesting reading and towards the end it is so emtional that the reader feels with the emotions and thoughts of the author as he is about to leave his loved ones behind.

Book Review : Who Will Cry When You Die ?

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Another self-help book by Robin Sharma, the author of the famous bestseller - The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. Its good to read this book but there are too many "to do" things that Robin Sharma has talked about without trying to join them together in some kind of a story. These are 101 life lessons so there is higher chance of the reader loosing interest somewhere in the middle of the book. He definitely mentions very good ways of living - kindness towards others, self discipline and living in the moment and enjoying every moment of life. Changing a few things in life like waking up early, using the Platinum 30 rule, which means that spend the first thirty mintues of the day after you wake up thinking positive thoughts and the rest of the day the positivity will stay with you - can make a huge difference in the overall attitude towards life and work.
Personally I liked his other book "The monk ..." much better than this one. In the category of self help books, Mitch Albom books are a class in their own.

Book Review : Letters From A Father To His Daughter

These letter were written by a famous personality - Jawaharlal Nehru to his daughter Indira Gandhi when he was in jail and she was in Mussorie. She was ten years old at that time. The language is appropriate for a child of that age to fully understand. He has introduced many concepts in his letters in a very readable manner. Starting from the origin of our solar system, earth, planets and other heavenly objects to various changes that took place on earth naturally and then the civilisations that walked on this earth. He has tried to arouse the interest of a child in reading the book of nature which tells us much more than what we see with our naked eyes. Each object carries a lot of history behind it and becomes a major part of the slow change which is happening every moment around us and in us. As a parent of two children, I liked the way he has tried to pass on such vast amount of information so briefly that the child doesn't loose interest and at the same time gets to know all important details. While reading these letters I was amazed at the way he has joined two seemingly unrelated topics in his narrative so easily. It is not very detailed but it does touch all significant aspects.

Book Review : George's Secret Key to The Universe

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It is a wonderful book written by a well known physicist Stephen Hawking along with his daughter Lucy Hawking.

Facts about physics, universe and time are woven beautifully in a very gripping story. George is a school going boy who comes from a family which believes that technology is not good for our earth and it is doing more harm than good. Then he meets his neighbours - Annie and her father Eric. Eric is a scientist who with the help of his super computer - Cosmos, goes on trips to the unknown territories of the universe in search of a new planet like Earth where life could be possible. How once on his trip he gets lost in a black hole and how George with the help of Cosmos, Annie and her mother Susan helps him come out of it is really interesting. In the end George's parents also feel that science and technology are not bad, with the help of technology we are getting to know our universe better. But technology should be used for the betterment of the humanity and not for its destruction.

A must read for all above age 6yrs. It made me more interested in the facts about universe and I would like to read more on this subject.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Book Review : Books by Mitch Albom

3 Books by Mitch Albom

1. Tuesdays With Morrie
2. Five People You Meet in Heaven
3. For One More Day
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The author's style of writing is great, the reader doesn't loose interest while reading any of these three books. Generally I have seen with many authors that once their one book becomes a bestseller, the subsequent writings are more or less on the same lines where the reader can very well guess the flight of the author's mind. Whereas in these books, firstly each one of them has its own unique point to convey even though all these books provoke the reader to think about the life deeply.

Tuesdays with Morrie is much more than a self help book in which the author depicts how the life is passing by and how we should start living it before it is too late. Morrie is a professor of Sociology who is diagnosed with terminal disease - ALS. He decides that he would rather spend the rest of his days enjoying, talking and meeting people than sulking alone. Then comes his old student who had spent some very good times with the professor in the college but now was part of mad materialistic race. Morrie takes the last class for this student in which he tells him his experience of dying. How important it is to enjoy and celebrate every moment of this life. He considers himself as a bridge between the people who are alive and death so he wants more and more people to know how it feels to be dying. He believes that we all should learn to die first and then we will be able to live life. His positive attitude and accepting each disability gracefully make the reader wonder is it actually possible to do it when most of the times people get disturbed and unnerved by insignificant things. I think everybody should keep reading this book over and over again so that the focus is at the right place all the time.

Five people you meet in heaven makes a person think how different people may leave a lasting impression and may change the whole course of the life of that person.

For one more day ( my personal favourite), is a very well weaved story where the reader goes through the feelings of having lost a very dear one and what all remains to be told or heard from that person who has gone leaving the reader behind. In our day to day routine we don't realise that the people who matter to us may not be there the very next moment or the other case where we will just go out of this picture leaving everbody behind but then no words and feelings can go beyond this life. So make the best use of this time.
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