Saturday, March 30, 2013

Whims, Wits, and Whiskers: A Californian Pet Tale

Author: Sieglinde C. Othmer
Illustrator: Clare Rosean
Rating: ****

What do you expect from a story that has animals? Not few but many. What do you expect from a story that has some six dogs and two cats coming together under one roof and then all of them going out into the open and joining a number of other animals and singing what some hummingbirds had taught? Sounds weird, right?

Well, 'Whims, Wits, and Whiskers: A Californian Pet Tale' is a very beautiful and exuberant take on a situation similar to the above one. Three pet dogs, bored with their routine life are happy to host two of their cousins (dogs). They discuss and realize that they all want to do something amazing, but are really unsure what this amazing thing could be. All are independent and have their own likes and dislikes and thus are unable to come to a consensus.

What follows is the sudden arrival of two of their other cousins, this time, cats from Hollywood. The cats are artists and know a great many skills. With the help of these cats, and of course, little hummingbirds, who interestingly join the story at many places, the cousins are able to find what they would love to do. Just like the famous line from Paulo Coelho's novel "The Alchemist", 'When you really want something to happen, the whole world conspires to help you achieve it', things start falling in place and an unexpected journey to another of their cousin's place enables them to achieve their dream. A dream they could live. All seven of them.

What holds the story is the innocent narration that allows the innate nature of the animals to come out so brilliantly. Each animal has a unique identity and a unique nature, their own strengths and weaknesses, their hopes, aspirations and desires from life and from others, much like humans. The way the natural surroundings are described, does not leave a feeling that something might be missing or that it wold have been better had their been something more or something different.

And it is not one of those goodie-good books that have all things going as per the best possible. The cat and dog fight, the brief fight for supremacy, the conflict of opinion, the sudden death of a benefactor, the crashing of dreams and thinking that all was over, all make the story really realistic and far more acceptable than an ordinary ever happy storyline might have been.

Having grown up on those numerous animal stories of Panchatantra and Jataka and the others, to get me to read an animal story from start till end, without my getting bored and then smiling, speaks a lot, a real lot about the book. 

And yes, the book also has a little gift, an audio CD of the 'Fiderallalla' song these animals make. Some music lover friends of mine, who listened to the song, really liked it, despite having not read the book or knowing the context of the song. So, even the music scores as well as the book.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Rainbow Panda and the Firecracker Fiasco

Author: Eileen Wacker

Illustrator: Alan M. Low

Part 6 of Fujimini Adventure Series

Rainbow Panda and the Firecracker Fiasco, set in the imaginary Fujimini island is a fun filled, colourful and meaningful little story for kids. 

New year is round the corner and the the celebrations are about to begin. Naughty little Rainbow Panda has a mischievous plan for the new year celebration. He asks his two friends to help him with the plan. Though one of them is reluctant, they still help him. Everything is fine, but suddenly, there is this firecracker fiasco. Oops! Do read the book to find out what exactly happens.

The book is a great big package of many things that a tiny tot might need. It comes along with a healthy moral. There is a reference of healthy diet. Also, of the culture of celebration. And, of course, a happy ending. At the end of the book, there is a "Glossary of "Chic" Asian Associations" that has a small list of new terms that are special and specific to the Asian culture, like the Taekwondo, the origin of Tea, Sushi, Noodles and much more. These do not have much relevance with the story, but are good for knowledge in general.

The beautiful illustrations on each page are the best thing this book could have. A cute story accompanied with wonderful pictures is going to make sure, the book (and the series) goes a long way and becomes a big hit in its genre. 

A real big thumps up for Rainbow Panda and the Firecracker Fiasco.

Don't forget to log on to , once you read this book.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mick...Send Me A Butterfly

pic courtesy

Mick...Send Me A Butterfly
Written by Lorraine Grennan
Revised edition published by Love of Books Self Publishing.

Death is always disturbing.  Even if the person has passed away peacefully after a long and productive life. Even when it is of someone one knows only slightly. Even if it is the death of a loved fictional character. Even if it is someone one has never heard of before. What makes us react this way to a death? Why are we touched by the finger of sorrow even if we have not directly suffered this loss? Isn't it the realisation of our own mortality?

The everyday news items about deaths in the newpaper disturb me - I make it a point never to read these pages early in my day, especially if it is the death of a child or a violent death that is featured.

So when it is a dear one whose death we are dealing with, it can be devastating. And when it is a parent who has to deal with a child's death, it becomes doubly so. Somehow we expect to die before our children. It is, we feel, the natural order of things. After all, life goes on in a forward direction. Children are born of our bodies, and are our hope for the future. A way for nature to ensure that we do not disappear into nothingness. A way to keep a part of us alive on this beautiful earth. In a strange way, we become immortal through our children, and our children's children, and so on. So, it is terrible indeed, when things go the other way. When a parent has to see the suffering of a child, and the relentless descent into the big void of death. Whether it comes suddenly or after a long and debilitating illness.

Lorraine Grennan's book, 'Mick...Send Me A Butterfly' is a memoir of her son Michael Stewart Grennan's fight with Chronic Myloid Leukaemia. He was diagnosed with the disease on 29th August 1981, and passed away on 23rd March 1983 at just 20 years of age - a period of one year and seven months of facing the monster. Today, 23rd March 2013, would be the 30th anniversary of his death, and this is a tribute to his fighting spirit. One that has touched many lives that came in contact with his courage and forbearance.

At 18, Mick was your regular teenager, having a girlfriend and a job at a gas station, plenty of friends and a loving family. He had his whole life in front of him, when the disease crept up on him unbeknownst. It was diagnosed after a series of tests for symptoms that seemed like arthritis. It was a punch in the solar plexus, to put it mildly. Ms Grennan writes about how they all coped with the reality of impending death in their own ways. It was devastating, and something that they never could come to terms with. At such a time, Mick showed a maturity beyond his years and became the source of his family's strength, preparing them for his death and the time after it, in unusually thoughtful ways that Ms Grennan has put down with complete honesty of emotion. It does not fail to move, and I had to put the book away at times to bring my own emotions to order. She recounts the shock, the denial, the coping with the treatment (with its own consequences) and the bewilderment of a layperson thrust into the unending medical visits. She speaks of her faith and that of her family and friends, that gave them the strength to cope with the inevitable - both before and after Mick's passing away.

Ms Grennan also writes very honestly about the feelings of loss, guilt, and helplessness that overcame her and the other members of her family after Mick passed away. How every person grieves in a different way, a way very personal to that person, the way they perceive their loss, the way they deal with it. The way that coping with grief does not have a timeline, and that even after we learn to let go, the grief is still very real for the bereaved person. And that healing does come, in its own way to each person.

After his passing away, Ms Grennan was introduced to The Compassionate Friends, a group started by similarly bereaved parents, and it helped her deal with her feelings of grief. Intense feelings that she often wondered about- if they were normal. Ms Grennan has since worked extensively as a volunteer in its chapter in her hometown in New South Wales, Australia. Her work since has helped thousands of bereaved people come to terms with their loss.

This memoir, which is written in almost a diary-like fashion, draws the reader into their lives. A peek into the extraordinary courage of ordinary people. It has been a privilege.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Randy the Raindrop – I’m a little raindrop

Written by: Patty Jean Wiese

Illustrator: Kim Sponaugle

Publisher: Stormy Day Books

The book “Randy the Raindrop – I’m a little raindrop” is a kind of long rhyme that little kids could listen to, learn and enjoy; and something that a little older children could use as their first reading books. The book illustrates the journey of a small raindrop from sky to the earth and back again, visiting different continents and countries, making new friends, playing with them and having fun.

It is so interesting to read an account of the raindrop’s experiences when in normal life, we usually have no time to look at life but from our own perspective. How beautiful a naughty little raindrop looks, sitting on the head of a little child or in the middle of the handle bars of someone’s cycle! The pretty illustrations that accompany the text are no less praiseworthy. The exuberant and lively children and the happy raindrop in the pictures set the mood for the text.

The $10.95 that it costs to get this book will not go waste when mamma will see the delight on her kid’s face when reading this rhyme aloud to her/ him. And, yes, the best part is that it comes along a small package of stickers, tattoos and a couple of balloons!

So, enjoy!! And yes, whenever you see a raindrop, don't forget to say "Hi!"!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Mine to Avenge by Kerry Letheby

Author: Kerry Letheby
Rating: 4.9/5

Just glancing through the pages of the book, I could see that it had something to do with the tragedy of 9/11. But in reality, it hardly did. The main story is far more intricate.

A girl is brutally raped while her brother is away hunting. The brother blames his friend for prompting him to go hunting, while his sister was sick and so he plans to take revenge. Not a small one, but one which would last long. Really long.

The story “Mine to Avenge” revolves around a family of Galanos, which is under a very weird kind of spell. All the male Galanos’ undergo a peculiar pattern in life. They grow up, get married, have kids, are extremely happy, and suddenly become exceptionally protective and paranoid about their wives and kids’ safety, and then one fine day, they simply disappear. No one knows why this happens, and so it is said that they suffer from some kind of mental illness.

One day, at a family get-together, the Galanos family comes across a strange little piece of paper. It uncovers a complex vendetta that the family of the raped girl had organized against the Galanos, understanding that it was the fault of the Galanos that the tragedy had occurred in their family. Alethea, one of the youngest Galanos’, and whose father also disappeared during the September 11, 2001 attacks on World Trade Centre, USA (commonly known as 9/11) and is considered dead, takes it upon herself to uncover the big picture behind this vendetta, until she finds that that the culprits are uncomfortably closely associated with the Galanos families. One has to really read the book to find out what eventually happens and I would not like to spoil it for you.

The most wonderful aspect about this book is the simple fact that it is so unpredictable. You could never know what twist the story might take, even till the very last page. I could not just put away the book once I started reading it. The narrative is so profound and picturesque that one can hardly choose against loving it. The story, at many places is narrated from the point of view of many people. This makes the story far more appealing. The only trouble is the fact that at times, it becomes repetitive and lengthy. But it is enchanting, nonetheless.

The men of the house receiving strange calls, acting odd and then ultimately disappearing is so incredibly similar to men of the house receiving weird letters, then going mad and ultimately dying as in the story “The Five Orange Pips” (Sherlock Holmes Adventure Story by A.C. Doyle). And the character Spyridon in “Mine to Avenge” is somehow distantly similar to Heathcliff of “Wuthering Heights”, especially in the sense that both men are so driven by task they want to accomplish, that family and happiness mean nothing to them and sons for both are just means to accomplish their aims and nothing more.

A very poignant tale. A must read, especially, if you have been a fan of those old intricate Hardy classics.

I wish I could get to spend a day in Spyridon’s library… just in case it held some books with some similar stories. Maybe. Just maybe..

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Adventures of an IT Leader

Authors: Robert D Austin, Richard L Nolan, and Shannon O’Donnell

Publication: Harvard Business School Press

Review by: Vijay Sethi, Vice President IS and CIO, Hero MotoCorp Ltd.

I recently read this exciting book - The Adventures of an IT Leader

The book is a very light reading that takes one thru the role that a CIO and his team can or should play in an organization.

The entire message is conveyed in the form of a story where a company is struggling to recover from a period of slowing growth and falling stock prices and has a new CEO to spearhead the organization. The new CEO hand-picks company’s head of loan operations Jim Barton as the new CIO. Jim has no background in IT and is also one of the biggest critics of the current CIO and the IT organization. As Jim gets into his new role, he tries to understand what effective IT management is all about, starting from IT strategy, to dealing with the everyday challenges of the job, how to respond to crisis and make IT contribute to the organization while at the same time trying to meet expectations of senior management at one end, users at the other end while managing egos and politics within IT team.

While the authors have taken the route by explaining via introducing a new CIO in the organization – one who does not have prior IT experience – and show the challenges that he faces and how he handles the same – I think the learnings are relevant for all – whether a new or an old CIO – whether one with IT background or one with business background.

The key message as I see is about role of CIO. A CIO is first a business leader and then an IT leader. He or she needs to think and act like a business leader and not a technologist only. The key role is about aligning IT systems, projects, processes, people, mindset, vendors, technology etc to business objectives and goals and for that while one needs to work on technological aspects, managing relationships – be it with users, peers, senior management, vendors, employees etc. is very very important.

The book has a number of anecdotes and situations and as one reads them, one can easily relate to the struggles and day to day issues that each one of us goes thru in our jobs. As one reads about some of the frustrations and inner conflicts that Jim goes thru and his interactions with various people within and outside of the organization and how he manages, somewhere in one’s heart one can relate to most of them and there is definitely a learning at the end for us.

Another good thing that I liked about the book is that each anecdote or the issue that Jim is facing is analysed and a framework is presented on the IT management principles that I found very useful.

Overall, I found the book is all about what constitutes good IT leadership and how a CIO can create a well-managed, high performing IT organization that is highly responsive and one that provides great value to the business.

I would recommend this book to all IT managers (CIOs and their team members) to understand the role of their IT organisation and take lessons how each one of us can play a better role in managing our IT setups

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie

Title : Luka and the Fire of Life
Author : Salman Rushdie
Publisher : Random House
ISBN : 978-0-224-06162-9

Salman Rushdie known for weaving enchanting imagination and for witty play of words  is indeed one of the great story tellers of our time. As 'Haroun and the Sea of Stories' was Rushdie's gift to his first son, 'Luka and the Fire of Life' - the story of Haroun's younger brother is the author's gift for his second son on his twelfth birthday.  In Salman Rushdie's words, Luka and the Fire of Life is not a sequel to Haroun and the Sea of Stories, but a companion to it.

In the land of Alifbay and in the city of Kahani, Luka finds himself in a very precarious situation when he is the one who has to bring his father - the famous storyteller, back from a deep sleep, a sleep from which nobody could arouse him back but the Fire of Life. Luka must set out in search of the fire of life through the magic world accompanied by some interesting characters like his two pets - a bear named Dog and a dog named Bear. The journey is full of adventures, obstacles, strange incidents and unusual kinships and the experience is quite like a real life video game where one after another higher levels are reached, difficult levels keep increasing and the progress can be saved at certain junctures. Hard pressed with time and unsure of his progress, Luka travels along the River of Time, towards the Lake of Wisdom and the Mountain of Knowledge. The Insultana of Ott, Elephant ducks with remarkable memory, Respecto-Rats and many ancient Gods and Goddesses of great civilizations make the story an interesting read.  The story has all the marks of a great fable or a fairy tale. The contemporary twist has been provided in the narrative by borrowing the terminology from the contemporary gaming world and some popular movies.

Rushdie has nicely peppered the tale with clever puns and puzzles in the narrative. The story is a tribute to the special bond between a father and a son but there are many other things which run understated in the story though not trivial at all - mortality of everything that exists in the world and significance of good deeds. The story is a delectable treat for all fantasy lovers - children and adults alike. However, at times the proceedings seem to lose the freshness and fail to maintain the magic at the same level with which the story began with.  But there is no way the brilliance of Rushdie's language could go unnoticed and unappreciated. It duly deserves a respectable mention once again.