Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Brajesh's Review : Zona

I picked up "Zona - A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room", the Geoff Dyer book, because @JLF during her photography workshop Dayanita Singh talked about the craft and construction brilliance of Geoff Dyer and how in Zona the footnotes run a parallel story-line.

However, nothing could have prepared me for what I encountered. The book is a frame by frame discourse on the SciFi thriller "Stalker" by Tarkovsky. Unfortunately these lines are an extremely inadequate description of this book.

I felt totally dwarfed in front of this masterpiece, which left be bewildered and awestruck on every second page. There is a section in the book where Geoff Dyer quotes Flaubert "from the standpoint of pure art one might establish the axiom that there is no such thing as subject - style in itself being an absolute manner of seeing things." and from my perspective, the book seems to be an attempt to prove this superiority of "style" over the usually hyped up "subject".

To this effect, this isn't a book , but a peice of art .... Go ahead, get bowled over by Geoff Dyer magic.

I have no clue under which genre I should classify this piece of art !!! So will just go with Non Fiction.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Brajesh's Review : File Room

I attended a workshop for children by Dayanita Singh at JLF and was so inspired by her approach to life in general and photography in particular that I picked up this book immediately.

In the workshop she essentially told kids to be good human beings and then any camera in their hands would ensure that the photos came out well. The other advise that she gave, was to read voraciously to become a good photographer and she stressed on creating photo stories and not individual snapshots.

"File Room" is part story, part project based on her pictures of various file rooms across the country. There is also a particularly emotional account on the role of files in her mother's lifelong legal battle titled "Sea of File".

The other two short texts in the book are titled "Paper Dust" and "Forest of Paper". However, these texts are mere footnotes in this lovely project where (uniquely) the buyer is encouraged to chose from one of 6 colors of the books cover/binding.

The "File Room" gives you a unique opportunity to own 70 plus of Dayanita's photos for an insignificant cost. Remember one original can put you back by a couple of lakhs. So if you love getting intimate with photos and can spend many a minute poring over one, I suggest you get this book.

Being in black and white, the photos reflect the mood, texture and souls with great intimacy.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Monday, 28 April 2014

Brajesh's Review : Udvada

I had speed browsed this book at the new Crossword of Ahmedabad, which opened at Mondeal Retail Park on SG Highway. Since I had been super fascinated by Udvada as a photo destination during my last trip, this photo book caught my attention.

The book is commissioned by Parvez Damania as a tribute to his brother and Parsi Heritage. Shot by Shantanu Das over many visits to Udvada. The book captures almost all flavors, seasons and aspects of this beautiful city. If you can’t make a trip, pick up this book and you will end-up knowing the city quite intimately.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Also read Kim's Review of Udvada

Its not yet available on flipkart or Amazon, but it is available in Gujarat bookshops and on

If you would like to see more pictures of Udvada, please click on this link. It is a mini album of a few pictures that we clicked on our visit to this beautiful historic little town.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Brajesh's Review : Unreal Elections

The "Unreal Elections" by C S Krishna & Karthik Laxman is a funny, satirical take on the great Indian elections.

This book is divided into 5 sections of a cricket match. Each section begins with a Shastri quote inspired from his legendary commentary. These contains Shastri gems like “cracker of a match” , “odd ball is keeping low” “somethings gotta give” “down to the wire” and “cricket is the winner”.

Section one titled “Match Preview”, starts in August 2012 and introduces us to key characters like Gujarat Lion and Crown Prince. This is followed by “Opening Overs” starting from April 2013 and each chapter covers one month of political drama.

The language is simple, and the satire quite funny for most parts. My favorite section of the book was the fictional Facebook pages. I wish there was one at the end of every chapter, these were very well designed and almost every time had me in splits.

However by the time we reach “The Middle Overs” of October 2013, the book starts to drag. After all, how many times can you laugh at Sanjay Jha’s stupidity and find repeated gags on Mani Shankar Iyer and Diggi Raja funny. Also the novelty of plot and treatment of story which kept me gripped until here, starts to get repetitive.

Since the basic events are all known to the reader, only the author’s unique take keeps you reading. But by the time we reach the fourth section titled “Slog Overs” in February 2014, you really want to skip it all and see how the book will treat the climax.

From March 2014 the climax begins to unfold in a dramatic setting at Feroz Shah Kotla. Now the fantasy really takes wings and interest is rekindled a little.

However the closure of the book gets preachy and starry eyed idealistic. This completely goes against the funny grain one has got so used to by now. The 2 bloggers who put this narrative together needed a better ending than what is put in the “Post Match Presentation:”.

I can fully understand the difficulty of trying to tie-up such a fantasy laden ride, but I feel a set of their signature Facebook pages could have done more justice than the lengthy explanation which tries to rationalize every stupidity of Congress driven by some great futuristic vision or tries to balance Modi as a Jinnah lover.

Rating : 2.5 / 5

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Kim's Review : The Prophecy of Trivine

Xona / Agni - An emissary of an advanced alien race and the Steward of Earth, travels to our planet to undertake responsibility of an experiment that has gone out of control. The outcome of this fateful experiment, which was conceived millions of years ago by her species, now rests in her hands.

As she prepares to deliver her final judgment, she comes across three young men in a sacred forest who change her life forever. These three men - a scientist, a hacker and an artist, happen to take refuge in that forest, trying to escape from their own lives. Struggling with their dreams and demons, they begin to explore the dark and paranormal behavior of the forest by forging a companionship. From the rare flora and fauna, to the deadly wide expanse of the whimsy black sky, everything they find is yet another puzzle unsolved. Little do they know that four of them hold in their hands the future of mankind and that they are connected through an ancient Prophecy that was long lost in the sands of time.

This is the gist of "The Prophecy of Trivine", a science fiction tale co-authored by Pulkit Gupta, Srivatsan Sridharan and Tnahsin Garg. The 3 authors were best friends fro Thapar University who are currently geographically seperated and working in entirely different streams. Yet somehow, like the trio of Phil, Shiv and Arty in the book, this partnership works.

The book opens rather dramatically, with a bang, but the rest of the novel can't seem to hold on to that initial excitement. The story itself isn't bad, but it would really benefit from a good editor who can take out the pieces that aren't relevant to the story and polish up the text. The text feels a bit juvenile at times, which is fine if your target audience is restricted to those currently in an Engineering college, but for a wider audience, a bit of editing is definitely a must.

The story progresses along reasonably well, but the suspense never seems to build, maybe this is the reason why I wasn't quite gripped by "The Prophecy of Trivine".

A word of warning though, this book only hints at the Prophecy, hopefully the Prophecy itself will be revealed in the next book?

Rating : 3 / 5

This book review is a part of The Readers Cosmos Book Review Program. To get free books log on to:

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Kim's Review : The Screaming Staircase

Recently won an online contest and Random House sent me an autographed copy of "The Screaming Staircase". Its another one in the Young Adult fantasy genre and I think I should get back to some serious reading after this :)

The fantasy in this series is based on ghosts for a change (not vampires or witches) and its kids who are most perceptive of ghostly presence, hence they are the main characters in the book.

A J Lockwood & Co. Investigators is one of the newer agencies that investigates psychic phenomenon. What makes them unique is that the organisation is run by kids themselves (without adult supervision) At the start of this book, the team comprises of Anthony J Lockwood, George the researcher and Lucy Carlyle the new joinee.

While George is of the "research is the best aid to handling hauntings" school of thought, both Lucy and Anthony believe in action, with Lockwood being the more charismatic yet impulsive of the two.

Many children (not all) are born with the ability to see, hear or otherwise detect ghosts. These skills, called Talents tend to fade towards adulthood. Children with better than average talents join the Night Watch and those with exceptional abilities usually join one of the Agencies (with some agencies being successful and famous and others at the other end of the spectrum) The 3 main categories of Talent are Sight, Listening and Touch.

Anthony has a special talent of Sight, being able to detect even the tiniest of visible ghostly traces. Lucy has a special talent of Listening and maybe something more. She develops strong feelings and seems to be able to empathise with the spirits.

Not all spirits are equal, some are harmless and some can cause death by Ghost touch. Since the "Problem" most of England (yes, this is another Fantasy series set in England) has had an exacerbated problem with ghosts and hence curfews are in place to get people home before ghostly activity strengthens and the city has departments to deal with this phenomena.

Lockwood and Co, due to a series of mishaps and accidents is on the brink of bankruptcy, to save the company, Anthony Lockwood takes on a job which requires them to spend a night in the most haunted house in England.

The story ties up neatly in itself, but ends with a lot of unanswered questions about the lead characters, so you know that there are definitely going to be a couple of more books in this series.

Jonathan Stroud grips your imagination hard and takes you hurtling down this new world that he has created for this series. Jonathan Stroud as you may recall, is the author of the best-selling BARTIMAEUS sequence (Amulet of Samarkand, Golems Eye, Ptolemy's Gate and Ring of Solomon), which is published in 35 languages and has sold 6 million copies worldwide.

Its a well written book and kids who like being slightly scared, would love it. I wouldn't recommend it to kids who are easily spooked though, it could give them sleepless nights.

Rating : 4 / 5

Monday, 14 April 2014

Kim's Review : The Sood Family Cookbook

The Sood Family Cookbook is a brilliant collection of recipes by Aparna Jain, from various members of her Himachali family. While their roots might be Himachali, the recipes are much more global.

She does share a lot of Pahaadi recipes from chaachwale alu, rajroopiyama (dry urad dal), mittha and fiddlehead ferns to Rali mili dal, maani, Pahadi Dhaniyawala chicken and Pahaadi Mutton.

The book is divided into Breakfast, Comfort Food (Pahaadi recipes and her favourite family recipes - there are a lot of Manglorean recipes in this section, courtesy her Sister-in-law Nita), the light and healthy section of salads, from near and far (recipes range from I-won't-cook Tagliatelle to Hangover Vodka Pasta and Dushmani Chicken) soups, snacks, chutneys, drinks and desserts.

The index at the beginning of the book is easily color coded - green for veg, yellow for dishes with egg and red for non-vegetarian dishes. There's a very good balance of veg and non veg dishes in The Sood Family Cookbook.

There are some beautiful colored illustrations attached to each recipe (as you can see in the picture above) and the writing style is simple, yet engrossing.

The Sood Family Cookbook is the most recent addition to my Cookbook Shelf, so when I signed up for the Cooking from Cookbook Challenge, I started randomly browsing through it and chose a mustard dressing from the book to make a summer salad.

I only used the dressing recipe, I improvised on the salad ingredients to use what was easily available and to add substance and ended up with a Bocconcini, Lettuce & Cherry Tomato Salad with Mustard Dressing

The recipes are quite straightforward and easy to try, there are specialty Himachali recipes and global recipes that would look great on your table at a dinner party, so this book makes a great addition to any cookbook collection.

Rating : 4 / 5

Monday, 7 April 2014

Kim's Review : Half Bad

You can't read, can't write, but you heal fast, even for a witch.
You get sick if you stay indoors after dark.
You hate White Witches but love Annalise, who is one.
You've been kept in a cage since you were fourteen.
All you've got to do is escape and find Mercury, the Black Witch who eats boys. And do that before your seventeenth birthday.

Half Bad is the latest book (first part of a planned trilogy) to be smashing the young adults charts. It has been likened to "The Hunger Games" and a dark-as-hell "Harry Potter" meeting "The Bourne Identity". The accountant turned author of Half Bad - Sally Green has been dubbed the inheritor to Stephenie Meyer’s crown and the new J K Rowling.

Is all this high praise from papers as reputed as the UK Times and The Metro worth it? Most definitely, "YES"!

The first chapter is a bit bewildering, it doesn't make sense initially, so you are forced to read further and before you know it, you are completely sucked in and hooked onto the story and the book ends without any sense of closure, leaving you in breathless anticipation for part 2 - "Half Wild"

16 year old Nathan is an anomaly - a half code - born of a black witch father and a white witch mother - in a modern day England where humans (fains) and witches co-exist. White witches are good, black witches are evil and his father is the most evil of them all. Persecuted by both sides, when he turns 17, he needs to receive three gifts from a blood relative before he can become a witch in his own right. If he doesn't, he will die. Since his mother dies when he was a child and his grandmother too, his only hope is his father. But he has never seen or met him in his entire life and a prophecy could be to blame.

The council which governs the witching world, treats him with extreme suspicion that even leads to torture and imprisonment.

Will Nathan receive his gifts in time?
What is in store for his future?
Will he be a black witch or a white witch?
Are black witches really evil?
Are white witches really good?
What is the prophecy that keeps his father from meeting him?

The tale unfolds at a breakneck pace and keeps the reader completely hooked. Sally Green is a brilliant writer. The only other author I think who has moved at a faster pace is Samantha Shannon's - Bone Season.

Given that this book too is set in London, its obvious to try and draw parallels between Bone Season or the Harry Potter Series.  However, there are no wands, magic schools, brooms or owls in this book on witches.

Sally Green started writing in her 40's and says that she had never written anything in her life before that. However, the fast pace of Young Adult Fiction seemed ideally suited to her writing style (which she discovered when taking a course on Creative Writing).

To help imagine the darker world of Half Bad, she returned to her own teenage reading, which featured victims of persecution such as Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Albert Camus, so its no surprise that Nathan's favourite story is One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Nathan's character however, is inspired by troubled teen Holden Caulfield from J D Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye"

Green's characters are well fleshed out, its obviously easy to sympathise and empathise with Nathan, but its also easy to see why the other characters behave the way that they do.

Half Bad is a brilliantly written book. While a young adult can just love it for the story, there are so many more layers to this book. It can be used to initiate discussions on racism, State control, genetic coding and so many other more intense topics. And these layers would make it an extremely interesting read for not-so-young adults too.

While Half Bad is about teenage witches, it is fundamentally about the fact that no-one should be pigeon-holed in terms of “black and white”, “good and bad”. Hence the title and Shakespeare quote from HAMLET at the beginning of the book. "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

Sally’s reaction to the “black and white” nature of news broadcasting was a big impetus in the writing of the book. The book is full of examples of so-called ‘bad’ people doing good things and vice versa and the corruptive nature of power. The real enemy in this book is bureaucracy. As a mother, she is also interested in the nature vs nurture debate and the characters in the book are also good explorations of this theme.

The film rights for Half Bad have already been bought by 21st Century Fox with Karen Rosenfelt (Twilight, Percy Jackson, The Book Thief) producing. Green has already broken 2 Guinness Records - the most translated book (42 languages) by a first time author pre-publication, and the most translated children's book by a debut author pre-publication.

There are many unanswered questions at the end of the first part and I have my doubts whether part 2 - "Half Wild" will bring any clarity either. If you are the type who hates to wait on a cliff hanger, then it may be better to wait till all 3 books are out. Otherwise, just go out and buy this book immediately.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

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