Monday, December 20, 2010

Book Review : Holy Cow : An Indian Adventure

Title : Holy Cow : An Indian Adventure

Author : Sarah ManDonal

Publisher : Random House

ISBN : 978-0-553-81601-3

Twenty one years old Sarah MacDonald visits India and to say the least she simply hates her experience in the country and vows never to step her foot on this land again. But destiny does bring her back after 11 years, making an Indian beggar's prophecy correct about her. This time she comes to India leaving her dream job in Sydney for the love of her life, who happens to be posted in New Delhi.

Claiming to be an atheist, she finds herself in a totally alien territory where faith, belief and religion define a part of who people are and not just that, there is so much more to India and the people than she could ever have imagined or expected. She embarks on the journey to unravel the mysteries of India and Indian-ness and flows with what each day unfolds in front of her.

Being in the most polluted city, observing people very closely, she wonders why so many foreigners keep trying to figure out India when in fact this whole exercise is pointless, India is one country which is beyond any understanding, any statement, for anything one states about India, the opposite is also true. It's rich, its poor, spiritual and material, cruel and kind, angry and peaceful, ugly and beautiful, smart and stupid. It's all the extremes.

She observes, experiences and tries to understand the faiths, beliefs and religions of different people and what these mean to an Indian. To immerse deeply and to partake all flavors, she first takes the calming Vipassana course in the small town of Dharamkot, pays visit to the Vatican of Sikhs - the Golden Temple, travels to Kashmir and closely observes the Muslims and their ability to surrender and sacrifice, spends some days in Buddhist Monastery, gets introduced to beliefs of the Jews and Parsis of India, marvels at the unbelievable simplicity and self-perfection of Jain faith, gets awed by the orderly organisation of Sathya Sai Baba anshram in Bangalore, appreciates the Hinduism for showing innumerable ways to divine and peeks into the lives of Indian Christians. After having experienced faith from different angles, she realizes that she has made a start along the path to personal transformation and inner peace.

The charm of India was such that despite having to endure a lot of irritants like - the unending trail of beggars which gets exceptionally bigger behind a foreigner, various people charging exorbitantly for the basic services, lecherous gestures of men, to just name a few - while leaving India this time, she is glad 'to be reborn as a better person, less reliant on others for her happiness and full of a desire to replace anger with love.' And, she has gained another home - the home of her spiritual rebirth.

I really liked the author's play with words - simple and perfectly apt, witty and intelligent. To give a slice of her writing style, just a few pages into the book she writes about the Indian traffic and the road sense -

'Pedestrians are on the bottom and run out of the way of everything, bicycles make way to cycle-rickshaws, which give way to auto-rickshaws, which stop for the cars, which are subservient to trucks. Buses stop for one thing and one thing only. Not customers - they jump on while the buses are still moving. The only thing that can stop a bus is the king of the road - The Holy Cow. '

On a personal note: I guess being Indian, we see such huge diversity right from the moment we open our eyes that we have always considered it as part of who we are without consciously registering as much, but actually if we watch India from afar, not as someone part of it, I think India is too intriguing, overwhelming and awe-inspiring and has been a complex topic for many people. The fact is, India is beyond all definitions and statements and that is precisely the uniqueness of this country.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Book Review : The Giver

Title : The Giver

Author : Lois Lowry

Publisher : Harper Collins

ISBN : 978-0-00-726351-6

This is a story of a young lad Jonas, who is eleven now and is quite apprehensive about the upcoming ceremony where all Twelves of the community will be assigned an occupation, a job, a position in the community. Jonas is a member of a 'perfect' community where everything is same, in order, under control, as per the rules in the great rule book - the only book accessible to people of the community. The houses are exactly the same, the dresses of people are alike, each family unit comprises of a mother and a father and they can apply for one male and one female child. The community is unaware of any kind of emotions or feelings - happiness, sadness, sorrow, love, affection, suffering. They have not even heard of things like hills, mountains, snow, sunshine and even colors. This is because long back, the people of this community had chosen 'sameness' for themselves.

Even the terminology in the community is fixed and cannot be changed - children younger than one are called 'newchildren', same age children are 'groupmates', and weak, elderly, diseased or people who break rules three times are being 'released'. There is a set pattern to everything. The children at eight begin their volunteer hours where they are observed by the elders who later assign the children their roles in the community at Twelve. On the crucial day of assignments, Jonas is selected as a new 'Receiver of Memories'. He gets this unique responsibility owing to his intelligence, integrity, courage, wisdom and capacity to see beyond. The elder Receiver becomes the Giver now and needs to pass on the memories of the past, of all the feelings, emotions and truth to Jonas.

While on the journey to receiving memories from the Giver, Jonas as an intelligent student realizes that their 'perfect' world is not so perfect in reality. People have no freedom of any kind - what to wear, what to eat, which profession to chose or even selection of a partner - everything is decided or assigned as part of the community rule.

Through his training as Receiver of Memories, he experiences how there is so much more to the world and to the life which has been completely eradicated from their worlds. After having experienced the best of memories of being loved in a family setup to the painful memories of war and sufferings, Jonas decides that he must do something to bring in the change for himself and for his people. He sets on a journey to the 'elsewhere' land with whatever little reserve of memories he had received from the Giver over one year.

I really liked the subtle way how Lois Lowry described the perfect world yet bringing the feeling of uneasiness about the whole setup. The narrative had a wonderful flow to it but found one thing lacking in it - the Giver never mentions why exactly people chose the 'sameness' for themselves and how it happened. The end is a little mysterious leaving the readers wanting for more. A wonderful and completely out-of-the-box plot and executed with excellence.

Many controversial topics are being touched in the story - infanticide, suicide, euthanasia, sexual arousals (stirrings), concept of surrogating (separate group of females assigned the work of mothering). These issues have made this book a little controversial and I understand that in some US states, this book was banned for some years but now it is part of sixth grade curriculum in some schools. I feel there is a lot of scope of discussion about these issues through this story and good way to understand how young adults feel about the differentness, uniqueness and sameness.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Book Review : Planetary Transformation

Title : Planetary Transformation

Author : Imre Vallyon

Publisher : Sounding Light

ISBN : 978-0-909038-61-8

Review written for BookPleasures

Through his book 'Planetary Transformation', the author Imre Vallyon introduces the readers to a potential higher awareness and unprecedented transformation which is about to dawn on our physical planet. This transformation has the potential of tremendous opportunity in store for the Mankind. To make use of this opportunity we need to understand this process first and equip ourselves to arise, awake and absorb it positively.

Imre begins by first educating the readers about the cyclical nature of the Sun and the solar system through various zodiac signs.

Our solar System is journeying right into the path of a much higher energy stream, which means that our Solar Logos and all the planets could be swamped with a huge tidal wave of high-frequency energy that they have never encountered before. Some slight changes are already being observed ever since 1857 which are slowly gaining momentum and will peak in the coming hundred to thousand years. If these astrological changes are referred to as 'horizontal' changes then he talks about another form of 'vertical' changes which can be initiated by higher energy descending from higher dimensions, from the Inner World.

How these cosmic energies and higher-frequency streams will impact our Solar System, our Mother Earth, our coming generations and humanity in general is an interesting topic of research and learning.

The next few generations are blessed to be getting this amazing chance to cooperate with the Divine plan by first being aware of the immense possibilities thrown open in front of them. The humans will have a choice to either help the planet enter into a Golden Age or push it to be another failure due to ignorance and non-cooperation with the cosmic changes. We all can choose to elevate our awareness from the basic physical to astral level where there is Divine unity - past, present an future are fused into one knowing Consciousness and Oneness. This means we can awaken into a higher dimensional awareness and can be a walking Buddha or Christ.

Our planet is getting ready for this enormous transformation, and the onus is on us to prepare ourselves to be in tune with ourselves, our planet and with the Cosmos while keeping an informed eye on the stumbling blocks on the path.

After having discussed this upcoming transformation in the lives of our future generations, Imre then walks the readers through some of the guided meditation techniques and chanting routines, following which, we can hope to raise the consciousness in line with the Divine vision and participate actively in the whole transformation process.

A prophetic book which very succinctly offers many interesting revelations about the cosmic world, our future, what to expect and how best to approach the future turbulent times to bring in peace, love and eternal happiness for all.

About the author : Imre Vallyon is the visionary author of The Magical Mind, Heavens and Hells of the Mind, The Sedona Talks and The Art of Meditation. He was the Aston Wylie Award winner in 2008 and a Living Now gold medalist in 2009.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Book Review : Fun of Dying

Title : Fun of Dying

Author : Roberta Grimes

Publisher : Greater Reality Publications

ISBN : 978-0-9802111-1-5

Fun of Dying is about the one issue which has intrigued humans since time immemorial, the main reason being lack of knowledge about the afterlife and what to expect when we exit this world. Roberta Grimes attempts to put some of such anxieties to rest through this interesting book. After having researched so much on this topics, she educates us with authority that death is an easy and enjoyable transition quite unlike what most of us anticipate in our minds. It doesn't hurt and it's not frightening. Our present seemingly solid reality makes it hard for many of us to believe that an equally solid and real afterlife is possible.

She first points out that there has been two modern bastions - mainstream science and mainstream religion. 'Mainstream scientists believe that there is nothing after death to discover, while mainstream clergymen are sure that there is nothing more to know.'

Well supported by the research on death, afterlife, reincarnation and out of body experiences, she further elaborates that there are abundant afterlife evidences which consistently bring out the same results. 'The experience has been like reading hundreds of accounts by a century's worth of travelers to Fiji. They had widely differing experiences but clearly they were all describing the same complex and fascinating place.'

She describes how people may feel during the time of pre-death and post-death, primarily based on the experiences of people themselves who are successfully reached during those phases. The author virtually takes us to the other world and talks about the reception time when folks one knows keep turning up in the prime of their life, immaterial of when they died and at what age. (This part reminded me of 'Five People you Meet in Heaven' by Mitch Albom.)

And eventually everyone must encounter the review of the life that he/she spent on Earth. The hardest part of the life review process is that of forgiving oneself for umpteen number of times some cruel things were said and the number of times the person ignored or missed the chance to do an act of kindness.

After having clearly explained the feeling that one experiences while the whole life flashes through him/her, she proceeds on to explain how the knowledge about the afterlife makes and should make us realize that we are here in this world for a purpose, which is - to learn to forgive and learn to love others universally.

Overall an interesting book about the topic which has been researched a lot but nothing can be said about it with authority because while here we can not have the perspective to even view the other world even though people from afterlife describe their experiences vividly.

The book provides enough stimulants for the readers to do more research on this topic. It surely sparks the curiosity to know more, and does satisfy some anxieties.

However, some of the things that are mentioned in the book may seen inconsistent with other written literature on death but if the book manages to motivate the people to learn to love and to forgive while here, I think the job is done.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book Review : When Big Issues Happen to Little Girls

Title : When Big Issues Happen to Little Girls
Author : Erin A. Munroe
Publisher : Health Communications Inc.
ISBN : 978-0-7573-1532-9

Book Review written for BookPleasures
'When Big Issues Happen to Little Girls' attempts to be a useful aid for the parents, especially the mothers of little girls, as daughters knowingly or unknowingly tend to emulate their mothers in their actions, responses, biases, beliefs and mannerisms. Bringing up daughters can be an intimidating task for a mother when one mini-herself is looking for guidance and approval of the right way to live and behave. Author Erin A. Munroe sheds light on the topics that girls face today and through these incite the parents to first understand themselves and their emotions so that they are appropriately equipped to steer the daughters to handle the pressures of growing up.

It is imperative for the parents to keep the communication channels open at all times with the daughters and to exercise 'listen more and judge less' policy to achieve that. There are some very useful tips in the book under various topics for the parents to take help from - making them comfortable with the physical changes happening, getting to know her friends personally, educating her about sex, pregnancy and STDs, supporting her in case she has some kind of learning disability or mental illness, and discussing the topic of drugs and alcohol.
At the end of each chapter, there is a neat list of 'Action Recap', 'Top five talking points' and 'Useful resources for more information'.

But more than anything else, what a parent should take from such books is to work on developing a loving and caring bond with the daughters and if there is one, I think no such help is required and if it is not there, these books do not help either. The responsibility of making the relationship such entirely rests on parents.
The book is not the kind to be read from cover to cover. The readers should pick the chapter that deals with particular concern of theirs to get right more information on. The chapters are quite mutually exclusive, each focusing on a different issue, there is no particular sequence of the chapters.

First thought after reading this book was why this could not be a generic book dealing with the issues of both sons and daughters. The only specific chapters were where physical changes are discussed. The same can be addressed for boys too under different sections of course. Other than this topic, the rest of the chapters are pretty much generic and parents/caregiver of a boy also have the similar kind of concerns.
Did not find anything new which has already not been written about in many other parenting books that are available on the shelves. So yet another book on parenting.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Book Review : We Can Pull It Off...

Title : We Can Pull It Off…
Author : Suresh Taneja
Publisher : Leadstart Publishing
ISBN : 978-93-80154-69-5

The book starts in the year 2030 and India is the most prosperous and powerful country in the whole world. The three friends of the famous group of 4 - G4 (Vikram, Yuvika, Manisha and Akshay) are going to Washington DC with their families to meet their fourth friend. When the families get together, their children coax them to share their childhood memories and experiences with them.

The story goes back to the year 2009. The parents of G4 were childhood friends and the families used to spend their vacation together but one such vacation of 2009 turned out to be quite eventful. During the first few days of the holidays, they experienced some very shocking incidents when they came face to face with abysmal levels of moral values of the people and the extent to which corruption had extended its poisonous fangs in the society. This made them ponder over their own situation as citizens of India, the country's condition and where this whole system was leading the country to. They were deeply affected and decided to do whatever they could to at least create a ripple in the society which was otherwise in deep slumber.

With excellent creative thinking, problem solving and teamwork skills they come up with a winner of the solutions and take the initiative to work towards making a corruption free nation. With the support of some good Samaritans like the principal of their school and the reporter Varsha Dutt, they are able to transform their small effort to mass movement. Their master plan is to first influence and impress upon the younger generation about the doomed future that awaits us if nothing is changed. Once the children lend their support and commitment to this movement, the children would work with G4 to cleanse the society by questioning the dubious means of money-making adopted by their own parents. The parents obviously cannot ignore their own children, so this self check process at every home would surely work wonders in eradicating the corruption from the very roots of it.

At the times as these when we see corruption taking epidemic proportion in our society, this book comes as a breath of fresh air. Suresh gives a brief glimpse of the monstrous problem by bringing the famous incidents in the narrative like Satyam's farce and money flashing by the elected members of the parliament in the sacred place of democracy.
I liked some very useful points emphasized in the book - 'Education is the only solution to the problems as widespread as terrorism'. 'Everything is possible by going back to the basics - amenable good old ways of building moral values.'
But by the end of the book, it comes across as a feel good story which only manages to scrape through the surface and fails to dig deeper than what is already known. The plot is good but lacks in believability of the same.
Found repetition of some phrases and words a lot of times which makes the narration a little drab. I always feel that if a book suffers from grammatical and spelling mistakes, the natural flow gets disrupted. So it is extremely important to have tight editing in order to get rid of such spoilers from the book.

Overall an interesting read. The passion and sincerity of the author gets conveyed beautifully through the story. I appreciate his effort to contribute in his own unique way by encouraging and motivating the young minds in a positive fashion.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Book Review : 100 Shades of White

Title : 100 Shades of White
Author : Preethi Nair
Publisher : Harper Collins
ISBN : 978-0-00-734054-5
No. of Pages : 294

The book alternates between Nalini's and her daughter Maya's narrative but actually it is a story of three women belonging to three generations - Ammu the grandmother, Nalini the mother and Maya the daughter. The grandmother takes very less space of the complete narration but remains in the scene till the very end of the book. That is the power of the character of a lady and I am afraid it will get unnoticed by some readers but I feel, her tampering of authentic spices and pearls of wisdom derived from the same are the common thread binding the three generations together. Nalini always derived solace and strength from these same recipes and the art of cooking to define and understand the meaning of her own life. Later Maya followed the same route to make peace with the truth.

'100 Shades of White' is a story of Nalini, a village cook's daughter whose fate takes her from a conservative Kerala setting to the big city of Mumbai. She becomes a mother of two children - Maya and Satchin. Her husband Raul stays mostly away on business trips and one fine day summons the family to join him in London. Maya and Satchin enjoy the pleasures of new life they are introduced to but this does not continue for long and Raul leaves his family, never to return back. In order to shield her children from this brutal truth, Nalini tells them a white lie that their father is dead. She strives hard against all odds in an alien land, to provide a decent life to her children and with the help of some friends and her knowledge of spices, she manages to rise above all these troubles. But later the truth does come back to haunt them.

While working for a better life for her children, she had the support of two very dear friends and her mother's words on cooking and on one of the most important lessons of life - about the magic of forgiveness and the miracles which are made possible by it.
'The art of putting together food is a magical thing and if it is done right it has the power to soften the most hardened heart' .
'Forgiveness from a broken heart combusted energy that made insurmountable obstacles just dissolve.'

Nalini practiced the art of combining the two - forgiveness through the aroma of medley of spices and tampering of them in the pickles to carve a successful life for herself and for her children.
Later Maya in pursuit of the truth, retraces her roots from London, back to Mumbai and then to Kerala.

In spite of narrative jumping from mother to the daughter, the flow is impeccable. The way last few chapters are handled by the author are commendable and speaks volumes about the author's grasp on the human nature, vulnerabilities, insecurities and strengths.
However, the cover page is not the reflection of any part of the story so it is a little misleading. Also the tag line written with the title of the book - 'There's East. There's West', makes the readers believe that there is yet another book comparing the east and the west but that is hardly the point which the story wants to make.
Again, not a literary masterpiece but still an interesting and engaging story.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Interview with Melvin Durai

Melvin Durai is a writer and a humorist. His funny and thought-provoking columns have graced many newspapers and magazines in many countries. Through his first novel - 'Bala Takes the Plunge' (reviewed here), he has taken firm and sure steps towards expanding his horizons from being a writer of columns to authoring complete books. I congratulate him on the success of his debut novel which has been widely appreciated for the satire, humour and wit. I got an opportunity to conduct an e-interview with Melvin and I am glad to be sharing his views on this blog for all the readers.

When did you start writing? How has been the journey of being a writer so far? And when did you start feeling the need to write a little longer something than the columns?
I started writing in 1993 when I got a job as a newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania. I was a business reporter for three years, then a general assignment reporter. I began writing a regular humor column in 1995. I’ve wanted to write a book for a long time, but it took me a while to find my niche. I experimented with short stories for several years. I also experimented with my humor columns. Many of them are a form of fiction. The journey of being a writer hasn't always been smooth: I've had to stop and ask for directions several times. But I think I'm on the right road now.

Is it a natural progression from writing short columns to being an author of a novel? What do you feel should or would be the next stage for you?
No, I don’t think it’s a natural progression. Many journalists do end up writing books, but most of those books would be non-fiction, I believe. The next stage for me is to write another humorous novel. I also want to continue writing my columns.

Why did you choose to write a novel under humor genre, when it’s a fact that creating a humorous piece is not an easy task?
It's certainly not easy, but I liked the challenge and I also like to make people laugh. Besides, there are plenty of serious novels out there.

Has Bala been inspired by any real life character or it’s a completely fictional character?
Bala is a fictional character, though some of his experiences have been inspired by my and my friends’ experiences.

What is your favourite part in the book?
My favorite parts are the conversations Bala has with his parents. I had fun writing the dialogue.

What would be your dream book as an author - plot wise and the reach wise?
I think every author dreams of writing a book that’s close to perfect and sells millions of copies. My dream is to write a handful of books that I’m proud of. I don’t really dream of writing a particular plot, though I have certain ideas I’d like to explore. For example, I’d like to write about the experiences of a stay-at-home dad, perhaps in my next novel.

Which kind of book you find interesting to read? Which is your favorite author?
I enjoy literary fiction more than popular fiction. Two of my favorite authors are Rohinton Mistry and J.M. Coetzee.

How would you want to make a mark - as a columnist or as an author? Which of these two enthuse you most? Or is it something other than these two?
I’d like to be known mostly as a humorist -- whether I’m writing columns or books. I enjoy doing both. Columns can potentially have a wider reach, especially with the Internet, but books last longer. My 8-year-old daughter, Lekha, is eager to read my novel, but I’ve told her she’ll have to wait until she’s older. It’s nice to know that my novel will be around for a long time, if not in bookstores, then at least on our bookshelf at home.

What is the biggest challenge you face while writing ?
The biggest challenge is setting personal deadlines. If you write 500 words a day, you’ll have a 60,000-word book after four months. But how many of us can stick to the schedule of 500 words a day without a boss checking on us?

What suggestions would you like to give to aspiring writers?
If you want to be a writer, you just have to keep writing. The more you do it, the better you will get. Don’t talk about it, don’t plan to do it -- just sit down and do it. And don’t try to be Salman Rushdie or Jhumpa Lahiri. Try to develop your own style.

Thanks Melvin!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Book Review : Adventures of Rusty & Ginger Fox

Title : Adventures of Rusty and Ginger Fox
Author and Photographer : Tim Ostermeyer
Publisher : Synergy Books
ISBN : 978-0-9845040-0-8

Rusty and Ginger are two fox cubs who belong to a friendly fox family and till now they have seen the forest and its different inhabitants through the eyes of their mom and dad. But now their fur is slowly turning red from brown, which is an indication that they are ready to leave the safety of their log and explore the jungle world on their own. So they excitedly set off on their adventure where they meet some very shy and some scary, some harmless and some ferocious, some friendly and some not so friendly creatures living in the jungle. And then they spot something very sparkly on an island which is located in the middle of the lake. They are very inquisitive and want to know about the hidden treasure in that sparkly thing lying far away in the middle of the lake. But to reach that place, they need to swim which they have not done without their Mom or Dad. While they are still contemplating what to do, they hear the familiar voices of their parents. Now together the whole family embarks on the task of solving the mystery of the sparkling article on the island. But how do they solve the mystery, who comes to assist them and what comes out of it? Read this interesting adventurous tale to find out.

The beautiful wildlife photography by Tim Ostermeyer brings the cubs and all the animals that they meet, to life and overall gives a very fresh look to the story and to the book. There are some pages providing factual information about the animals that are introduced in the story. I specifically liked the little but very significant detail of putting the paw prints of the animals along with the wildlife information and that completes the brief introduction on every animal that the little cubs meet on their first expedition.
I have read many children's books on animals and their habitats but this one is very unique and imparts the true feel of the forest thanks to the enchanting wildlife photographs by Tim.
His work can be seen at: Ostermeyer-Photography

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Book Review : Coming Home

Title : Coming Home - A Practical Compassionate Guide to Caring for a Dying Loved One
Author : Deborah Duda
Publisher : Synergy Books
ISBN : 978-0-9842358-9-6

A perfect handbook for the people around a loved one who chooses to spend the last days of his/her life in a warm and loving home environment instead of an impersonal hospital. The author of the book - Deborah emphasizes the point that selecting between the two - hospital or home, is the first step for a terminally ill patient and after making the desire known the next step is for the people around the patient to rationally evaluate the feasibility or workability of that option. Once these steps are over, the actual implementation stage ensues and a lot of preparation goes in making this whole process easier, smooth and stress free for the patient as well as for the family or friends who are helping the patient move towards a new life.

One of the tasks that is to be done by the patient him(her)self is the acceptance of dying. It does take a little time to get used to the feeling that the person him(her)self is not in control. The author very appropriately puts it in these words, 'To surrender and to be free, we have to accept life as it is instead of holding on to how we think it should be'. When the circumstances of the lives cannot be controlled or managed as per our liking or desire, we can still choose the attitude to take the same. The attitude about dying can also be rationally selected - optimistically or pessimistically. Just with a little twist in this attitude the same eyes get different lenses to look at the same world.

For the caregivers , this book provides a step by step tour of the whole process and the important points and suggestions which they need to keep in mind while engaged in this noble task. But before anything else, she tries to make the point very clear that the main objective of the caregivers is 'not to cure but to give quality to the life'. So feeling good about the decision to bring the patient home is very important and at no point the guilt of any kind should interfere the initially taken decision. Other important aspects which should be planned and executed well are - managing finances intelligently, the right kind of home care, keeping the morale of the family and the patient high, not shying away from taking help from others, having a sound support system and some backup so that there never comes a time that the caregivers feel drained out and the whole process starts becoming a burden.

Deborah starts the book by narrating her own personal experiences of participating in the home deaths of her father, mother and her two friends. I found it a very nice way of starting the book as it makes the whole work very personal and rightly conveys the point that what all she has suggested throughout the book is very much doable. She has sensitively touched and handled the medical, emotional and spiritual aspects of the process of dying and the sense of achievement the family and friends feel by participating and contributing in this endeavor. In my opinion this is a 'must have' book for the families of the dying individuals and especially those who have decided to bring the patient home for the final journey. The book can be used as a good checklist, a hand book and a manual for those hours, days, months or years before the terminally ill individual begins the new life.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Book Review : Charlotte's Web

Title : Charlotte's Web
Author : E.B.White
Publisher : Scholastic
Age Group : 8+

An endearing tale of an unimaginable friendship between two extremely dissimilar creatures - a pig and a tiny spider. Even the idea of witnessing an affectionate relationship between these two is hard to imagine. But W. B. White has beautifully weaved a loving, emotional and sensitive story of a pig who was born a runt and a common wall spider doing an amazingly inimitable task.

The new born pig was destined to be put to rest soon after its birth because of its under-developed body but for a little girl Fern, who argued with her parents and convinced them to allow her to take care of the pig. With the loving care of Fern, the pig grew big enough to be sold to Mr.Homer Zuckerman, who had a big barn and many farm animals and who sometimes raised pigs too. So the deal was finalised in six dollars and Wilbur became a part of the big strange assorted family. Initially he felt sad and lonely in this new place without Fern but surprisingly one day he was invited into a conversation by a spider, who was hanging from her web on the roof of the pigpen. She liked to be called Charlotte. Thus ensued their unique affectionate bond.

It was a known fact in the barn that in coming winters, Wilbur would be killed by Mr. Zuckerman for one of the grand feasts in the house. But as any living individual Wilbur did not want to die and wanted to live life fully but there was nobody who could help him. Nobody?, no infact this is not true. There was one creature in the barn, who sincerely wanted to save Wilbur. Yes, you guessed it right - it was Charlotter, the spider. But spiders are adept in doing just one task - that is of web weaving, so how could weaving a web help save Wilbur's life? Charlotte came up with the most brilliant idea of her life and miraculously this idea not just worked but it worked so wonderfully that Wilbur - who was once an underdeveloped pig, got accolades for his smooth skin, healthy body and Divine hand behind his existence.
Charlotte's work was done, she was nearing her last days now and had just one last job left which she needed to do at the dusk of her life - making an egg sac and filling it with eggs - lots and lots of eggs. When Wilbur came to know about Charlotte's future, he was heart broken and lost all interest in everything but soon composed himself and took up the onus of being a protector and godfather to Charlotte's children and her grandchildren in her absence. This was his way of expressing gratitude for what his dear friend had done for him.

This book offers a huge range of things for the young readers - the true friendship rising above all sorts of hurdles and limitations, the will and determination are indeed the supreme characteristics and subsequently the way has to follow these two obediently, and some things even defy the demarcation of life and death as Wilbur kept taking care of Charlotte's spirit through her descendants. The messages of self-belief and trust, affection and keeping the promise are conveyed beautifully through this heartwarming and moving story. The penultimate chapter is very touching when Charlotte breathed her last, some parents may not feel comfortable with this particular event but I took this as an opportunity to explain life cycles of different creatures and how living every moment of it positively and helping others is the most important part of being alive rather than just adding years to the life.

The story is appropriately peppered with humor through the presence of many other animals in the farm including the greedy and gluttonous rat - Templeton, who had an important role to play in the whole scheme of things.

A perfect tale of a true friendship.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Book Review : 1) The Enchanted Flounder 2) Little Red Riding Hood

Title 1: The Enchanted Flounder
Title 2: Little Red Riding Hood
Adapted and Illustrated by : Susan Meredith
Publisher : Rocking Chair Publications

The Enchanted Flounder is the fourth book of the series - Gram's Fairy Tales, which are kinder, gentler retelling of Grimm's classics. The previous three being - Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Rumpelstitlskin.

Through this series of retold classics, the witches, evil stepmothers and bad wolves have been replaced by nicer characters and the negativities have been substituted with softer, sensitive and humane feelings. These books truly live up to the theme of 'NO SCARY STUFF, Just tickles and giggles'.

We all know the story of a fisherman meeting a magical fish who could fulfill wishes. Fisherman, being a very contented person, does not ask for anything but his materialistic wife needs all comforts of life - a big house, lots of servants and on and on her greed and wishes keep increasing until she finally asks for a supreme wish of granting wishes herself, which completely changes her life for good. No, she is not transformed into the same poor lady of the fisherman once again. In this new version of the classic, there is a beginning of a new life, a new story and a happy ending.

Similarly through the tale of 'Little Red Riding Hood', a very important point has been made - forming a rigid opinion or branding a particular animal or for that matter any individual as good or bad is not right and that comes across as a very valid point when the wolf is portrayed as a vulnerable animal who is in fear of the hunters and wants the help of Little Red Riding Hood to save its life.
This reminded me of one story that I wrote - "Who is Bigger?", conveying the same point. We have always read and listened to the stories with fox being a very crafty and cunning animal but I wanted to write something in which fox's intelligence is being used in a positive manner.

After reading this book, I found it a very good idea to package the age old classics in new mould and approach the idea of inculcating values in children a little differently, not through same old witches, revengeful fish and always a villain wolf. I found these books modifying the classics just perfectly to convey the point without creating a fear of any frightening images in young minds. Also, these books are just right for the children transitioning from picture books to chapter books.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Book Review : That's Where God Is

Title : That's Where God Is
Author : Dan & Ali Morrow
Illustrated by : Cory Godbey
Publisher : David Cook
ISBN : 978-1-4347-6434-8

Age Group : 4-8 years

'That's Where God Is', is a very lovingly written book about a little boy's quest to find and understand God and his spiritual adventure. As befitting a pre-school child, the boy in the story has his mind brimming with questions and while relaxing with his grandfather on one Sunday, he asks him a simple question - "Grandpa where is God?". The question is not answered directly rather he is urged by the grandfather to look for the answer himself. The little boy is a little unsure initially but he promises to be watchful for the signs which would lead him to the right answer by the end of the week when he is supposed to tell his grandfather about his progress on this pursuit. During this whole week, while doing the routine things - at home, in school, in a trip to zoo, at his friend's place, he gets acquainted to different forms and ways of God. Starting from Monday, each day reveals a new and wonderful realization for him when he actually experiences God in diverse things. He could see Him present in all his creations - big or small, animals or plants, rain or sunshine. He could feel God with himself in every small action that he does or is done by anyone else - in forgiveness and in sharing, in fun and sorrow, in compassion and helping others. The boy is thrilled that he could actually find the answer all by himself and then on the following Sunday, he relates all his experiences to his grandfather. But his curiosity doesn’t end there, he wants to know more about God. It is wonderful how grandfather explains about one special place where we all can invite God's spirit to come and stay so that God is with us - wherever we are and whatever we do.

A wonderful way to start a conversation with little children, initiating and encouraging them to discover the presence of God in every single thing around them. This book is just appropriate for parents, grandparents, teachers and caregivers, to read to young children and is the perfect way to incite the young and adult readers alike to 'keep the eyes open, in order to find God all over the place throughout His creation'.

The illustrations by Cory Godbey are simply beautiful. The combination of pencil sketches and the warm shades of water colors accentuate the overall effect of the written matter brilliantly.

Cory Godbey illustrates, animates, and writes for Portland Studios, a creative firm dedicated to telling great stories and pursuing excellence in art.
He has contributed to projects such as Zune Arts, Flight graphic novel anthologies, and has worked with many major publishers. To see more of his work and read his blog.

fabric painting on a T-shirt

simple flower pattern using 3-D outliner

Monday, November 1, 2010

Book Review : Hitler's Canary

Title : Hitler's Canary
Author : Sandi Toksvig
Publisher : Random House
ISBN : 978-0-440-86662-6
Age Group : 12+ years

'Hitler's Canary' is based on how Danes helped the Jews of their country from the deportation to the concentration camps run by Nazis. The citizens of Denmark (Jews or not) stood together as one united nation which gets evident by this small incident - A German soldier once asked a Denmark passer-by "Who guards your King?" To which the man replied, "We all do".
This book, very much on the same lines as 'Number the Stars' by Lois Lowry (reviewed here), begins in 1940 at Copenhagen, the year when Nazis invaded Denmark and the German soldiers on every street became the regular feature in Denmark.

Bamse, a 10 year old boy is not a Jew but his best friend Anton is. Bamse's theatre actress mother and painter father did not want to get involved in anything political but his elder brother Orlando is part of a resistance group, he cannot accept his country being named 'Hitler's Canary'. He urges his parents to do something and not pretend that everything is normal - 'We have a duty as Danes. Think of our history. We were the first European nation to grant the Jews full, unconditional emancipation. We were the first country to abolish slavery officially. We can't give it now."
But his father has a valid argument too, he believes that 'Denmark is a tiny nation. We can't fight our enemies. We haven't the strength. They won't take the Jews or anyone as long as we cooperate. The Germans will leave us and the Jews alone as long as they are not provoked.' But unfortunately the Jews are not left alone. When he gets the information that the Dane Jews are to be rounded up by the Nazis to be sent to the concentration camps, the whole family works towards protecting the refugees and making arrangements for their safe exit to the neutral grounds of Sweden. In order to accomplish this task they 'do whatever they do well' - his father painting a false wall behind which the refugees could hide and his mother delivering a live performance in front of the Nazi soldiers on the lookout of Jews.

Though set against the backdrop of WW II, nothing heart-wrenching or gruesome is explained in this book, just a lurking fear is subtly conveyed through the narrative which makes it just the appropriate book to introduce the subject of second world war to children. As the author mentions, these are the stories of bravery of average citizens who refused to allow the occupying German army to simply have their own way. He further makes a very important point at the end of the story - 'This is a fiction inspired by the facts but it contains the vital message my father taught to me - the rescue of the Danish Jews was not a story in which all the Germans were bad and all the Danes were good. There were just some good people and some bad people and it wasn't always easy to tell the difference.'

You can go for either of these two books - Hitler's Canary or Number the Stars to get the feel of how Denmark and its citizens reacted to Nazis' invasion. Another very famous book on the same subject is - 'The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas' - a story from the eyes of a German soldier's son.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Book Review : Ismat's Eid

Title : Ismat's Eid
Retold By : Fawzia Gilani - Williams
Illustrated By : Proiti Roy

Age Group : 4 to 8 years

Review written for CROCUS 2010 Saffron Tree

This story is an old Turkish Tale in a new and succinct avatar. Ismat is a shoemaker who comes across as a very contented person. After having made a good sale of shoes a day before the big Muslim festival - Eid, he decides to buy special gifts for his family members. He very diligently selects just perfect gifts for everybody - his mother, his wife and his daughter. He is delighted with his purchase but then the shopkeeper convinces him that he should buy something for himself too on the auspicious occasion of Eid. Unfortunately there is only one pair of trousers left in the shop and that too a little longer for Ismat. But this is not such a big problem, a long dress can easily be shortened - by cutting it short. So Ismat excitedly takes all these gifts home and requests his wife to cut short his trousers to make it fit for him but since next day is Eid, she is too busy making some goodies for the festival and she urges him to ask his mother to do this job. But his mother and his daughter are equally busy too, they seem to have no time to make the trousers fit for Ismat. Ismat decides to do this cutting business himself as it isn't that big a job anyway, he cuts it short and neatly hems the edges. The day of Eid arrives, Ismat's wife, his mother and his daughter, all are ready in their new dresses. But there is a bigger surprise (or a shock?), when Ismat goes in to wear his new trousers, what the family members hear from outside his room are Ismat's shocking screams. Can you guess what would have happened? I don’t want to spoil the surprise, let's just say that a family is truly a united family when all members think about others and do a little extra!!! to help others. They all were stunned beyond words, then they had a hearty laugh and got down together to solve the problem.

What I liked about Ismat's family was their ability to laugh together, to work together and to be considerate for each other. Isn’t it what festivals try to remind us every year? This hilarious story perfectly supported with expressive spread of illustrations captures and brings out the true spirit of festivals. The brilliant drawings are by none other than the well known name behind the beauty of many interesting books like - What Should I Make, Mathematwist, Putul and the Dolphins etc. - Proiti Roy a graduate in fine arts form Shantiniketan, Bengal. She teaches art and craft to children and is also a freelance illustrator.

This book is also available in Tamil, Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali.

Image Source : Tulika Books

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My 100th Post...

I have been in the blogging world since last 2 years but till last Oct, I was not very regular in posting the book reviews. In Oct, 2009 I created a new blog by the name Literary Sojourn and since then this space has been my way of expressing how I feel after reading every book, whether it is any children's book or otherwise. In fact, this has been my space where my literary odyssey is getting chronicled.

On the way, I joined many other sites for which I write book reviews - Book Pleasures, Saffron Tree and Book Reviews. I am enjoying being a member of these sites as well as an active book reviewer now.

'Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested'.
Read many books, marveled at the flight of imagination of some authors, admired the precision in recording events of some, flowed with the waves of sentiments of some, laughed with some, cried with some, felt the fright, uncertainty, love, passion, ... - almost all forms of emotions through the beautiful world of books.

"You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend".
I actually made some very dear friends and lost them with the last pages but their sweet memories are my treasures and will stay with me forever.
Overall it has been an interesting and fulfilling journey so far, with every book bringing a new promise of opening a different and unmatched world in front of mental eyes.

While following my passion to read and to write about what I read, I try to keep my reviews very rational, unbiased and fair. I hope the criticism is also taken in the right spirit.

I interviewed some authors and illustrators and tried to spread the inspiration from the works of such people to as many readers as possible.
Last but not the least, through this blog, I share my creativity too.

So keep visiting this space to read about many more exciting books, interviews and art work in future.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book Review : Bala Takes The Plunge

Title : Bala Takes The Plunge
Author : Melvin Durai
Publisher : Hachette

My journey with books so far has taught me that readable fiction generally falls in either of these two very broad categories. But if a book fails to qualify to any of the following categories then I do not recommend that book, since readers do not get anything by spending their time and energy on it.

  • Books offering some unique idea, out of the box thought, new plot, or some extraordinary event which has never been presented before.
  • Books working on known plots or ideas but the outstanding handling and packaging of the same enable them to rise above the rest. From handling and packaging I mean - either the narration is very witty or engaging or presented in such a fashion that something is there for the readers to savor.
'Bala Takes the Plunge' belongs to the second category of writing. It reminds the readers of 'Inscrutable Americans' a lot and a little bit of Chetan Bhagat's '2 States' but the similarity with '2 States' ends with the South Indian flavor which is brought out through the narratives in both the books.

Bala belongs to a middle class family where the only permissible options to build a successful career are - medicine and engineering. Sounds familiar? Yes, this has been the mindset of Indian middle class because these two streams ensure a successful and happy life. But Bala harbors a lingering desire to direct a film and to cast his favorite star Rajinikanth in it. But this particular aspiration of his always triggers a passive opposite reaction from his parents making it an issue not even worth considering. Finally he relents to their dreams and manages to complete his engineering degree and as a perfect icing on the cake gets transported to America. His parents are contented that Bala stands a commanding position in the marriage market but Bala knows that, 'if he doesn't act fast, he might have to settle for whichever bride his Amma chooses' before he reaches the crucial '30' mark. In order to find a suitable match for himself, he tries many ways to meet different girls - by joining the book-reading club, cycling club and such. The author has attempted very intelligent humor in the narrative by bringing out the point about how opinions are formed about people based on the benchmark of - kind of games they play, the clubs they join or the books they read. In the end, Bala does 'take the plunge' but it is interesting to read how and of which kind.

Book has a quick pace to it and the readers would want to know where Bala's destiny takes him to. The tempo drops in the middle when there is a slight overdose of the matrimonial advertisements but then picks up again on a different note. The narrative gets a little serious after that and the story ends on a great note which seals the story delightfully. Its not a literary masterpiece but I think the author never aimed to write one, it’s a fun, light-read book full of witty puns, if you can just ignore a few pages and paragraphs where it tends to drag a little. A good editing would have removed this irritant too.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Book Review : Zoom

Title : Zoom
Illustrator : Istvan Banyai
Publisher : Puffin
Age Group : All

Review written for CROCUS 2010 at Saffron Tree

I haven't (read)seen many wordless books but the moment I laid my eyes on 'Zoom', it just beckoned me to jump in, and the result was amazing, I was speechless. I could not identify the reason - was it the simplicity of the pictures or the complexity of the same, was it the imagination of the author(illustrator) or my own, was it what the pictures showed me or what I wanted to see. I was confused. But after having gone through this whole experience, one thing was certain, not for a moment I felt the need of any word throughout the book. In fact, just for the sake of argument, if I imagine this to be a regular book with words, I see the whole magical experience and impact getting diluted. A perfect book that seamlessly transcends all possible human defined boundaries.

Just to give you a glimpse of what to expect, the first page shows a bright red drawing which looks like a portion of a star fish with simple pattern of yellow dots on it, you turn the page and the second page shows the picture of the previous page zoomed out and that red drawing happens to be a small crest of a rooster. The following page shows a frame further away in distance where we see the rooster actually perched on a fence and some people watching it through their window. But this is not all, in fact, this is just the beginning. Wait till you see where this whole scene is coming from (or taking you to?). I can assure you, you will be pleasantly astonished. And by the time you reach the last page of the book (which could actually be the first page too), you'd be transported to a different level altogether, imagining your life bit by bit, frame by frame. A wonderful device to use with children and let them anticipate what the zoomed out scene would be. We tried doing this at home and got some very interesting scenarios.

Simply a wonderful book that allures young and adult minds alike to let the flight of unguided imagination loose which may never have been attempted before. A great tool to appreciate every single part of any photograph, any picture, any art work or any frame of life, then backing up a little and getting the wider picture. It can be viewed as a philosophical guide too. It encourages the readers to admire the importance of keeping the things in the right perspective. At any particular juncture of life what we see in front of our eyes is just a tiny speck of what the reality actually is, and the image that one set of eyes deciphers or captures could be totally unique in this wide world with each person making his/her own unmatched image.
I think, it is extremely important to learn first and then to pass this most important message to the children to appreciate the different perceptions of different individuals, and judging the same on a single benchmark is just not right. Such books are the perfect aids in bringing home this point.

An exclusive way to look at everything, be it a picture, a situation, an entity or life. I would say, it is not just a book, but an experience and you must enjoy it!!

Published in 1995, Zoom was honoured as one of the best children's books of the year by the New York Times and Publisher's Weekly.

Image Source : Amazon

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Celebration Time at Saffron Tree

I became a proud member of this wonderful Saffron Tree family in Dec, 2009. 'Goldfish Don't Take Bubble Bath' was my first review there and since then I am enjoying being a part of this amazing group.

A brain child of Praba, ST offers a wonderful potpourri of book reviews and literary resources for children.

Saffron Tree is celebrating its fourth birthday from 23rd to 30th Oct. You all are invited to join the fun and to enjoy the special book reviews, interviews, contests and giveaways specifically planned for this occasion. Try to visit the site every few hours as we will be updating it many times during the day, this whole week.

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