Thursday, October 27, 2011

Book Review : Into The Unknown : How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea and Air

Title : Into The Unknown

Author : Stewart Ross

Illustrator : Stephen Biesty

Publisher : Walker Books

Age : 8+ years

Air, Water, Land - The three most fundamental requisites of life. With evolution and the development of complex brain cells, the human beings continued climbing the hierarchy of needs step by step. Once the faculties to satisfy the basic needs were developed and honed, the eagerness to know the environment arose and this led many inquisitive minds to think, imagine and question beyond what they could see. Their undying curiosity led them to take the never travelled paths, their determination equipped them to surpass mighty hurdles on their ways and their indomitable spirits eventually made them pioneers. The names of these individuals qualified to be engraved in the annals of history among the mortals who became immortals. As the author puts it - "The courage and determination of the individual men and women in this book are why we know so much about the beauty, majesty and mystery of our world."

Besides being the most essential life creating and sustaining elements - Land, Air and Water also provide the conduits to the explorers in their quest to know the unknown.

The book begins with the adventure of Pytheas the Greek - who sailed to the Arctic Circle in 340 BC in a very primitive boat without even having the very basic compass for assistance, to the year 1969 when history was made by the crew of Apollo 11 which landed on moon. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay do not need any introduction, their names have almost become synonymous to the mighty Mt. Everest. Through the stories behind each adventure and the vivid details presented with the illustrations, the readers actually feel like - sailing with Christopher Columbus to the Caribbean, circumnavigating the world with Ferdinand Magellan, crossing the Indian Ocean with Admiral Zheng, experiencing putting the first foot on moon with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and many more such exhilarating highs.

The commendable of this book is how the content is arranged and depicted through illustrations. Each adventure comes with the zoomed in map of the specific region from where the journey began, the detailed route that the explorer took, the various navigation tools used on the way, the different gears used and the kind of boats/ships/airships/gondolas/rockets that took them closer to their dreams.

The cover page of the book is a complete delight. It is actually a folded world map and on opening it, you get a full view of all the significant explorations with exact paths charted out. A great book that gives detailed information about how the efforts of some of the adventurous minds help put the puzzle pieces of our world together for us to understand and savor.

Image Source : GoodReads

Monday, October 24, 2011

Book Review : Water Dance

Title : Water Dance

Author and Illustrator : Thomas Locker

Publisher : Harcourt

Is it a picture book or a book full of text? Is it a children's book or otherwise? Is it a prose or verse? Is it a science or an art book?

The answer to all these questions is very simple - this book belongs to a category selectively reserved for the ones which satisfy all definitions yet defy any one description, which impart so much but do the same so very subtly, which work wonders but it is difficult to replicate the experience every time, which reiterate the known facts but offer the unmatched freshness in doing so.

So if you have picked this book up, you are in for a wonderful adventure and a pleasant surprise.

The life blood of our planet, of each and every breathing creature - WATER takes us along on a journey of its life. It falls from sky as rain, it cascades as mountain stream, it spirals down a mountain cliff making a waterfall, it stays still in a lake, it winds through valleys as river, it rushes to meet the big expanse of ocean, it rises in the air forming mist, it floats in the sky as clouds, or it thunders furiously. The various dance forms and the moves of the water create an endless cycle that it keeps following incessantly.

Displaying its unparalleled virtues - the wisdom of adapting, the acumen of transforming, the poise of getting transformed, the vulnerability in surrendering - water assumes the role of a great mentor of all times.

Water, in its varied avatars, influences so many and gets impacted by so many. On its journey through the world, it experiences and expresses different emotions - from fury of storm, calmness of lake to free-spiritedness of ocean waves.

An exquisite book which has poetic text and mesmerizing oil paintings, each one worth getting picture framed. A really beautiful way to introduce water cycle while subtly highlighting the profound philosophy of life and how much we all need to learn from this silent but powerful element of life.

Image Courtesy : Barnes&Noble

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Celebration Time on Saffron Tree

Saffron Tree turns 5 today and to mark this milestone, the celebrations will span from 23rd Oct to 30th Oct.

This annual festival is known by the name : CROCUS Celebrate Reading Of Culturally Unique Stories

The theme for this year is - 5 Essential Elements - Earth, Air, Water, Fire and Space

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Book Review : Sikandar

Title : Sikandar

Author : Binayak Banerjee (Translated By Soma Ghosh)

Pubisher : Westland

The one feeling which will remain with the readers after having read the complete book, is that of utter confusion. The book begins by introducing the ten characters who are part of the reality show on the format of Big Boss or Big Brother. I was paying extra attention to the part where the characters were introduced but despite all eyes, other senses and mind into the book, I lost track of the characters soon after the fourth one entered the scene.

In the times when a whole deluge of reality shows are dished out to the viewers through multitude of channels, it is not difficult to understand the background of the story. 10 contestants have to spend 68 days together in a house - Jatugriha. The motto of the reality show is 'Jo Jita Wohi Sikandar'( the person who wins will be the Sikandar). The winner has to survive all eliminations which are executed by public voting system. No doubt, the story demanded the character sketches of the ten participants but one thing is sure, unveiling them back to back did not help. With each passing chapter, the confusion keeps building up to such an extent that at one point I felt, the words mouthed by one character could easily have been uttered by another. The characters got all mixed up barring 2-3. Desperate attempts have been made to reach under the skin of the characters who hail from very diverse backgrounds and different walks of life - a teacher, an actor, a hermit, a prostitute, an industrialist, a politician and some more.

The author has tried to put all participants on the driver seat one by one to take the journey forward, but Kanishka Sengupta, the actor and Lovely, the prostitute - hog maximum spotlight. As the show progresses, some old skeletons leave the closets and come out in the public, some hidden secrets are bared while true love kindles in the hearts of two inmates. Another major put off was overdose of philosophical conversations happening in the house.

I am sure the story could have been salvaged somewhere but it leaves the readers completely cheated and me questioning, why would I not watch a Big Boss episode instead of taking the burden to read through this book?

In my opinion, the good books are not the ones which make the readers wreck their brains in trying to make sense out of the story. Unfortunately the story of Sikandar does not go anywhere and the readers keep waiting and wondering - what is the point behind writing this book. Are such books written to just test the patience of readers - whether they can finish reading it from cover to cover? Cannot seem to find a single reason why any one should read it even once. As a book reviewer, I do feel happy that I am actually doing a service to people in my own humble way - dissuading them from some not so readable literature.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Book Review : Faces In The Water

Title : Faces In The Water

Author : Ranjit Lal

Publisher : Puffin

ISBN : 978-0-143-33106-3

I came to know about this book when it was among the shortlisted books in the Children's section, for the Vodafone Crossword Book Awards 2010 and then this book was adjudged the best in that category. The other competitors in the same category being :

Mr. Oliver's Diary by Ruskin Bond (reviewed here)

At Least A Fish by Anushka Ravishankar (reviewed here)

The Fang of Summoning by Giti Chandra

Koni - The Story of a Champion by Moti Nandy (reviewed here)

Sahyadri Adventure : Anirudh Dream by Deepak Dalal

Sahyadri Adventure : Koleshwar's Secret by Deepak Dalal

Needless to say, I really wanted to read it and the excerpts were very promising too.

The book addresses one of the shameful ills that is crippling our Indian society - the preference for male child and the fanaticism carried forward to extremely inhumane acts like female infanticide.

The very prosperous and affluent Diwanchand family is proud of having only sons in their lineage and they owe this special honour to the magical water from the well which is located near their ancestral house. The 15-year old son of this family Gurmeet once gets to spend a few days in the that house and wants to explore the area on his own especially the very famous well. But what does he see in the well water, his own reflection, no. There are three faces staring back at him from the well water - and those three faces belong to three girls. Then begins the journey of unraveling the mystery behind those faces and what do they have to do with the water being magical which blesses the family with only sons progeny. Are Gurmi and the girls together able to reach the depth of the mystery and do they get to influence the attitude of their male child obsessed parents?

Overall a fast paced, fun filled book which manages to address a serious topic in a lighter tone. Though an adult topic, it is handled in a manner which makes it appropriate for young adults too and actually this is a good strategy because the young adults of today are potential responsible citizens of tomorrow. So by educating them now, there is high probability that such diseases could eventually be eradicated from our society for good. The author has tried to spice the story up by including sufficient funny incidents and moments in the narrative and the magic of cyber world and connectivity are used as aids to bring home the point to the new tech savy generation. There is novelty in the way the inexistent world becomes alive with just connecting a few wires but slowly the same becomes repetitive and loses its charm. I found myself skipping those portions on a couple of occasions because they were hardly moving the story forward, rather they were mere diversions on the otherwise smoothly flowing narrative. These are the portions where the book tends to lose its objective. But otherwise a well written piece, with right amount of sensitivity and emotions that such a topic deserves.

I just hope the attempts of such books start showing some results so that we get to live in a free society which has no shameful acts to hide and no guilt to overcome.

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