Monday, 5 December 2016

Just one coin may save the day

This is a story about Collin -- a boy who loves collecting coins. Collin is very disciplined and spends hours arranging all his beloved coins by size, or shape, country or state, and sometimes even by smell or taste. (A word of caution from the writer: DO NOT try the latter.) 

Collin has a favourite coin. One that he always keeps in his pocket, and turns from silver quarter into a golden dollar, with a tricky flick. 

Because of his obsession, Collin always is trying to get more coins. One fine day, in search of coins, Collin puts his hand deep down into the forgotten spaces of the couch. These are spaces that can be very, very dangerous, and soon Collin learns why. 

"Down, in the deep, dark cave that lies below the cushions and springs of your couch, dwells MARGARASH." 

This monster, is just waiting to pull boys like Collin down into his world and trap them in his cage. Margarash believes that all the coins that fall through the couch are for him, and he's got a mound of coins collected in the dark hidden corners. 

Bad luck for Collin, as Margarash's scaly hand seizes him and pulls the unsuspecting boy ferociously through the gap of the couch, into his dark cave. 

He traps Collin in a cage, and refuses to let him go home. Collin finds himself trapped in Margarash's cage for what seems like an eternity, and sadness and loneliness overcome him. Each day, he pleads with the monster to take him home, but Margarash just turns a blind eye (and ear) to his cries. 

Eventually, with a little wit, Collin manages to trick Margarash into letting him free. How? Let's just say he gets a little help from his prized possession -- his favourite two-faced coin.

The story could have easily ended there, but Mark Riddle inserts a twist in his intriguing book. You won't believe it, but there's a most unlikely of friendship that develops between monster and boy. 

There is a twist, when an unlikely bond develops between monster and boy. 

The illustrations and colours used in the book are interesting and unusual, but add an engaging story element to the book. Illustrator, Tim Miller has done a spot on job highlighting the darkness in the dark corners of the couch. 

This is a bit of a scary story, and would caution parents of children who are overly sensitive. But told in a voice that's reassuring and the friendly message at the end, makes Margarash an emotional read that will have kids talking and asking questions, which makes for an engaging storytime. 

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Perfect Escape For The Holidays

Most often than not, life doesn't usually turn out the way you want it to. Plans unravel, and the path of life can meander into the darkest of dark corners. This was the case for Zoe Maisey. Three years ago, this seventeen-year-old musical prodigy with an IQ worthy of Mensa, was involved in a tragic incident -- one that left three of Zoe's classmates dead. After serving her time, she's back, and ready to pursue her musical career once again. 

Life has changed for her: her parents separated in the tragedy's aftermath, and her mom, Maria, now has a new man and a new step son in her life. They don't know anything about Zoe's past; Maria has made sure of keeping it a secret. 

At the start of the novel, Zoe's is about to deliver her debut recital, hoping to once again ingratiate herself under the musical spotlight. Her mother has been planning this night for months. Zoe's prodigious talent presented itself when she was only three years old, and Maria made it her mission to nurture her precocious ability. But as foreshadowed things don't go as planned, and Zoe's mother is found dead. The search for the suspect lays the roadmap for the rest of the novel. 

Told from varying perspectives, the rest of the novel attempts to piece together the events following Maria's death. Chapters in the book are laid out in short digestible chunks, which alternate between Zoe, Sam (Zoe's previous solicitor), and Tessa (Zoe's aunt). Looking at the situation and the family dynamics from various lenses provides the reader a 360 degree view. What is real, what is true, it builds in a suspenseful and addictive manner. 

At its core, the book is about relationships. Between a mother and a daughter, between teenagers and friends, between siblings, and between spouses. It's a snap shot of behavioural interactions. 
From secrets, to affairs, to backstabbing, every twist lurks around every corner. While The Perfect Girl: A Novelhas been touted as a favourite amongst readers who loved 2015's big hit Girl On The Train, the similarities are at best superficial. Does the story reach the same level of crescendo? Perhaps through the lens of some readers? Yours truly remained ambivalent despite being hooked at the beginning of the novel.

Blog post by @ShilpaRaikar (Creative and Social Media strategist, decor enthusiast and book lover, who also writes for a branding blog:, as well as a lifestyle blog: T: @SukasaStyle) 

Friday, 2 December 2016

Imagination and kindness are at the centre of this vintage children's book

Be charmed by this piece of vintage storytelling 

Originally published in 1958, Roland by Nelly Stéphane & André François is a whimsical story that captures your imagination and your heart. The vintage drawings take you back to a time of simplicity and innocence. The duo writing/illustrator team were quite legendary. Nelly Stéphane was a French writer and famous graphic designer and illustrator, whereas André François art and illustrations graced many covers of the New Yorker magazine. Did you also know that he studied with Picasso? Small world indeed. 

In this book, the story centres around a boy called Roland who finds himself in situations where he has nothing to do. To pass the time, he starts to draw things, which immediately come to life as soon as he says "CRACK". 

When the teacher sends him to the corner because he is late for school, Roland draws a tiger. The tiger becomes real and stretches out in front of the teacher, who informs him that there's no room in the classroom for him. Without another word, the tiger leaves the classroom.

Roland finds himself in the classroom alone again, while the other kids are out at recess. Bored once more, he draws a zebra, which he sticks on the window. As the other kids are play outside, one of their snowballs smashes into the window, and "CRACK" it goes. Guess what? The zebra comes to life. 

And so it goes. One after another, all the things Roland draws come to life and start to cause a bit of a mayhem. Things take a bit of a crazy turn, when Roland meets his friend Isabel who's sporting a fur coat. When the coat comes to life and turns into many little furry animals after Roland touches it, which unfortunately leads to him being arrested thrown in prison. 

But it all works out in the end, when kindness prevails. A kind, genuine gesture from Roland to Isabel, sets the world back in order. He presents Isabel wit his beloved shiny fish (which isn't shiny any more, and suddenly magical things happen. This act of kindness, suddenly makes the fish shine again. And when Roland returns home, he receives another happy surprise. His zebra and the two donkeys have come back home again. Life is good. 

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Métis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais

An epic historical snapshot, chronicling the great sixties in America, Métis Beach will be well received by readers who want to read a story that's real, taut, gripping, and willing to take you on an emotional roller coaster during an tumultuous period. 

The story circles around Roman Carr (a.k.a. Romain Carrier) who has a successful television series, In Gad We Trust, a scathing satire of the America's  relationship with God. For a man who fled his past in a Gaspé Peninsula village in 1962, Roman is doing quite well for himself. 

The story takes on a lot of issues - from feminism, inequality, and the social unrest that played out in the sixties. Growing up in Métis Beach, in northern Quebec, Roman was well aware of the cultural divide between classes and races; the "French" (francophones) generally worked in blue collar jobs as maids, maids, or gardeners, cooks and gardeners, for the "British" (anglophones).
"You didn't need a border to know you were moving to a foreign place. The hundred year old pines and spruce, the cedar rows, told you that much. Through them you could see verdant lawns decorated with massive rose bushes, and great summer homes all made of wood with tennis courts beside them. Lives of luxury, sports cars, and endless garden parties. Playing golf till sunset. In Métis Beach, tea time would end well before four 'o clock, whisky was poured freely, sometimes as early as noon. We watched them with envy..."

Roman doesn't envy their wealth; it is their freedom of which he's jealous. That arrogant, carefree freedom that gave them their air of entitlement. The freedom to act as they would, without consequences. These privileged Métis Beach summer residents barely noticed "the other" -- kids like Romain Carrier, unless they were with their fathers, repairing something or other in their homes. Perhaps they saw them as Dalits or untouchables. This was Roman's point of view. 

But then there was Gail Egan. The girl in short white shorts, far too short for the French village, tanned, and beautiful. How does the son of a carpenter and handyman get to hang around with a girl like Gail, from a privileged family, such a contrast from his own? As he reflects back on those times in Métis Beach, Roman wonders whether he ever really loved Gail. Like a soap opera playing out to the tune of Summer Of '69, Roman's love story doesn't play out well. He learns about status, class structure, and his place in society, when he is humiliated by Gail's dad, Robert Egan. Soap operas don't always have a happy ending and fate steps in to give Roman a one way ticket to flee to the United States. 

Métis Beach explores the idea of everyone's right for liberty. From a manichean perspective, there's the eternal question: can good overcome evil? The book is a reflection of Roman's life as he prepares to write his memoir.  It sheds light on family and friendship, and the inevitable choices one makes in life. Written with truth and frankness, it is a raw portrayal of an era where people were trying to make sense of the world around them that was in a state of flux, shedding the conservatism of the '50s before embarking on the hedonism that characterized the late '60s and '70s. We are living in a period now where our ideas of the status quo are challenged, profound issues challenge us, and serious consideration in terms of social and economic changes are under the  microscope of social media and being connected continuously. We can do much worse than use Claudine Bourbonnais' thoughtful and humane look at history through the prism of Métis Beach to help us think about our future.

Blog post by @ShilpaRaikar (Creative and Social Media strategist, decor enthusiast and book lover, who also writes for a branding blog:, as well as a lifestyle blog: T: @SukasaStyle) 

Thursday, 17 November 2016

This Holiday Season, Travel through 13.8 billion years of History

What is it?
Perhaps I had been hiding under a rock but I must confess that prior to reading DK's impressive book Big History (more on that later) the Big History Project was new to me. In a nutshell, the term "Big History", coined by Australian academic David Christian of Macquarie University, is a new way of thinking about history and our species place within the timeline of how we conceive history. 

The conventional history view -- one that we are aware of from primary education and beyond -- covers a timeline spanning approximately seven thousand years (5000 BCE to present day). By contrast, Big History encompasses 13.8 billion years (Big Bang to present day). Moreover, the Big in Big History isn't an exaggeration: it takes a multidisciplinary approach that includes the hard sciences, and social sciences as well as the humanities. In contrast to conventional history, which is grounded in the deep dive of getting into the minutiae of a particular specialism within a silo. 


Before getting to the book, like anything, the Big History approach isn't without its critics, in particular historians who argue that:

While the idea has led to some interesting experiments in historical writing, the general consensus among historians is that history without any form of tunnel vision is a utopian impossibility. ~Katherine Edwards

Explicit within the critique of this approach is the uneasiness of having one of the richest people in the world, Bill Gates, promoting and funding this approach after watching David Christian's TED Talk

The Case for an inter-disciplinary approach
Fair enough, criticism should always be welcome for there are few areas of academia unscathed by the flow of capital, but ultimately we must remember that even the most rigorous peer reviewed journals are subject to a cornucopia of biases. My personal bias against an orthodoxy ruling over any discipline is that new frames of looking at things, rather than being a hindrance, are a help to pushing a discipline to further heights and enlightening us. 

From a personal viewpoint, the economics discipline, particularly the manner in which it is taught at the graduate level in tertiary institutions is woefully inadequate in dealing with the realities of a modern economy. It failed spectacularly in the lead up to the 2008 Financial crisis and we see that around us with the dearth of forward thinking policy as we are mired in an anemic global environment. In fact, that field would be greatly helped by incorporating a good dose of interdisciplinary thinking rather than the narrow silo thinking of orthodox priests of the discipline. As financial economist Kate Gimblett on Twitter remarked recently: The sciences have had cross-discipline collaboration for years while economics has been isolated in thought experiments built on assumptions. (Bold italicized emphasis mine)

The Book
Okay, enough of my argument for having an open mind and embracing Big History . What about the book itself? The case has been made to me that we don't need books any more since everything can be found online. Nothing could be further form the truth; to quote Bill Gates "reading off the screen is still vastly inferior to reading off of paper". Surely it goes without saying that the tactile nature of having a beautiful bound archival quality book in your hand makes the act of learning memorable? Besides, books smell good!

The Big History narrative is split into eight sections: (1) The Big Bang; (2) Stars Are Born; (3) Elements Are Forged; (4) Planets Form; (5) Life Emerges; (6) Humans Evolve; (7) Civilizations Develop; (8) Industry Rises

The introductory section that describes the beginning of the universe introduces us immediately to both modern scientific theory and elements of the how our ancestors believed the universe began. It ends by asking the reader to consider thinking, "Beyond the Big Bang" with the caveat "There are also some problems with the theory that need to be addressed and some aspects that have yet to be understood", and quotes British cosmologist Martin Rees "We can trace things back to the earlier stages of the Big Bang, but we still don't know what banged and why it banged. That's a challenge for 21st century science."

This approachable yet insightful inter-disciplinary approach that frames history through a scientific lens is made all the more palatable with some fantastic pictures. 

DK's Big History is a fantastic book. I would recommend it to anyone with a thirst for knowledge. It is written at a general level so no degrees are required but after your done reading it you will definitely see things in a different light.

Highly recommended as a stocking stuffer for the holidays.

Big History is published by DK Publishing 
Review by Arijit Banik (wanna be philosopher),
for @SukasaReads (a division of @SukasaStyle)


Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Lines, Squiggles, Letters, Words

Learning to read can be a daunting task. Writer Ruth Rocha and illustrator Madalena Matoso, have done a phenomenal job in immersing the reader in a journey that is wondrous and enlightening. LINES, SQUIGGLES, LETTERS, WORDS was born in Brazil, but with a little help by translator Lyn Miller-Lachmann, can now be enjoyed by children this side of the equator. 

The story is so simple in its telling, yet so powerful in its execution. At the centre of the book is Pedro, a little boy who is very observant. He hasn’t yet learnt to read, but as he looks out into the world, he is bombarded with messages and visuals everywhere. None of it makes any sense to him. Imagine his frustration. Despite his mom’s attempt to assign meaning to these random posters, billboards and signs, all Pedro can see around him is a bunch of squiggles, and drawings, which apparently represent various things. 

Then one day a wonderful thing happens. Pedro's teacher showed the class a big colourful board. The big A she writes on the board starts to slowly take on meaning in Pedro's mind. 

As Pedro heads home from school that day, he is pleasantly surprised to see the letter A on all the signs, billboards and shops. In fact, everywhere Pedro set his sights on, the letter A seemed to appear. 

What a wonderful adventure it is for the reader, as they step into a brand new realization of knowledge and intrigue. I felt like a kid again exploring and understanding the world, one letter at a time. 

Very rarely do I come across a children's book that absolutely floors me. Ruth Rocha's LINES, SQUIGGLES, LETTERS, WORDS is conceptually smart and visually engaging. The perfect marriage of words and images. 

Blog post by @ShilpaRaikar (Creative and Social Media strategist, decor enthusiast and book lover, who also writes for a branding blog:, as well as a lifestyle blog: T: @SukasaStyle) 

Friday, 11 November 2016

Think positive. Be positive.


"We are what we think." 

This is the wonderful message in Owl Kids new book Abigail the Whale by Davide Cali & Sonja Bougaeva. 

Abigail dreads swimming lessons! She'd always try to be last in line because she'd be afraid to hear words like "Abigail is a whale" when she dived in. 

Unfortunately, the teasing didn't stop here. When she tried to dive, there was more taunting from the other kids. 

But her teacher was encouraging and told her that she was actually a good swimmer. He told her that all the negative thought were in her head. 

"We are what we think," her teacher said. 
"If you want to swim well, you have to think light. Do you suppose birds or fish think they're too heavy? 

And so, Abigail decides to put that principle to the test. Whether it's thinking thoughts that would extinguish fear of the needle, or to put herself to sleep, Abigail is surprised at the impact of positive thinking.   

A wonderful book about coping with not just negative body image, but building confidence. It's a timely message for all children.

Picture book. Ages 6-8.