Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Brajesh's Review : The One Minute Manager

Picked up Ken Blanchard's "The One Minute Manager" to gift to a colleague and then felt obliged to read it.

I thought it would be just another one of the clich├ęd management-magic books, but was pleasantly surprised to see that the 3 basic concepts of OMM are as relevant today as they were in 1981. Not surprisingly, given the fact that these are rooted in basic human psychology, medicine and behavioural sciences.

Sharp Goal Setting along with Instantaneous Genuine Feedback both in the form of Reprimand and Praise is the core of the book, and I feel could help a lot of the young rising stars of the Corporate World, who keep oscillating between task and people focus.

.... And that brings 2013 to a close. A delightful year with a variety of books read. 57 books in a year really makes me feel great and I hope I can do even better next year. Here's a roundup of my favourite books of the year : My Top 10 Reads of 2013

If my reading pile is something to go by, I am sure to rock 2014. Here's wishing all of you a great book filled 2014.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Brajesh's Review : Madhushaala

I re-read Harivansh Rai Bacchan's Madhushala, at a cafe in Ahmedabad called "SandwichworkZ". The Kheema and Ajwain Paratha were to die for and the afternoons experience, will remain etched in my mind forever, given that this gave me an opportunity to re-read the unique and complete 135 Rubaiyee version of Madhushala (with extra material thrown in).

I am attempting to write this review in Hindi and you can view it as the next picture. I have no confidence in my ability to type in Hindi at this stage, not that confidence to write in Hindi is very high, but I am giving it a try.

Rating : 5 / 5

Kim's Review : Monsoon Diary - A Memoir with Recipes

"Monsoon Diary - A Memoir with Recipes " by Shoba Narayan is a lovely reminiscence of growing up in Tamil Nadu a couple of decades ago. Shoba then takes her readers along with her on trips to her grandparents house and later on to the US where she goes to pursue further studies.

Each chapter deals with a phase in her life, from the first food she ever consumed to having relatives visit her house in the Us, once she is married. At the end of each chapter is a recipe which ties into the chapter.

The recipes are all Vegetarian and include : Channa Masala, Fruit Chaat, Ghee, Bajjis, Ginger Tamarind Pickle, Coconut Chutney,, Bhindi Curry, Panagam, Pav Bhaji, Poha, Pongal, Potato Masala, Puris, Rasam, Olan, Idlis, Thandai, Upma, Vatral Kozhambu, Vegetable Stew and Yoghurt Rice.

The recipes are clearly meant for her primary audience - people living in the US - so ingredient availability, substitutes and even ingredient names are Americanised. But don't let that put you off. It actually just helps people unfamiliar with Indian ingredients to locate them easily and cook with confidence.

I did empathise with most of Shoba's experiences, being female from a small town and heading off to the US on my own, but the one thing I couldn't reconcile with, is that if she was so good at cooking, what stopped her from cooking familiar meals once she reached Hollyoke. I used to cook spicy Indian food practically everyday, inspite of working full time and overtime on most days. she claims she didn't realise that she missed familiar food, but somehow I just can't echo that sentiment. This was the only part of the tale that didn't sit right for me.

My favourite story in the Monsoon Diary is of the Malayalee Cab Driver in New York. It was such a touching gesture and reminded me of the genorosity that humans are capable of, if they allow themselves.

I started reading the Monsoon Diary a month ago, because I knew that I wouldn't have time to read at a stretch. It was perfect for the purpose. You can break after every chapter without worrying about wanting to drop everything else and get back to reading.

The book is poignant, a lovely reminiscence and a pleasure to peruse.

I hope to try the idli recipe sometime soon.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Brajesh's Review : Aisle Be Damned

Aisle Be Damned by Rishi Piparaiya, is a book that I would recommend to every person who takes more than 6 flights a year.

Genuinely insightful and refreshingly funny. A page turner which is just the right length for a domestic flight, even if it is as short a flight as Ahmedabad - Mumbai, as it was for me.

I was always a window seat, front of the craft man, now I know why. I am surely gonna try the upgrade tricks on my next flight. This is modern situational humor at its best. I burst-out laughing loud (much to the amusement of my fellow travelers) at every 3rd page. That's over 70 laughs for a mere 3.5/- per laugh ... If that's not value for money what is?

Pick up this book by Rishi Piparaiya, on your next flight.

Rating : 4 / 5

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Brajesh's Review : Eighteen Plus - Bedtime Stories for Grown Ups

I am sure you know by now not to judge a book by its cover. I also want to add - never judge a book by its marketing plug, publicity site or promo inserts. You should wait to read a proper review, irrespective of the quality of the reviewer and only then pick-one up.

That's the only way that critics and reviewers will ever have a job anyway :):).

This book by Apurv Nagpal is BAD porn! Actually very average porn to be honest. A few short stories like "going down to rise up" "the speaker phone" "at the big fat Indian wedding" are mildly funny. Rest are decent situations but badly written. I read a porn collection after a long time and was quite disappointed.


Rating : 2 / 5

Buy on Flipkart.com or Amazon.com

Monday, 16 December 2013

Brajesh's Review : Ajaya - Epic of the Kaurava Clan - Roll of the Dice


Krishna the evil plotter v/s Balram the noble ruler.
Yudhishtir the greedy brother v/s the loyalist.
Kunti the sinister queen v/s Gandhari the exploited one.
Ekalavya the man of merit v/s Arjun the favoured student.
Karna the victim of caste v/s Drona the pedantic teacher.
Bheem the moronic lout v/s Suyodhana the noble, loving, kind crown prince who changes all social norms to ensure well-being and equality.

This book presents the story from the point of view of the defeated. It almost feels like you are watching the story through a 2 way mirror where everything is upside down, or downside up . Anyone who has any interest in the greatest story ever told must read this version of Mahabharat.

This book, by Anand Neelakantan questions every notion we have held and presents a narrative which is equally compelling and honest. Makes one wonder about our mythological narratives which we hold so dear and that's the strength of this book.

Hats off to Anand for taking on such a deep rooted story and presenting an equally beautiful contra-view. My favourite character is the marginalised, untouchable beggar named Jara and his blind dog "Dharma"

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Brajesh's Review : 9 to 5 Fit - A Working Person's Guide to Looking Great and Performing Better!

9 to 5 Fit  - A Working Person's Guide to Looking Great and Performing Better! by Namita Jain deserves a 4 on 5.

Given my perpetual struggle with food and weight, this book helped me start (or re-start or re-re-restart) a few of my routines. For office working professionals like me this is a great book. Simple, straightforward and hugely practical, the book never preaches. So if you are fighting the flab like me , read this short 200 page book Now.

Rating : 4 / 5

Monday, 2 December 2013

Kim's Review : Savour Mumbai - A Culinary Journey Through India's Melting Pot

In "Savour Mumbai - A Culinary Journey Through India's Melting Pot" Michelin Chef Vikas Khanna takes the reader on a journey across Mumbai to some of his favourite restaurants and eateries. He selects some of their signature dishes and modifies them for a home cook.

Its also his attempt to show the wider world, that Indian food is not all about Punjabi food.

The reason I picked up this book, is that a lot of the restaurants covered are favourites of mine too and I jumped at the chance to get insider dope on their recipes. Restaurants covered are Bademiyas, Bagdadi, Banana Leaf, Dakshin, Diva Maharashtracha, Goa Portuguesa, Good Luck, Govinda's, Ideal Corner, Kangan, Kebab Korner, Kebabs & Kurries, Khyber, Lucky, Mahesh Lunch Home, Nawab Saheb, Noor Mohammadi, Oh! Calcutta, Raj Bhog, Saffron, Soam, Soma, Soul Fry Casa, Temple Flower, Trishna and Vrindavan.

So, how many of these are your favourites?

As you can see from the restaurants covered, there's plenty of cuisines represented in this book: Parsi, Goan, South India, Gujarati, Malvani, Maharashtrian, Konkani, Manglorean, Malyali, Irani, Mughlai,

Multiple 'Biryani' recipes from Lucky, Good Luck, Govinda's, Ideal Corner and I'm itching to try out each of them, even though they all look sinfully rich, especially the Chicken Rashida with biryani.

There's a short section on Mumbai's iconic street food too with recipes too for the Bombay sandwich, vada pav, golas and many other items anyone who has lived in Bombay will have fond memories about.

Savour Mumbai is a full-colour book filled with beautiful pictures that capture the spirit of Mumbai. Each recipe has a accompanying picture too, to show you what the ideal finished product should look like. Even if you never attempt to cook from this, its a beautiful coffee table souvenir - an ode to Mumbai's thriving food culture.

I can't wait to get cooking from this book, so much to try, so little time.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Brajesh's Review : Die Trying

Militia planning independence, kidnapping of US president’s god-daughter, rogue and corrupt FBI agents, a truck full of dynamite and Jack Reacher is right in the middle of it all. If you are a JR fan like me, this book will disappoint you as it adds nothing new and seems formulaic for the most parts.

However if you aren’t familiar with JR or just starting to read on him, this is another interesting thriller. This has been the lowest rated JR for me. I also feel that I am getting over the JR craze which made me read 9 of his books this year though I will pass the final judgement on this after finishing “Tripwire” which is next on my list.

Rating : 2.5 / 5

Friday, 29 November 2013

Brajesh's Review : The Ultimate Question 2.0 - How Net Promoter Companies Thrive in a Customer-Driven World

Speed read "The Ultimate Question 2.0 - How Net Promoter Companies Thrive in a Customer-Driven World" as I am trying to develop a method, through which I can read some books within an hour. Tried that on this book with partial success and finished it in about 2 hours. So lots of improvement to go, there.

Now to the book: a nice , simple and powerful concept of NPS is detailed out with all its nuances. I personally liked the bit about “NPS can never succeed without Net Promoter Spirit from the top” and “Close looping customer issues at all levels for true customer delight”. The book details methodology and numerous success stories through NPS implementation.

NPS’s linkage to good and bad profit is especially relevant in today’s responsible corporate management framework. Innovations like eNPS are also well explained. The punch line which will stay with me is “Worse than implementing NPS is, implementing it poorly or half-heartedly”.

I have seen many organizations pay lip-service to true customer service and drop the ball at the first opportunity of making profits. This book is loaded with examples of companies who stuck it out and reaped astronomical dividends by remaining honest and true to the customer’s delight. Would recommend it as read for all CS heads and CEOs.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Kim's Review : The White Princess

"The White Princess" is currently the latest and last book in Philippa Gregory's "Cousins War" series. It tells the tale of Elizabeth of York - daughter of King Edward of York and Elizabeth Woodville and wife of  Henry Tudor (aka King Henry VII of England)

As daughter of King Edward of York with no known surviving brothers (the Princes in the Tower who went missing were her brothers), Elizabeth had the strongest claim to the throne. But Henry VII who defeated King Richard III (he was betrayed by his own allies) in the Battle of Bosworth, chose to claim his right to the throne by a tenuous claim of inheritance from John of Gaunt. So he crowned himself king, before his marriage to Elizabeth and only crowned her as Queen of England after their son Arthur was a year old.

Margaret passes on her own insecurities to her son, and Henry the VII having spent most of his life outside England in exile, has no one he can trust in his court other than his mother and uncle Jasper Tudor. Unfortunately for her, Elizabeth has inherited the York charm and the people of the country genuinely love her and the Yorks, which only makes her husband more suspicious of her and her intentions. Henry's paranoias soon get the better of him and his impoverished existence when in exile, makes him an avaricious tax collector, which makes him even less liked by the public.

The constant rumors of a surviving male York heir who was spirited away by his mother Elizabeth Woodville, keeps rallying the discontents in England to a new cause against King Henry Tudor and result in many minor battles. It is at this point of the story that Philippa Gregory finally introduces Perkin Warbeck who claimed to be Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, the younger son of King Edward IV and missing brother of Elizabeth of York as a contender to the throne who is defeated and imprisoned by Henry VII. In her novel, Gregory believes that Warbeck was indeed who he claimed to be and his sister accepted it in secret, but due to the threat from her husband, she never acknowledges it in public. (a lot of contemporary historians also believe this line of thought, because of Elizabeth Woodville's support to his cause)

The book ends with the execution of Perkin Warbeck.

The glimpses of Elizabeth of York, that I had seen in The Red Queen intrigued me and made me really keen to read "The White Princess". However, the spunky Elizabeth of York who stood up to her future Mother-in-law Margaret Beaufort, is completely subdued in this book. Margaret Beaufort rules her son and England with a heavy hand and in Philippa Gregory's interpretation, Margaret is a complete terror to her daughter-in-law. The only person who can stand up to her is Elizabeth Woodville. The tyranny of her Mother-in-law and the suspicions of her husband, make Elizabeth of York a much more watered down character that I had expected her to be. But I guess, that was the only way to adhere to the historical facts, given Margaret Beauforts control over Henry and the Kingdom.

It's worth a read to complete the "Cousins War" Series and to get a continuity into starting the "Tudor" Series - The Constant Princess (Catherine of Aragorn)

Rating : 4/ 5

Also Read Kim's Reviews of the other books in Philippa Gregory's - "Cousins War" Series:
The Lady of The Rivers
The White Queen
The Red Queen
The Kingmaker's Daughter

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Kim's Review : Cat Vs Human - Another Dose of Catnip

"Cat Vs Human - Another Dose of Catnip" is the second book by Yasmine Surovec.

Ever since I discovered Yasmine Surovec and her cartoons Cat Vs Human, a couple of years ago, I have been a die hard fan. She recently started a facebook group, which keeps her regular readers apprised of everything new regarding her cartoons, books and book signings.

I find almost 95%+ of her cat-toons spot on. Most other cat cartoons, don't even hit the mark 50% of the time.

Yasmine herself lives with 3 cats and a puppy, and all her material comes from her deep love and insight of the behaviour these animals exhibit.

As a regular follower of her blog, there wasn't anything "new" for me in this book. all the cartoons I have seen and read before the day she published them, but they are so lovely and always bring a smile to my face, that I had to buy the book and keep a printed copy next to my bedside table along with the first book.

Whenever I'm feeling a little low, sick or blue, I just need to flip one of these 2 books open to a random page and I'm guaranteed a smile. What more can one ask for from a cartoon?

Rating : 4 / 5

Another Dose of Catnip is the second book in the series. Also read our reviews of the first "Cat Vs Human"
Kim's Review
Brajesh's Review
Brajesh's Review of Another Dose of Catnip

Friday, 22 November 2013

Brajesh's Review : Gone Tomorrow

"Gone Tomorrow" is one of the best Lee Child's I have read. It starts from a simple trip on a subway and very soon you are in the middle of a complex Al-Quaeda plot involving secret meetings between a US Delta Major and Osama Bin Laden.

1983 Afghanistan is the source of the story line which is one of the most fast paced I have read in a very long time. Since this book has been written in first person, it gives you a unique insight into Jack Reachers motivations, drivers and personality. If you can't sustain a series of Jack Reacher and want to read just one Lee Child to sample, I would recommend this one.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Kim's Review : Karna's Wife - The Outcast's Queen

"Karna's Wife - The Outcast's Queen" is Kavita Kane's first novel. Kavita is a journalist by profession, but she has chosen an extremely gripping topic for her debut novel.

Karna is often considered the most unfortunate and tragic character in the Mahabharata. Trapped in circumstances, not of his making, brought up by a charioteer, but with a higher calling, forced by fate and a friendship to fight against his brothers on the side of evil, tricked by Indra, Krishna and his birth mother into giving up his rights and celestial gifts. Cursed by Parashurama, a brahmin in deer form that he killed by mistake, Bhudevi - Mother Earth herself and his birth. With all these disadvantages weighing against him, he still fought the 18 day war at Kurukshetra and died a tragic death, stripped even of his righteousness by Krishna. Yet not much is known about his life, his line of reasoning and his perspective throughout this scenario.

This is what Kavita Kane, strives to enlighten us about in this book. While the title and the lead character in "The Outcasts Queen" is Princess Uruvi of Pukeya who chose to marry Karna in a Swayamvara, the tale Kavita tells is as much about Karna as it is about Uruvi. As far as I know, the Mahabharata mentions Vrushali, but not Uruvi. Shivaji Savant's epic work on Karna - "Mrityunjaya" also talks of Vrushali, but not Uruvi. Later Tamil literature talks of a wife called Ponnauruvi and this perhaps is the inspiration for Kavita's heroine.

"The Outcasts Queen" starts when Princess Uruvi, the only daughter of the King of Pukeya sets eyes on a God-like Karna when he enters the archery tournament in Hastinapur, but who is quickly rebuked and insulted about his low caste birth, until Duryodhana comes to his rescue (for his own selfish reasons) and crowns him King of Anga.

She falls in love with him on sight and at her Swayamvara while she is tipped to marry Arjuna, she actually chooses Karna in a dramatic opposite to the scenario a few years earlier at Draupadi's swayamvara.

From pampered and doted Princess, Uruvi now has to live her life as the second wife to an Outcast King, who is not even accepted as a Kshatriya. Aside from the humiliation she faces from the world, she also has to deal with resentment from Karna's first wife, suspicion from his brother Shona and awe and distance from Karna's adopted parents who really do not know what to make of her.

The only thing that sustains her is her love for Karna (and his for her) and implicit trust in his goodness, that is completely shattered with Draupadi's disrobing.

The story continues along the well known thread of the sequence in the Mahabharath, but this time from Uruvi and Karna's perspective, until Karna's death and the Pandavas & Lord Krishna taking Uruvi and Karna's son Vrishaketu under their wing.

*Spoiler Alert*
There were a lot of revelations for me in this book and I'm not sure whether these are actually facts from the original Mahabharata or gleaned from later interpretations or completely a figment of imagination on the part of the author.
1. Karna was married to Vrushali (from the charioteer caste) and had 7 sons with her, one of whom was killed at the melee at Draupadi's swayamvara.
2. Gandhari was tricked into marrying Dhritarashtra by Bhishma Pitamaha and this was what caused Shakuni's resentment, which he nurtured as hate among Gandhari's sons.
3. Gandhari tried to kill Duryodhana in her womb, when she realised that Kunti would have a son before her, making him the next in line to the throne. (although Dhritarashtra was older than Pandu, his blindness gave Pandu precedence to the throne. To prevent this erupting into a conflict, Bhishma Pitamaha was trying to get the eldest Kuru grandson to be Dhritarashtra's son)
4. Bhishma's refusal to be Commander in Chief for the Kauravas if Karna stepped on the battleground is often held to be  because he held Karna in contempt. But Kavita attributes it to Bhishmas realisation that Karna is a son of Kunti and he wants to prevent the brothers from killing each other.
5. The concepts of niyoga and pratiloma among others.
6. The introduction of Bhanumati as a character. As the wife of Duryodhana, she also presents a sligtly deeper insight in Duryodhana's character.
7. The allusion that Draupadi was actually in love with Karna and could not choose him at her Swayamvara because of external and familial complications.
*Spoiler Alert Ends*

What I liked about this book is the perspective it presents is quite new. We rarely get to hear Karna's side of the story.
A lot of information was new to me, but as I mentioned before, I'm not sure of its authenticity in terms of whether these facts are true to the original Mahabharath, if they came from later adaptations or if they are a figment of the authors imagination.
I completely agree with the authors (through Uruvi) viewpoint that Kunti was a manipulative b*&^%, as all the facts in the Mahabharath point that way.

The only thing that did not work for me in this book, was that the writing sometimes felt a bit stilted and the relating of of events so they tied in neatly with the chapter heading, left the sequencing a bit jerky to me.

Is it worth a read ? Well with recommendations by mythologists Ashwin Sanghi and Amish Tripathi on the front cover, could I disagree? The only name missing is Devdutt Pattanaik! :)

Rating : 4 / 5

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Brajesh's Review : 61 Hours

"61 Hours" has a different construction of plot. The story starts 61 hours before the big action and clocks down. I have never really been able to ever find a fault in a Jack Reacher book, except that I find it incredulous how accidentally he finds himself in the middle of hardcore action.

This book is no different, where an accident of in the bus he is traveling in, puts him in the middle of a manhunt for an assassin targeting a drug exchange witness.

The fact that an underground WWII bunker full of meth in the middle of US landscape worth multiple billions might sound impossible on its own, the book justifies it very well. One can never find an obvious logical flaw in a Lee Child book and this isn't any different. Overall standard Jack Reacher thriller which will keep you wanting more.

Rating : 4 / 5

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Brajesh's Review : Theodore Boone - The Activist

Fourth in the Theodore Boone series, "The Activist" has all the usual stuff similar to the previous two. Simple story line with a key issue of eminent domain or land acquisition by government is relevant and is dealt with maturity for young readers.

After reading two John Grisham's back to back, I was quite amazed by the difference in style. As we know, Boone is the young reader series of Grisham, he keeps the narrative and language simple, yet never makes it stupid or dumbed-down. This makes it a powerful story for young readers.

The book also has several motivational and inspirational plugs without being preachy. I would say great read for all kids in the age group of 8-13, and the parents could also read and discuss the book to make the experience even richer.

Rating : 3 / 5

Monday, 18 November 2013

Brajesh's Review : Sycamore Row

The hero of "A Time to Kill" Jake Brigance returns after 25 years in real time and 3 years in narrative. This book reminds us why John Grisham remains one of the best.

Although the real trial begins only on page 450, the characters and storyline keeps you hooked. There aren't any dramatic or earth shattering twists, but the smaller human behaviour led turns are deeply engaging and real.

You get hit in the gut with the pain of lynch mobs only in the last 50 pages, but before that you just keep guessing motives, inspirations and drivers for actions of all key characters. Though I had forgotten most of "A Time to Kill", this one gave sufficient key references to get the memories back and that was another bonus.

Great holiday read.

Rating : 4 / 5

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Brajesh's Review : Poisoned Arrow

I read everything, all genres, all types of writers. The only constraint being language, which is predominantly English with an occasional Hindi book. I almost feel compelled to constantly widen my reading horizons and this book surely did the trick for me.

Kim ordered this translation of an Urdu detective novella from 1960s, written by one of the most prolific Urdu writers of 20th century Asrar Ahmed, who wrote with the pen name of Ibne Safi.

Poisoned Arrow is part of a series starring his famous detective Inspector Faridi and Sergeant Hameed. Quirky and funny, the story impressed me, though I thought the climax left a lot of unanswered questions. Which I guess was expected, given that this is only one part of the serialised Jasusi Duniya.

Rating : 3 / 5

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Brajesh's Review : Cain

I quote from the book "The history of mankind is the history of our misunderstandings with god, for he doesn't understand us, and we don't understand him." And that on page 73 was the essence of this hilariously lighthearted yet potently sharp critique of the Biblical God.

My wife who had a better understanding & knowledge of Biblical Religious literature, tells me that the Old Testament God is mostly an angry one. That is exactly what troubles Jose Saramago in this book, and he manifests the unforgiving, selfish and egoistic God through the story of a time traveling Cain.

Everything about the book is brilliant, the translation in my mind actually added another layer, though one can't say that with certainty without reading the Portuguese original.

The story covers a wide set of episodes from the killing of Abel, destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah, destruction of Tower of Babel, Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, Job's agony, Lot's rescue, Noah's ark, Moses's golden calf and in each of the cases the author systematically and logically with agonising pain exposes the flawed God.

P.S. I doubt literature like this could ever be produced India, given our total lack of ability to debate any politically and religiously controversial point of view with any sense of openness or tolerance. And that makes me sad.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Kim's Review : Young Chefs - Vikas Khanna

Chef Vikas Khanna released his latest book - Young Chefs - on November 14th (Children's Day) in collaboration with Penguin India / DK Books.

Vikas Khanna is a Michelin starred Chef. As a judge on Masterchef India and Junior Masterchef India he is now a well recognised name and face in most foodie households in India.

The recipes in "Young Chefs" are well illustrated with a lot of them following a photographic step-by-step format, which makes them easy to follow for kids (they can check the pictures to verify consistency, texture and colour). I personally think that the first few pages are the most helpful section of the book. They include a photographic index of cooking tools, preparing ingredients and ways to cook & bake.

The book is divided into 5 main sections – breakfast bites, lunchbox, main meals, drinks, and sweet

Each recipe clearly mentions number of portions, prep time, cooking time and a lot of them also itemise the tools needed for each recipe to be prepared. I think, that is a wonderful idea for young cooks, so they can have all their tools ready along with their ingredients. Some recipes also have doodles of the ingredients and tools used.

There is also a warning sign (white exclamation mark in a red triangle) against recipes / steps which involve hot ovens, hobs, or sharp implements. Depending on the age of your child you can interpret it to mean adult help or adult supervision.

The recipes range from simple boiled eggs and eggy bread (French Toast) to Sweet Corn Fritters, Chilly Paneer, Veg Lasagna and Chicken Tikka Masala. The recipes aren't restricted to Indian staples, they come from all across the globe. But they are all dishes that are exciting for young chefs to cook or eat. Fun facts and tips accompany some recipes.

Its a lovely book to introduce a young chef to the pleasures of cooking, but there are a few things, I hope they can take care of in the next book.
- The recipes for crepes and pancakes are combined on one page in a manner which I think may cause some confusion for a novice cook.
- The recipe for cheese & pesto straws calls for cooked shredded chicken breast in its ingredients but isnt used in the recipe.
- On the page with 4 ways with kebabs - the non veg kebabs have a prep time of 20 minutes, but the prep time for the tofu chunks is 80 minutes. I later realised they had clubbed the marination time with prep time, but it was only for this recipe and not the other 3. Some standardisation will need to be maintained.

My other concerns with this book are:
- Some ingredients like yellow cherry tomatoes, smoked haddock and baby leaf spinach are difficult to find even in a larger Indian metro cities.
- Most recipes call for canned tomatoes and chickpeas and other ingredients. Given the availability of fresh ingredients in India and the side effects of preservatives and sodium in canned products, I would like to see an alternative with fresh produce listed alongside the canned ingredients. 
- The kids pictured in the recipes look so clean and neat, i don't know many young chefs who are so spotlessly clean when cooking. a slightly messy apron seems more natural to me than the pristine cleanliness pictured.

However, these are more minor personal peeves than a vote against the book.

I honestly think that its a great collection of recipes to get a young chef started. Its a lovely gift to present to a young kid and I hope the next edition takes care of the little oversights in this edition.

As Chef Vikas Khanna says in his introduction "Here's to the future Michelin star chef!"

Rating : 3.8 / 5

Note: Young Chefs is not yet available on flipkart or amazon. I was sent a copy of this book by Penguin and it was launched on the 14th, so I'm not sure if it is available in bookstores yet, but keep your eyes open and I'll update the online buying links as soon as they go live.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Kim's Review : Cooking at Home with Pedatha

I had bought "Cooking at Home with Pedatha" in January 2011, shortly after winning "Sukham Ayu" in an online contest on facebook. The authors of these 2 books - Jigyasa Giri & Pratibha Jain have become foodie friends since then and they are both complete sweethearts who have a wonderful zest for life as well as food.

However, I'm guilty of never cooking from either of these books for almost 3 years -  for the simple reason that they were "Vegetarian" cookbooks and Vegetables for me are just a side dish to be consumed to give the body adequate nutrition and not really something I relish cooking or eating.

As I age and travel around Gujarat, I realise that vegetables too can be main courses in a meal and I'm trying to cook more such food.

When I wanted a different way to cook brinjal, these were the first 2 books that I picked up and I wasn't disappointed.

"Cooking at Home with Pedatha" was awarded the Best Vegetarian cookbook in the world at the Gourmand World Cookbook awards 2006 and once you start reading it, its easy to see why.

The Pedatha (eldest aunt) in question is Mrs Subhadra Krishna Rau Parigi, daughter of India's former President - Dr. V V Giri. Jigyasa & Pratibha decided to document Pedatha's knowledge of Andhra food after relishing yet another meal at her house. The accuracy of her recipes, inspired them to turn a personal collection of recipes she shared with them, into a cookbook.

And having tried the brinjal recipe above I have to attest to the accuracy of recipes too. I often tweak recipes considerably, but in this case I just increased the chilli and decreased the oil and the end result was fantastic, for such a simple and easy recipe.

The sections are divided into Chutneys (Pachchadi), Powders (Podi), Rice (Annam), Vegetables (Koora), Dals (Pappu, Chaaru), Yogurt (Perugu), Sweets (Theepi), and Crispies (Vadiyalu).

The recipes are very simple and well written, so even a novice cook or someone completely new to Indian cuisine, can easily understand and master them. There's a beautiful visual glossary at the end, for someone who isn't familiar with the terms and ingredients in this book.

The pictures throughout the book are beautiful and illustrative. I'd highly recommend this book, to anyone interested in cooking Indian food for the first time, or looking to expand their repertoire of Vegetarian dishes or seeking a deeper knowledge of Andhra cuisine.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Note : The Picture for the Brinjal recipe is from http://www.innoconcepts.com/pedatha

Friday, 1 November 2013

Brajesh's Review : In the City of Gold and Silver

Kenize Mourad's - "In the City of Gold and Silver" is another realisation for me of how little I know about my own history.

1857 - mutiny, rebellion, uprising or start of Indian freedom struggle? This work of historical fiction outlines the story of Muhammadi turning into Begum Hazrat Mahal. The intrigues of Zenana, conspiracies of taluqdars, brutalities by the British, valor of the Indian freedom fighters and legendary characters like Nana Saheb, Tantiya Tope and Lakshmi Bai are the background for the life story of Begum Hazrat Mahal.

The story is outstandingly told with brilliant characterisation and authentic research.

Rating : 4 / 5 
(The book is a translation from French and you can feel it, this costs 0.5 to the rating)

Also read Kims review of : In the City of Gold and Silver

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Brajesh's Review : Cat Vs Human - Another Dose of Catnip

"Cat Vs Human - Another Dose of Catnip" is a happy book. Read it with a smile if you don't have a cat. But if you are owned by a cat you will burst out laughing on every second page. The cartoons are amazing and Yasmine Surovec's insights are so real, that they feel spooky. This is a must buy for any cat lover and should be made compulsory for all those who are owned by a cat

Rating : 4 / 5

Another Dose of Catnip is the second book in the series. Also read our reviews of the first "Cat Vs Human"
Kim's Review
Brajesh's Review

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Brajesh's Review : E2 - Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments that Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality

All lovers of "The Secret" will go totally crazy with this book. I hated "The Secret", hence didn't really like "E2 - Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments that Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality" much.

The first few chapters of this book by Pam Grout were intriguing and kept me hooked. I even tried the first 2 experiments in full earnest, but both failed. The concept of using power of affirmation, positive thinking and inner voice isn't a new one. This books uses smart experimentation based left brain approach to try and convince the skeptics of right brain. Sounds a little odd, but it's done very smartly and efficiently.

I am quite sure the book will sell loads, but just didn't work for me.

Rating : 3 / 5

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Kim's Review : The Red Queen

The Red Queen is chronologically the 4th in the Philippa Gregory collection on the women in The Cousins War.

This book tells the tale from the point of view of Margaret Beaufort - mother of Henry VII and hence ancestor of every monarch on the throne of England since then. The initial part of the book, overlaps a bit with the same time period as Jacquetta Luxemberg - The Lady of the Rivers, and its almost parallel to Elizabeth Woodville - The White Queen and Anne Neville - The Kingmaker's Daughter.

History mostly remembers Margaret Beaufort as a strong woman, the influential matriarch of the House of Tudor, but Philippa Gregory portrays her as a spoiled, whiny child with delusions of grandeur and sainthood.

Margaret's father was John Beaufort, the 1st Duke of Somerset, a grandson of John of Gaunt and his mistress(later wife) Katherine Swynford. She was John Beaufort's only legitimate child. But her mother Margaret Beauchamp of Bletso had many more children with her first and third husbands.

In Philippa Gregory's version of Historical Fiction, Margaret hears the tale of Joan of Arc from a poor soldier and imagines herself too to be called by God to do for England what Joan did for France. She keeps thinking of herself as a saintly person and prides the number of hours that she spends at prayer.

Her father dies when she is barely a year old and her mother remarries for the third time, but she continues to control and guide her daughter completely. Margaret's first marriage was to John de la Pole, but her mother got a dispensation from this marriage, when John de la Pole's father - William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk fell out of favor with King Henry VI. Since Margaret was not yet 12, when this happened, Margaret was not yet 12 and hence was not bound to the marriage by canon law.

King Henry VI, then gave Margaret in wardship to his half brothers Edmund and Jasper Tudor. [sons of King Henry VIs mother - Catherine of Valois - (widow of King Henry V of England) who had an affair and perhaps secretly married Owen Tudor - keeper of the Queen's wardrobe, (essentially her major-domo)]

Margaret, as only heir of her father was rich in land and property, so Edmund Tudor quickly married her with the kings blessing, when she was under his wardship when she was barely 12 years old. Edmund died of plague when taken prisoner during the Cousins Wars, leaving behind a 13-year-old widow who was seven months pregnant with their child.

Her mother quickly arranged Margaret's next marriage with Sir Henry Stafford - her second cousin which was performed after the one year widowhood waiting period was over. The one year that she spent with her son in Wales during this time, is the only time she actually got to spend with Henry VII. The rest of her relationship with her son was only through letters and occasional visits.

As the younger son of his father, Sir Henry Stafford did not receive much of an inheritance, so it was Margaret's lands that were their main source of income. While this marriage lasted 13 years, it did not produce and children and in this book, Margaret is deeply disillusioned by this husbands apathy for war, until he himself dies of wounds inflicted on him in a war that he felt compelled to participate in.

Fed up of being used as a bargaining chip and wanting her own independence, Margaret negotiated her own final marriage with Thomas Stanley, the Lord High Constable and King of Mann. Recognizing in his duplicity, the most suitable man in England who could help her place her son on the throne, this was purely a marriage of convenience, which helped take Margaret into the Court of Edward IV of York and Elizabeth Woodville.

In "The Red Queen", Margaret fears her first husband Edmund Tudor for being a brute, but during the one year of her widowhood she falls in love with her brother-in-law Jasper Tudor. Jasper is the person who has the most influence on the life of Henry VII as he spends the most time with him. He himself remains unmarried until after Henry Tudor defeats King Richard III, when he is married to Catherine Woodville (widow of the Duke of Buckingham, sister of Elizabeth Woodville and aunt of Henry Tudor's wife Elizabeth of York) at the age of 54.

Margaret despises her second husband Sir Henry Stafford for being pusillanimous, but he seems to be the only one of her husbands who genuinely cares for her. He comes across as a practical man and for me, he was the only character in "The Red Queen", that I could sympathise with.

Her third husband Thomas Stanley, is an extremely cunning individual who plays both sides in every conflict and openly supports one of the 2 sides only once the winner is clear.

Margaret believes that she is a Godly woman, a saintly one and chosen by God. She believes God speaks to her (but as her second husband says "how is it that God always seems to want, what you want?" She resents Elizabeth Woodville for being the daughter of a non-royal personage and thinks her a whore and a witch. Yet, she is forced to ally with her for the future benefit of her son, including proposing marriage between their children.

The book ends with Henry Tudors victory over Richard III and Margaret believes that her destiny has been fulfilled.

While Philippa Gregory, normally makes the reader empathize with her leading ladies, but in this case, she doesn't. While reading this, as a reader, I wondered why neither her mother, nor her husbands ever bothered to knock some sense into Margaret's head, that's how frustrated I was with her as a character.

The only characters I respected in "The Red Queen" were Sir Henry Stafford for his wisdom and practicality, Elizabeth of York for her strength of character and the wonderful scene of departure from Margaret Beaufort (I can't wait to start reading "The White Princess") and to some extent Jasper Tudor, for his sense of morality and belief in his cause.

If you want to miss any of the books in Philippa Gregory's War of the Roses series, then this book can be given a miss, because all the major events are covered in the other books and Margaret isn't a compelling heroine. However, its also a great book to contrast the other books against and every great heroine needs a villain, and Margaret Beaufort does fit that role.

There are major discrepancies in her thought process (her sons claim to the throne isn't exactly legitimate, but she seems to think that it is pre-ordained by God) Hence she comes across as delusional and fanatical, but inspite of all that, she is still an interesting character.

Rating : 4 / 5 (-0.5 because the lead character irritated and riled me up, so I could not enjoy the book as much)

Also Read Kim's Reviews of the other books in Philippa Gregory's - "Cousins War" Series:
The Lady of The Rivers
The White Queen

The Kingmaker's Daughter
The White Princess

Monday, 28 October 2013

Kim's Review : Rome. . . Past and Present

I first saw this book, when Michael, the owner of the beautiful guest house that we stayed in, in Rome - Pensione Barrett gave us his book to browse through and immediately, I fell in love with the USP of this series.

While R A Staccioli's book - Rome. . . Past and Present - does cover a lot of history and detail, the best part of it are the photographs. So while it has the standard photograph of what the site looks like at present, it aslo has a transparent sheet on top which has details printed on it that superimposes on the picture of the present, to give you an idea of how it could have looked like in the past.

The idea is simply brilliant and I wonder how long it will take to get similar books made for India. Given that we still don't have decent quality representative souvenirs available at our major monuments (magnetic stickers, keyrings, etc), I guess these books will take a long time too and I'm sure a 100 people across the country will jump up and find something in the imagined reconstruction that will "hurt their sentiments"

The monuments covered in this book are mostly from Ancient Rome, except for the last few pages which cover St Peters Basilica and Christian Rome.

There is also a beautiful CD which comes with the book that provides even more rich detailing of the period and the buildings.

Kids of all ages would love this book, for the pictures and the information.

It comes in multiple languages. What I bought in Italy is published by "Vision", but I see that flipkart sells a version by "Frommers" that looks very similar.

Rating : 4 / 5

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Kim's Review : Lonely Planet - Italy for the Indian Traveller

As I mentioned in my previous reviews for the DK Eyewitness books, a few years back we stopped buying Lonely Planet guidebooks and completely migrated to the DK Eyewitness series.

However, on a trip to a local bookstore, I saw the "Lonely Planet - Italy for the Indian Traveller" and took a quick look through it. I quite liked what I saw and so I picked up the book.

While the original Lonely Planet books are high on text and full of detail, heavy in weight and small print, this new series is quite different.

The paper is not as glossy as the DK Eyewitness books, but they are much better quality than the thin material of the original LP books. The font is large, there are lots of accompanying pictures and what I really liked about this book is that it covers the highlights and gives you an itinerary for half day, 1 day, 2 days etc. grouping together the main sights based on location.

So this really helped simplify a large step for me in our planning, which is to sit down with googlemaps and figure out how best to group together monuments and sights while traveling to a new location.

This to me was the biggest advantage of this book. The second big advantage for me was the side boxes with tips and facts. Most Indians would love the tips which give you tricks to save money - city cards, discount outlet shopping etc. And a huge plus for a lot of Indians would be the listing of Indian restaurants in the city and the veggie restaurant section. since we scrupulously avoid Indian food and stick to local specialties when traveling out of India, we didn't use these sections at all, but I'm sure it would be a huge boon to a lot of Indian travelers.

The other great thing about this book, is that they have given the website for the restaurant/ outlet/ location, right with the details (rather than at the back of the book) so its easy to look up online as you are reading the book.

They also have a short list of recommended venues to eat at or sleep in, but to cover every budget and this is given at the end of each city rather than at the end of the book (which is what the DK books do), so its easy to plan your visit to each city just by scanning a few pages at a time.

There are sections on highlights written by Indians who have either lived in that location or spent a substantial amount of time there, that are filled with loads of tips.

So this series looks like it will really simplify the planning process for a lot of travelers. It isn't available on amazon yet, but you can find it on flipkart and in most Indian bookstores.

If you are a gung-ho DIY person, you will prefer the DK books, but if you want the pleasure of planning a trip yourself, but yet have someone to help with a basic framework, then you will love this series.

For me, I think I see myself buying both :)

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Kim's Review : DK Eyewitness Italian Phrase Book

This was the first time I actually bought a Language phrase book, before visiting a country, but then this was also the first time we were visiting a country where we planned to walk extensively and wander on our own, but where English isn't widely spoken. (USA, Canada, UK, Lebanon, Kenya etc weren't a problem at all) and when we visited Morocco and Turkey, we had a guide/translator with us to help navigate the non touristy parts of the country.

But, the real reason I was convinced to buy this book was because it came with an audio CD and I believe that, THAT is the most important part of a phrase book. Its one thing to read a word or a phrase, its quite another to hear it spoken with a native accent.

I skimmed through this book. Underlined phrases I thought I would most need : drinking water, where is the restroom, I'm allergic to prawns, which way to . . . , etc.

And then I just played the CD while I was busy with some other work. I listened to it twice, but I honestly believe it really helped. It gave me a feel for the accent, so I did not have as much trouble with mispronunciation as I did when we first arrived in Egypt.

People in Italy are really helpful and when they see that you are trying to speak in Italian, they do their best to help you. In fact, I wandered across a Russian church in Milan, when I was searching for the Church of bones. I asked the lady inside if she knew where that church was, when she didn't she came out and asked a couple of senior gentlemen who were eating their lunch at a table in the garden if they knew where it was. They tried to give me directions, but it was a bit complicated. So they asked me to hold on for a minute, finished their lunch extra quick and accompanied me through a couple of twists and turns until the church came into my view and only then did they wish me Ciao!

I do pick up the basics of a language easily, so my husband was pretty amazed that by day 4, on the train from Rome to Florence, I was having a conversation with 2 Italian couples opposite us on the train who only spoke a bit of English and I was using my extremely basic Italian, but we understood each other almost 90-95%.

That's also because the Italians use a lot of hand gestures when speaking and since body language is just one of the many topics that I've conducted umpteen number of training sessions on, I found it quite easy to catch the gist of a conversation, since I knew a few basic words.

So, if you are planning to do any exploring on your own in Italy, that is outside of the tourist circuit of hotels, airports, train stations and large museums, I would highly recommend picking up a few phrases and this book with its CD is an ideal way to do so.

Its also less than a 100 grams (3 ounces) in weight, so its easy to slip into a bag when walking around and its also small and square, making it easy to slip into a pocket too.

Rating. 4.5 / 5

Friday, 25 October 2013

Kim's Review : DK Eyewitness Top 10 Tuscany

A couple of years ago, we shifted from using Lonely Planet guides to the country we were visiting, to the DK Eyewitness Guides.

What we really love about the DK Eyewitness guides are their colour photographs, 3D type maps of monuments and the lovely details. The details of each monument or place of interest in these books, makes it easier to take a decision on whether to visit it or not.

The glossy pages and pictures and maps, make the books a lovely souvenir of our holiday too. Just skimming through the book brings back beautiful memories of our holiday. So its really practical to use before and after a holiday.

Again, this is a book I bought way back in 2007, when we were planning a group trip to Tuscany with my husbands friends from BITS. In those days, the book was called "Top 10 Tuscany", but later editions are named "Top 10 Florence & Tuscany"

What is really great about this series (Top 10) is that it really helps you prioritise what to see, when the sheer amount of information overwhelms you.

So while the book starts with what are the top 10 highlights of the entire Tuscan region:
1. Uffizi, Florence
2. Duomo Group, Forence
3. Pitti Palce, Florence
4. San Gimignano
5. Campo di Miracoli, Pisa

it also goes into further detail as to the top 10 collections, and top 10 paintings to see at the Uffizi, top 10 vineyards in Chianti, top 10 Etruscan sights in Cortona, top 10 Tuscan artists, top 10 winehouses, villas, churches and spas.

There's also plenty of useful information at the back.

Personally, I used the information in the "DK Eyewitness Top 10 Tuscany" to make notes at the side of my "DK Eyewitness Italy", to help me pay attention to certain things and mark a view "must visits".

There is so much to see and do in Italy and we have so many interests, that we like to be as well prepared as we can before we even leave for our destination. However, while I had an extremely detailed and tight schedule for Rome, once we reached Florence, I just made a general note of the things I wanted to see and do while there, and then let ourselves flow at a more relaxed pace.

The sheer size of the art collections at the Uffizi and the Pitti Palace are overwhelming, so the top 10 guide to these locations really helped ensure that we didn't miss any of the "best" stuff.

Rating : 5 / 5

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Kim's Review : DK Eyewitness Florence & Tuscany

A couple of years ago, we shifted from using Lonely Planet guides to the country we were visiting, to the DK Eyewitness Guides.

What we really love about the DK Eyewitness guides are their colour photographs, 3D type maps of monuments and the lovely details. The details of each monument or place of interest in these books, makes it easier to take a decision on whether to visit it or not.

The glossy pages and pictures and maps, make the books a lovely souvenir of our holiday too. Just skimming through the book brings back beautiful memories of our holiday. So its really practical to use before and after a holiday.

I actually bought the "DK Eyewitness Florence & Tuscany" ages ago, so mine is a 2003 edition. That's how long I've been planning a trip to Italy. The food and culture of this region has always fascinated me. However, given that this was our first trip to Italy, we decided to cover Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan (this was for work)

Our initial plan was to spend 3 days in Florence proper and then spend 2 days driving around the Tuscany region. San Gimignano, Pisa, Sienna, Chianti, Lucca and Cortona were the areas we were considering. However, given that we are both art, history, culture and architecture buffs, once we landed in Florence, we found that there was so much that we wanted to see in Florence itself, that we cancelled the driving plan.

However, if you do wish to drive around the region - which a lot of our friends have done and loved and recommended heavily - this is a beautiful book to buy, because it has so much more detail and depth about the area compared to the DK Eyewitness Italy book. However, if you are spending just a couple of days in Florence, you will find enough in the Italy book to keep you busy.

Rating : 4.8 / 5

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Kim's Review : DK Eyewitness Italy

A couple of years ago, we shifted from using Lonely Planet guides to the country we were visiting, to the DK Eyewitness Guides.

What we really love about the DK Eyewitness guides are their colour photographs, 3D type maps of monuments and the lovely details. The details of each monument or place of interest in these books, makes it easier to take a decision on whether to visit it or not.

The glossy pages and pictures and maps, make the books a lovely souvenir of our holiday too. Just skimming through the book brings back beautiful memories of our holiday. So its really practical to use before and after a holiday.

The DK Eyewitness Guide to Italy is quite comprehensive with details on every region of Italy. The best part of this particular guidebook was the street by street maps of the heart of the Historic cities. These really helped us get our bearing when we were walking around.

The other feature I really loved was the pictures of the most famous paintings in museums along with a key to the room numbers in which to find them. The pictures often helped us identify or pay closer attention to masterpieces that other tourists just walked past.

The combination of this guide and the free Rick Steeves audio guides really helped us maximise our visits to the bigger museums in Rome and Florence.

There's a lot of helpful information at the back of the book, lists of hotels to stay at and places to eat at. However, personally for stay arrangements, we prefer to use a combination of tripadvisor.com(for reviews, ranking and rating) and booking.com to make the bookings themselves. For eating, we normally stop at a place that's most conveniently located en route our sight seeing path that my nose leads us to or go with a recommendation by a local.But the books also suggests what to eat in which regions.

What we have is the 2012 edition, but the new 2013 edition has come out in September. I always recommend buying the newest edition of guidebooks, because they are the most updated - especially when visiting a new country where you aren't fluent with the local language. If you just want the highlights of what to visit, then you can go ahead and pick up an older edition.

If you are only planning on visiting 1 or 2 cities in Italy, then go for the region/city specific guidebooks.

Rating : 4.8 / 5

Note: Pictures are from dk.co.uk

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