Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Power of Breath - Swami Sharadananda

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A good book for those looking for alternative therapy for better mental health. 

Disclaimer: I received this book as part of goodreads giveway in return for an honest review.

I studied reiki years ago and practised it for a brief period.  I therefore understand the importance of controlling the breath and as a practitioner of yoga and pranayama, I value and acknowledge the impact it has on our emotional happiness and physical well being. 

Breathing is such a natural thing that we are not aware of it most of the time. However, what we also don't know, is the way we breathe can have an impact on our body too. The book offers an interesting insight into the process of breathing and why is it important to breathe well.

Since I have been taught by someone and not learnt it from books, I was curious how the book could substitute for a instructor.

Gist:

The book explains in neatly divided chapters the various aspects of breathing. It outlines the way we breathe, the technical aspect of it. The subsequent chapters offer various forms of breathing exercises and its effects on your mental state of mind.

What works:

  • Interesting theory with some easy to follow exercises.
  • Simple explanation of the life energy force and how it can help you.
  • There is also background information on regular practice how affects your mental health.
  • You do not have to be in a great physical shape to be able to do these exercises.
  • Most of the yoga exercises are familiar to me, having done them at some point. However, even if someone is not familiar with the practice, there are helpful pictures and easy to read instructions that allow the reader to understand and practice them. 
  • This book works for beginners as well as out of date practitioners like me. The tone is clear, motivating and encouraging. 
What doesn't:
  • It will not give you instant results. If you are looking for something more immediate then you are better off looking for a physically exerting exercise.
  • It is a gradual process, the benefits of which will be felt over a period.
I wanted to be sure that the exercises worked and therefore put them into practice before doing the review. Though I cannot claim any superb benefits, but the fact that I did upto 5 minutes of concentration on my breath made me feel good. For me this was a starting point and I am sure it will only get better from here. My mother has been practicising pranayama for years and swears by its benefits. She claims her asthma is under control thanks to the breathing exercises.

In our fast paced life, even when we take breaks we are not mentally taking one. A lot is being talked about mental health and how it is affecting people in hordes. Pressures of modern life are a big contributor and therefore we need strategies to take care of our mental health equally, if not more than physical health. It is also a well known fact, that mental states translates into physical symptoms and ailments. So taking care of mental health is the first step towards good physical health too. 

This book helps you to pause and look into within for the various answers to questions. It makes you self aware and conscious of what is happening within in. 

For that reason alone, I think this is a great book. A great tool for someone looking into alternative therapy for physical and mental well being.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Family Life - Akhil Sharma

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A story about emigration laced with family tragedy.

I love diasporia stories and Lahiri and Divakaruni are big favourites. But where these writes have glamourised the idea of moving and living in a different country, Sharma explores the dark side of what happens when things don't go to plan.

Family Life with its low profile almost banal title tells a very poignant story of an ambitious family caught in a vortex of unfortunate circumstances. The long term effects as a result of those "three minutes" on the family members, is what the author explores in the book.

Gist:
Ajay is eight when he moves to New York with his mother and older brother Birju. Proud of his ability to get his family over, his father is looking forward to a better life in the states. They have set their hopes on fifteen-year- old Birju who is sitting a test that will get him into a top university. He does make it, but then a family tragedy turns their life upside down. Family life takes a look at what happened to the various members of the Mishra family as absorb the turn of events, making their way in a new culture.

What works:
  • The subject matter is quite sad. But Sharma looks at things very dispassionately yet manages to convey the seriousness and the desolate nature of the situation.
  • The fact that he is a creative writing professor comes as no surprise. He explains how he is fascinated by Hemingway and tries to study his style. There is another article in the New Yorker wherein he outlines the creative process. Reading it made me understand how the author must have stuggled with the book, writing a personal story yet distancing oneself to make it palatable for others. You can find the article here.
  • The killer is the ending. Just when you think he has finished telling his story, he drops a bomb that leaves you stunned, shocked that there isn't more!
  • He has an amazing style. Instead of delving on the emotional side of it, he has refrained from overindulgence and has maintained a detached demeanour. His strength lies in allowing the reader to figure how tough it must have been instead of laying it out. He has an implicit faith in the reader's intelligence and that works well for him. 
What doesn't:
  • It is a depressing story as guardian review rightly calls it "unhappy  emigration". So if sad depressing stories are not your thing, maybe you will feel let down. But having said that, it offers an interesting perspective into an average emigrant family's tough life in the Capitalist States. 
  • The title is boring. I actually stayed away from the book because the title did not intrigue me enough. It was only the rave reviews that drew me towards it.
But then this book has won the Folio Prize and also the Dublin International Literary prize. Although such prizes do not mean it is a good book (I have picked up prize winning books only to be sorely disappointed) this one is really worth the prizes it has won. I read through it in one sitting on a early night in bed. You just cannot put it down.

I love reading the acknowledgements. I have always believed writing though a solitary pursuit, always shines with a good support system. Sharma mentions about how long it took him to write the book (so does the article) and the pain and the struggle that went into it.

For me, a story based on personal experience makes it a lot more genuine. It brings to mind, Sanghera's Boy with a Topknot yet another story with the author's family riding at the heart of it. Like Family life, it draws on an unpleasant family secret that comes to fore years later and how the family copes with it.

If the review has made you curious, you can check out an excerpt of the novel, that appeared as a short story in The New Yorker. 


Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Kissed a Sad Goodbye - Deborah Crombie

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A melancholic yet absorbing story

This is one of the earlier books in the Duncan and James series. The duo are still grappling with issues in their personal lives, their relationship still fresh and new to bear the brunt of distractions and priorities.

Crombie has such interesting characters in Kincaid and James both single parents, both producing great results as a team.

Gist:

The body of a beautiful woman is found on an estate. However, when someone reports her missing, the trail takes them to a famous tea makers - Hammonds. James and Kincaid together with the local inspector Janice Coppins get inside the world of tea blending, its exotic flavours and its painful connection to the World War II.

What works:

  • Loved the tea company setting. James does a great job of setting the story in the backdrop of a company, embellishing it with details that is fascinating and shows off her good research.
  • Loved the parallel narrative. I remember the use of the device in another of her later novels and love the way she uses it. However, the world war narrative was a bit disorientating in the beginning, almost boring at times, but then it makes more sense as the story moves on and finally blends into the present. 
  • The suspense was a bit predictable but the run up to it was not. It built the suspense well, while throwing light on different suspects before zooming on THE ONE.
  • The characters are great. The jealous, posh lover, the loyal, insecure assistant, the underrated sibling and the doting, secretive father are great personas. 
What doesn't:
  • Too much detail in the world war story. To me, it sort of weighed down the pace an felt a bit unnecessary.
But then it is always great to see how there is always more, to a whodunnit. The personal lives of the protagnists as they move on from one case to the next keeps on evolving, making for a very interesting side plot.


Monday, 30 January 2017

Apple Tree Yard - Louise Doughty

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A story about relationships or rather the truth of it.

I have always maintained that the onscreen version of a book pales in comparison to its written version. Not in this case.

I heard about Apple Tree Yard when I watched a trailer on the BBC. It sounded great, looked intriguing and I was looking forward to it. After watching the first episode, I couldn't wait for the next one. I headed straight to my local library and got out a copy.

Funnily enough, the beginning was slow, the style was a bit strange and the pace very lethargic. I did not enjoy the first chapter at all. The only thing that kept me going was that I had watched the first episode and could tell therefore where the story was heading.

Gist:

Yvonne Carmichael is a high flying geneticist. She is a middle aged woman with grown up children, enjoying all the hard work that she put in during her children's growing up years.

However, a chance encounter turns into a clandestine affair and then a compulsive habit. And then something happens that transports Yvonne at the Old Bailey court forcing her to defend herself and all that she lived for. Does manage to get off scott free or does she pay for the choices she made?

What works:
  • The language. There is something very compelling about the way she uses words to build a sequence of events and the narrative. 
  • The lead character is believable. It is easy to identify with her. Funny, how you would look at her as accomplished and successful whereas from the other side, it looks all tilted. I read a couple of reviews where the protagnist was berated for her choices. I can imagine that having an affair and expecting it to be something more may be delusional but then what happens to her is definitely not her fault. (I am trying hard not to give the story away!) The rationale behind the character's actions seem to be justified in the story and I could feel sympathetic for her by the end of it. The fact that the character's psyche was so accessible to the reader made me like the story and that is where the story gets another star for it. 
  • The sequence. It is not linear and keeps shifting back and forth until the past catches up with the present. The scene opens in a court and then backtracks to what happened to before then. It is very well done.
  • The suspense is well kept, making you turn that page, one more time.
  • I am a hardcore fan of courtroom dramas and love the dynamics of how words are twisted and prodded to suit a version. It is a gameplay that keeps me hooked and this book did complete justice to it.
  • I also loved the way the central character takes control of the narrative. How we women never take things at face value and tend to read much into it. Our tendency to analyse and overanalyse things can be often our unravelling. Doughty captures the psyche of Yvonne very well. 
  • Her justifications for her actions are a bit unbelievable. However, Doughty makes it believable. How a careless act can then spiral out of control and complicate things. 
What doesn't:
  • I don't think I would have read it, had not been for that compelling first episode. The very writing that bowled me over later, did not initially pull me into the story. 
  • The initial chapters take some patience. The story moves slowly and at times the writing is so subtle, devoid of any emotion.  I suppose that tone of clinical detachment  is what makes the pace hard but it does create an impact. 
I have been reading many reviews where people have either loved or hated it completely. My favourite is where it says-  "Relationships are about stories, not truth." - what we tell ourselves rather than perceiving it for what  it is. Very true. Loved it.  

Friday, 27 January 2017

Churning the Wheels of Time


This post was written for Friday Fictioneers, a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wissoff Fields. 
The writers have to write a 100 word story in response to the photo prompt provided.

PHOTO PROMPT © Al Forbes

Although inevitable, it was still shocking. Watching them strip down the proud mansion was like surgically removing a nostalgic memory.

The vintage cars were the first to go. As the metal machines were wheeled out, they took away with them, the glamour of those grand evenings.

Soon a battle of wills competed over the house and its fate: a stubborn, dwindling past versus a shiny and sniggering tomorrow.

Then the winds of change blew in, heralding a confident yet unpredictable future, snuffing out the archaic at last.

Little did they realise, that today’s future will soon be tomorrow’s past.
  

Let The Dead Speak - Jane Casey

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
 Great story. Superb characters.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a part of goodreads giveaway in return for an honest review. 

I love psychological thrillers. Having read so many, I realise it is difficult to come up with a distinct detective duo when there are so many of them in crime fiction. I had never heard of Jane Casey before and it surprised me to discover she had written so many in the Kerrigan series. I loved Kerrigan and the way she and Derwent are such different personas and yet they work great together when it comes to solving cases. 

I read somewhere, Casey's husband is a criminal barrister. So that explains how she get the police aspect of the story so well. It was a joy to read the inner workings of the police system. Reminded me of the TV programme "No offence". Although the only similarity between the two is its focus on inner workings of the police system, it makes you appreciate the constraints under which these police officers operate.

Gist:

Chloe, an 18 year old girl returns home unexpectedly to find herself in a blood stained home and no sign of her mum.

Kerrigan arrives with her new rookie partner Georgia Shaw to investigate. Derwent joins in soon after and you realise these guys have a history. Kerrigan takes on the neighbours as she pieces together what happened and finds out some unsavoury secrets.

What works:
  • The plot. It is interesting and hooks you at the outset.
  • The characters. A bit confusing at first because there is a lot of them. However, the personas become clear as Kerrigan sifts through them to find out the truth.
  • The insight into how thw working of a police team is great. I loved the conversation between Kerrigan and Georgia about the importance of being a team player.
  • I loved the personas of the characters who solve the case. The two characters are intriguing and their partnership a distinct feature.
  • The writing. Even after who" is revealed, the "why" bit keeps you going. It requires a certain amount of skill to handle this and Casey is good at it. The underlying psychological aspects work so well to explain the motive.
  • I loved Maeve Kerrigan as a character: the not so perfect persona who is a great detective. 
  • Also loved the equation between Kerrigan and Derwent. It is an interesting relationship and I am curious to know how they first got together. 
What doesn't:
  • The reference to past makes you feel a bit lost especially if you haven't read the previous book. 
Overall a great book. It was great to find a thriller with such great characters and such a compelling story. Guess, I have goodreads to thank for it.



Thursday, 26 January 2017

The Naughtiest Girl Collection - Enid Blyton

photo courtesy:amazon.com
A great read that I enjoyed again as a mother!

I bought this book when Cheeky was  a year old. As a bookworm, I was keen to pass on my love for reading to my daughter.

So after she turned six and became a fairly goaod reader, I introduced her to Enid Blyton. Naughties Girl Again, was her first book ever. We decided that I will read it to her as a bedtime story. As the story progressed, I could see Cheeky was first intrigued and then hooked on it.

The collection has three stories and we read them all back to back.

Gist:

The story begins when Elizabeth Allen grows to love the school she first hated. She is looking forwards to coming to Whyteleaf boarding school. But this girl has a tendency to get into trouble even when she resolves not to. Will she stay away or find herself in a muddle again?

What works: 
  • It helped that the story is set in a British setting. Cheeky being a school girl herself could identify the school setting and dealing with naughty pupils.
  • There is something endearing about the school series. It allows children to imagine them easily and enjoy them.
  • She loved the whole boarding school setup with the school meeting and everything.
  • The stories are very simple. There is a school and there are good children and bad children. Cheeky could relate to the friends sticking together and punishment for naughtiness bit.
  • The stories have a "moral science" element to it. Blyton can be very preachy at times, rewarding good behaviour and condemning bad. But atleast at this age, the kids accept it without questioning it too much. 
What doesn't:
  • The language is a bit archaic. Cheeky found it funny to see words like "jolly well" . Although, terribly British, such words are not common, certainly not something she uses.
  • However, I realised that as a mature reader, I loved revisiting the story too. It was fun going through my earliest reading favourites and recall why I loved Blyton as a kid. 
Next mission: To introduce the St Clares/Malory Towers books to my daughter.