Category: book review

All Four Stars – A Book Review

All Four Stars – A Book Review

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman

Here’s a scrumptiously wonderful book every tween is going to love. All Four Stars is the story of Gladys Gatsby, an eleven-year-old who is passionate about cooking. Her parents, on the other hand, are not. They are both working and don’t have the time or inclination to cook. The family lives on terrible takeaways.

However, Gladys cooks up complicated delicacies in secret, when her parents are away at work. All is well until one day when her parents walk in just as she accidentally sets fire to the kitchen curtains while making Creme Brûlée. As a result of that singularly bad piece of luck, she’s banned from further cooking experiments and her allowance is taken away.

Then, through a quirk of fate, she lands an assignment as a food critic in a frontline newspaper. The catch is – getting to that restaurant which is a train-ride away from the suburb where Gladys lives. Confiding in her parents and asking for help is out of the question. So how does she do it?

This is a story delicious enough to sate the most demanding of gourmands.

It’s a perfect read-aloud book
Each night after dinner, we’d sit with this one, the children and I, reading it aloud. The descriptions of food made H hungry while N started dreaming of a career as a food critic.

What I liked
The descriptions of food were absolutely delectable. The good ones (that she had at Parm’s house or out at restaurants) were mouth-watering but it’s the bad ones that H and N enjoyed most because they were hilariously funny.

I loved that Gladys sampled and enjoyed all kinds of food – African, Malaysian and Indian too. She has an Indian friend and the rather foreign descriptions of familiar Indian foods like chhole and raita and palak paneer had the children completely thrilled.

If you’ve read any of my earlier reviews you’ll know I love a book with great side-characters. All Four Stars had many of them – Sandy, Gladys’ friend and neighbour, Parm, her Indian friend, Charissa the most popular girl at school, the kind Mr Eng who runs a cosy grocery and patisserie and Mrs Anderson, Sandy’s adorable mom. Although some of them are rather stereotypical they all manage to do something to redeem themselves, to break the stereotype. That, I was grateful for.

There are bits on friendship – on making and keeping friends – on shared secrets and making plans which the children completely loved.

If I have one complaint it would be that the author didn’t do justice to the parents. They come across as uni-dimensional, too taken up with their work, barely bothered about their daughter and rather unkind. They did get better towards the end of the book, though, so that was something.

We talked about
Whether the punishment Gladys got was fair/unfair.
Could Gladys have done things differently? Perhaps, taken the help of other sympathetic adults.

What we did
– We read up all kinds of cuisines that Gladys talks of.
– We pored (and salivated) endlessly over food pictures.
– We made up a game of trying to describe a food to someone who had never known Indian cuisine.
– And we tried baking.

This book came to us through Enchantico – a delightful book-activity box we subscribed to. Read my review of the box here. It came with a cookie recipe, premixed flour as well as cookie cutters.

With all that help we had to try our hand at baking. The first batch came out near perfect. But then we got caught up in something and ended up burning down the next one and had to rush around dousing the flames in the oven.

So you see, there really is never any guarantee with cookies but the book – that’s a sure shot winner.


Linking up with the Write Tribe Problogger October 2017 Blogging Challenge #writebravely #writetribeproblogger

Celebrating Differences – A Book Review

Celebrating Differences – A Book Review

We’ve done stories from this book at the book club. I’ve shared it at almost every children’s reading forum and with every mum I know. I wonder how I left out talking about it here.

Celebrating Differences – Stories for the Children of India, is a book every child should read, every Indian child, most definitely. That’s because the setting of the stories is Indian the ideas, however, are universal.
Seven authors come together with seven stories about people with disabilities and their interactions with others. It talks about perceptions and prejudices. Sometimes we (specially children) are impatient with or unkind to people because we don’t think about the difficulties they might be dealing with or have pre-conceived notions about how they will behave.
This delightful melange of stories is an attempt to set that right. 
All it takes is the story of Ritika a hearing impaired girl who learns to stop feeling sorry for herself.
The Perfumed Prowler is about Amtan a speech impaired boy who earns the respect of an aunt who had always pitied him.
Who is Faster talks about Rudra who learns that a boy in a wheelchair could be just as smart and as much fun as his other friends.
The New Neighbour is about an old school teacher who helps a little boy being bullied by his older brothers.
I Don’t Understand It is perhaps the most touching story of all. It is told from the point of view of a mentally challenged child and his perception of good and bad.
Leaf Feel is another fun story where a visually challenged girl teaches some kids a new fun game.
And finally Wheels from Kerala talks about a young girl Priya and how she learns to empathise and bond with her arthritic grandfather.
Each of these stories embodies a world of wisdom and helps to sensitise children, making them empathetic to people with differences. The print is comfortably large and the stories are suited for kids between 7-8 years of age. Though they can be read out to younger kids.
The book comes with interesting nuggets of information and also some fun colouring pages.
Priced at Rs 125 and Published by Ekansh Trust Pune, this book is absolutely invaluable.
Here are the details in case you want to get a copy: email
Phone: +919503715015
We had some of the most amazing sessions at our book club when we took up a story from this book. The children learnt a little bit of sign language – they learnt to spell their names as also simple phrases like I am sorry, Thank you and of course I Love You, which they continue to use even today. I think this is a good exercise for all children.
Like in the story Leaf’s Feel they tried to recognise trees, leaves and flowers with a blindfold on their eyes simply by feeling them. That was great fun because they got to run around and touch and feel.
And lastly for the story Wheels from Kerala we got them talking to their grandparents and got back with fun tales of their parents’ childhood.
This one is a must read.

Linking up with Pragmaticmom  for her wonderful linkup on #DiverseKidLit.

The Bunker Diary – A Review

The Bunker Diary – A Review

Today I have on my blog a book review by a guest – a young guest. Meet Varun, a student of class IX. He is an avid reader and loves a good game of basket ball. He has the brain of a techie and the heart of a book-lover – some combination, isn’t it? He blogs, though infrequently, at
Here’s what he had to say about himself –
Hi I’m Varun. My interests are game development and writing. I aspire to become a game designer-cum-author. I like to – 
  • Read storybooks (and then re-read the awesome parts)
  • Watch good TV shows (and  repeat the cool lines before the mirror or in my sleep)
  • Watch movies with a solid IMDb rating
  • Play basketball (I’m still learning, albeit rather slowly)
  • Make my ideas come to life in form of little video-games or animation (my works are not perfect but I enjoy developing them)
  • Write little stories or even cool sentences in my head (usually I feel too lazy to put it on paper)
  • Kill the bad guys, hurt the bad guys, or beat ’em up (in video-games, for scores…)
  • As for the things I hate – there’s nothing much (except the bad guys…in games)

The review

Title – The Bunker Diary
Author – Kevin Brooks

About the story
The Bunker Diary is a record of the time teenager Linus Weems spends in a reconditioned nuclear bunker held hostage by ‘the man upstairs’. Written in first-person, the book begins with a dazed narration by Linus describing the bunker where he was immured. The writer then attempts to hook the reader with increasingly sinistrous mystery. The readers are told about a stranger who lures Linus into his van, drugs him, and throws him into the bunker. But never reveals his motive.
Soon, Linus is joined by five other people in the bunker. His diary describes their daily activities, escape struggles, and demises. Throughout the plot these characters are subjected to cruel abuse. ‘The man upstairs’, their kidnapper, controls everything in their prison- temperature, electricity, illumination, water, availability of food, and even the perception of time.

Writing Style
Kevin Brooks makes good use of punctuation to emphasize and express.
Since the book is written in first-person he alters his diction to befit Linus’ character. 
His writing style morphs with the characters’ development and shows when they are dazed, distressed, dejected, deranged, drugged, or dying. He also deliberately arranges the text with some extra spacing here and a line break there for subtle expression but his language is raw and forthright.
Here are some excerpts from the book –

“12.15 p.m.
      Nothing moves.
      Time is slow.

 “I thought he was blind. That’s how he got me. I still can’t 
 believe I fell for it. I keep playing it over in my mind, hoping
 I’ll do something different, but it always turns out the same.”

“Jenny dies in my arms. 
     Goes to sleep, doesn’t wake up.
     My tears taste of blood. “

My Thoughts
This book is awash with morbidity. The plot is enveloped in darkness with only traces of light. I was thoroughly disappointed by its unusually dark ending. “What was the point of reading this book?” I asked myself at the last page.
If this book had been a literary work, I might have relented. But this is dark and pointless fiction. It isn’t even poignant or plausible. You might argue that I have a different taste in literature, an affinity with the positive, and that’s true indeed. But I can see the clear line that separates praiseworthy poignancy and psychotic morbidity.

Note: I asked for a review of The Bunker Diary because it is an award winning book with a teenage protagonist written for ‘young adults’. I thought a young perspective would be good. And then right away I was apprehensive wondering if it would be too morbid. However I needn’t have worried.

The Book Thief – A Book Review

The Book Thief – A Book Review

The Book Thief
By Markus Zusak

The Book Thief, set in a small German town  during the 2nd World War, tells the story of a young girl Leisel Meminger. It opens with her being taken to a foster home along with her brother. On the way her brother dies and has to be buried. That’s where Leisel steals her first book – A Gravedigger’s Handbook. She preserves it as the last link to her family even though she cannot read.

With the help of her gentle foster father, Hans, she learns to read falling in love with the written word. The book talks of her journey as she grows into an aggressive yet sensitive, football playing, boy bashing, book loving girl.

As the war progresses Hans gives shelter to a Jew Max, and Leisel strikes up a wonderful relationship with him. Max strengthens her friendship with the written word.

During the bombings Leisel passes time and comforts the townsfolk by reading in the underground shelter. She spends time writing in her own basement and that is what saves her life.

As a rule I dislike ‘sad’ books with no happily ever after. This one turns out to be an exception. If I had to describe The Book Thief in one word I’d call it ‘unusual’. It took me the first few pages to realise the story is a first person account by ‘Death’. It is Death who labels Leisel the book thief while turning out to be a book thief himself.

The other thing that I liked about the book was the non-Jew perspective of the War. I’ve read many books on the 2nd World War (there’s something fascinating about a single small man taking on the world) but most have been from a Jewish perspective. That many non-Jew Germans hated and dreaded the war as much, that they hated Hitler with the same intensity, made for a refreshing read.

Lastly, I loved the way the book is written. At the start of each chapter Death gives a summary, spilling all the suspense, telling you how the chapter will unfold. Which author has the courage to do that? To play his own spoilsport? This one does. And Death makes for a wonderful narrator – witty and garrulous and with a bit of a heart too.

The Book Thief certainly doesn’t have a ‘happily ever after’. How can it when Death is the tale spinner? However barely anywhere does it come across as a sad-depressing-heavy story. Maybe it is because of the strain of humour runs through the book or that it has a lively protagonist in Leisel – I cannot say. But it certainly doesn’t pull you down. 

All I’ll say is – Give it a read.

PS: It’s a free online read.

Linking to Write Tribe’s super initiative ‘7 days of rediscovering your blogging grove’ where we blog seven days in a row according to a format. The idea is inspired by Darren Rowse. Today, on Day 3, we had to ‘Write a Review’.

For more reviews hop across to the Write Tribe blog.

I am Malala – A review

I am Malala – A review

Title: I Am Malala
Author: Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
Price: Rs 295/-

How often does it happen that you’re just finishing a book and a reviewing challenge comes up? First, I’m not big on reviews.. writing them that is. I love reading them though.

‘I am Malala’ is a book I’ve been wanting to read for a long time for lots of reasons. Though I’m not much for autobiographies I love women protagonists and one as brave and inspiring as this one made it a sure read for me. Also, I have always been curious about life in Pakistan because they are so close and so like us yet so very different in many ways.

All those reasons made the book a compelling read.

This is the story of Malala, a young Pakistani girl, who is passionate about the cause of Women’s education. 

Malala was the eldest of three children. Both her younger siblings were boys. Despite the bias against girls that was/is prevalent in Pakistan, much like India, she remained her father’s favourite. Her mother was illiterate yet a very forward thinking woman. However, it was her father who influenced her most. He was a speaker and an educationist and ran schools of his own. She would sit near him and listen to him as he told stories or later, discussed politics. As she grew older she started going out with him to deliver talks on the need for education. They would talk at rallies and meets and at radio stations.

She traces the political upheavals in Pakistan – Musharraf’s coming to power, Benazir’s assassination, the Taliban rise, 9/11 and it’s effect on Pakistan and also Osama’s capture. 

Her relatively happy life as the brightest student of her class, changed when the Taliban took over the Swat valley.
“I was ten when the Taliban came to the Valley. Moniba (her friend) and I had been reading the Twilight series and longed to be vampires.”
What it must have been for a free-thinking, Twilight reading, bright young girl to suddenly be barred from school, is hard to imagine. From worrying about whether she would top her class yet again she had to start worrying about how long she would be able to go to school at all. 

However, Malala and her friends refused to be cowed down by the Taliban. They would hide their books under their shawls along the way to school. She talks at length about life under their rule. She derived her strength from her father who canvassed tirelessly against them. She also wrote a blog for the BBC under the pseudonym Gul Makai.

When she was 15 in 2012, on her way back from school, the Taliban shot her in  the head at point blank range. Nobody expected her to survive. But she did and despite her experiences, continues to champion her cause even today.

Her’s is a very fascinating journey and that makes the book a great read. 


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