Sunday, September 22, 2013





Ladies and Gentlemen, the award winning children’s author Donna M. McDine is back!
 This time she has two books to offer. I will be posting reviews for both of her new books. This review is about Powder Monkey.

Powder Monkey takes you back to that dark era of history when the Royal Press gang used to kidnap young boys from their homes and turn them forcibly into sailors and their powder boys.

This story is about a twelve year old boy Tommy, who along with his brother and some other boys is kidnapped from his home. He and the other boys are taken aboard a large ship where they become the minions of the crew. The boys are subjected to brutality. One day their ship is attacked at high sea and Tommy becomes the powder boy for the gang and in process loses his ability to hear.What happens to Tommy after the gun battle is over?  What about his elder brother and his parents ….. Is he reunited with his family? Does the book have a happy ending? Do read on.

It is a compelling book, despite it being a children’s book I was forced to turn the pages and finish the story as quickly I could read.

 The first time I read the story it left me with goose bumps. This book brings out the harsh reality faced by the young boys of those times to light. Though the story is fiction, woven around the facts of those dark days, it still brought tears to my eyes.

Donna M.McDine has done a wonderful job again along with the illustrator K.C.Snider whose illustrations are very vivid.

Parents, if you want your children to know a little about history and the harsh reality of life of the days gone by than this book comes highly recommended.

Thursday, September 19, 2013



The author Ted Riccardi is a professor emeritus in the Department of Middle East and Asian languages at Columbia University. He has served as the counselor of cultural affairs at the United States embassy in New Delhi.

The Lost Years of Sherlock Holmes comprises of nine stories and a preface and an afterword written by Dr. John Watson. The stories majorly set in the Indian subcontinent, can be read independently though they have a common thread in form of some characters.

 The world thinks that Sherlock Holmes is dead but unbeknownst he has escaped alive to Asia. This is where the action begins in the book. Sherlock Holmes learns yoga in India with help of which he is able to change disguises very easily, thus adding on to his arsenal of tricks. Sherlock Holmes travels take him to different places in India, Nepal, Ceylon, Java and Tibet, where he comes across some of his old enemies and some new criminals. The adventures that Sherlock Holmes has in Asia have been presented to the world in form of this book.

While in Asia he solves the mystery of, death of his friend, Sir Maxwell as well as that of Hodgson’s ghost and helps find the famous pearl, Moonstar of Mannar, he comes across the secret of Mandor and he unravels the story of how an English seaman’s son became the Regent of Tibet among others.

It’s a mixed bag of stories some interesting some average. I liked, An Envoy to Lhasa, the most.

The Lost Years of Sherlock Holmes by Ted Riccardi makes a decent average read

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Title : Oleander Girl
Author : Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Publisher : Penguin Books India
ISBN : 978-0-670-08673-3
No. of Pages : 288

Korobi (named after a beautiful but deadly flower) is brought up by her grandparents in Kolkata, after her parents expired in a car crash. Though very strict and righteous old man, her grandfather Bimal Roy showers love and affection on Korobi. Grandmother Sarojini is warmth, gentleness and wisdom personified. The story begins on the day when Roy household is buzzing  with joyous activities as Korobi is getting engaged to Rajat Bose, the only son of a high profile business family of the city.

On the engagement party night, Korobi's grandfather dies of a sudden heart attack. Sarojini understandably feels a big jolt post the disappearance of that strong anchor - Bimal Roy, from her life. But readers are subtly introduced to the underlying liberating feeling that she experiences for the first time then. She clearly wants to atone for the sin that Bimal Roy had committed by creating big secrecy surrounding Korobi's birth. Exemplifying an individual with mind of her own, she feels it to be Korobi's right to know about her parentage.

When Korobi comes to know about some part of the truth, she decides that she needs to find her true identity first before building a new life with Rajat. For that she needs to embark on a journey out of her sheltered life of Kolkata, to a new world - the United States of America, where her mother had spent some years as a student. The combination of - ticking away of the limited time lease that she had committed for, the threadbare budget and the burning desire to find her identity - keeps the readers glued to the narrative. As she progresses in her pursuit, her sincerity, commitment, conscientiousness and her experiences mature her into a confident individual who does not want to shy away from the truth of her parents.

Though the plot is not entirely unique yet the sensitive handling, which is distinctly Chitra's style, makes it a great read. The way she portrays the poise, grace, vulnerability and strength in a woman, be it in Korobi, Sarojini or Rajat's mother - is commendable. 'The Palace of Illusions' penned by her was a masterstroke and the glimpses of the same excellence are visible in her other writings too, including Oleander Girl.  She painstakingly etches each character beautifully which makes the narration a little slow in the beginning but then the pleasure of reading a well thought through tale increases manifolds.

The story is narrated from the viewpoints of various characters throughout - Korobi, her prospective mother-in-law, her grandmother, the Muslim driver and some others, bringing in extra layers to the proceedings. Chitra Banerjee yet again enchants the readers into a story brimming with mystery, intrigue, heritage, romance, familial ties, revenge, forgiveness, emotions and much more. In the end, Korobi's character rises above, triumphant over all obstacles. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Easter Bunny Conspiracy by William F.Powers JR.

Title : The Easter Bunny Conspiracy
Author: William F.Powers JR.
Genre: Humorous Fiction
Age-Group: Young Adult
Publisher: iUniverse .com

12-1/2 is a precarious age. Not kid, not adult and not even a teen yet, the child faces numerous befuddling situations. You still are not officially grown up but the hormones are starting to course through your body and tweaking it just a little here and there.
The book depicts three days in the life of such a seemingly precocious boy Chris JR. aged a bittersweet 12-1/2 , that he is Catholic is significant, at least to Chris. He is going to be confirmed after three days and is totally confused about the unreasonable customs, practices and beliefs. This is in addition to his growing up troubles; being overweight, uncomfortable with the girls, still trying to prove himself and fit in with the boys.
An alcoholic father and a frustrated mother do not provide any guidance. The teachers are also not forthcoming as he goes to a catholic school with a tradition of strict discipline and corporal punishment. The irony is that the young boy does not realise that it is all in the course of life and there is nobody he can turn to for either advice or guidance. He constantly struggles to devise a plan for his future and avoid the overriding guilt for enjoying the simple pleasures of growing up, in the end finding a suitable personal method to retain his own identity and line of thought though still uncertain. It is a universal story of early adolescence, where kids are trying to find their own identity and facing many questions which need to be answered.
A book which delves into the adolescent mind with great insight, it is a hilarious voyage.  It has peeked inside the minds of little children who simply want to live and learn. Of particular note is the religious rigmarole that Chris undergoes without understanding most of it and his constant endeavour to come to terms with the contradictions and hypocrisies that it entails. The book is crisply written. The humorous tone is kept intact till the end. The characterisation is brilliant, especially Chris, his parents and the nuns.
The title needs a special mention. It is symbolic of the feeling of having been conspired against, which the children develop when they realise that some customs were propounded only so that the parents could stay ahead of them in the knowledge of things that they were made to believe such things so that they would behave in accordance with the social or religious norms. A very apt title indeed as Chris discovers that being present for a special friend is much more significant than following religious dogmas.
This one should make happy reading for kids as well as parents irrespective of their religion or nationalities. It might help parents to understand the children better. For the children it might not give any definite answers but they will certainly understand that they are on the right track even if they are confused about things around them.

Friday, September 6, 2013





“All that we are is the result of what we have thought:
We are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those
Whose minds are shaped by selfless thoughts give joy
Whenever they speak or act. Joy follows them like a
 shadow that never leaves them.”

This is one of the famous twin verses of The Compassionate Buddha, says the Mantram Handbook.
Eknath Easwaran was professor of English literature at the University of Nagpur, India. He is the founder of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation.The Mantram Handbook has a foreword The Brain, the Mind and the Mantram by Daniel H. Lowenstein, MD.
The Mantram Handbook is one of the most precise and simple self help book that I have read till date. I was skeptical about the book simply going by the name and the synopsis as I have a mantram of my own. It rather turned out to be a valuable and an interesting  read.
 This beautifully written book is very clear in its instructions as to how to initiate and choose your mantram. How the power of mantram can help turn fear into fearlessness, anger into compassion and hatred into love, basically keeping the mind steady ! How it can help in excitement and depression. It also gives simple and easy guidelines as to how we can become established in the mantram and how we can reap benefits of the mantram in our life.
 I could very easily correlate with the book. I am sure a lot of readers would be able to connect with it as easily.
The two things that I liked the most about the book are, that all the religions have been treated at par. Eknath Easwaran has basically said that you may belong to any religion but you can still have a mantram of your own. The power of the mantram will see you through thick and thin and will illumine your life for sure.

Second thing that I liked the most about this book is that there is no spreading of superstition of any kind. He rather demystifies the whole thing. Easwaran says “the mantram transforms negative forces in consciousness into constructive power.” Very well said I would say.

The book comes highly recommended especially to the spiritually inclined and also to novices like me. Go ahead read the book and enrich your life.
The Bible says,”As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Shades of Sin:Behind the Mask - A Collection of Short Stories

Title :Shades of Sin: Behind the Mask
Author: Various(Vivek Bannerjee, Upneet Grover,Saksham Aggarwal, Aanandita Chawla,Vrinda Baliga, Sreelatha Chakravarty)
Genre: Short Stories, Fiction

It’s an intriguing collection. All the 25 stories are about the dark side of human beings.  A side which lets itself loose when given space, excuse or circumstance. A side which exists in every one of us but a side we refuse to acknowledge. A side which needs to be analysed, rationalised even neutralised. The stories will compel you to do this analysis fulfilling the purpose of the collection as stated in the foreword to the book. The Cover of the book needs a special mention. It is very interestingly designed, the half shrouded man and a barren tree against the dark sky prepares you for a foray into the mysterious and the sinful, compelling you to start turning the pages.

The stories are divided into 3 sections Light Grey , Dark Grey and Black…increasing in degree of the darkness, arranged so that they achieve a crescendo as we read on. The all pervasive human weaknesses are very strikingly brought about.  All the shades of darkness such as lust ,greed, anger, ego, jealousy, pride  and oppression have been touched upon.

The authors have really worked hard to make the plots and style slick and polished. The protagonists in the stories come across as normal human beings who have been overpowered by their emotions or who have lost their rationale due to their innate weakness.

“The Blue Shoes” by Saksham Aggarwal in the light grey section was very interesting to read. The pun on the word soul and the bantering of friends despite the philosophical bent was just like out of the diary of Makrand’s best friend. Similarly “An Illicit Thought” by Sreelatha Chakravarthy was just fabulous with its subtlety and empathy for humane desires however amoral and the acceptance of it. “Kalpana” by Anandita Chawla is a heart rending description of woman and child abuse and is exquisitely written. “The Bet” and “The Yellow Top” by Vivek Bannerjee are crisp and chilling.  “The Confession” and “The Diary” both by Upneet Grover in the Black section are masterpieces showing the extent of human degradation and its effects.

All the 25 stories are engrossing and intriguing. Editing is slick and accurate. This is a book which will force you to introspect and understand human psychology. The only drawback is that the constant darkness leaves you a little less hopeful. But that was the intention of the authors and editor: To make us aware of this darkness prevailing around us so that we are more inclined to make things better and ourselves less inclined to evil.