Judo: Seven steps to black belt(An Introductory Guide for Beginners) by Rodolfo Tello

It teaches respect, discipline and perseverance. It also promotes team work, team spirit, leadership and self -confidence.

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Title: Judo: Seven steps to black belt(An Introductory Guide for Beginners)

Author: Rodolfo Tello

Publisher: Amakella Publishing

Date of Publication: 1 August 2016

Genre: Self Help

Rating: 3.5/5

The word Judo is derived from the Japanese term ‘Jujitsu’. This beginner’s guide provides a glance at the various aspects of this world famous Japanese martial art form.

Jugoro Kano in 1882 laid the foundation of the Kokodan Institute in Tokyo. It is from here that the practice of Judo took a start. Today it is an Olympic sport and has become a way of life for many both in Japan and outside; among Japanese nationals and others. This highly instructive guide uses a simple and easy language to describe the very basics of judo. The tone is more advisory that descriptive and presents important tips for beginners. It will be sincerely useful for learners or practitioners of judo. The Japanese terminology used in Judo is introduced slowly one by one and then each sparring technique is explained so that learners can gain better results in their practice sessions. Judo is presented more as a defence art than a full on combat like boxing. It is more artistic and individualistic but within the bounds of its unique techniques. Above all the book stresses on discipline of the mind and body that Judo fully imparts and without internal devotion towards the art there can be no proper practice. It teaches respect, discipline and perseverance. It also promotes team work, team spirit, leadership and self -confidence.

Bullet points are presented to showcase the rules of judo in competitions. These do’s and don’ts are useful for those who learn judo actively and plan to appear for some competition. Knowing these will help plan a better strategy. Tello also goes on to chart the various techniques that are present. This is followed by judo etiquettes. Detailed information is provided about the rei or the bowing and the uniform design and its meaning. It can be white or blue though white is more commonly used and preferred accompanied by slippers and a belt; the belt denoting the stage of training. Judo teaches humility and peace with oneself and one’s environment. The anatomy of the class gives a clear picture about what the students should be placed like. However, there is excessive use of a series of Japanese terminology without English translation that cannot be understood by the layman. Though the book claims to be a guide for beginners but those who’re oblivious of any kind of martial arts practice will find it extremely difficult to follow or keep interest. It provides good tips for practitioners of martial arts or those who’ve just begun. Like with any sport, the chances of getting hurt is possible so the concluding remarks about precautionary measures is important notification. In the end of the book, the glossary of judo terms is very useful. There are frequent black and white illustrations as well. It is simple, lucid and direct. The points are crisp and handy.  If you’ve been wanting to take up a martial art practice or choose one for your children then this guide should be your next pick.

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Russia: History of Russia: Kievan Rus to Vladimir Putin, Tsars and Revolutions – All Shaping Russian Culture and Russian History by Ian Maslow

The Tsardom marks the bloodiest period in Russian history with extreme famine and political and social disequilibrium as the Tsar posed to be a self- proclaimed God. This period was followed by an imperialistic Russia under many rulers and some of them were women.

Title: Russia: History of Russia: Kievan Rus to Vladimir Putin, Tsars and Revolutions – All Shaping Russian Culture and Russian History

Author: Ian Maslow

Publisher: Amazon Asia-Pacific Holdings Private Limited

Date of Publishing: 18 May 2017

Genre: History/ Politics

Rating: 4/5

A concise guide about the ground-breaking rise of a prodigious nation.

The foundations of modern day Russia began in 882 AD with the establishment of the Kievan Rus’ Kingdom. Earlier it was a monarchy and was ruled by many dynasties till the Mongol invasion that became an unstoppable force. Russia had already received the message of Christianity before the arrival of the Mongols and had been fairly Christianised leaving behind its pagan ancestry. The book provides a bird’s eye view of all the successive events in a sequential order. It is lucidly written in a modest and vibrant style. The book is educational and engaging in equal proportions. It cuts out any redundant information only to focus on the important events. The narrator’s conversational tone makes the reading process almost like listening to a lecture. The sections titled Misconceptions, Interesting Facts, You may not know and If the choice were yours provide a broader understanding of the historical data.Each chapter ends with a Questionnaire that serves to recapitulate the text well. The Tsardom marks the bloodiest period in Russian history with extreme famine and political and social disequilibrium as the Tsar posed to be a self- proclaimed God. This period was followed by an imperialistic Russia under many rulers and some of them were women. The guide is exceptionally factual but not mind-numbing. Important information has been jotted down in bullet points. A very complex set of historical events has been made easy to comprehend. The formation of the USSR marks Russia’s involvement in the WWII. A very key and interesting focus is the Stalinisation process. 1947 proves to be a turning point in world history with the Indian Independence on one end and the beginning of the Cold War on the end of the world. Two trusted allies of WWII turn enemies and lose their cordial ties. The incidents that followed are important in order to understand both European and American history as well as the genesis of the literary phrase ‘cold war’ that gained significant position.

The book is a great read for students of history and politics. It is useful as an introductory text at school levels or a complementary text in college courses. It provides an unbiased view of Russian history through a mature rendering of a dense narrative.

Concise, accurate and interesting.

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Cold Plate Special by Rob Widdicombe

Though subtle at times, the humour is sarcastic and eccentric leaving the reader in splits.

Title: Cold Plate Special

Author: Rob Widdicombe

Publisher: Saltimbanque Books

Date of Publication: 28 July 2017

Genre: Thriller

Rating: 5/5

A student’s dreams of entering law school to become a master ‘Zinger’ leaves him a ‘Zingee’ in the middle of psychotic events.

Jarvis wants to be a zinger-lawyer so that he can mince words and hurl them at other culprits who deserve to be grilled. His greatest obsession is to be able to answer back to others. But this tongue tied lad can barely retaliate verbally let alone even think up responses on his feet. Initially, it seems like a baseless reason that may possibly motivate someone to become a lawyer. He also shows murderous instincts. He mentions all those he wants to kill and the various ways of murder that he’s chalked out in his mind already. Ironically, he’s contemplating murder just after being released from rehab. Far from recovering he has visions about how to murder Motorcar. Motorcar, who?

The narrative is highly descriptive and many minute details convey the entire story while maintaining every bit of the suspense. The imagery is filled with gross and drastic descriptions to the extent that at times it gets almost hilarious at how hysterical and expressive the narrator can be. Humour is an integral part of the plot and is used in varying doses. Though subtle at times, the humour is sarcastic and eccentric leaving the reader in splits.

Jarvis wants justice like that of the medieval times where revenge was healthy. The story gets more and more dramatic with each page. It evokes several emotions of horror and shock that strive to maintain the fear factor. The narrator is highly animated. After his boss questions him about his invoices he’s fired for whiling away his time in office. The emotions are drastic and Jarvis can get from strange to excessively weird with his expressions about situations. He notes down almost every single thought that crosses his mind and most of it is exasperation spelt out loud. Then he has a complete nervous meltdown.

The eye for detail makes the narrative more tantalizing as it may seem to be adding excessive information but it only helps build the plot and take it to a whole different level of exhilaration. Being fired from work leads to a series of unforeseen happenings that make up the maddened narrative of the novel. The events lead to an almost psychic downturn which gets represented in his constant desires to kill some others and himself. With funny encounters with his cousin Shred and being beaten up by a bunch of hippies, the story turns wild with never ending twists. All of the craziness and recklessness only reveals a deep hurt in his childhood that he keeps reeling back into. It is the suffering in the hands of a pedophile one summer camp. Jarvis has been through some haunting and pathetic practices; experienced by a brittle mind in “a zone of cosmic confusion” that lead to his derailed thought process. The story brings out the idea that a molestation is an awful experience for a child but they do not have the vocabulary or the understanding of the experience to put it into proper explainable words. The innocence within the child’s mind cannot process the event but can feel its grave nature. Yet, he can do little to have justice. He fumes on the inside and grows worse. He fails to catch his molester’s real name. The story brings out the message that after an abusive episode it is too difficult to get back to normal and act as though nothing ever happened. Forgiving isn’t an option and revenge seems the only legitimate thing to ask for.

The novel gets denser as several turns lead to newer unexpected events with Jarvis barely realising how much he gets caught down in his own depressive sorrows. What is worth noting is that male child abuse is still not understood by the majority to the extent that many may not even know of its existence. Most of his friends can sympathise with him but only few can empathise. His rehab does not help much either.

So is a face to face confrontation with his perpetrator the only way out of his personal mess?

Despite the constant doses of coffee taken by Jarvis, the novel does not require any caffeine to keep readers wide awake throughout the fast paced narrative. This thrilling book must be read ear to ear and will entangle readers in its web of eventful episodes making it difficult to be put down till the last page. Widdicombe is off to a promising start in this debut novel. However, the offbeats mentions about the Illuminati and the status of Jarvis’ relationship with Carly remain unclear till the end raising a lot of questions unanswered.

Psychic, dark comic thriller fluctuating between walking and running in a farrago of startling trials within a backdrop of a haunting coffee ‘beige.’

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Magic O’Clock by L.S.Fellows

But what if memory decides one day to walk out of someone’s life? Can new memories be made while befriending forgetfulness?

Title: Magic O’Clock

Author: L.S.Fellows

Publisher: Pronoun

Date of Publication: 7 May 2017

Genre: Short Story/ Novella

Rating: 5/5

magicoclock

“If tears could build a stairway,

And memories a lane,

Then I’d walk right up to Heaven,

And bring you home again.” (Anon)

 

Heart wrenching novella of a family beaten down by the loathsome disease of Dementia.

Reminiscences are what people live by. It is memories that make good and bad stages of life. Though ironically happy memories hurt the most but it is some memories that make life more bearable. In this rugged terrain of existential absurdities that make up human life on this planet, it is memories that provide solace, hope and some bitter sweet lessons. Memories warm people from the inside and life becomes an endless effort of making unforgettable memories. But what if memory decides one day to walk out of someone’s life? Can new memories be made while befriending forgetfulness?

L.S.Fellows rattles both the mind and the heart in this crisp fictional tale of dementia and hope. Acceptance is one of the greatest lessons of life and the earlier it is mastered the easier it becomes to live. The loss of a dear one is difficult to accept. But it gets much harder when one has to live with the thought of being with a loved one who fails to recognise anyone or goes missing one fine day. The story treads this field of unfamiliarity experienced by a child whose retired father can no longer recognise anybody. The status quo is reversed as the parent who’s supposed to be the first guide in a child’s life has become the child in need of some guidance from his own progeny but refuses to receive any. It is this unfamiliarity that is crippling to the author.

The writing style is fluid and ideas roll in easily. The narrative is very descriptive to the extent that the pictures rise out of the page and can be seen like a film on screen. These vivid descriptions add to a good eye for detail. It is reflective of someone who not just writes for leisure but writes often and understands the art of storytelling. The story is told from the first person narrator’s perspective. Throughout the narrative the vocabulary used is simple but stress is made on the mode of expression of everyday ideas. Certain ideas are put forward in a way so as to have expressions hurled at the reader’s face to arouse a shudder or a slight chuckle. The humour adds to the pathos but it is not a hilarious account by any sense. The despair is maintained throughout the narrative along with a sense of respectful devotion that the narrator has towards the old man Archie. The death of a parental figure is hard to accept but their absence in their presence is much harder. The core of the suffering lies in the fact that all one can do after a person’s loss is to console oneself by recalling how well the deceased one had lived and how much they had enjoyed their sustenance.

It is ironic that a man who otherwise cannot recall anything is able to narrate such interesting tales articulately and with all the information intact. It is as if Archie takes up a different persona all together during the storytelling sessions at his old age home. He becomes a regular, normal person for those few hours. The narrator’s comments not only add to the reader’s idea about Archie but also give a sense of grief that is gnawing at the narrator’s heart who can merely sit and watch and do nothing at all. It is the helplessness at the hands of an irreversible situation. The child sits through the story telling sessions in hiding as a member of the audience and cannot even go and hug Archie due to the fear of rejection. The longing of a child to be recognised for its efforts and the longing to belong somewhere is overwhelming. The surprise ending baffles the readers who are left to sympathise with the narrator. The novella is very well constructed within barely twenty five pages. There is the constant criss crossing of laughter and tears. Readers familiar with Lisa Genova’s Still Alice will find the two books working along similar lines.

Heartfelt and difficult to swallow with a pathos that is every child’s dread.

Committed to Beauty by Ify Okonta

Ugly, blockhead, black skeleton and broomstick are few of the snide remarks that are hurled at her.

Title: Committed to Beauty

Author: Ify Okonta

Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform

Date of Publication: 18 July 2017

Genre: Gender and Literature

Rating: 4/5

A coming of age tale of a girl with aspirations that are constantly thwarted by a shallow world.

Facing constant discrimination since a young age due to her dark skin colour, Ella becomes the butt of several odious jokes. Far from arousing a laughter, they mar her self-esteem and morale. She is always bullied at school and struggles to not feel left out. Ugly, blockhead, black skeleton and broomstick are few of the snide remarks that are hurled at her. Somehow, her skin tone and outer appearance has set the mark for her intellectuality as most of her peers and even elders cannot seem to look past her colour into the nice person that she is.

Added to her undesirous skin tone is her frail structure. Set in Nigeria where the parameters of beauty are different from the rest of the world, Ella takes inspiration from a televised beauty contest and decides to run for a pageant one day. But fate has other plans for her. Running into the boy who spoke up for her when no one else did, she mistakes his momentary kindness as a serious interest in her. Her hopes are frequently dashed as he barely ever notices her. With hardly any friends to rely on and no one to share her emotions with, Ella subconsciously learns how to play the background character in her own life. During days of walking about as a shadow in broad daylight, the news of her father’s transfer to America makes her hopeful of a better beginning only to learn that people’s behaviour towards her isn’t much different. Earlier she was bullied, now she’s plain ignored. She is an excessively black girl in an excessively white land.

The story revolves around several chance happenings where fate and Ella’s own perseverance play a major role in her successful rise before the very eyes of those who constantly taunted her. From contesting a beauty pageant to winning it and becoming a celebrity, Ella’s life before and after the contest are not very different. She barely receives any contracts due to her dark complexion and has to hunt for directors and photographers in unfamiliar cities. The book touches upon some very crucial themes of racism and stereotypes based on skin colour. It portrays the scenes behind the glitz and glamour of the entertainment industry in a realistic manner. It highlights the short lived success of reality shows and how such shows leave contestants more desperate and jobless.

Things take a drastic turn as a group of models including one of her friends die in the WTC collapse on 9/11. This begins a series of mishaps and heart breaking incidents that coax Ella into becoming a more independent person who seeks to rely only on God.

People who’ve been in odd situations and felt like fishes out of water will definitely related to this story. It rings a bell with all those who’ve been teased for their appearance or have been through gruesome experiences of stereotyping and racial profiling. The story brings out the startling idea that the society’s ideals about beauty are more or less the same regardless of the racial or geographical differences. People have idealized certain standards of beauty in wanting a fair skin texture which is seen in the episodes in which Ella undergoes trials of bleach creams to attain a fair skin. It is one of the many indications that Okonta makes about the cosmetic industry that allows for such ideals to proliferate and whose main target buyer is the one with broken self-worth. The book also shows that time is the greatest of players and life eventually turns around unpredictably for most people. Those who made fun or ignored others turn out to become worse than their victims and have to battle difficult predicaments. The story is complex and slightly lengthy though that doesn’t drag the story line in any way. Events reveal newer themes and the reader is constantly made to think about these issues with some fairly good lessons. Ella becomes the epitome of hope as a modern, independent woman who can handle her challenges and brave the world on her own terms with her original appearance which is justly elucidated in the title of the book. Okonta strives to portray Ella as being beautiful both inside and out. True beauty irradiates when one begins to love oneself.

Hope giving, captivating and inspiring struggle of a lonesome girl in battling a cacophobic society.

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Japan: History of Japan: The Most Important People, Places and Events in Japanese History. From Japanese Art to Modern Manga. From Asian Wars to Modern Superpower by Rui Kanda

Skimming through is not a good idea as each sentence is full of data and missing out on any of it breaks the flow of an otherwise methodical narrative.

Title: Japan: History of Japan: The Most Important People, Places and Events in Japanese History. From Japanese Art to Modern Manga. From Asian Wars to Modern Superpower

Author: Rui Kanda

Publisher: Lean Stone Publishing

Date of Publication: 15 June 2017

Genre: Self- Help

Rating: 3/5

In this crisp guide Rui Kanda provides some vital information and clarifies misconceptions about the land of anime, geishas and samurais.

This short handbook elucidates in a chronological order the main events that have transformed Japan into the superpower that it is today. The book begins by elaborating about the three dynasties of the ancient period namely Jomon, Yaoyi and Kofun. It may come as a surprise but Japan has been subjected to numerous waves of Chinese and Korean immigrants. The ‘Shinto’ religion gave way to Buddhism as Japan entered into the Asuka period. Slowly but steadily Japan has been able to constitutionalise its tradition and culture. It has seen the rise of Samurais that have served as brand ambassadors of Japanese culture worldwide. Like the Samurais, Japan has become famous for its strength and meditative dedication. The book traces each period of Classical and modern Japan to the tee.

Each of the chapters end with Fun Facts and Questionnaires. Further Misconceptions are clarified in curt bullet points. Kanda mentions the foundation of the modern Japanese nation as a clash of various contradictory clans. Gory wars ripped apart the country but in turn aided in spreading Zen Buddhism. It is interesting to know the various formations and groupings that the clans made in their fierce combat against their opponents. The author uses interesting parallels between ninjas and Persian Hashshashin(s) to explain the similarities and differences which provides a better picture of the whole culture.

Though the book is loaded with information it can tend to being tedious and monotonous. Readers may find it difficult to process so much information at one time. It is easy to read but takes quite some patience especially for those who are already unfamiliar with Japanese terminology.  Skimming through is not a good idea as each sentence is full of data and missing out on any of it breaks the flow of an otherwise methodical narrative. If the Choice Were Yours section makes one think differently about the flow of historical events and makes the reader place himself in history regardless of whether he’s Japanese or of some other nationality. Many may find the book too bland and factual. All throughout there is little description, commentary or the author’s added viewpoints.

Despite the challenges of feudalism, imperialism, the effects of WWII and constant threats of natural calamities, Japan has stood through all hurdles and become a global superpower. It is this perseverance in the face of odds and resilience to difficulties that gives Japan the sense of high dignity which is commendable and worth replicating. The book is a good one time read for those who may be planning a trip to Japan or for those who’re hoping to ace a quiz on Japanese history.

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The Photographer’s Eye: Seeing with a Camera by Arthur Wenk

He makes some very important and interesting points: “Seeing the world through a photographer’s eyes often requires thinking like a camera instead of like a human being” and “A photograph is a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional world.”

Title: The Photographer’s Eye: Seeing with a Camera

Author: Arthur Wenk

Publisher: Amazon Asia-Pacific Holdings Private Limited

Date of Publication: 11 August 2017

Genre: Self-Help

Ratings: 4/5

John Keats notes in his 1818 poem Endymion: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever”. If it can be summed up in a line then this truly is the ultimate aim of photography. As exciting as it sounds, it is a very arduous task to capture the inner beauty of any particular object. In this brief and informative guide, photographer Arthur Wenk lays bare the basics of taking a good photograph.

Arthur Wenk presents the basis of his explanations on years of meticulous study and experience in a lucid and simple manner. The book dives into the technical aspects of an otherwise artistic endeavour. A good photograph has a lot of elements which become the embodiment of the pictures imagined up in the mind. It is an external manifestation of the photographer’s vision. Being able to take a good photo has a lot to do with owning a good camera but it also involves a proper knowledge of the technicalities and a clear vision of what is to be produced in print. It includes the ability to envision a good shot of a particular scene.

The book is well illustrated with large photographs of landscape, wildlife and portraits taken by Arthur Wenk. Most of them are shots of and around Toronto, Ontario. A variety of pictures are provided under each subheading that makes it easier to understand the topic discussed and adds a livelier touch to the book. The different aspects include form, color, texture and setting. It is ultimately all a matter of persective. Perspective can be altered by the use of different lenses that give wide angle views. Zoom is another interesting feature in many digital cameras that allows for a deeper perspective without having to move closer and be able to see things from far. The book is a concise and  good introductory lesson on the points that amateurs need to keep in mind during photography sessions. He makes some very important and interesting points: “Seeing the world through a photographer’s eyes often requires thinking like a camera instead of like a human being” and “A photograph is a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional world.” Wenk gives ideas on how to create filters for abstraction patterns by using the camera’s effects. It is important to keep in mind to fill up the entire frame instead of taking cornered pictures or having objects in a frame pushed to one side. Also nothing makes a photo worse than improper lighting.

At the end of the book Wenk provides some tasks for the application of these skills which make the book more interesting and give a clearer idea. The book showcases the idea that a lot of thinking actually goes behind every single photo and without this kind of understanding of the subject good photos will be difficult to produce. Wenk ends the book by introducing and recommending the editing software ‘Picasa’ that he personally finds very useful. The illustrations are a treat to the eyes. Though short, the book is very formal and to the point. Readers may find the written material a bit too brief and not descriptive enough. Yet, it is a good read for anyone who takes interest in photography or wants to improve their photography skills regardless of whether they own a DSLR or have attended photography crash courses.

Click the book cover to grab your copy. Happy Reading!