Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Lecture by Michael Haag - Author - Vintage Alexandria

Had the good fortune of attending a lecture by Michael Haag, eminent Photographer and author of multiple books about Egypt.

Although he is from London, he has been visiting Alexandria since 1973, prior to which he already had a lot of friends who had emigrated to the UK from Alexandria. Michael's passion for Alexandria emanates from every photograph and is evident in every word that he speaks.

For today's lecture, he focused on a series of old photographs that he collected from private family albums of long term residents of Alexandria. The pictures in this book span a century- between 1860 and 1960. He showcased 30 of the pictures and told us stories behind each one and took us on a marvelous journey into "Vintage Alexandria"

While the costumes were strange (3 piece suits worn while lounging on the sea shore for example) a lot of the buildings were recognisable. Although some of the buildings were destroyed in the bombing of the Western harbour during World War II and a lot of the buildings have been torn down to give way for new ones.

In Michael's eyes, Alexandria was the ultimate Cosmopolitan city until 1971, because the blend of cultures had not come through occupation or colonialism. The Greeks, Italians and other nationalities who lived in the city for over 150 years had been invited by Mohammed Ali to trade through the Alexandria port.

We saw a lot of previously unseen pictures of Lawrence Durell, Safinaz Zulfikar (later married to King Farouk as Queen Farida), Antony Benaki (the Greek cotton trader whose collection formed the basis of the famous Benaki Museum in Athens), Robert Koch (who isolated the cholera virus and developed a vaccine in an Alexandria laboratory) and other famous Alexandrians.

He showed us a picture of Constantine Cavafy from a business card he had printed and handed over to a friend during her wedding. The funny part was that the picture had been taken 15 years earlier! Cavafy continued to use the same picture for the rest of his life :)

The one thing that hasn't changed since the time of Cleopatra seems to be the layout of the Eastern Harbour, although a lot of the land has been reclaimed. The Hotel Cecil stands on reclaimed land and just beyond the original location of one of Celopatra's needles, which is currently in Central Park, New York.

It was an extremely illuminating lecture and it was a pleasure to be taken back in time to an era that was more gentle and cultured and "quiet"?

Most of his books that I browsed through seem worth buying. Visit Michael's website on

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Kim's Review : Everyone Worth Knowing

Picked this one up because I found the "Devil Wears Prada" good for a light read when traveling.

The cover of Everyone Worth Knowing touted the fact that is was written by the same author in almost the same font size as the title.

That should have warned me : Be wary when someone is trying too hard.

The theme here is vaguely similar to the original bestseller, Bette the main protagonist is sick of her job in banking, her boss and his daily inspirational emails with quotations. One day she quits her job in disgust and then spends the next couple of weeks vegetating in her house.

Her well known columnist uncle, Will uses his connections to get her a job at an up and coming boutique PR firm where partying hard is part of her job.

The rest of the book is a constant whine of how terrible Bette's life is and how she isn't happy with what she is doing but still keeps doing it anyway.

This book has none of the humor of the first, or something enlightening like a window into the fashion magazine industry that the first book provided.

This book just talks about the parties the PR folks attend where they drink, do drugs and have random hookups with barely any insight into the inner workings of the PR industry.

This book is a combination of gossip pages, Harlequin romances (which Bette incidentally favours and even has monthly book club meetings to discuss them) and poor me whining.

The book is barely passable as chicklit. Guys don't even bother starting to read it.

Rating: 0.5/5

Also published on


Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Kim's Review : The Appeal

The latest bestseller from John Grisham after - The Innocent Man.

Given that the Innocent Man was a work of non-fiction, makes this book all the more frightening. Grisham himself was very excited about his first real legal thriller in years.

In this book (I wouldn't call it a novel) Grisham exposes the nexus between big business, politics and the law. While these have always been recurring themes in his books, this time in "The Appeal" it is the sole focus of the book.

The book starts with a chemical and environmental pollution case in small town Bowmore, Mississippi, now nicknamed Cancer County, where Krane Chemical is the accused and Jeanette Baker the plaintiff.

Jeanette has lost both her husband and son to cancer. This makes hers the strongest case to start with for her lawyers - Wes and Mary Payton. There are plenty of mass tort specialists and ambulance chasers waiting in the wings for the decision on this case, so they can all get themselves a piece of the pie (30% to the lawyers) while the Paytons themselves are over 400,000$ in debt by virtue of working and following up on this case (to the exclusion of all others).

The jury orders damages of 41 million dollars to be paid to Jeanette and here is where the plot actually takes off.

It is an intriguing ride that Grisham takes us on and is an excellent medium to learn how the Supreme Courts in the US work. Most states choose their Supreme Court justices by election, which leaves plenty of room for interested parties to skew the process. How that happens, is the meat of this book.

The ending may not please a lot of readers, but it is extremely realistic and I admire Grisham for leaving it there rather than neatly tying things up.

The book is extremely interesting and educating on the political and legal intrigue that takes place behind these elections. While this may be a work of fiction, it could very well become reality, any time in the near future and that is what is so scary about this book.

Also published on

Monday, 8 September 2008

Kim's Review : A Prisoner of Birth

Lord Jeffrey Archer is back with a bang! Doing what he does best. Writing fiction with revenge and justice as the major themes of his novel.

I have not been as lucky as IdeaSmith as to meet this Lord in person. But I'm sure it would be an amazing experience just to hear him speak on any topic on this earth. He has an astounding insight on what seems to be almost everything.

Lord Archer has proven yet again why he is one of the leading best selling authors of this generation.

The similarities to Dumas's Count of Monte Cristo are clearly evident in this tale and even the main protagonist keeps referring to the book. But Archer gives this tale a modern twist and spices it up with intimate knowledge of the details that he gathered during his 2 year tryst in Her Majesty's prisons.

The tempo of the novel keeps building up and its quite un-put-down-able (not sure if that is a word, but it describes this story aptly) To use a real word, this is a page turner. Definitely not bed time reading unless you plan to stay up all night until you are done.

This is a book that every mystery/crime fan should buy and read and re-read (its a book that may need to be read twice as new angles are discovered which have a different significance on past conversations and situations)

I'm now waiting for Paths of Glory which he is due to release in March of next year.

Also published on

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Kim's Review : Diplomatic Baggage: The Adventures of a Trailing Spouse

As a Trailing Spouse to Egypt, this was a book recommended at an Inter-cultural training session that I attended.

I am glad I waited 2 years to read this book (I might have been terrified of the move) although I'm kicking myself for spending money on it, even though I got it at a discounted price on Amazon.

I got carried away by William Dalrymple's (an author I greatly admire) review of it: "Brigid Keenan, is a new comic genius.... very, very funny"

Later in the book, I figured out that he spent time at their house in Damascus, while researching his book From the Holy Mountain.

Why did I hate the book so much?

Except for the last chapter, the author was constantly whining and groaning about the hardships that life had tossed at her. This after choosing to marry her husband of her own free will, knowing the kind of job he did and loved would take him to obtuse corners of the world. It was a fully informed decision that she took. Even spending some days with him, in what she calls a "chicken shed" in Kathmandu before deciding to marry him.

She constantly whines about everything from the help, to the kids, to her husband, to location.... in short, she whines about Everything.

The life of a Diplomatic Trailing Spouse is much easier than that of other Trailing Spouses. Accommodation, household help, office help, everything is put in place before the diplomatic family even arrives at their new location. Brigid's grouse is that some of the other European embassies provide more services to the spouses than her husbands European Commission ambassadors office does.

She promotes herself as a glamorous, successful young London fashion journalist, but later in the book accepts and acknowledges that her children were the worst dressed in their school.

I do not know Brigid personally, but what I read in her this autobiography of hers, made me think of her as a spoiled, over indulged wife who can never find anything positive and good in life.

Granted she had a few scares like the maggots that got under the skin and had to mature and grow and eat their way out, but those kind of experiences were less than you could count on one hand. For the most part, she was preoccupied with how to find white gloves for a 6 fingered servant in India and wondering why there was no association to put beggars to sleep the way Animal friends does it for animals! At the same time brushing aside her daughters experiences with pedophiles and flashers as casual asides.

Brigid has written about Kashmir's art and crafts and co-authored a book on Damascus; which may be worth looking at, but Diplomatic Baggage is not a book you want to buy or gift a friend who is going to be a Trailing Spouse, not unless you want them to cancel all plans and send their spouse to live abroad on their own.

Published on

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Kim's Review : Cherry Bomb

The entire title Reads - Cherry Bomb : The Ultimate Guide to becoming a Better Flirt, a Tougher Chick and a Hotter Girlfriend, And to Living Life like a Rockstar

I don't read "how-to" books, but the title for this one by Carrie Borzillo-Vrenna had me intrigued and itching to get my hands on it, to read more.

Carrie Borzillo-Vrenna has been a music and entertainment journalist since the last 20 years and is best known for her books on Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, her sex and relationship advice column “Dr. Love” for the Gene Simmons Tongue magazine and her music related articles in People, Billboard, Spin, and Alternative Press magazines.

The title "Cherry Bomb" comes from the song by Joan Jett of The Runaways. Carrie says "Joan Jett's attitude, style and music has always inspired me so I'm happy to reference the Runaways song (in the title) even if some younger people won't know what it means right away. That's ok because cherries are sweet and bombs are badass and the book is all about being a sweet badass! To me, those two words, sum up the book nicely and it's a killer song to boot!"

Cherry Bomb is an alphabetized reference from Absinthe (the new Drink of Choice for the Rock and roll set) to Zig Zags (The Cool Way to Roll a Joint) with Celebrity Pick-up tips, Fetishes, Infidelity Pacts, Orgasms, Piercings, Strip Tease and Tour Bus Etiquette in between .

The tips and techniques are invaluable to a rock chick. There are tips and detailed instructions on how to tie a cherry stem into a knot (using just your mouth- no hands), how to get backstage without being a whore, using bottle service to buy VIP status at the hottest nightclubs, how to perform a striptease (by Burlesque star - Ditta Von Teese) The tips are practical and easily doable, no matter who you are or what kind of budget you are on.

Being in the music industry as a writer and as a wife to a Grammy winning Rockstar - Chris Vrenna who plays keyboards with Marilyn Manson and drums with Gnarls Barkley- Carrie is more than qualified to write this guide. Most of the tips come from her own real life experiences. For the few areas that she did not have first hand experience with when she started writing, she enlisted the help of her celebrity friends including

Cherie Currie of THE RUNAWAYS (on "Cherry Bomb," the song that influenced the book)

Tori Amos (Life Advice)

Betsey Johnson (Breast Cancer Awareness and Personal Style)

Anna Sui (Fashion Inspiration)

Dancing with the Stars' Cheryl Burke (Dancing Tips)

Celeb hairstylist Dean Banowetz (Rockin' Up 'Dos)

Master Chef Dave Rubell (Black Vodka Recipes)

and Stylist Cynthia Freund (Rock Chick Style Tips) among others.

My favorite guest how-to chapter is the one by Peaches' drummer Samantha Maloney on how to play the Drums. It re-ignited an old flame and I just might be inspired enough to go out and get myself into classes and buy myself a drum set. My favorite chapters by Carrie are Jet Setting, Jobs, Money and Networking.

I always thought I had a more than fair knowledge about rock music and rock stars, but on reading Carrie's book, I know I have a lot more to learn and a lot more musicians that I need to listen to at least once. Her list of songs at the end of some chapters seems to be a good place to start. The lists are mood based - songs to Vacuum fast To (the Anger Stage), songs to Eat a Pint of Ice Cream to (the Depression Stage), Funk Fixers etc.

For the Relationship kinda quiz addicts, there are a couple of quizzes as well, to check if you are rockstar girlfriend material and which rock chick you are most like.

The illustrations by Liz Adams are apt and cute (not a word you would associate with rock, but thats truly what they are.)

There is something for everyone in this book. Men can find a lot of the chapters interesting and relevant too. The title hooked my husband and he browsed through the book and loved what he read.

You don't need to be in the rock industry or dating a rock star to use these tips. These tips are great for any independent, confident woman who is comfortable with herself and who she is. From a gangly pre-teen to a grandmother in her 60's, any woman with self assurance can find something of value in this guide and for someone who lacks self assurance, Cherry Bomb is a great place to start.

This book is due for release on the 5th of August 2008 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon. For anyone who has ever been interested in the lives of Rock Stars and been envious of their lifestyle, this book is a definite must-buy as it shows you step by simple step how to lead their life with panache and confidence. Cherry Bomb delivers on all its promises and does impart relevant and easy to follow tips on how to become a better flirt, tougher chick and hotter girlfriend.

Published on

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Kim's Review : The Innocent Man

After lying unread on my bookshelf for over 9 months, I finally got around to reading John Grisham's latest offering and first work of non-fiction - "The Innocent Man".

Growing up on a steady diet of Erle Stanley Gardner and in love with Perry Mason, it was but natural that I become a fan of John Grisham's legal works of fiction. But other than "Skipping Christmas" which was moderately interesting, his non-legal fiction did not excite me at all. So I wasn't sure what to expect with his work of legal non-fiction.

Fortunately it was interesting reading for the most part except the botched trial that got really slow and repetitive. Since this was a true story and Grisham was using actual court transcripts, he had to keep it so, but could have edited it a bit to make it crisper. Maybe all the legal serials we watch - The Practice, Law & Order, Boston Legal and others of their ilk have gotten me to expect snappy, sharp detective work, logical but persuasive arguments by counsel and crisp closing statements. The way the case was handled was completely slip shod and pathetic and makes you wonder at the possibility of truly getting justice unless you are in a TV serial.

Little wonder that a libel suit was filed against John Grisham on 28, September 2007, by Pontotoc County - Oklahoma, District Attorney Bill Peterson and Gary Rogers, a former Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent.

This true story, is remarkable for the fact that the main accused Ron Williamson who was framed by the law enforcement team of Pontotoc County was not just a "white" man, he was a semi-FAMOUS "white" man.

Ron Williamson was a local hero on the baseball field and was also the 41st pick in baseball's 1971 amateur draft, a second-round selection by the Oakland Athletics. Due to poor performance, he did not hit the big time but he was still quite a local celebrity when he was accused as the murderer of cocktail waitress Debra Carter.

His co-accused Dennis Fritz had nothing to implicate him except that he and Williamson were occasional "drinking buddies". Ironically Fritz's own wife had been murdered 7 years ago.

The police used forced dream confessions, convicted felons as snitches and witnesses, junk science and other dubious means to get them both convicted. Williamson got the death penalty which automatically set a series of appeals in motion while Fritz got a life sentence.

Through his incarceration, Williamson deteriorated physically and mentally despite the efforts of some good hearted souls until the Innocence Project - (basis for the serial In Justice) helped get them both acquitted after 12 years on the basis of the new technology - DNA testing.

Grisham read Williamson's obituary when he died (5 years after being released) and was inspired to research and write this book.

I started out reading the book, knowing that the main accused was innocent (could the title have been more descriptive?). Grisham wrote the book, knowing that Williamson was innocent. But even someone who didn't know some of the data presented here in hindsight, could have seen that this was a wrongful conviction. And it appalls you that even though the case came up for appeal multiple times, each person upheld the original wrongful conviction.

Hence Grisham seems to have achieved his major goal in writing this novel.

"If you believe that in America, you are innocent until proven guilty, this book will shock you.
If you believe in the Death Penalty, this book will disturb you.
If you believe the criminal justice system is fair, this book will infuriate you"

Also published at

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Finding Childrens books in Arabic - in Cairo

Granted with no kids of my own, I don't have too much insight into this, but I do know my bookshops

And a lot of this information comes as tips from friends in Egypt who would like their kids to learn to read Arabic just to make the transition easier.

1. The best place/time to find them is at the Cairo International Book fair because publishers from other Arab countries that don't have stores/distribution in Egypt sell their stuff there.

2. Dar el Shorouk publishes Arabic books for children and sells them at their outlets in the Four Seasons First Mall, City Stars Mall (the extension), and Korba. Their kids section in Arabic is one of the strongest around town.

Shorouk publishes series of books from Alam Simsim (sesame street), the Mister books (Mister Happy etc), Miffy and more. There are Barney story books and other famous characters as well. Someone mentioned that the new series by Shorouk are in Egyptian Arabic, but printed in China. Books start from about 10LE each.

3. The lovely ladies at The Bookspot, don't always carry Arabic books, but they do special order them so if you have something specific in mind they can always get it for you.

4. Diwan carries a few too, but its a limited selection.

5. Carre four & Hyper One have some Arabic Childrens books in their Books & Magazine sections.

Surprisingly, a lot of my friends have found better range and quality of Arabic books for children outside Egypt.
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