Book Review : ‘The Graveyard Book’, Neil Gaiman

Now why exactly would you hand a kid a book with a title as spooky as that; and one that starts off with a murder?

Maybe you want to introduce them to grim realities, to the genre of mystery and spook, and to the fact that the world is a very mixed up place indeed, full of equal parts kindness and otherwise. In which case, Gaiman hands us a tale well told that starts with a family murdered while the baby crawls out of the house and all the way to the nearest graveyard, where he’s promptly adopted by a kindly couple and raised as their own. Obviously though, the couple is ghostly, as are all the people around ‘Bod’ (they name the baby ‘Nobody Owens’), who grows up with all kinds of interesting graveyard privileges, exciting (but macabre and spooky) adventures, and a very colorful cast of characters.

What I loved most in this book is the simplicity of Gaiman’s writing – even as a ‘grown up reader’, the child in me was utterly fascinated by the manner in which Bod’s adventures are narrated. Big words are seldom bandied about carelessly, there’s always a context and a certain manner of writing that will make most readers curious to know more about the word itself. So even though the vocabulary used is one that most kids will find enriching and easy to use, the prose itself is not didactic.

I grew up reading stories by Edgar Allan Poe and Guy de Maupassant, but when it came to introducing ‘spook’ as a genre to young minds (8+), so far I’ve always hesitated handing out books written by the above, fearing the experience may be too macabre at that age. This book, in my opinion, is the right bridge between childhood naivete and the reality of life, and may make perfect sense for children who don’t want to read ‘happy’ stuff all the time, and have outgrown Lemony Snicket.

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Full Moon March 2019 : Spring has sprung!

There’s so much going on with this ‘Full Worm Moon’ of 2019 – it coincides with the ‘vernal equinox’ in the northern hemisphere, and is also the third (and final) straight Supermoon of 2019, thus amplifying the effects of the Full Moon itself. This is also the moon that starts the new Lunar Year.

Signifying ‘Resurrection’ to many, this full moon starts a time when there is greater light than darkness. So for people who have been doing a lot of inner work and releasing lower emotions and vibrations – you will start to notice a feeling of being ‘made anew’ within you. Don’t be surprised if you suddenly start to feel like you’ve been ‘born again’, because a lot of baggage that you’ve been working on releasing, has finally gone out of your system, and the space within is waiting to be filled with the choices you make now. In that sense, this is now a chance for you to powerfully ‘reinvent’, ‘rejuvenate’, and ‘resurrect’ yourself. Life actually starts again now, with a reset button, if you’ve been so inclined. You will find it easier now to be the kind of person you’ve wanted to be in a long time. Use this time wisely and make the right choices. It’s not every March that the Full Moon coincides with the Vernal Equinox, and is a Supermoon to boot.

The sign of Aries begins today, making this the beginning of the energies of confidence and leadership. Adding to this mix, is the sign of Libra (which is where this full moon is, at this time of the year) – so a lot of us are going to want to clean out our inner and external environments. This is real spring cleaning, and goes beyond setting our summer wardrobes in place ; this is when we set our summer attitude in place, and it’s just the right time to define what we want the summer to be like this year. So if you feel the urge to clean, organise, and tidy up, act on it now!

One area of life that will also reflect the Libra qualities of balance right now, is ‘relationships’. To start with, you may feel more at peace with yourself, more comfortable with who you are truly, and at ease with your own physical, mental, emotional states. You might also want to acknowledge all the spiritual progress you’ve made this last year, and that’s not about the frequency with which you meditated, but the changes you see now in yourself – maybe you’re kinder, nicer, more compassionate and forgiving than before, or have greater focus and clarity, or are more generous than you were earlier. Think about your inner virtues today, and acknowledge the progress you’ve made.

Next, look around you at the relationships you have with others today – the people you want to be with and the ones you are letting go of. For once, you’ll feel more at peace with the way of things right now, with the ‘hellos’ and the ‘goodbyes’, in equal measure. If you do want to tally up, you’ll find that the scales are quite equally balanced – there are people who love you, and those who don’t. Use the confidence you feel now, to walk away from the ones who don’t, and open yourself to receiving greater love and support from those who do. For once, this Full Moon will not make you feel ‘out of sorts’ with yourself, but more introspective and in tune with who you are.

Personally, I feel today a greater sense of self, and a stronger connection with myself, my Spiritual Teacher, and God. I have greater faith now in these significant relationships, and a better ability to calmly detach from and let go of all who no longer match or measure up to who I am and would like to be ; where in the past I have often felt a sense of loss and deep sadness, today I feel lighter, and free!

So use this powerful time to set your summer goals, your summer attitude, and your priorities straight. This is the reset button we’ve been waiting for, and it’s time to really create the reality we’ve been wanting for a while now.

I plan on meditating today with this meditation by Master Stephen Co and you might like to give it a try too :

https://pranichealing.com/stream/march-full-moon-meditation

Have a wonderful start to the Lunar New Year. Renew, Rejuvenate, and Resurrect!

Series Review by Aniruddha Rege: ’50 Shades of Gray’, EL James

(This review was originally posted on the ‘Senior Reading Raccoons’ page on Facebook. I enjoyed it so much that I requested Aniruddha for his permission to repost it here. I hope this tickles your fancy far more than the books ever can!)

The

50 Shades Of Grey Trilogy – The Definitive, Incoherent Review of a Tortured, Traumatized Soul:

Three months ago, I was set on a quest that would change my perception of all literature. A friend of mine, with all the goodness of her heart and maliciousness of her mind, challenged me to read a book series which she surely thought would enhance my world-view and add an entirely new dimension to my grasp of what constitutes good literature. The trilogy, over the next three months, proceeded to do exactly that. “Iconic”, “Immediately recognizable”, “In a league of its own” and “Absolutely Exemplary” are few of the phrases I would use to define 50 Shades of Grey, and my perception that being associated with these phrases meant that the book is good was forever changed.

Any good book, however great, has three basic ingredients at its core and the quality of the book is essentially decided on how well each of these ingredients balances with the other two. In 50 Shades, this question becomes irrelevant. The ingredients don’t have to balance each other, because the ingredients barely exist. But I am getting ahead of myself here and am probably progressing the plot of the review faster than the trilogy did in its entire run.

So let’s dive into a slightly detailed analysis of what these ingredients do for the defining trilogy of the 21st century!

1. Plot: What do we say of the plot of this trilogy! It is singularly one of the deepest psychological dramas ever penned, with the protagonist suffering from demons which would take a lifetime and half to resolve. The struggle of a woman in love with such a man only serves to enhance the sympathy and empathy we feel for the incorrigible Mr. Grey, and truly hope for him to conquer his demons and live the life he so richly desires and deserves. Throw in some well-placed antagonists with a great reason to hate Christian Grey, his guts and fortune and you have a drama which Shakespeare himself would be envious of. Well, in the hands of a competent author, this is what it would have been. Instead, with majority of the book being focused on sex straight out of a teenage boy’s fantasy of what sex must be like, the superb Ms. James chooses to fast forward the inconsequential aspects of the plot such as the so-called villain sabotaging and trying to kill Christian as well as destroy the lives of both lovers in order to focus more on the aspirational sex scenes which would seem to be more at home in a serial killer novel if Mr. Grey were a tad bit poorer.
The result is that we have a miraculous conquering of demons in possibly a week, the sort of which wasn’t seen since God threw Lucifer from the heavens. But of course, this is just one of those three crucial ingredients. While the plot could have been better focused on something of relevance and paced in a more realistic manner, surely it is well-balanced by the other two factors.

2. Dialogue: With “Oh Ana” and “Oh Christian” – you can possible guess the context – dominating most of the words that come out of either character’s mouths, the dialogue holds less than superb versatility. But that does not mean that the dialogue is anything less than pure prose from a sonnet composed by the angels themselves. They are just not exactly what any normal person would ever utter while speaking to another normal person. Maybe the saving grace is that no person in this beautiful art of a trilogy is exactly normal. They talk like they inhale the dictionary for breakfast, season their lunch with a thesaurus, and participate in the World Spelling Bee for high tea. Excellent and innovative phrases such as “fuck me seven shades of Sunday” and “closed off like an island state” are some of my absolute favorites. They show that Ms. James is not afraid to play with the English language, forever ruin it and then dance on those ruins using the tears of her readers as fuel. Absolutely lovely, I must say. Add the long pauses Anastasia is prone to while admiring Christian for the 17328th time in 2 hours, and you have the potential to become an authority on narrow eyes and smacked behinds.
For anyone wishing to see how human beings never speak to each other and think in their own minds, this trilogy is an absolute must-read!

3. Characters: “Poof!” you must say by now to me, citing that the heart of the book is not in the plot or the lofty dialogue, that I have missed the crux of the beautiful story by getting embroiled in the irrelevant aspects such as the aspirational sex or the aspirational words. The soul of the book is encompassed in Ana and Christian and the love of the ages that they share. Yes, the characters are the heart. Like mentioned before by yours truly in the current piece of drivel you are reading, the characters are compelling and an exact copy of that other monumental and epic achievement of modern literature – Twilight. You could essentially take each character of Twilight and overlay them on 50 Shades, and you would not really notice much of a difference, even with them sparkling in the sun.
The coveted hearts of the trilogy show exactly one dimension less than Homer Simpson, who is a drawing on paper. Setting aside the extremely quick conquering of demons by the perfect Mr. Grey, their entire purpose in life seems to be shouting at each other and then having some innovative sex before shouting some more through gritted teeth and narrowed eyes. The other characters exist to merely admire Ana and Christian while validating each action through constant smiles and nods of approvals. The villain, who is in danger of showing some actual multi-dimensional traits and personality growth, panics the author and she quickly disposes of him. His departure is more sudden than any rare glimpse of quality Ms. James might have experienced while writing this most perfect set of books.

Establishing that the series is beyond my comprehension and possibly because I have not yet reached a stage where I can appreciate great books without the above ingredients, I have solemnly decided that I shall henceforth leave things like these to those of a higher plane of existence and only hope that I shall one day reach there. My friend tried to get me there, but finally, I think she has given up on the fact that I shall be capable of achievements such as admiring this series.

This review is already better-articulated (though lacking in innovative and senseless phrases) than all three books put together and also has more plot. Hence, I shall stop embarrassing Ms. James and only hope that those who read this book are able to conquer their demons just as quickly as Christian and are able to get into rehab faster than Anastasia gets in Christian’s pants.

Because I shall see you there.

#BookReview #50ShadesOfGrey

Book Review by Shikha Uma Agarwal : ‘Sister of My Heart’, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Sister of my heart is the 2nd book that I’ve read from Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. After I finished reading The Forest of Enchantments, I sat speechless for a while. When my mother called out for me, she could have easily guessed from my muffled voice that I was crying. It wasn’t the storyline, rather the ‘Sitayan’ version of Ramayan and the details of all significant women in the story captured perfectly by the author that urged me to read nothing else but something from her again.

So Chitra Banerjee’s ‘Sister of my heart’ happened to me. The moment I started reading it, I was plunged, engrossed and immersed into it. Did I just say I found it compelling?

This book strengthened my belief (at least my conviction) that there cannot be a bond stronger than that of a sister ; it reaffirmed that it is absolutely ok to have shades of grey to one’s side, and most importantly the fact that a woman can indeed be a woman’s saviour in the truest sense.

The manner in which the story emerged, characters are revealed, mysteries unfolded, and truth exposed, does not overshadow the plot nor does it deviate from the storyline.

So what all does the story includes to engross you?

A mother and her undying love for her daughter, the plight of a widow, the vulnerability of a father (yes, men are also allowed to be frail), a man who longs for some alone time with his beloved, attempting to keep her daughter away from her for a while, a married man secretly admiring his wife’s soul sister, a mother in law hungry for a grandson to keep her ‘vansh’ alive…and amongst all these, the two sisters whose strings are attached to each other through their hearts. The characters and their conversations remain very real and raw, mixed with innocence, fragility and strength at the same time.

The protagonists, Sudha and Anju, display mixed emotions throughout the novel for each other. Sudha believes that her father’s lies and scheming had led to the untimely death of Anju’s father, which has now cast an obligation on her to give back to the latter in every way possible through her sacrifices. Anju, on the other hand, has her own insecurities and jealousy pangs towards Sudha for the fact that her husband is besotted by Sudha’s beauty. They make mistakes in their quest of finding the truth, get judgemental from time to time, behave impulsively at times and even blurt out their inner fears (they are humans after all). But their love for each other beautifully transcends these emotions which further fortify their relationship.

All in all, this is a must read novel, for nowhere it takes you away from any reality. You can hate them for a moment, yet relate to them in a split second.

So, Happy Reading Folks!

New Moon in Pisces : Sensitivity is Strength

Well I should know, considering I am a quintessential Piscean (and I do love being one). I’m emotional, compassionate, dreamy, and sensitive. Then again, flipped upside down, I can be over-sensitive, an inveterate day-dreamer, compulsively impulsive and inordinately emotional, an empath constantly sponging up everyone else’s pain. But I’ve learned to take the good with the bad, and work on self awareness.

That’s the key theme to this New Moon in Pisces, and it’s what will get you through this time of intensified emotions. Self Awareness starts off with a willingness to dig deeper and deeper on the inside, dispassionately, honestly, with an interest in knowing what makes us tick. It’s a commitment towards knowing our own triggers, and acknowledging our true selves, without labels or judgement – because knowledge is power, and self knowledge is the best defence against anything anyone can ever throw at you.

The New Moon is a time to start again, but think about it, if you’re so filled up on the inside already, what exactly are you going to start off with? A lot of people set goals at this time of the month and then wonder why these don’t end up coming true (I’m one of them too). Well here’s the thing – there’s goal setting which essentially involves knowing what we want and how badly we want it, and then there’s taking action action towards accomplishing our goals, and that needs not just a strategy, but also the right skillset. At the time of the New Moon, most of us get super clear on what we want, but we rarely ever do a self assessment of the tools in our arsenal, or a change in strategy. So we go on doing everything we’ve done before, and then wonder why there’s been little forward momentum.

The energy of this New Moon in particular is a great way to break up calcified ideas and old ways of doing things. In India, this Piscean new moon comes exactly two days after Mahashivaratri (4th March) – the annual celebration themed around Lord Shiva, with its own deeper esoteric meaning. In a nutshell though Lord Shiva is the God of Creative Destruction, so it’s much easier now than ever to pulverise inner blockages and weaknesses, including emotional states that have no use anymore.

Pisces is a deeply spiritual sign, and something most people may not realize, is that spirituality essentially is about connecting with the Divine Spark within us. Which again makes it a super easy time to point gently probing fingers within, to understand with love, the reality of who we are on the inside. Once we know, we get to decide exactly what we want to do with it – leave things as they are, or institute change.

So, to sum up, this New Moon is about getting to know ourselves, weeding out the parts that no longer work, and letting them go. It is emotional hard work for sure, but as any gardening enthusiast will tell you, you don’t plant new seeds in an untilled field, hoping they’ll grow into something great – so this is the time to first prepare the inner ground, before focusing on outer success.

Some of the techniques that I plan on using in these days of letting go, are from Pranic Healing and Arhatic Yoga. Now I can’t share these, but what I can share with you is this wonderful meditation that Master Stephen Co (Pranic Healing USA) conducted in January 2019, that incorporates a powerful way to do inner spring cleaning.

https://pranichealing.com/stream/january-full-moon-meditation

Use this time of power wisely, and here’s sending all of you a lot of love and blessings for success. Have an inner ‘blast’, and be the ‘New’ you’ve been waiting to be!

Love always,

Divya

Book Review : ‘Ballad of a Belle’, Rahul Tushar

Ballad Of A Belle starts off with a small note from the author, beautifully penned and self-effacing, and in that it manages to set the tone for the reader’s reaction to the story that follows.
The book has a story to tell, and it’s a good story, an honest story, an eminently relatable story. There is a lot of poignancy in the life that the author etches out for ‘Aarti’, the simple ‘belle’ of this beautifully melancholy tale.
The let down though, comes from the typically ‘Indian’ style of narrative, replete with excessively descriptive sentences, with the occasional redundant passage and meaningless dialogue between characters. The pace of the book is uneven, sometimes speeded up and suddenly slowed ; nearer the end the reader is left with a distinct feeling that the author wanted to finish quickly.
Interestingly enough, none of the aforementioned ‘let-downs’, detract from the strength of the story itself, or the lead characters of ‘Aarti’, and ‘Priya’. The book managed to hook my attention within the first 10 pages, and kept me engrossed enough to finish reading too.
This is a book that positively screams for a Netflix series to be based on it – it may be flawed in places, but like all imperfect people, the quirks only add a certain charm to the overall tale told. I for one, would definitely enjoy seeing the characters from this book brought to life on the TV screen.

Be warned though, it is a melancholy tale indeed! Reserve the reading for a day when you’re in the mood for clouds and rain, there ain’t no sunshine in this one!

Recommended for anyone who enjoys reading melancholy fiction by Indian authors who write better than most.

On a day like today : 28.02.2019

Sometimes (and sometimes often), you will find fingers of derision pointed at you, for those whose tunnel vision cannot quite match up to the larger picture you’re in. You will have to hear just how much of a ‘failure’ you are, because you do not fit into their definition of ‘success’. If you are truly lucky, you may also get to hear just how successful these people are in comparison to you.

I say lucky, because it is a timely reminder to you of two things –

1. A reassessment of your own priorities and focus, because if you are focused in the right direction, these incidents will neither shake nor faze you at any level. If you are shaken up, you know you still have a ways to go on your focus and commitment towards your goals. And,

2. A timely reminder to be humble in success. It is maybe the biggest gift someone can give you, and you must thank these people who are showing by an opposite demonstration, just why you must be humble when your success starts becomes apparent. You feel the pain right? Remember not to cause anyone similar pain, once the tide of time changes.

So thank them, shower them with lots of love, and stay focused. It is the only reaction that will actually make a real difference in the long run.