Book Reviews · Reading

Book Review: The Home and the World (#98)

Book: The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore

#98 on the Telegraph’s 100 novels everyone should read.

Grade: C

What the story is about?

The book is set in 1908 in one of India’s Maharaja’s estate. There are three main characters: Nikhil (the righteous Maharaja), Bimala (his wife), and Sandip (an outspoken political leader, and Nikhil’s old friend). The book is written in first person as each chapter flips between narrating the perspective and thoughts of each of the three main characters. It is a political tragedy, which sets the political ground and foreshadows the outcome of the partition in 1947.

Verdict?

Honestly, this was a very hard read for me and took me a while to finish, even though it is just 200 pages.

1)      Philosophical writing:

I am honored to read a book written by the man who wrote the Indian national anthem, but I think his writing is above my IQ level. My mommy brain strained to get all the lessons and information given, that I had to reread some passages and sometimes even full pages. I am sure I didn’t get the full meaning of his philosophy, and missed many lessons on the way.

Plus I didn’t really understand the struggle that this book depicts. Bimala was infatuated with Sandip, the strong talking freedom fighter and struggled to balance this feeling with the feelings towards her husband. Apparently, this symbolizes the struggle between the love of Western culture and the revolution against it, hence the name of the book: the home and the world. But I didn’t really understand which character was the ‘home’ and which was the ‘world’. Was Sandip the ‘home’ because he revolted against Western culture and Nikhil the ‘world’ because he embraced it? Or was Sandip the ‘world’ because he emulated Western standards and always read Western books, while Nikhil was ‘home’ because he was the righteous Maharaja who stuck to his roots and his old Indian furniture and refused to change them just to impress foreigners? As I said, I think all this is above my level of reading.

2)      Frustration:

  • Marriage: I remember when I was 15, the movie “Unfaithful” came out. And I remember crying my eyes out. Poor Richard Gere! How could his wife do such a thing?! And I still feel this way. Marriage to me is a sacred thing. And yes of course sometimes it doesn’t work out, but that doesn’t mean you should cheat or lie. End it, then move on. This is one reason I was so frustrated while reading this book. Bimala went from worshiping her husband, saying that her true place was at his feet, to being infatuated by Sandip and actually losing respect for her husband because he was level headed and not so rash. No human can possibly offer me, or tell me anything that will diminish my infatuation, love, and respect for my husband, and if I can, I will bend down and take the “dust off his feet.”
  • Why?!? It was such a frustrating two weeks for me. We all got sick, one at a time. Why isn’t the fever going down even after giving the meds? Why is my son sick again after only three days of being ok from his first virus attack? Why does their school field trip that they’ve been waiting for have to be the day they have a fever and feel miserable? Then after their bedtime, I start reading my book and the ‘why’s’ start again. Why Bimala why? Why are you letting this guy break the strongest most sacred bond you have? Why Nikhil are you letting him do it, and allowing him to stay in your house? Why Sandip will you do this to your friend and your country just for selfish personal gains? Why?

 

Now that all the kids are better (its just me left with a fever), hopefully all the frustration is over.. Next book: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Don’t know why but the name reminds me of the Solomon family from 3rd rock from the sun. We’ll see how it goes.

Travel

Homage to Australia

What can I say of my love for the country down under? I just had to write a post dedicated to the land that hosts the most dangerous animals in the world, but still holds a dear place in my heart.

My husband got accepted to Bond University, Gold Coast when we were engaged. We were both ecstatic to start our wedded life abroad. And honestly, it was the best decision we ever made. We were half way around the world, just the two of us, away from family and in laws, which brought us closer together. My husband (Tupac fan) used to always say “Me against the world”, which later he changed to “Us against the world”. ❤

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One day, when I was five months pregnant with my eldest, my husband was on a guys night out and I stayed at home lying down on couch watching ‘Criminal Minds’ (how I wish I can lie down on couch and watch TV now without passing out). I then heard a THUMP on our window. Glanced at clock, 12:05 am. Maybe it’s nothing, a bird that got lost.

Another THUMP! Nope, this is definitely something. Called my husband, phone off. Perfect!

THUMP, BUMP! What do I do? What do I do? I can hear sounds of something moving outside and watching Criminal Minds did not help! The only thing I could think of doing was going to the kitchen and grabbing the biggest knife I could find, and stand readily in front of door. Ready for what? No idea, just ready.

Knock on door, and I immediately knew it was my husband from his knock. I opened the door, the look on his face was priceless.

Me: What are you doing?!?! You almost gave me a heart attack!!

DH: Sorry I forgot my key and my phone battery died. What are YOU doing??

Me: I don’t know, I was scared and grabbing a knife seemed like the most logical thing to do.

DH: Wow! Never knew I married a gangster.

 

Eight months pregnant and getting huge. My husband was out working on a project with his class mates. I was on the computer doing, I cant really remember what. Our desk was set in the corner of our living room and I was happily typing away when my phone rang, mom calling. I swear God sent my mom to me at that exact moment because if she didn’t call, the huge black hairy thing with long legs would’ve crawled up my legs and my heart would’ve stopped.

 So the desk was in the corner, wall to my left side and back. Desk in front of me, huge black hairy spider to the right. I could crawl under the table or jump over the spider. Crawl or jump? Crawl or jump? So me and my big belly decided to jump over it. I made it and ran to the garage, called my husband crying hysterically.

My husband, of course, thought I was overreacting. It seemed like ages till my husband came, the entire time I was in the garage looking over my shoulder because of course, it is out to get me! Where is it? Can it smell fear? Oh God where is my husband?!

He finally arrived, laughing at the crazy pregnant lady standing in the middle of the garage wrapped around in a towel. He picked up a broom, went in for a couple of minutes, came out and told me I must be dreaming. There is no spider. Maybe it was hiding in a corner …

NO! This spider can’t hide in a corner! It’s huge! Bigger than your hand! If you don’t get it, I’m staying at a hotel tonight!

He went back in again, a couple of minutes later, he came out and I knew he saw it. He won’t admit it but I could see in his eyes he was scared.

DH: “You’re right. It’s huge! I never saw a spider like that!”

Me: “Be careful. It might be poisonous.”

So my DH picked up a cricket bat, yes a cricket bat because we are the most logical people in the world, and went on an epic battle to kill the spider. He came out, triumphantly with the remnants of the shriveled spider in a tissue.

DH: “I need to show you something.”

Me: “I don’t want to see it again.”

DH: “No not that. Come upstairs to our room.”

And there, smack in the middle of the wall was a huge hole, apparently the remains of a battle field.”

Fast forward to the day we moved.

Property manager (PM): What in the world is that??

We told him the story with all the gross details explaining how huge and mean the spider looked. He looked at us like we were crazy people.

PM: “So you took a cricket bat and busted my wall to kill a spider??”

Yes, yes, that’s exactly what we did.

PM: “Why didn’t you just pick it up and place it in the garden? It’s just a huntsman spider, it’s not harmful.”

Us: “Pick it up?! Are you crazy?!?! It was big! And black! And hairy!!” (Please google huntsman spider so you know we not entirely crazy).

PM: “OK then, why didn’t you call me?”

Us: “Oh.. yeah.. why didn’t we?” That would’ve been the most logical thing to do… obviously.

**********

Things you must know about Australia:

1) Australians are the nicest people in the world:

I was shocked and surprised the first time I went in a shop. The lady working there greeted me in such a way, that I actually turned around thinking she must’ve seen her friend behind me or something. Is this hi for me? And it didn’t stop there. The wonderful lady at the post office who has a grandchild same age as DD’s, the lovely hard working family who owns the lakeside restaurant, and most importantly, our amazing neighbors. We have lost touch over the years so if anyone recognizes or knows them, please let them know we always remember them, talk about them, and they are always in our prayers.

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Janelle, Simone, Connor, and Finn in DD’s 1st Birthday
2) Australia is very kid friendly:

Worried that your child will throw a fit in the middle of Target? Or a temper tantrum at the Steak House? It doesn’t really matter because most probably, the guys next to you are dealing with their own temper tantrum fit throwing kid.

I can’t imagine the amount of deathly stares, and how many “Oh mon Dieu” I will get if my baby was the crying baby in “Le Entrecote”, Geneva! In Australia, the waitress offered to walk around with my baby while I finished my food.

3) Follow the rules people!

That goes for everything but mainly: border control, speed, and swimming between the flags. Bringing food into the country? Declare it. Have electronics? State that. In doubt? Just declare everything just in case.

And please, swim between the flags and listen to the lifeguards. Its an ocean out there and it’s better to be safe than sorry. As for me, I only dipped my feet (ok maybe just toes) in the water. Beautiful as it may be, hearing about five shark attacks as soon as I landed coupled with watching ‘Bondi Beach’ made me very very scared. But for everyone else who is not a chicken like me, enjoy the waters, just be safe.

 

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From our second trip to Australia, 2015

Places I recommend in Gold Coast, Australia:

1) Surfers Paradise

It doesn’t get much better than this really. Amazing views, wonderful people, and delicious food (I recommend Hurricane’s Grill). They also have two days a week I think where people set up stalls on the walkway next to the sea. There is this one friendly and very talented lady who sews tablecloths and table runners and other accessories. Got my mom a gift from there and she loves it. Simply divine.

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2) Robina Town Center

Oh my true love! One of the biggest malls I’ve been to. It’s amazing! I would recommend you have breakfast in Shingle Inn (their eggs and chicken caesar sandwich is to die for), lunch in Vida (love their pasta and butterscotch cupcake .. Mmmm), and dinner in Squires Loft or the Groove Train. Shopping? You simply can’t miss David Johns. Oh how I miss this place!

3) Parks

The Gold Coast hosts a number of amusement parks and water parks: Warner Brothers, Sea World, Wet’n’Wild, White Water World, and Dreamworld. If you are pressed for time and would like to go to one park only, I would recommend Dreamworld. It is bigger, has more attractions for all ages (the Wiggles world for kids) and even has a zoo in it.

4) Nature

Australia hosts a number of rainforests. I personally only went to Mt. Tamborine and got a glimpse of the waterfall. But honestly, Australia is a nature’s lovers paradise, everywhere you go is beautiful.

 That’s it! Taa Australia. We love you! Until next time!

Book Reviews by N · Reading

Kids Book Review by Kids: “Franklin goes to School”

Book review by my beautiful 7 year old daughter. Unedited by me 🙂

Title: Franklin goes to School

Author: Paulette Bourgeois
Rating: 5 out of 5
What is this story about?

It’s about a boy called Franklin. One day before his first day of school, he was so excited. The next morning, he woke up early from bed and woke up his parents. He said: Come on let’s go to school it’s my first day. And then he ate some pancakes with ladybugs on them for breakfast. And he said his tummy feels like jumping butterflies. He was very worried about his first day of school. When he reached to school, Ms. Owl said good morning to the class. They had lots and lots of games. Franklin was soo happy. When they went home, Franklin sat in the back of the bus and he felt a bump, bump, bump. When his parents came, he didn’t even realize because he was so busy talking. And he loved school. The end.

Do you like the story? Why?

Yes, because I love my first day of school. I am a bit nervous for grade 3 but I love it.

Would you recommend this book to other kids?

Yes, for kids younger than 10.

Book Reviews · Reading

Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird (#99)

Book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

#99 on the Telegraph’s 100 novels everyone should read.

Grade: B

What is it about?

The story follows six year old Jean Louise Finch (a.k.a. Scout; also the narrator of the story) and her family in the 1930’s in Alabama. Her father, Atticus, was appointed to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white woman. Scout and her older brother Jem had to face being called names and were forced to comprehend the injustices of the world early in life.

Verdict?

I enjoyed reading this book. It has a very powerful message about racism, class, and prejudice in general that still resonates today. Also, being narrated by a kid and seeing the events unfold through the eyes of a 6-7 year old is very refreshing.

That being said, I understand why the book is studied at the middle school / high school level. The characters are all one dimensional. Both the story and characters are very simple and straight forward. Maybe this is deliberate to not take away from the limelight of the heavy issue on hand, but in the end, it gives a very simplistic impression on a reader.

It is also a bit too idealistic for me. Atticus can never realistically exist in real life. His sense of right and wrong is impeccable. Every word he utters is filled with wisdom and is a life lesson. This takes away from the realisticness of the story. I, as a reader, like to live in the novel that I read. I couldn’t really do that with this book. I find it very odd and funny that a fantasy book, The Lord of the Ring, felt more ‘real’ to me than this one.

In conclusion, I think it’s a wonderful book. Great read, and can’t wait for my kids to be in that age group so I can read and discuss it with them.

I also think it will make a great movie (I know there is one, haven’t seen it though and a remake is overdue). Hollywood will do great dramatizing the story and hailing Atticus as the hero that he is. As a movie, it would be amazing! As a novel, it is good, not amazing, but very good.

 Next book, The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore. I am so excited to read about a new culture, written in 1916 all the way from Calcutta India. The henna design on the cover is mesmerizing, hope the book is too.

Parenting · School

I refuse to Force him to Write between the Lines

I don’t get it.

My son is 5 years old. He is an energetic, inquisitive, happy boy in kindergarten.

Why does he have to write exactly between the lines .. I just don’t get.

Do you remember kindergarten back in the days? A time of making friends and learning how to play, a time full of outdoors adventure and laughter, a time to get acquainted with school and start your education journey on the right foot: with a passion full of wonder and fondness of school.

Yeah, these days, not so much.

Kindergarten open house, I got a huge fat packet full of guidelines, assessment criteria, and a long list of sight words. Turns out, they not only need to recognize those words, they also have to know how to write them. As in spell them, in their weekly dictation.

I looked around, are you sure this is the kindergarten open house? Not grade 1? And why aren’t the other moms as shocked as I am?

Before going on, you have to know something about my son, he is the most amazing boy ever (of course I believe that I am his mom). The first time he was assessed, he got a stomach ache and they called me to pick him up. I quickly figured out there is nothing wrong so I asked, “What’s wrong sweetie? Is your tummy ok now?”

DS: “If I tell you the truth will you send me back?”

Me: “No don’t worry, we are already close to home. What’s wrong, is everything ok?”

DS: “My tummy is ok now, but I wasn’t ok in school.”

Me: “Why? Did you want to go to the toilet and didn’t?”

DS: No. Ms. S. was asking us about all the letters and their sounds and I forgot some and I got so scared then my tummy started to hurt.”

What kind of pressure is my baby under that he has a stomach ache because of being stressed out?!!

Me: “It’s ok baby. You shouldn’t be worried or scared. Everyone makes mistakes. That’s how you learn. Even your mom and dad make mistakes. It’ ok.”

DS: “Only you say that mom. But Ms. S. won’t.”

Me: “Of course she will! Do you want me to ask her tomorrow?”

DS: “Yes please! Can you mom?”

Of course I went home and sent Ms. S. a long email expressing, not very shyly, my honest concerns about their ways and how stressful the environment is. I took my son next day and she explained that it was absolutely ok to make mistakes. He was happy, I wasn’t.

I found myself in a very difficult situation, trying to balance the school’s requirement, with what I felt appropriate for my son. I wanted him to love learning and education. I wanted him to love reading and exploring. I didn’t want him to hate school and didn’t want homework to be a daily battle.

So we practiced phonics playing I spy. We practiced reading CVC words playing the frog in the pond game. And we practiced recognizing sight words by hanging a word on the fridge and making it the ‘passcode’ for opening the fridge. I tried the best I can to make it fun for him.

The day came to attend the parent-teacher conference. They will discuss his performance so far. I was worried and was ready for a heated conversation. Then she said:

“Your boy is very special. He has a sense of maturity that I don’t see in the grade 2 and grade 3 boys. He is very polite, eager to learn, and gets along with everyone. But… “

I didn’t really care what came after the ‘but’. I almost cried there in front of everyone. I did it! I always knew my son was amazing but lets face it, every mom thinks that of their child. Hearing it from his teacher, even when I knew academically he wasn’t on par with his fellow students, gave me the validation that I needed. My hard work and sacrifice has all been worth it. Even through my many mistakes and self doubt, I didn’t fail him and helped mold him into an amazing boy.

“But … he still doesn’t know a lot of the sight words and can’t spell most of them. He also has trouble spelling phonetically and constructing sentences. And he needs lots of work on his handwriting.”

I don’t really care. My boy is everything I hoped and wished him to be, even when I am not around to watch. That, I am so very proud of, and is harder to teach than any sight word or phonic.

Me: “Does he do the work assigned to him in class and listen properly?”

Ms. S.: Yes.

Me: “Do you believe he is doing his best?”

Ms. S.: Yes.

Me: Do you see any improvements since last month?”

Ms. S.: Yes. But the assessment criteria…

Me: I don’t really care what it says. I don’t compare him with what they say he should be doing or even with his classmates. My benchmark is his work the month before and if I see an improvement and feel he is doing his best, I am happy. I think you should do the same.”

The parent teacher conference was in December. He now knows most of his sight words, knows how to spell some, can construct a sentence though still has a bit of trouble spelling phonetically. He can read CVC words easily, except for the e and u sounds he takes his time with.

Yes I am proud of all his work and what he has done so far. I am also proud of what he will do till the end of the year. But I am mostly proud that together, we created a fun learning experience and I am happy to say he loves school, and he and his sister fight over who will do homework with me first.

DS: “Mom, I’m going to grade one next year.”

Me: “Yes you are! That’s so exciting! New playground, new classes, and maybe even new friends. I’m sure you will have so much fun!”

DS: “Can you please ask my grade 1 teacher if its ok to make mistakes, just like you asked Ms. S?”

This boy … his wife will be the luckiest girl in the world!

Book Reviews by N

Kids Book Review by Kids: “I will not ever never eat a Tomato”

Book review by my 7 year old beautiful daughter.

Title: I will not ever never eat a Tomato

Author: Lauren Child

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

What is the story about?

It’s about a girl called Lola and her brother was tricking her into eating food because she was a very picky eater. So he gave her carrots and said they were orange twiglets but they don’t really exist. He did the same with all the other foods. Then she found the tomatoes. And then she said I want one of those moonsquirters but they were really tomatoes and she ate the tomatoes and liked them.

Why did you like the story?

I liked the story because I do not like tomatoes just like Lola, but I also do like all the other food she ate. I don’t need anybody to trick me to eat food, I will eat it if they dared me to. I tried a tomato and still didn’t like it, but I like all the other good foods.

Would you recommend it to other kids?

Yes, because it will teach them how to eat more food and they will get more energy by eating vegetables.

Book Reviews · Reading

Book Review: The Lord of the Rings (#100)

Book: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

#100 on the Telegraph’s 100 novels everyone should read.

Grade: A

What is it about?

I don’t think The Lord of the Rings needs any introductions. It is an epic tale where nine companions set out to save Middle Earth from falling into complete darkness by destroying the one ring that the Dark Lord needs so he can achieve complete domination. The story follows nine fellows of the ring: Gandalf (wizard), Aragorn (man), Boromir (man), Legolas (elf), Gimli (dwarf), Peregrin a.k.a. Pippin (hobbit), Meriadoc a.k.a. Merry (hobbit), Sam (hobbit), and Frodo (hobbit) on their quest to help the ring bearer annihilate the Lord of the Ring by destroying the ring itself.

Verdict?

Before I say anything about the book, I have to say this: I don’t like fantasy. I steer away from anything too whimsical, be it novel or movie. I can’t really understand anything that is too out there. That being said, I loved loved loved this book.

I don’t know where to start. Tolkien is a genius. He created an entire world that is so believable, even a fantasy-hater believed it. Each race and each individual has their own different dimensions and are beautifully crafted. The different languages, wonderfully named cities so intricately described that the reader feels they are walking there with them.

Let me add some more praise to Tolkien. He achieved with just letters on white paper, what Hollywood could not achieve with all its sound effects, visual effects, and handsomely paid actors. I hated the movie (only saw part one and two, as no one can persuade me to watch the third). I remember vividly in part 2 saying: Oh now they brought in walking talking trees? Come on! Reading the book I said: how I would love to meet an Ent! And maybe drink from their draught so my post baby hair could stop falling.

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I was scared when the Hobbits went to the Prancing Pony, I got goose bumps when Aragorn came on the black ships, and I couldn’t put the book down filled with suspense when Frodo and Sam were on Mount Doom. Now, watching the movies again with my husband, I keep on saying: no no noo! It shouldn’t be this way! Please stop messing with the plot Mr. Producer. Tolkien is considered a genius for a reason. And that is exactly why the book is much better than the movie.

I can’t really fault this book with anything. So I went to Google to see what other people saw that I couldn’t. I found two main schools of thought: racism and feminism. Now I am no Tolkien expert, I just read one book of his and know nothing of the fantasy genre or its history, but here are my thoughts regarding these two criticisms.

  1. Racism:I didn’t find the Lord of the Rings to be racist. Good and evil have forever been cast as black vs. white and darkness vs. light. This depiction was not about ‘race’ at all but about symbolism in the fight between good and evil. In my opinion, the Lord of the Rings is as racist as the yin yang.Yin_and_Yang.svg.png

     

    The only relationship in the book that I was a bit bothered with was Frodo and Sam’s relationship, as Frodo was his Master. But, as they are both from the same race and color, this can be called “master – ism” if that’s a word or superiorism, not racism.

  2. Feminism:

    Feminist critics point out the lack of female characters in the Lord of the Rings. And if they were present, they had feminine roles. Now I am a female and don’t feel at all insulted by Tolkien. I was actually insulted by George Elliot’s Middlemarch as the females there all had no brains what so ever and were only worried about how frilly their collars were. (Don’t get me started with that book! You can read its review here). Eowyn killed the head of the nazguls, the wring wraiths, whom all were afraid of, what ‘feminine role’ is that? True, there are much fewer females than males in this story, but I will take that over mindless, frill-seeking, immature ones any day.

 

And there you have it. My thoughts on an epic fantasy tale which to my great surprise, I loved! Next book: To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee, you have one hard act to follow.