Good Books Lift You!

Good Books Lift You!

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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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Review: Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having read Sapiens, I had some idea that there would be new themes which Yuval Noah Harari would cover which nobody else has before. With Sapiens, it was about the agricultural revolution and the binding power of stories. And yes - there are brilliant new themes in Homo Deus as well - our delusion of free will and the Sapiens in a future world ruled by algorithms, and it continues excellently from where Sapiens left off. If Sapiens was about how the most powerful species consolidated it's power, Homo Deus is about what is in store for Sapiens.

The theme of the power of stories - to bind and also delude is continued in Homo Deus. Stories - good or bad enables large scale co-operation among Sapiens - even if the story is not entirely logical or fair to other species. This has led to Humanism as a religion, where Sapiens have declared themselves as the centre and primary purpose of the universe. So everything else revolves around Sapiens - and all other life forms are for it's use. This has led to us being extremely cruel with other life forms and farm animals lead miserable lives from birth till death. The story which binds humans regards this as the norm and generation after generation sees nothing wrong in it. How would humans feels if a more advanced species (spawned off by artificial intelligence) should make judgements and kill undesirable humans?

There are fairly long discussions around political systems and the growth of liberalism. I found this to be a little too long, and it could well have been crisper. Humans have acquired a combination of intellect and consciousness which was regarded as necessary for being advanced life forms at the top of the pyramid. Consciousness especially would be difficult to acquire. However, it is clear now that intelligence which is superior is adequate to ascend the pyramid. Already artificial intelligence is winning over humans in several fields regarded as earlier insurmountable such as chess and even the arts. Humans will depend more and more on algorithms and at some point algorithms will be all powerful. One big surprise which the book springs is around our free will. Do we really have free will? - or do we make forced choices based on experience and conditioning? I found this to be the most interesting discussion in the book.

While I do not think the future will play out entirely as outlined, it might still be close. The reasoning and discussions are excellent, provoking us to think & reflect - and isn't that what is most important in a good book?

Yuval Noah Hariri closes the book being thankful to the practice of Vipassana meditation as taught by S N Goenka for allowing him to look beyond conditioning and see things as they are. A sign that there is wisdom which is eternal and will endure, isn't it?

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Saturday, September 9, 2017

Review: Prey

Prey Prey by Michael Crichton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had heard about Prey since a few years, but got round to reading it only a few days back.

The story is very interesting. A technology experiment - combining bio and nano tech brings out unexpected results (quite expectedly!) and a crisis of sorts.

Jack is a person who has lost his job. His wife Julia works in a senior position at a company called Xymos. The company is reportedly on the verge of making a major breakthrough - nano miniature cameras which can be used for a wide range of purposes. Jack takes care of the kids and despite his best efforts finds it difficult to get a job, especially as his exit from the previous company had issues - though for no fault of his.

Jack finds himself drawn to issues at Xymos - to rein in organisms which have gone out of control. There is tragedy, quite a bit of it and the book has good pace throughout.

The books also brings out the dangers of technology - if we are not careful with it. Overall a good science fiction read.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Review: One Indian Girl

One Indian Girl One Indian Girl by Chetan Bhagat
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In general, I always thought Chetan Bhagat is able to weave stories which move fast. There is however, a noticeable difference in the story if you write it with the expectation that it would be made into a Bollywood movie. And that is just what spoils this novel.

It starts on a dramatic note - Radhika Mehta is engaged and a whole lot of guests have assembled at the wedding. Now, the two men she has had relationships with decide to land at the venue. The book then goes into retelling about how the relationships blossomed. That is probably the better part of the book. There is little or no reasoning on Radhika Mehta's choices though.

It is back to the wedding scene and a lot of drama is in store. The problem though is that these sequences are neither natural nor interesting, including a sermon Radhika delivers near the end. What follows is even more absurd, though there is some kind of semblance of better writing at the end. However, that is not quite enough. Overall, quite disappointing.

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Review: Anusual: Memoir of a Girl Who Came Back from the Dead

Anusual: Memoir of a Girl Who Came Back from the Dead Anusual: Memoir of a Girl Who Came Back from the Dead by Anu Aggarwal
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Anu Aggarwal made an impressive Bollywood debut and it looked like she would do well in Hindi films. But then she disappeared. This is her story - especially of the later period of her life.

As it turns out, Anu says her heart was never truly in films. Yoga fascinated her and she joins an ashram. She stays on well after her course is complete, and helps in the ashram. She gets to be close to the head of the ashram (whom she refers as Swamiglee), and this fuels jealousy and politics. She is asked to leave quite abruptly during Swamiglee's absence.

She has a near fatal accident in Mumbai and is hospitalised for many days. She make is out and gradually regains normal functioning of her body. And she goes on to make Yoga the purpose of the life.

Anu Aggarwal's effort to find meaning in her life and also bounce back after the accident make for inspiring reading. The writing is however quite average, and also the book would have benefited with more incidents and an all round view of her relationships with relatives and friends. Much of the book reads as independent passages and does not really jell together in a coherent storyline.

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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Review: A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ove is one of the best characters I have come across in books in a long time. He keeps to himself, and finds a lot of things to be not what he thinks is right. Most people frustrate him and get him into a cranky mood. So in many ways, he isn’t exactly the person you would like to have for company. And yet, he is extremely disciplined, has strong values and shows courage which is out of the usual when needed. He starts his day, typically by inspecting the neighbourhood for burglaries or irregularities, though it is not really needed. He is good at fixing things, all in the old classical style (not quite a modern technology fan). He cannot understand people wanting things easy, and being inept at stuff they need to know - reversing a trailer for instance.

Ove’s wife Sonja has passed away recently, and he finds that life has far less to look forward to without her. Ove and Sonja’s was a strange marriage is what everyone felt – because Ove was odd, really odd. Ove stands by his wife after a bad accident – fighting the system for her when he needs to. And after her passing, Ove visits her grave regularly with flowers.

Ove has new neighbours – Patrick, Parvaneh and their kids. Ove wishes they would leave him alone but they don’t, especially Parvaneh who looks at him as a father figure. What does Ove do now? And then there are also Rune & Anita who were family friends but Ove and Rune fell out. Rune is now in a bad way, and Anita is stressed. What will Ove do? And there is a cat, who will not leave him alone.

The humour in the book is sophisticated and a delight to read. As you move along, the full range of Ove’s personality comes across. The book ends on a strong note as well, with something for all of us to take away into our lives – delve deep, there is very little to imbibe at the surface.

At the end of it, just maybe, you will feel that it is not Ove who is odd, maybe it is all the others, and us.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Review: The Blissful Brain: Neuroscience and Proof of the Power of Meditation

The Blissful Brain: Neuroscience and Proof of the Power of Meditation The Blissful Brain: Neuroscience and Proof of the Power of Meditation by Shanida Nataraja
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Meditators do not really look for proof that meditation is actually good for them. Practice makes that very apparent, really.

And yet, it is undeniable that the working of the brain is fascinating. This book does an excellent job of explaining what meditation does to our brain. It covers active and passive types and how various regions of the brain respond. As the author notes though - there are various ways people meditate and individual responses and results vary. Hence, the explanations given are somewhat generic - though they do fall into certain broad patterns.

While our knowledge of the brain is improving, it is still far from adequate. The observations in the book are hence somewhat early and limited.

Overall, however, this book is a great read and provides a scientific basis for the benefits of meditation.

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Review: The First Trillionaire

The First Trillionaire The First Trillionaire by Sapna Jha
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The title grabs your curiosity, doesn't it?

The story centres around Shail, a simple girl who makes it to a bank job with a lot of hard work. Her mother Vanashree goes through very tough times to bring her up.

Shail quips during her initial training that she wants to be the world's first trillionaire. This is however a story of her life and those around her and very little about her long term ambitions. The story breaks to the past after the introduction – the lives of her mother, the circumstances of her birth, her father, brother and her benefactor Olivia. As part of her job at the bank, Shail does very well – also helping the branch come out of tough circumstances. Shail has a well wisher in Olivia, who is a billionaire in UK, and also a business partner in Kran who is a scientist. The story develops well to reveal the interest Olivia has in Shail.

As part of her job, circumstances put Shail in conflict with the local goon Bachcha Singh, who has powerful connections. The enmity takes a serious twist when Shail is kidnapped and moved to a secret locations. At this point, more criminals including those with links to global terrorists get involved.

The first half of the book is an easy and engrossing read and the characters develop very well. Shail's humble background, her mother's struggles and her rising professional reputation all make for very good reading. The later part of the book introduces too many new characters and unnecessary complexity with many sub-plots. As a result the plot significantly deviates leaving loose ends in the original circumstance involving Bachcha Singh.

I got this book in a Goodreads giveaway. A book worth a read, especially for the story and key characters.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Review: A Million Thoughts

A Million Thoughts A Million Thoughts by Om Swami
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are not too many books around which detail methods to meditate. “A Million Thoughts” is one of the few which is a fairly comprehensive guide – has excellent material around why you should meditate, how to go about it correctly and what you can expect from meditation.

The basic principles around meditation, the types of mediation and what each one offers is explained very well.

The book scores, since other than relating his personal experiences, Om Swami has sprinkled the book with excellent quotes from ancient scriptures and several beautiful short stories to make the point. The stories are crisp, often moving and make the point exceptionally well.

As Om Swami explains, there are various levels you can reach with meditation. While he reached a stage where he would meditate for hours and days together, many of us may not aspire for that. However, this book is for all serious meditators, however far they want to go.

While I believe people always benefit from a good instructor or Guru, this book is one of the best you can read to get started. Get going, and you might just find yourself. This book is worth far more than the price you can get it for.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Review: The Zoya Factor

The Zoya Factor The Zoya Factor by Anuja Chauhan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Zoya Singh Solanki was born at the precise time that India won the World cup in 1983. She seems to have a rare gift – she is a lucky charm to the team she hangs around with and supports. The Indian cricket team and the cricket board seems to believe this too, except the captain Nikhil Khoda. Zoya is an advertising executive and a period of absence is worked out such that she accompanies the Indian cricket team for the cricket world cup to Australia. Zoya is soon viewed as a kind of goddess, whose blessings are desperately needed for India to win. Zoya and Nikhil share for the most part an awkward and complex relationship. Well, Zoya herself is a complex character and quite unpredictable in many situations.

The book has a good dose of wit which makes you smile. The story is fairly weak though even if unusual in concept. Also, the book overdoes the silly stuff – a large number of weak incidents & jokes. There is a large sprinkling of hinglish, which unfortunately does not add much to the book and only feels odd at many places – lacking variety and fairly uni-dimensional.

Yet, a decent book for the first one by the author and worth a read.

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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Review: Sidney Sheldon's Chasing Tomorrow

Sidney Sheldon's Chasing Tomorrow Sidney Sheldon's Chasing Tomorrow by Tilly Bagshawe
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book takes off from where Sidney Sheldon's “If tomorrow comes” ends. Tracy Whitney and Jeff Stevens as scamsters are fascinating characters – intelligent, independent and charming. Unfortunately, that is about the best part of the book though.

The story shuffles between incidents in their past and current. They have been involved in a number of heists from the wealthy, corrupt and insensitive. Tracy and Jeff get married and try to live a normal life. Tracy though soon gets a little disillusioned with the lack of action. At about that time, their relationship suffers a setback after Jeff accuses Tracy of infidelity. As it happens there are others involved who want to get back at them.

Tracy moves to the US, and raises their child in a quiet environment. As it happens, the past catches up with Tracy. Her help is sought by an Interpol investigator to solve a series of murders which happen very close to heists of the kind she used to pull off earlier. And she is the only one who can now save Jeff's life after he is kidnapped, a way to repay him for saving her life once.

While the characters are good – the book disappoints. More than a flowing story, it comes across as events strung together by force. The twists towards the end with the sudden appearance of a devious character do not make good reading either.

In fact, the book ends in a way that it leaves the option of a continuation very much possible. If a further book does come out, hopefully, it will be better than this one.

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Review: The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation

The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation by Thich Nhat Hanh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an excellent book to read to understand the core fundamentals of Buddhism. It covers the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, in a good amount of detail. It also goes further than that, drawing on key concepts which are common to most variants of Buddhism.

I liked the fact on how Thich Nhat Hanh emphasizes the need for depth in life - developing it by living the values, the Buddha taught and practised. Mindfulness is expectedly a strong theme throughout the book.

The only aspect which could have been better is that while many sections do have good anecdotes from either Thich N hat Hanh's own life or the Buddha's, there are a few sections which are entirely theoretical and dry. Hence, while reading a portion of a book, it feels like simply reading the obvious.

Overall, an excellent introductory book to the essence of the Buddha's teachings, and well worth a read.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Review: Shobhaa at Sixty: Secrets of Getting it Right at Any Age

Shobhaa at Sixty: Secrets of Getting it Right at Any Age Shobhaa at Sixty: Secrets of Getting it Right at Any Age by Shobhaa Dé
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This books is about how Shobhaa De felt on turning 60, and how she built a positive outlook to her age. The start is good – with Shobhaa writing about how turning 60 felt uncomfortable – after it is the doorstep to old age. She then goes on write about how she built a positive attitude to age – be it being busy with her profession, family relationship, diet or her fitness regime.

The problem is that, though the book starts well, it goes into a very preachy tone in the middle and later sections. It would have been fine, had it been only about attitudes and behaviors. However, there are elaborate sections on diet and fitness as well. While the advice may still be valuable, there are better sources for reading about these topics. It would have been better had there been more discussions on her personal experiences – be it with people she dealt with professionally, family or friends.

I used to find Shobhaa’s fiction books to be good to relax with. This book, however, was a disappointment. It somehow comes across as a book written in a hurry.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Review: Scandalous

Scandalous Scandalous by Tilly Bagshawe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first of Tilly Bagshawe’s books that I read. I liked the fact that it is fast moving and there is something to look forward to on almost every page.

The central characters of the story are Theo Dexter, Sasha Miller and Theo’s wife Theresa. Theo is a great looking professor with a magnetic personality. It is easy for students to fall for Theo’s charms – and Sasha soon becomes a victim as well. Sasha is a brilliant student, and discusses new physics theories with Theo, who steals her work and becomes famous. Sasha leaves the college in disgrace with no one to support her – but later builds her life. Theo is soon a media celebrity and is divorced from Theresa after yet another affair. A broken Theresa moves back to UK, and rebuilds her life as a professor of literature again.

While, Sasha & Theresa both manage to build fairly successful careers, their past with Theo continues to haunt them. In an unlikely twist towards the end they meet, and become friends, with the aim of seeking justice for what they went through with Theo.

The book is very readable – and the characters are well formed. The new relationships Sasha & Theresa build later however do not come across as very natural. Overall, a good light read.

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Review: Love, Loss, and What We Ate: A Memoir

Love, Loss, and What We Ate: A Memoir Love, Loss, and What We Ate: A Memoir by Padma Lakshmi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a book about Padma Lakshmi's life and struggles which went with it. It is very moving for the large part as she writes about the attitude of a few insensitive men she gets into relationships with. These sections which deal with her personal trauma do make you feel for what she has been through, dealing at the same time with endometriosis.

It is not easy making it as a model in the west when you are an expat, but she persists and finally makes it. The book is interspersed with a few recipes quite randomly. This of course is to outline her interest in cooking - she also hosted the "Top Chef" show.

After her troubled marriage and later relationship troubles, it is refreshing to about her relationship with Teddy. He is one who gives are the respect she deserves. Yes, as you read you, you see that she has made her mistakes as well and it would have been worthwhile devoting a few pages to some introspection.

I found the book lose steam, continuity and narrative in the middle. Some of the cooking passages are also random, and only slow the book down. However, to understand her life and struggles, it is still a worthwhile read.

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Review: The Undomestic Goddess

The Undomestic Goddess The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I only recently started reading Sophie Kinsella's books. Her books move along smoothly, and at the end of the read, you feel good. This one is no exception.

Samantha Sweeting is a lawyer at a leading firm in London. She has built up a solid reputation with hard work and intellect. Her days are long and there is little or no personal life - a price to be paid for corporate success. Just when she is about to become a partner in the firm, it seems she has made a disastrous mistake. Once she realizes this, she just takes off from the place, distraught and stressed. As she wanders, she is mistaken for an applicant for a housekeeping job which she accepts.

Her new life as a housekeeper seems to bring alive aspects of her life and personality which she has never had a chance to explore. Time seems to slow down and she discovers more of life which really matters - including love.

The book addresses a great subject and the turmoil Samantha goes through is not different from what many in stressful jobs face. And yet the book only skims the surface of true emotions, content with generics.

Overall a book you can relax with, but keep your expectations to that.

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Monday, February 6, 2017

Review: My Life in Orange

My Life in Orange My Life in Orange by Tim Guest
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a book about the period when Tim's mother was a close follower of the controversial guru Osho (Rajneesh). His mother starts by attending a lecture and gets deeply involved - visiting and living in the Pune ashram of Osho and later Europe, America as well.

As he was a small boy at the time, Tim recounts much of this later. That is one of the problems of the book. There is no insight on what Tim's mother found attractive in Osho's teachings, and whether she suffered any self-doubt during much of her time as a follower. There is a touch of humour as Tim narrates the going-ons at Osho's various centres, and many episodes are fun to read.

Nevertheless, what the book lacks is depth and comes across as a very shallow recap of much of what happened at the time. Quite a bit of the latter part of the book is public knowledge as well. The story being a deeply personal one for Tim and his family is a to the book's credit though.

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Review: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sapiens is a very interesting book – and one which everyone must read. Where it scores is in it's frank and insightful narrative, which calls out without hesitation what we homosapiens are good at and where are going wrong.

Homosapiens (us) are the only human species who survived. We reached all corners of the Earth and have developed enormous power – and yet at a huge cost. The evidence suggests that we were responsible for the extinction of many life forms such as the mammoth. I was very surprised by the author's comments around the agricultural revolution. One would have assumed this helped organize the way we lived and ensured we got food where we were, instead of travelling far and wide for it. He makes good points to suggest that this made the farmers busier, made them weaker, more prone to disease and also heightened the risk in case of crop failure.

The surmise around stories which bind us is very insightful. The reason Sapiens collect in large groups is because they bind themselves with myths and stories – around history, religion, nationhood etc. This allowed people who are strangers otherwise to get together and later form large communities and cities. Some of the matter is obviously speculative (eg: Aryan invasion of India is disputed by many historians), but then that is the best one can do in retracing history.

The central sections around how capitalism grew, and the concept of money are too detailed and can get a little tiring. The book nevertheless returns to some excellent passages around our delusions, ambition and happiness. All of us have our own delusions, nor have we given up our destructive tendencies since ages. For instance, we have scientific confirmation that animals have physical as well as psychological needs – and yet we deny them that. Animal farming is one of the most cruel acts we engage in, but refuse to acknowledge or introspect.

We do more and more, but are never satisfied and are not happy. He opines that the insights Buddhism provides around our suffering due to our tendency to crave is reality. The book ends with sentences which certainly need to provoke us to think. We are gaining more and more power – we will successfully increase our lifespans further or even defeat natural death. Yet, we do not know what we want and continue to inflict misery on fellow animals and the ecosystem for our comfort and even worse pleasure. Can we learn?

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