Monday, 30 January 2012

Kim's Review: Confessions of a Serial Dieter

I must confess that I was aghast when Brajesh came home with this book from his last trip. A "How-To / Self-Help" book??? and one on DIETS to top it off??? I thought I had married a man with more sense than that! We don't read How-to books and while we both need to do something concrete about our weight, we both know that diet books are not the solution that they advertise to be.

He had loved the book and recommended quite strongly that I should read it. Now he has been recommending "2 states" for quite a while, but I still haven't gotten to it. However, since we were packing over 40 books to get autographed at the Jaipur Lit Fest and Kalli Purie was going to be there, this book got packed too.

At Jaipur, the days were obvioulsy hectic and I wanted very light reading for 15-20 minutes before dropping off to sleep. So I decided that if I had to read this book, this was the ideal opportunity. The first few pages in and I was hooked.

This is not a "How-To" book in the strict sense of the word. Yes, Kalli does outline over 40 weightloss methods from the Cabbage soup diet to bullemia and Gastric surgery. But the book isn't just about that. This book is about her experience with each one of these techniques/diets. So its like having a friend who has tried out multiple diets and weight loss techniques telling you what her experience with it was and what she felt worked for her and what didn't.

Her account is candid and honest (right down to stopping her tryst with bullemia when water from the toilet splashed back on her face and into her eyes during one of the purging episodes) and its like getting advice from a friend. Also she doesn't adopt a serious, stuck-up - "I know better than you" tone. The mood is always light and funny while imparting nuggets of wisdom.

Its an excellent buy for someone who is trying to lose weight. Because of the range of techniques that Kalli has experimented with, she gives a lot of information on what worked for her and what didn't. The reader can cull from this information what techniques/diets he/she would like to try for herself and what will fit into their own lifestyle.

This is not a typical "How-To" book, but it does have a lot to offer.

Rating: 3.8/5

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Brajesh's Review: A Case of Exploding Mangoes

Racy, pacey, thriller. Commenting on Pakistani army, corruption within, ISI, complex power structures of Pakistan under the back-drop of Gen Zia's assassination is a great plot any-which way. Even if the plot isn't of interest to you, the book will grip you with the structure of story telling & vivid imagery. Hanif rocks!

Rating: 4/5

Also see Brajesh's Review of "Our Lady of Alice Bhatti"

Friday, 20 January 2012

Brajesh's Review: Lost Loves - Exploring Rama's Anguish

Does Dashrath's past haunt Ram's present? How are the 3 cities of Ayodhya, Kishkindha & Lanka symbolic to 3 dharmas? Where is Valmiki in the story that he tells? How does Love evolve, grow, shrink and die between Ram & Sita?

These are some of the fascinating questions Arshia Sattar explores in the 7 essays. Each essay is a gem in itself and the book strings them together as a priceless necklace.

Rating: 4/5
The book missed on 4.5 because there were only 7 essays and left me wanting for more :) :) :)

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Kim's Review: The Captive Queen

The Captive Queen is the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine - the only woman to have married the King of France and the King of England.

Eleanor is an educated, strong willed woman married to Louis VII the king of France when she is 15. Though she gives him 2 daughters, she soon tires of his monastic ways and the disapproval of his court. Her chance encounter with Henry of Anjou at the French court, inflames her passions and she seeks a divorce from Louis on grounds of consanguinity.

Henry is as ambitious as her and while his father is Count of Anjou, his mother Matilda is the daughter of Henry I - King of England. Matilda claims that her right to the throne is stronger than that of the current incumbent - her cousin Stephen.This makes Henry feel like he has a right to the English throne and he focuses all his enrgy on fighting for it through wars and political alliances.

While Henry is dashing and charming, he is also moody, a womaniser and vicious.The captive queen focuses on the tumultous relationship between Henry II and Eleanor and Thomas Beckett. Henry's final betrayal by Beckett makes him suspicious of the loyalties of his own wife and children. Hence he refuses to hand over any responsibility to his sons and uses his children as political pawns on the chessboard of Franco-English-Germanic politics.

Eleanor who feels strongly for the rights of her own children, supports them and Henry interprets that as her betrayal and has her locked away in a castle with only one peasant maid for company who is also instructed to share her bed.

Its a very interesting story told from the perspective of Eleanor who has been reviled in history as the cause for most of the wars fought in her time.

Alison Weir is a wonderful story teller and draws the reader into the tale completely. By the end of it, there would be hardly anyone who would blame Eleanor for her actions.She comes across as a strong, independent woman who would have been very comfortable in todays world. But she was too independent for her time.

Rating: 4.5/5

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Kim's Review: Nefertiti

When I first read The Heretic Queen, I wasn't very impressed. I felt it was more Chicklit than Historical Fiction. But by then, I had already bought Madame Tussaud, also by Michelle Moran and so after a month, I read that too and thought it was brilliant.

So I finally decided to try reading Nefertiti too. Nefertiti was the Queen of the Heretic King Akhenaten and hence there is very little information about her that survives today. as the suceeding generations tried to wipe out all evidence of their existence.

Nefertiti was way more impressive as a story, than The Heretic Queen was. A lot of reaerch has gone into this book and again like  Madame Tussaud, this book I would definitely classify as Historical Fiction and not just chicklit.

Nefertiti tells the tale of Nefertiti and her sister Mutnodjmet. They are both daughters of the same father but different mothers. The book begins when Nefertiti is 15 and Mutnodjmet is 13. They have been brought up by their father, Ay, away from the Royal court. Even though their father himself is a Vizier and his sister is the reigning Queen.

Nefertiti is beautiful, ambitious, sly and cunning. Mutnodjmet is much simpler and more interested in her herbs and plants and is renowned for never lying.When the Prince Regent, Tuthmosis dies, his brother Akhenaten is next in line. But Akhenaten already has dangerous ideas that conflict with reigning beliefs and his mother wants a wife for him who can sway him from his eccentric ideas. She chooses Nefertiti.

But feeling herself in competition with Akhenaten's previous wife Kiya, Nefertiti chooses to encourage Akhenaten and his ideas to ensure that she is crowned first wife. Mutnodjmet is forced to follow her to the palace and be her chief lady-in-waiting and keeper of secrets. The tale then proceeds with 2 differing points of view of the two sisters being offered for each significant event.

Although Akhenaten and Nefertiti temporarily succeed in building their dream city of Amarna against all voices of reason, their world is shatterred when the city begins to die from the plague, shortly followed by the deaths of their own children. Plunged into the final throes of madness, Akhenaten drives into the city and is attacked by his own people and comes back to the palace to succumb to the plague himself.

The tale ends when Nefertiti dies at the hands of an assassin, along with her daughter Meritaten whom she had anointed Pharoah. The reigns are then taken up by Tutankhamun (son of Akhenaten and Kiya) and his wife Ankhesenamun (daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti)

Although this book ends here, we know that their reign did not last too long either, the next significant Pharaohs were Seti and his son Ramses. Ramses II marries Mutnodjmets daughter Nefertari and their story is told in The Heretic Queen.

I completely loved Nefertiti. There is enough intrigue and court politics in this book to interest any reader, so its not confined to a female audience.

Rating: 4.2/5

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Kim's Review: The Bourne Deception, The Bourne Dominion

I've been a Robert Ludlum fan for decades and always felt that Jason Bourne was one of the best characters that he had created and this was even before Matt Damon made him hotter.

Normally when one author tries to write about serialised characters originally created by another author, readers often find fault with the new author. But I have to confess that Eric Lustbader has been a worthy successor of Ludlums writing legacy.

The Bourne Deception begins with Bourne & Moira holidaying in Phuket when he is cornered by assasins of the Severus Domna. This is followed by the typical Bourne chase and be chased across the globe.

In the Bourne Dominion, the spectre is the Eastern Brotherhood. Bourne's Arch nemesis, Leonid Arkadin also plays a prominent role.

There is a set formula to most Bourne novels. Miniscule revelations of his forgotten past through memory flashes, threat of a new world war, although the villians nationalities shift across the novels, taut action scenes, twists and turns. This is why the Bourne novels translate so well into movies.

Although the formula is pre-set, the books still make for engrossing and gripping reading. I finished each one of them, before I could turn in for the night. Thats the power of a good Bourne story and Eric Lustbader is doing a wonderful job of keeping the tales tight.

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, 16 January 2012

Kim's Review : Gujarati Kitchen - (Bhanu Hajratwala)

When I first received Bhanu Hajratwala's "Gujarati Kitchen", I was expecting a Vegetarian Recipe book. I  had, had a recent twitter exchange with a friend who wanted to know where she could find a Gujarati Restaurant in Mumbai, but it had to only serve Vegetarian food. I jokingly asked if there was any other kind. The only response that came up on twitter to this exchange was "perhaps Bohri Muslim Food" "Does Gujarati Parsi Cuisine count?"

So it was a wonderfully pleasant suprise to find that Bhanu Hajratwala's cookbook, covered Non Vegetarian food too. Reading the book, revealed that this was Gujarati Kshatriya cuisine. This is not to say that the book only covers non-vegetarian food. There are plenty of recipes for Gujarati staples like dhokla, rotli, daal dhokali, khandvi and theplas. The non-vegetarian dishes are made from goat, lamb, chicken and seafood.

Bhanu Hajratwala is a Gujarati who was born and brought up in the Fiji Islands (The first wave of Gujaratis migrated to the British Colony of Fiji Islands in the early 1900's) As often happens with early immigrants, the families held on to the sanctity of their original Gujarati recipes with minimal adaptation, other than forgetting recipes for which ingredients weren't available.

Ms. Hajratwala moved to the US when she got married and moved with her husband across New Zealand, Australia and the United States. Through all these moves, she enjoyed cooking for and feeding her family and friends while pursuing her own career as a physical therapist. Her friends soon started asking her to teach them how to cook Gujarati food and she readily agreed. This later expanded to conducting cooking classes and demonstrations and contributing recipes for community cook books.

The book begins with a list of ingredients commonly used in Gujarati cooking and other than ganthoda kokum, batrissu (a Gujarati spice mix), charoli and vaal they are easily available across India and in Indian stores abroad. A list of measurements follows which clearly gives liquid and weight substitutes for terms like 1 cup, 1tsp etc. Since the book uses US/Imperial measures throughout, Metric conversions are also provided in this section.

Gujarati cooking has a few spice blends specific to their cuisine like fresh masala & seafood masala and some commonly used ones like chai masala and garam masala. Understanding that many of the readers of this book may not be Gujarati or cook Gujarati food daily, Banu has also given exact directions to make smaller quantities (3 tbsp) of the fresh masalas that have shelf lives of 6-8 weeks in the fridge and this kind of thoughtfullness carries on through the book.

The recipes that follow are categorised in the standard format: starters, mains, breads, rice, kadhis & dals, sweets, chutneys & relishes, pickles, snacks for teatime, drinks and a special section for mukhwaas.

The recipes are very clear and easy to follow. Substitutes are detailed. For eg: in the preface, Banu explains that fresh or whole turmeric is much better and healthier than turmeric powder and then in all the recipes she gives quantities for both whole turmeric and powder for the convenience of those who have no access to, or the time to powder and grind whole turmeric. The recipe for Khandvi includes both the stove top cooking method and a microwave oven method.

Her husband, Bhupendra's support extends beyond the standard spousal variety. He has provided line drawings for this book.While in some cases they are purely decorative, in a lot of places they are illustrative. Like how to roll patra, fold a samosa and crimp a ghughara (gujiya).

Given that this was my first insight into non-vegetarian Gujarati cuisine, the first dish I decided to try from this book was the "Chaap ne Bataka Roast - Roasted Lamb Chops with Potatoes" Its difficult for me to follow recipes from a book to the letter, since I love to improvise, but since I was reviewing the book, I tried to stay true to the recipe. So I only substituted the oil with olive oil and lemon juice with apple cider vinegar, since I did not have enough limes/lemons on hand. The chops turned out very well, even though I served them with rotlis/phulkas rather than the recommended garlic bread and the recipe was very easy to follow.

Banu's instructions are precise and detailed, substitutes are very clear, notes on which food can be stored for how long and the ideal way to store them are also included. Her thoughtfullness towards the home cook  show through every recipe. Banu says she originally started measuring quantities and writing recipes to share them with her children who were leaving home for further education. This concern and detailed attention shows in every instruction.

The only thing you need to watch out for, when cooking from this book is that the cooking time specified, is purely cooking time. It does not include pre-prep time or marinating time. It assumes that you have the spice powders & blends ready and soaking and sprouting time isn't included either.

"Gujarati Kitchen - Family Recipes for the Global Palate" is thus an excellent pick for anyone who is a new cook or a comfortable cook, someone who wants to learn Gujarati cooking or even someone looking for a simple introduction to Indian cooking.

Rating: 4.5/5

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Brajesh's Review: Doosra - A Tale Of Cricket, Crime And Controversy

Quick, Fast, Fully Filmy Masala. Clashing worlds of World Cup Victory, Match Fixing, PR Consultants, Media Tycoons &Channel Wars.

Rating: Not Rated as it's written by a friend - Jeeves Rajendra XLRI 97

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Brajesh's Review: Confessions of a Serial Dieter

Absolute cracker of a book which I finished in one go over a four hour flight. Not only was the book unputdownable, I actually took out a page and penned learnings and summaries for myself. Normally a huge sceptic of self-help books, I think my own one-pager is the biggest tribute to this book. The book is especially suited for the most failed dieters, as it gets into the psyche of a "fat person". The journey of Kalli from 103 to 58 Kgs is beautifully outlined with all the horrors and delights of every weight-loss regime.

Rating : 4/5
If not for the limited high-society view-point, I would have given this a 4.5

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Brajesh's Review: City of Djinns

Another typical Dalrymple, outlining Delhi's history from Mahabharat to Lutyen's period is a must read for every Delhi resident (even if you are there for a month). The diary style writing of his first 12 months in Delhi provides a beautiful canvas to draw the nuances of Delhi's complex history. His wife Olivia's sketches add crunch to the book in a subtle and beautiful manner. The book has now prompted me to buy "Twilight in Delhi" by Ahmed Ali, the book Dalrymple believes to be the best portrayal of the period between Nader Shah's Delhi raids to 1857's siege.

Rating:  3.5/5

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Brajesh's Review: May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss

I have been following @greatbong on twitter for some time and have appreciated his wit and humor. This would be the first case of twitter nudging me to buy a book. Anyone growing up in the 80's and 90's would uniquely relate to this book. Especially the part where most of life's critical education was imparted by Bollywood. The book did have me laughing out loud at many a place. Written in a blog-post kind of style. It could have been sharper if kept limited to Bollywood and TV, though some of the other characters are also fun.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Brajesh's Review: Chinaman

Shehan Karunatilaka impressed me during JLF'11, but the book was eventually gifted by a cricket-buff friend  in June. I am delighted to have finally finished the fiction epic written in a cricket non-fiction style. It's a unique quest for the greatest spinner (Srilankan Pradeep Mathew) who has broken every world-record and had all the dream deliveries (including the double bump double spin ball). Every kid growing up in cricket crazy nations would relate to the cricketing fantasies. The intertwined journey of Srilankan cricket and national evolution in a dark humorous tone makes this a good read. The first 100 & last 25 pages are the best. The book loses 0.5 rating points due to a very long and stretched out middle.

Rating : 3.5/5

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