Book Review: “A Game For All The Family” by Sophie Hannah

A_gameThe best way I can think to describe this book is that it’s a twisted mind-bending psychological thriller that logically make sense in a very illogical way. I know, lot of vague twisty words to use in a book review but this is exactly how I felt after reading it. Masterfully written, couldn’t have come up with a fresher take on a plot for a mystery novel, ultimately it is the best book I have read in a year. If you refuse to let your brain accept or process the truth you may either be a crazy person or just a brilliantly sick pathological liar. Which one is Anne Donbavand? This, my friends is the thrilling quagmire Sophie Hannah puts us in as her heroine Justine Merrison races desperately against time to figure out, in a deadly game of I won’t say cat and mouse ‘cause that’s too clichéd but something of the kind . As Justine, Ellen (her precocious teenage daughter), Alex (the adorable wisecrack of a husband) and Olwen (an unlikely but priceless character as a Bedlington dog breeder) try to put the puzzle pieces together, we are taken on a flashback to visit the spooky history of the Ingrey family that lived in Speedwell House (interestingly as a story written by Ellen for her 9th grade essay assignment). The same house that Justine and her family has unwittingly moved into to set the whole drama in motion. Creepy phone calls that end with threats to leave or else…., a fresh hole dug in the backyard just the right proportions to fit Justine, and the badge suspiciously hung on their dog Figgy that has the address of their old home in London, all add to create the tense eerie atmosphere, a fan of thrillers so very much craves. What is real and what is an elaborately crafted screenplay created by Anne Donbavand is for us and Justine to figure out. All the while with the question of what happened to Perrine Ingrey (from Ellen’s story within the story) hanging over our heads.  I’ll leave you with my favorite line– “A false secret is the worst kind of lie. Swear you won’t tell anyone this thing I am telling you that isn’t true – or else you’ll soon find out I’m manipulating you. Swear you’ll keep it to yourself and never check the facts with anyone else, especially not anyone more honest than me.” So if it is a lie disguised as the truth that Anne Donbavand is telling George, her son and all of us. What happens then if you start playing the same game? As Justine intends to do. “How does a liar who’s also a control freak react when someone else, a stranger, opens up her lie and climbs right in to pretend it’s the truth? Suddenly she’s got an uninvited co-conspirator – what would she do then?” This is THE must must read book of the year! 2 thumbs way up!

(Image credit: amazon.com)

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The smart things…and the dumb things

I was helping my son with third grade math homework yesterday and one of the questions on it was “Which one is heavier, one pound of feathers or one pound of books?” This is when my grey cells normally kick into gear. Well, in this case they didn’t because I went with “Of course, it’s the books”. My son pauses for a second, then says “Actually mom, this is a trick question. They would both be the same. ‘Cause they are both one pound, there’d just be more feathers than books”. Of course not in those same words but in his third grade lingo with lot of ‘but’s’ and ‘um’s’ weaved in. When he said that though, I think I had a minor epiphany. A revelation of sorts. My son is really good at math, but the bit he’s not good with is explaining the reasoning behind his answer, which I am good at. In other words, he is good with numbers and I am good with words. We are all smart at some things and dumb at some. Maybe the essence of life is to work on the dumb things, and try to get better at those. If we can do them a little better than we do today, the smart side of us will take care of the rest. Maybe that is what growing as a human is all about. Agree?

Where do we belong?

A few of my Indian and immigrant friends in the States occasionally over a few drinks, will reminisce about their trips back home to visit family and friends. And what you can hear in subtle undertones in their voice is a longing for everything home. Mom’s cooking, going for a long drive on the beach, watching the latest Bollywood flick and eating bhelpuri by the street cafe. The logical question on everyone’s minds following that discussion is, if any of us are actually thinking of moving back home. When someone talks of moving back, I wonder what moving back really means to them?. In India, where I come from, the entire landscape of the city I grew up in has changed so much over the past decade, that I can barely recognize the cherished cafes and places we used to hang out as young college kids. Most of my college friends have moved away to work in one of the big cities like Pune or Bangalore to take advantage of the burgeoning IT industry. Some have moved here to the States like I did to pursue a Master’s degree and chalk out a career. Few things remain the same today as they were 15 years ago when I left India. So I wonder what are we going back to? What is home? The country you were born and raised in or the country you adopted, the one that embraced you back wholeheartedly? To me visiting India now is like visiting any other foreign country. Granted you know the language, and the customs and cultures and probably you way around but that is where the familiarity ends. The extent to which India has transformed in the last decade hits you the minute you step off the plane at one of the metro airports like New Delhi or Bangalore. These international airports have been rebuilt to resemble luxury five-star hotels complete with swanky restaurants and overnight transit stays. Or the KFCs and McDonald’s that can be seen with frightening regularity driving down city streets. The small coastal city I grew up in now has a bunch of fancy pubs, a stylish discotheque, places where you can play pool and hang out with friends and couple of movie theatre multiplexes that can give an AMC 20 a run for its money. In essence, to me moving back home is not so much about going back to a place, or a city or a country I grew up in, the memories of which are forever imprinted in my mind. It’s more about spending time with my family and cherish the moments with them. To be closer to mom and dad as they enjoy their retirement years, for my kids to get to know their grandparents and to go sightseeing like visiting the Taj Mahal finally. What is a given is that you end up having to re-acquaint yourself to a country you thought was frozen in time, a place you called home.

The Dreamer’s Dilemma: Prevent Your Dreams from Turning into Nightmares | LinkedIn

The Dreamer’s Dilemma: Prevent Your Dreams from Turning into Nightmares | LinkedIn.

Here’s an interesting article on the dreamers dilemma by Michael Lazerow.

If you think about it, it’s not that we don’t have dreams, it’s the part about taking the first step that’s the struggle. The little things in life take up so much time and energy, What’s for dinner tonight? Who’s taking the kids to soccer practice? And on and on goes the endless list, that dreams seem like fantasies possible only in a parallel universe. I have pictured in my mind’s eye the idea of living my dream and just the very thought of it puts a smile on my face. And I have equally wondered what could be holding me back to forget everything else and plunge into it headlong. Anything is possible if you dream and work hard, right? This article though gives me pause. Is it enough to dream and dream big? Could it be more than a lack of courage or passion that could be holding us back ? Michael Lazerow makes a good case for why most of us have dreams but only a few of us manage to make it a reality in one lifetime.

It makes sense that to achieve a dream, it has to be not only something which is feasible, but also one that is achievable. It makes sense that writing the next bestseller is a hard dream to achieve when you lack the much-needed creativity to tell a fascinating story. Painting the next masterpiece is hard to do when you are are not a good artist. Could it be that if we dream within our capacity of achievement, there is far less disappointment and far more fulfillment? On some level this definitely makes sense

(via LinkedIn)

My Medical Choice by Angelina Jolie

My Medical Choice by Angelina Jolie – NYTimes.com.

I admire Angelina Jolie as a person, as a celebrity, as a humanitarian. She comes across as someone who always does what she wants, doesn’t matter what people say or think about it. Although a decision to have a double mastectomy is complex and personal, as a mother, I understand completely that you would do anything it takes to be around for your kids and grand kids. After all what is more precious than life itself.

Must we judge

What is it about judging people, I have always wondered, that makes it so irresistible.

What is it about finding flaws in others that make us feel better about ourselves.

We comment on how they dress, how they walk, how they eat, how they speak. What they do, how they do what they do, and sometimes even who they are.

We all do it, although mostly our intentions are never to hurt anyone’s feelings. Here is the contradiction. Criticizing someone invariably hurts their feelings.

In trying to understand why I was being judgmental, I found the very reason to stop being so. I think as people, we love to categorize. As long as someone fits a certain mould, we have no problem deciding if we like them or not, if we agree with their ideas and opinions or not.

But I’m also a firm believer in the fact that you can learn one thing from every person you meet (this I learnt from my amazing husband). By “judging a book by its cover”, aren’t we denying ourselves the opportunity to appreciate, what makes us all so unique and special?

Nothing in the world can make you happier than being who you are…the real you… no pretense. So if we’re all a little less opinionated, maybe it’ll be easier to be who we really are.

5 tips to combat the fear of public speaking

If you are like me (or for that matter roughly half the people in the world), one of the most terrifying things you have had to do is get up on stage and give a speech (the fear is even worse than riding the craziest roller coaster at an amusement park). So I wanted to dedicate a post to public speaking, a topic that is dear to my heart. Though 90% of my work is in engineering which involves working on a computer all day, occasionally I need to present at conferences or teach training classes.

Even though I am well-versed and more knowledgeable on the subject matter than most people in the field, being the shy and quiet person that I am, I have experienced first hand the paralyzing fear and extreme nervousness before, no, make that almost a week before I was scheduled to give my half hour speech. Half an hour is not a lot of time, right? That’s the length of one TV sitcom episode. But just the mere thought of getting up there in front of people and talking used to make me break out in cold sweat, until slowly, each time got a bit easier than the last.

So yesterday I gave my 630th presentation, to a crowd of about 100 and I rocked it!

Here are a few tips that help me tremendously to prepare and deliver my talk without being tongue-tied or fainting on stage. I hope they will help you too.

1. Think of making a presentation as having a conversation – We have conversations everyday. With our friends, our family, our co-workers. Think of making a presentation as having a conversation with your audience, except that it is not a one on one conversation, but with everyone at the same time.

2. Prepare well but speak intuitively – If you know really well the topic you’re presenting, don’t try to follow the script or the slides too rigidly. Let the words flow and don’t worry too much about grammar or structure.

3. Don’t worry about making a compelling speech – There are very few people in the world that can captivate an audience and make them hold on to their every word. If you start to worry in the middle of a talk that you are not connecting with your audience, it’s only going to make you more nervous. Once you get comfortable speaking in front of people, making a compelling speech will slowly follow. Your task is to get through the presentation and if you speak loudly and clearly, your audience will surely pay attention to what you are saying.

4. Try to make it interactive – This is actually harder than it sounds. Your audience is equally nervous about participating, so 9 times out of 10 when you pose a question, you are greeted by nervous silence. Pause 3 seconds for someone to blurt out a comment, then answer your own question. As you get comfortable with asking questions, getting your audience to participate will come naturally.

5. Always reward yourself after a talk – I always reward myself after my presentation, just to have gotten through it. Be it those cute sandals I must own, or a giant size snickers ice-cream bar, it is important to reward yourself on your accomplishment. You have gotten one step closer to desensitizing yourself to the fear of public speaking.