Monday, 11 December 2017

How Hard Can it Be? - Allison Pearson

photo courtesy:
Sequel that picks up from a different age, a different time.

I enjoyed Pearson's prequel to this one - the memorable mince pies scene immediately comes to mind when I think of Kate Reddy and her antics in I don't know how she does it.

Therefore when this one came to me from Mumsnet in return for an honest review, I was curious to find out how Kate was getting on years later. 

Author Pearson is a well known journalist who shot to fame with her "I don't know how she does it". In fact I recall one of the BBC journalists who had a baby mentioning the book and saying it resonated so much with her life. Clearly, Pearson had stuck a chord somewhere.


Fast forward to a few years later and Reddy is now approaching her fifetieth and preparing to get back to work. She is bitter and unhappy - not only because she is older but also the circumstances she finds herself in.

She needs get into work mode for financial reasons but then she realises that her age is a major factor. It doesn't help that her big five O is also coming up. We accompany Reddy on a roller coaster ride as she battles out with narcisstic teenagers, dependent parents and a personal turmoil.

What works:
  • Humour. Pearson has a great way of nailing emotions and naming them. It is the humour that brings Kate Reddy to life.
  • As with the other book there some memorable scenes that  stick with you. My favourite was the heel drilling one where one of her male colleagues tries to make a pass at her.
  • And then as the other book heads towards a neatly tied up end does make one feel a bit better. 
  • Abelhammer is back and the banter and chemistry between them is as electrocuting as ever.
What doesn't:
  • The first few pages that describe Kate's bitterness is what I found it hard to live with. At one point, she actually scared me of becoming 50 myself!  I thought that was a bit extreme - the sandwich generation where there is disaster everywhere and no sense of hope....hmm...I struggled to hold on to the book during that bit.
  • The ending was predictable and it was easy to see that how the events were directed towards that objective. 

Overall, it is a typical feel good, candy floss type story. I can understand that there are takers for this genre. A setting of chaos, and then a sense of calm and as everything finds resolution. Maybe I am one of those greedy readers who demand more depth and meaning to a story. For me, the book worked in places, the humour being the highlight throughout, the only thing that kept me going. Perhaps you may find something more.

Monday, 20 November 2017

The Good man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ - Phillip Pullman

photo courtesy:
A revered, controversial story told in a different light.

The Christ controversy was made popular by Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code - for me. I was unaware of it it till then and thereafter began reading up a lot about it ever since. Not of them were that good. Coming across this one was a big plus. It offered a very simplistic perspective and talked to me in a language I understand - how stories evolve and change over a period of time.

Considering the author is a well known atheist, it was interesting to see his version of the story. What I liked is that there is no open criticism but more of a gentle nudge towards an alternative version. I am not religious and more fascinated by the theory. Pullman is a storyteller after all and his logical and pragmatic approach serves the story well. The afterword is the best part where he explains his reasons behind the story. 


A set of twins are born at the same time - Jesus and Christ. However Jesus is marked for popularity whereas Christ lurks in the shadows. People are drawn to his persona but with it comes the pitfalls of being a rebel. On the other hand, Christ is the cool operator, who finds himself an unwilling participant in the order of events. Very cleverly told in a layperson's language the story covers the crucifixion and also the resurrection. 

What works:
  • There is no lengthy explanation instead the author delves right in. It has a fluid style and bears the direct approach of a children's book. The only difference is that though it is a linear narrative, the layers are added slowly adding complexity and dimension to it.
  • Loved the way the author has used simple, direct language to narrate the story.
  • Throughout the story, it did not claim to refute claims or challenge any theory. It is simply a story and up to the reader to make sense of it. It is a mature work and to me is a testimony to the author's talent.
  • I loved his explanation of the miracles which made perfect sense to me although I can imagine it may annoy a believer.
What doesn't:
  • Nothing really. It is a quick read and offers a great perspective on a much debated concept. For someone who is fascinated by the religious theory, it offers a great insight into how the politics of it works. 
Highly recommended for those who are interested in concept of Christ and Church.

Also for those who simply love a well told story.

Friday, 10 November 2017

The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star - Vaseem Khan

photo courtesy:
Secrets, social message and a detective with his elephant in tow- great combination.

This delightful series is a joy to read. This is my second one and I was happy to see that the lightheartedness of the previous one is maintained in this one too.

This time however, the focus is on Mumbai's film world - popularly called Bollywood - where Chopra and his elephant associate are called in to investigate a high profile kidnapping.


Chopra, an avid lover of Hindi films is called to a yesteryear actress' house after her son goes missing while on stage in full public view. Meanwhile, Rangwalla, the assistant goes undercover after the head of the eunuch community calls in asking for help. 

What works:

  • The detective and his elephant work very well together. There are some interesting scenes that make good use of the elephant assistant that make for an entertaining read.
  • Using Bollywood as the background makes for an interesting setting. Loved making way into the world of arclights and the secrets that surround the people who live in it.
  • Also like the way Khan philosophizes without sounding preachy.
What doesn't:
  • The sub mystery did sound a bit "filmy". The ghostly singing in the Haveli is reminiscent of old Hindi movies, I remember watching as a kid. In this fast paced life laced with technology, it sounded a bit dated. Having said that, it did provide an enjoyable diversion to a degree even if it sounded tad unconvincing.
Overall, another light refreshing read a story of lies, secrets set in the glittering world of the Hindi film industry. 


Thursday, 2 November 2017

The Ugly Five - Julia Donaldson

photo courtesy:
An interesting picture book about animals and beauty.

Donaldson is a favourite in our household and we must have read and watched her Gruffalo and Stick man at least a hundred times. 

Her ability to create an animal like Gruffalo with its prickly back and warts was something my 4 year old boy totally loved. (A Gruffalo soft toy often goes to bed with him.) My daughter on the hand, loved the Room on the Broom witch and the Christmassy Stick man and the adventures they have. 

I reckon what appeals to them is the rhyming way in which the story unfolds and transports them to a fascinating world.

Personally, I love her books too. Whether it is the monkey puzzle where the monkey is on a lookout for his mum or the superworm with its multi faceted skills, I loved reading them as much as my kids. Not to mention Axel Scheffler's illustrations that bring them to life. So when this book came to us, we already had a sense of what to expect and how good it should be.


It is the African plain and as you look around the animals at the watering hole, you notice there are some animals that look different. They stand out from the crowd, and as they are first seen from the perspective of the other animals and then they introduce themselves you can see why. The ugly five then make their way through the forest and and then something happens that brings about a change in perspective. 

I could see that the story moved beyond the obvious fact about ugly animals and talked about the concept of beauty. But it is a picture book after all and I was clearly not the target audience. I handed it over to my little ones for review.

My 4-year-old boy's review:

"I like the animals. They are big and scary. I like the activities at the end."

My 7 year old girl's review:

"I first thought it will be for babies since I did Donaldson's books in my reception class. But as the story went on, I was curious to find out who these animals are. The pictures are really good and I like the different words she has used for rhyme. These ugly animals are not 'so ugly' after all."

One liked the illustrations and the animals more whereas the other liked the message and the style of story presentation. 
Both agreed....

that they liked the other older books better. But then they have read and re- read those for ages. This one does not rank up there for them but they conceded that it was a book they would want to go back to again.

Revised Review

Its been a few weeks and my 4 year old brings back the book ever so often. He loves reading it again and again. A sure hit there.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel In the Crown - Vaseem Khan

photo courtesy:
A crime story set in Mumbai 's bustling street - with an elephant.

I came across this book after attending the Asian Writer Event which celebrated the its 10th anniversary. The event was a day filled with interaction and workshops - a truly inspirational event that brought published and established writers together. Vaseem Khan, the author was on one of the panels talking about his crime series involving a detective solving crime with his pet elephant.

What a hook! I love crime thrillers not only for their stories but also for the detective's persona and the other small bits and bobs that accompany though not necessarily part of the core crime story.

The first story introduces a retired inspector Chopra, who is bequeathed a baby elephant Ganesha .  Together he and the animal together solve a mystery. The series continues with the second story, where Ganesha, while settling into the family, helps Chopra once again to another mystery concerning the theft of a remarkable jewel belonging to the British Queen.


Inspector Chopra is at an exhibition of the crown jewels that are being displayed at the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai. However, the jewels are stolen, literally in his presence and Chopra finds himself in the middle of it trying to find out who could have stolen it.

What works:
  • The setting is great, the background information with which Khan constructs the persona of Chopra is good. He builds the background well with attention to detail.
  • The narrative is fluid. To me this seemed like Death in Paradise - a british crime series set in the Caribbean, -  in a Mumbai setting. 
  • There are so many peripheral characters, Poppy the wife, Poornima the painful -mother-in-law, Irfan the orphan and also Chopra's nemesis, Rao. Loved the way the characters are fitted around the story, with different strands continuing at the same time. 
  • Khan shows a good understanding of the city he sets the story in. Reading about the Prince of Wales Museum and Madh island - places close to my "Bombaywalla" heart felt good and it was great to see him have such a good control of the place he writes about.
    What doesn't:
    • The setting clearly works and while Khan seems to have got the series firmly on hand on track, there is a nagging doubt of what will happen once the elephant goes older. There are mentions that the maturing of an elephant takes a long time....but then at some point that police truck is going to be a bit tight for an elephant....
    • Also Inspector Chopra in Brihanmumbai police seems a bit improbable when compared to a Inspector Shinde. Khan justifies the name though to a certain extent by giving a plausible background although one cannot help wondering if market forces are at play...
    Overall an enjoyable murder mystery. But in addition it is also an emotional story, with moments of philosophical introspection and they are so well layered that it makes for a wholesome reading experience.

    A lighthearted, well plotted murder mystery by an author who writes from heart.

    Wednesday, 30 August 2017

    Stories In Art

    When writing presents art in different shades...

    Some time back, I came across a contest inviting entries for a unique competition. It was organised by an India based website specialising in the joy of stories. They were celebrating World Art Day and were looking for stories based on art. I loved the idea. Thinking about a painting and writing a story on it sounded right up my alley. It really tickled my imagination and I got down to scribble.

    Imagine my excitement when I learnt it made it to the top slot! Here is the link to the story:

    It was amazing to read other entries interpret paintings for their stories. It was an excellent example of how imagination can transform a painting. Kudos to all the shortlisted entries.  You can read the other entries here:

    Tuesday, 29 August 2017

    Ring out the Old, Ring in the New....

    Three years ago, I did a post on Cheeky starting school. 

    Now, as I kissed my second born good luck at the school gate, it felt different. Walking back, I was wondering how the same experience could elicit contrasting emotions. 

    It was hard with Cheeky, I admit. There was whole newness to it. The school, the kids in her class, the education system. How will she cope? Will they make it easy for her?

    But this time round, there is a sense of melancholy coupled with excitement. There is sadness that a phase of childhood is lost forever, but there is also elation. School life has its share of adventure, after all.  

    When Cheeky started at school, the "babyness" continued with Aadi. First toddler and then preschool  groups, park visits and soft play sojourns during the day, the small kid feeling was still prevalent. Not anymore. 

    photo courtesy:silicon valley academy

    On the other hand, there is a delightful absence of apprehension. Aadi has been coming on school runs ever since Cheeky started three years ago. The benefit of acquaintance with the staff, playground and older kids has been handy, to say the least.

    There is definite comfort in knowing that the path my boy is going to tread has been "tried and tested", thanks to his older sibling. It has resulted in such a smooth transition to school that my heart swelled with joy instead of tears, to see him march off into this nurturing environment.

    On a personal front, maternal feelings aside, there is a quiet sense of liberation. As my baby embarks on his academic journey, time feels right to reclaim my individuality and space. There is a sense of loss, yet an undeniable feeling of the start of something new.

    Coleridge's poem "Ring out the old, Ring in the new" comes to mind with some modification:

    Ring out the old, ring in the new, 

    Look ahead, there's so much to do;

    Letting go of the past how you

    let in a morrow, full of adventures anew.

    Letting go is so much about letting in too, isn't it?