Good Books Lift You!

Good Books Lift You!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Review: If Truth Be Told: A Monk's Memoir

If Truth Be Told: A Monk's Memoir If Truth Be Told: A Monk's Memoir by Om Swami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read one of Om Swami's blogs, which I found to be excellent. I subsequently read his - Kundalini & A million thoughts both of which are great books.

This is Om Swami's life and progress to spiritual excellence in a nutshell. A person who was very successful in his profession and went on to become a millionaire by the age of 30, but was drawn to spirituality since his young age.

The book shifts between his pursuit of spirituality by renouncing everything he had, and his child hood. The narration is crisp for the most part and his life quite obviously is fascinating. There are sections though which could have been shortened in the earlier parts of the book, and more space could have been devoted to his meditation and spiritual practices in the later sections. However, mindfulness methods are covered in his subsequent book "A million thoughts" which I would rate as among the best books on meditation.

Overall, an inspiring book you should read if spirituality as a genre is of interest!


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Saturday, November 4, 2017

Review: The Fragile Thread of Hope

The Fragile Thread of Hope The Fragile Thread of Hope by Pankaj Giri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book has two principal characters – Soham and Fiona. For a large part of the book, their stories run in parallel converging towards the later part of the book.

The one thing in common between the lives of Soham and Fiona is the pain in their lives. Both come from humble backgrounds and face hardship as well as tragedy. The other aspect in common is their strength in looking ahead despite deep rooted personal suffering.

Soham's brother's untimely demise affects him deeply, and he is haunted by memories. It has an impact on his parents, as well as their relationship. Soham works in Bangalore in an IT firm and is doing well professionally. A relationship with a co-worker seems to be exactly what he needs to move on with life. But then, the happiness is short lived and more difficult times come up in his life causing him to return to Gangtok.

Fiona's mother Sharon has had an especially tough life with a husband who drinks every day squandering his money and his health. As he passes away, it is not clear how Sharon can make ends meet and educate Fiona – but she does it with great strength. Fiona feels she has found the love of her life too, and yet long term happiness proves elusive.

Soham and Fiona are now both in Gangok. Can they find meaning in their lives, which seems to have lost purpose as a result of the pain they have suffered?

There is deep rooted tragedy and pain in the lives of the Soham & Fiona – yet this book is about their character, strength and certainly hope. The setting and culture of Sikkim is well explored and described. Having visited Sikkim, just this past year – it brought vivid images of the beauty of the place to my mind.

With it's impressive build up of it's strong characters and good story line, I certainly recommend this book to be read.

Note: I received an advance copy of the ebook for providing an honest review


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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Review: The Invention of Wings

The Invention of Wings The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A book which stays with you well after you have read it.

A story about the Grimke family and their slaves – in particular tracing the lives of Sarah Grimke and Hetty “Handful” in Charleston. Not surprisingly the 19th century is a period where slavery is the norm. Since her childhood – Sarah finds this grossly unfair. She is assigned Handful as her slave and makes attempts to help her – she teaches her to read and write for instance. They are soon found out and both are punished. Sarah's own ambitions of practicing law make no headway either – that is not what women at that time could aspire for.

Handful's mother Charlotte works hard to save money (at times taking risks by working extra hours) in the hope that she can buy their freedom in future. Sarah finds solace and purpose in being the godmother of her sister Angelina, who shares many of her ideals. The risks Charlotte takes leads to her having to run away from the Grimke household. She is united with Handful after many years, by when she has a second daughter “Sky”.

While the years elapse, what does not change is Sarah's conviction that slavery is unfair and must end. She finds others who share her ideals, including her sister Angelina. In the midst of tremendous suffering, and at times tragedy – there is also hope held by determination and conviction.

Other the brilliantly etched characters, the book scores for it's tremendous attention to detail – building an extremely realistic picture of the times. The research which the author describes in the afterword are very evident all through the book. I did not initially know that Sarah and Angelina Grimke are real characters – the fictional characters of the slaves in the Grimke household blend in excellently in the narrative.

The realism in this book reminded me of another excellent book - Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance, though the stories are vastly different otherwise.

This book leaves it's impressions which stay – the characters, the pain of the period and a reminder that what is assumed a normal practice is not necessarily right and some brave people who can leave their conditioning aside can make the difference.

I would ideally rate the book at 4.5, only because the pace of the book slows in parts around the middle.


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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Review: You Never Know

You Never Know You Never Know by Akash Verma
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The primary character in this story are Dhruv, Shalini, Anuradha & Sid. Dhruv is doing well at an advertising agency and is appointed the centre head for Delhi as well. Shalini is his wife who has a busy professional career as a psychiatrist as well, and they have two young kids. Anuradha is new to the company - is bright and outgoing. Dhruv is instantly attracted to her and she soon falls for him as well. The implications to Dhruv's married life is to follow, as also some issues from Anuradha's previous affair with Sid. And we see the entry of corrupt politicians and marital troubles all hitting Dhruv.

The books assembles a very predictable cocktail of lust, corruption and some mystery. The treatment of attraction at first sight is a little silly, and the characters needed more depth. I suppose the author also hopes this will be made into a Bollywood movie, as this combination is so typical. While the story is weak, the book has some positives as well - it moves quickly and it a good one to relax with, the Mojo campaign build-up has some good material though the treatment is simplistic, and the characters of Dhruv and Anuradha are likeable.

You might consider reading this book if you want a quick read, and are willing to leave assessment of the story aside.

I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway.


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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Review: Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the most detailed book I have read on the implications of AI, and this book is a mixed bag.

The initial chapters provide an excellent introduction to the various different paths leading to superintelligence. This part of the book is very well written and also provides an insight into what to expect from each pathway.

The following sections detail the implications for each of these pathways. There is a detailed discussion also on how the dangers to humans can be limited, if at all possible. However, considering that much of this is speculative, the book delves into far too much depth in these sections. It is also unclear what kind of an audience these sections are aimed at - the (bio) technologists would regard this as containing not enough depth and detail, while the general audience would find this tiring.

And yet, this book might be worth a read for the initial sections..

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Review: On Caring

On Caring On Caring by Milton Mayeroff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On caring is a nice little book, which covers in short passages various different aspects of caring. While the larger portion pertain to relationships with other people, it also deals with nurturing your passion. The book is about a "win-win" for both sides - allowing freedom and growth but nurturing and supporting. A child for example needs independence to make his own choices - but needs to be empowered for that to happen.

I liked the fact that the book is simple and practical. It does not get into long winding theoretical discussions and stays focused on the topic. However, possibly more real life examples would have added to the appeal.

A book I definitely recommend reading. It's size is deceptive with respect to the value it carries.

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Monday, October 9, 2017

Review: Sita: Warrior of Mithila

Sita: Warrior of Mithila Sita: Warrior of Mithila by Amish Tripathi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the second book in the Rama Chandra series, and as the title makes it apparent, the focus is on Sita. Sita's characterization as a brave princess who her guru regards as capable of being the next Vishnu is extremely good. As a child, she is found abandoned, in a vulnerable position, protected by a vulture. Her childhood is not trouble free but she grows up as a royal princess, with love from her adopted parents – the ruler and queen of Mithila.

The situation in Mithila, and indeed much of India is dire – Raavan has tightened the screws on large parts of the country and wealth declines dramatically. This period sees the rise of Sita in Mithila and Ram in Ayodhya – both of who are potentially future Vishnus. Sita regards it as wise to combine their strengths for the good of the country. A swayamvar is held and they get married, but not without violence and conflict with Raavan. I liked the alternate narration in the book about why Ram goes on exile for 14 years. There are also other good creative variations from most popular renditions of the Ramayana.

I liked the fact that Amish builds his characters with a lot of respect. Yet it feels that he has tried too hard – while he does a good job with Sita's characterisation, there are pockets of the narration which come across as forced. The discussions around adoption by the state at birth comes across as silly. And it is also unclear why he needed to weave in episodes of youth violence against women and bull taming, almost as a lift off from current events.

However, for Sita's excellent characterization as a strong, intelligent and independent woman, and also to follow how the story continues, this book should be read (3.5 stars).


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