Usbourne Pocket Science Collection(Set of 24)

I don’t normally review children’s books. Mainly because I don’t read as much to daughter any more. She loves reading by herself, and frankly, I like more this way to. I know, lazy me, but it is so much fun for both of us to be lounging on the sofa, or in bed, just before bedtime, completely engrossed in our own books.

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As I said, I don’t normally review her books, but one collection that she has, I felt was worth the review. There are 24 titles in this collection, and each of them address commonly asked questions by the children. Each of these are written in an extremely simple and yet, very informative manner, which appeals to a child reading it. Daughter loves them all. She reads all sorts of books, and fascinated by science, so the topics really appeal to her.  She picks them up, reads them and remembers the stuff, and asks more questions, which is what it is all about, isn’t it? The titles in this book are

  • Science Experiments with Light and Mirrors
  • What Makes it Rain?
  • Where Does Electricity Come From?
  • What Makes a Flower Grow?
  • What Makes People Different?
  • Where Did Dinosaurs Go?
  • Where Does Rubbish Go?
  • What’s The Earth Made Of?
  • Why do People Eat?
  • How do Animals Talk?
  • Science Experiments with Air
  • What makes a Car go?
  • Where do Babies come from?
  • What’s Inside You?
  • What makes you ill?
  • Science Experiments with Magnets
  • Why is Night Dark?
  • What’s Under the Sea?
  • Why do Tigers have Stripes?
  • What’s out in Space?
  • What’s under the Ground?
  • How does a Bird Fly?
  • How do Bees make Honey?
  • Science Experiments with Water

We picked it from Bookpeople, about 2 or 3 years ago. I don’t actually remember when, but it has been one of those books that has never gone out of favour with daughter.

Each topic is handled in a very comprehensive way, while keeping things at a level which makes it easy for a child to understand. I think Daughter was around 5, when she first read it, and the details provided are so interesting, that she still reads them. This page in What makes you ill?, for instance, addresses what germs are, and how they impact us, making us ill.

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The illustrations are really good as well, helping a child visualize something that is not so easy to visualize. Check out this.

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I particularly liked the book on ‘Where do babies come from?’. It address a topic that most of us worry about discussing with our children. This has some very simple ways of explaining it all, and it seemed to have quenched Daughter’s curiosity.

I could go on and on, but then as you can see, there are 24 books. Why go on and go, when I could just tell you to try it out 🙂 We love it, and hope you do too. And I forgot to mention, they are not big or bulky. They are really slim, so I found it very useful to grab a few whenever we are traveling. It really helps because of the wide variety of topics, daughter is never bored. And I can fit them even in my handbag, without breaking my back. What more could I ask for?

This review has been cross-posted at the Indian Moms Connect. Do check it out for an amazing spread of parenting resources.

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The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti

I’ve had the unfortunate luck of never really getting a truly mind blowing book when I get a review request. When Michelle Cohen Corasanti emailed me asking me if I would like to review her book, I was intrigued by the story and immediately agreed.

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Ichmad Hamid was a gifted young Palestinian boy living in a Palestinian village controlled by the Israeli Army in the 1950s.  The smallest of things are enough to get in trouble with the Army. Living in a constant fear of landmines, and the atrocities committed the army, Ichmid and his family are not the most secure of families. Ichmid, is very gifted, extremely intelligent and sharp, he excels at his studies, but is forced to drop school and go to work when his father gets thrown into the prison on the suspicion of aiding terrorists. Ichmid and his younger brother Abbas, 12 and 11 year olds, have no option but to go to work and earn a living. They make very little, but they can’t do without it either. They have no home, and no permit to build one, and are forced to live in a tent, in all sorts of weather and conditions. The work they did, managed to keep them from starving, but also handed out more misfortunes for the family. Torn by responsibility and guilt, his only support was his father, who refused to see evil in anybody. His father’s constant support through letters kept Ichmid’s faith. There came an opportunity for him to get a scholarship at the Hebrew University, and it was his father who backed him and gave him the courage to stand up for himself. His mother and his brother Abbas, felt that it was a betrayal on his part to go to an Israeli University and work with the Jews. They were the people who were responsible for the condition of their lives, after all.

Ichmid persevered, balancing out his life, keeping his family as his first responsibility sometimes having to take difficult decisions. While Ichmid managed to make a life for himself, despite all the misfortunes and cruelty that he and his family were dealt with, the book makes you reflect on those who get sucked into the situation, with no way out, like his brother Abbas. Ichmid follows his father’s advice of not letting hatred consume him, while Abbas, went the other way. Abbas, of course, had been dealt with a more difficult hand though, so it is understandable to see his frustration and his unhappiness with his brother’s decision to work and be friends with their oppressors. So easy for two brothers to be brought up in similar circumstances but end up in completely different areas in life.

It is a heart-breaking read. One that will leave you sad, and upset, that there is so much of injustice in the world. So many people are fighting for a life, a simple life, a life without fear, the  things we take for granted. While this book was specifically about the Israel-Palestine conflict, it could resonate in any of the conflict ridden parts of the world. It also opened my eyes to what is happening in Palestine. The living conditions, the constant fear that they live with, with no real future for their children.. things we can’t even imagine.

The story starts with a bang, and the author manages to maintain that tempo. Reading about the Hamid family’s life and misfortunes makes you realize how many lives are caught in political conflicts which they have nothing to do with. All that most people want is a happy, comfortable and secure life, which sadly remains a dream in so many conflict hit parts of the world.

While not an easy read, it was a total page turner. I just couldn’t put it down. The only reason I took a couple of days to read it was because I had a migraine, but even that couldn’t stop me from picking up the book and reading. Despite the mindless tragedies, and the sadness, it is a book that ends with hope. A hope that one day we will see a conflict free world.

The subject was gripping, as I already mentioned enough times already, I also loved the characters. Each of them, easy to identify with. Even when you might not agree with their methods, you understand where they are coming from. You feel Ichmid’s guilt and sense of responsibility, as well as the feeling of being torn between what he needs to do and what his family thinks. Abbas’ anger and frustration, Baba’s gentle strength which holds Ichmid strong. Nora, I loved Nora! Let me just stop here and say that it is a book worth the read.

I give it a 4.5/5. I would love to read more from the author.

About the Author

Michelle Cohen Corasanti is a Jewish American woman with a BA from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a MA from Harvard University, both in Middle Eastern Studies. She is also a lawyer trained in international and human rights law. She has lived in France, Spain, Egypt, and England, and spent seven years living in Israel. She currently lives in New York with her family. The Almond Tree is her first book.

This book is available on Amazon and Flipkart(India).

Thank you, Michelle Cohen Corasanti for the review copy.

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See.

Having loved Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I had to grab Dreams of Joy as soon as I saw it.

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Joy is the 19-year-old daughter of Chinese Immigrants in America. Her world has just been turned upside down. She has just learnt that the her mother was actually her aunt, and the person she calls her aunt was actually her birth mother. Her father, or the person she knew as her father has just passed away. The people who she trusted the most, seemed to have harbored secrets from her, all her life.  The world as she knew it has just ended.

Confused and driven by her idea of China, Joy grabs some money her mother has set aside and runs away to China. Enamoured by the idea of New China, completely taken in by everything she read, she wants to head to China and be part of the building of New China. Undeterred by everybody who warns her that the reality is far from what she has heard, she is convinced that Chairman Mao is the saviour that China is waiting for. She also has a personal motive, she wants to find her birth father, the famous artist Z. G. Li.

So off she goes, full of optimism and excitement, convinced that she is going to be part of something historic. For her, Socialism seemed to be the answer to all evils.  Reaching China, she realizes how different things are from the life she left behind, but far from pining away for the luxuries and life that she left behind, she throws herself into her new life. She sees only the positives. Every hardship , is taken as a blessing.

Back in America, when her mother Pearl realizes that her daughter has reached China, there was only one thing for her to do. Follow Joy to China. She knew she had to go there and ensure that her daughter is safe, and bring her back, if she can. Pearl and Joy’s separate journeys meet in China. Pearl goes through trails of her own, face demons from her past, make peace with conflicting emotions within her, try to learn the new language that she needs to speak, for Joy to hear her. She realizes that she needs to build bridges and trust with her daughter, all over again. Pearl comes to realize that all she can do is support her daughter, no matter how much it hurts her to see the decisions her daughter takes, and wait and hope that Joy understands why her mother is so worried about her.

Both Joy and Pearl live through tragic and difficult circumstances in China. China during the ‘Great Leap Forward’ is portrayed and it is heart breaking to read some of the stuff. The schemes that were launched, the cruelty that people endured, and the class difference that still existed in the society despite what socialism promised them. There are times when I wished Joy wouldn’t be so blind to what was really going on. But for a young person, full of a purpose, the excitement, the joy of being part of something so big, it might be easy to not see the whole picture. I wish I could say more without giving away the whole story, but I can’t. So I will just say, read it. It is a book worth reading.

As I read it, I realized that it was the second part of a series, but it was quite easy to connect the dots and get the story. Lisa See has obviously done a lot of research to write this book. She brings Shanghai and the countryside where Joy lived to life. We live the life that they lived while we read the book. All the characters are beautifully defined, and very believable. The ending ties up very well with the rest of the book. I am definitely going to find ‘Shanghai Girls’, the prequel to this book, even though I know what happened in the end, it would be an interesting read, I think. Again a historical fiction, which brought to life, an era, in a country that I knew little about.

I would give it a 4/5.

About the Author

Lisa See is a Chinese-American author. Her books include Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005), Dragon Bones, and On Gold Mountain. She was named the 2001 National Woman of the Year, by the Organization of Chinese American Women. She lives in Los Angeles.

This book is available from Amazon and Flipkart(India).

What the Nanny Saw by Fiona Neill.

Some books you pick up based on recommendations, some because you like the cover, others because you have read the author before, and some because you need to have enough books. To be left without anything to read, is my constant fear. I absolutely hate it. I am most comfortable when I have about 4 books unread on my shelves. So this was picked as a shelf filler.

Whatthenannysaw

Ali Sparrow needs money for her tuition for her course at the university and needs to get away from the university after having an affair with her tutor. An advert from Byrony and Nick Skinner for a nanny catches her eye. She applies and gets the job. She has no idea what she is in for.

Before she knows it, she becomes the mainstay of their lives. She is there for the five-year-old twins, for their teenage daughter and also keeping everything sorted for Byrony. As a nanny, she becomes the invisible presence around the house, like furniture, the person who is expected to be around when the family needed her, but also the person who needed to blend into the background when they needed her to. Nick and Byrony are a a golden couple, super busy, very rich couple living in the heart of London. Their lifestyle is as different as it could be from Ali’s but somehow, Ali loves her job. Unlike the other nannies she comes across, she doesn’t have much to complain about. She gets paid well, gets to go on holidays with the family, and Byrony is fair with her. She had signed up for a tenure of 1 year, but ends up staying longer, both because she needed the money to help her family, and because she was enjoying the job. Sometimes, as I read it, it annoyed me that she could enjoy it so much! I mean, how can someone enjoy so much of the donkey work? But I guess, that is how it is, isn’t it? Each to his own.

All of a sudden, the bubble bursts. The family finds itself right in the middle of the financial scandal of 2008. Nick is in serious trouble, and it looks like he is about to take Byrony down with him. Overnight from high flyers, they become almost-fugitives. Trapped in their house, besieged by the press, all their so called friends keeping a safe distance from them, their housekeeper resigning from her post, life is suddenly a mess. The only person who stays put is Ali. Ali is now in a position to tell all, if she wants to. She realizes that you end up knowing a lot about the family, when you work in a position like that. The days that follow are a test of Ali’s loyalty and honesty.

A very interesting tale. I had expected this to be something less serious and more fun, but I loved it! The credit crisis must be one of the financial scandals which most of us remember clearly. It was fascinating to read a book with characters who were so intimately involved in the scandal. And the effect it had on the families of these people. The lives that the rich lead are also very interesting, especially the way the help is treated. While Ali is not ill-treated or anything, it is a different type of environment, where you do so much for the family, but at the end of the day, are still just a help. The extravagance and the lavishness with which the Skinners and their peers lived their lives, must be such a contrast to the nannies’  who live in with them. As you read the book, you kind of realize why so many nannies are out there, ready to reveal all about the rich and the famous that they worked with.

I really enjoyed this book. Possibly also because I started it with no expectations.  This one, took a little time to get into momentum, but when it did, it was unputdownable. A very interesting book, realistic book,  one that blended two very different topics and very successfully indeed.

I would rate it a 4/5.

About the Author

Fiona Neill is a novelist and journalist. She has four books to her credit. Her first book,’ The Secret life of a Slummy Mummy’ went on to become a huge bestseller. She lives in London with her husband and children.

This book can be bought from Amazon and Flipkart(India).

The Sound of Language: A Novel by Amulya Malladi

I read this book over two months ago, and realized just now that I had forgotten to review it. Blame it on the madness that was my life when we were relocating back to the UK.

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Raihana, a refugee from war-torn Afghanistan has been offered refuge in Denmark, thanks to a distant cousin of hers. She doesn’t know what happened to her husband, doesn’t know how to find out either. All that she can do is try putting away her past, and  forge a new life for herself in a strange land, where she did not even know the language.  As an immigrant in Denmark, she needs to learn Danish, and starts off in a language school. Part of the process of learning Danish is working in some sort of business so that the immigrants learn how to speak Danish and blend themselves with the local culture better. Most of her compatriots end up working stocking shelves in supermarkets, but Raihana apprentices herself to a widowed beekeeper, Gunnar. She thinks that it is rather apt, because she finds that Danish sounds like bees buzzing, to those who don’t understand it.

Gunnar is a recent widower. Ever since his wife’s death, he has not been himself. He has not bothered looking after for himself, or the bees that he and his wife tended to, so lovingly. His friends and family have been worried about him, but soon, they have another worry – his new apprentice, Raihana. Gunnar himself was not jumping with joy at having Raihana in his house. He preferred to be left to his own sorrow. Nothing mattered to him any more. However, once he got over the shock of having Raihana as his assitant, he slowly starts pulling himself together. Slowly, he goes back into the bees, and starts teaching Raihana, everything he knew.  Teaching the young refugee about bee keeping and Danish seemed to have a therapeutic effect on Gunnar himself. Slowly, the immigrant and the widower forge a bond, a friendship, which is not viewed by others around them very kindly.  A friendship that is as strong as it is unexpected. Just when Raihana starts getting comfortable in Danish society, and pushing her past out of her mind, when she is forced to confront certain realities.

I loved the premise of the story. The lives of immigrants, of refugees who are forced to leave their country, sometimes to save their lives, sometimes to forge a better life and the ways in which they integrate themselves into the host country. Some like Raihana, go for it, wholeheartedly, giving it their all, while some, like some of her neighbours, just do what they have to do, or live off benefits. For a change, the book also looks at the situation from the point of view of the people of the host country. The reasons or prejudices why they find it difficult to help the refugees integrate. Of how it takes two to tango,  it is as important for the hosts to be welcoming as it is for the immigrants to want to integrate. And above all, irrespective of the differences in outward appearances, internally, we are all the same, with the same type of emotions, and attachments. The story is also about Raihana as a person and her reactions, and her ways of adapting herself to the new place she finds herself.

It was a beautiful story, a change from the regular run-of-the-mill sorts. The characters were well fleshed out. You could completely understand where each of them were coming from.  The whole situation is handled in a very simplistic way, not really getting into more complex issues surrounding immigrants and their integration into the host country, but I think the book did achieve what it set off to do. There are a few things which do not quite sit right. Like the cover picture. It shows a woman in a hijab, but Raihana herself did not wear one, in fact she resisted pressure from others around her to wear a hijab. But that is a minor point, really, one that did not bother me too much. A book that I would certainly recommend. I would give it a 3.5/5.

About the Author

Amulya Malladi is an acclaimed author of five books. She was born and raised in India. She now lives in Denmark with her husband and sons.

This book is available from Amazon and Flipkart(India). I got it from Blossoms, the second hand book store in Bangalore, and it was an absolute steal!