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

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

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