Monday, 29 July 2013

Kim's Review : Bath Tangle

The number of reprints (the various covers above, are just a sampling of the editions) of the Bath Tangle are a testimony to the popularity of this title by Georgette Heyer.

Bath Tangle opens with the death of the Eccentric Earl of Spenborough, leaving behind a headstrong daughter Serena and a wife Fanny younger than his daughter. While most of the land, the title and holdings go to a distant cousin (according to the law of those times, where property and titles went to closest male relatives), he does set aside some money in trust for his wife and daughter. However, Serena is to receive a small amount as allowance each year under the trusteeship of Ivo Barrasford, Marquis of Rotherham. She will gain control over her small fortune when she marries, but only if the marriage has the consent of her trustee. To complicate matters, Serena was once engaged to the Marquis and had cried off from it as she felt they wouldn't suit.

The Earl had brought up Serena more as a son than a daughter, so she is quite independent in her thinking and comportment and an excellent rider to boot. She used to manage her fathers affairs and is more comfortable taking care of his holdings than his household. Unable to bear the changes being wrought on her fathers property by the distant cousin who is now the new Earl, she and her step mother head to Bath, for a change of scenery and to wait out their period of mourning.

Here Serena bumps into an old suitor Major Hector who having remained unmarried begins to woo her again. The Marquis in the meantime gets engaged to Emily, a pretty but naive girl whose pushy and domineering mother will do anything to arrange a socially upward match for her.

The last few pages of the book are the funniest, where "who loves who" is a major tangle that needs to be sorted out with everyone seeming to be at cross purposes with the other.

The book is written in the normal Heyer style. A lot of her fans feel that the lead pair are not as endearing as some of her other characters, but not for me. Georgette Heyer's female leads have always been strong women or girls. While they may not all be as outwardly strong as Serena is, they all have an inner strength. The language is not as smooth to read as a modern day novel, but its not half as tough as The Conqueror either.

Rating : 4 / 5

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Kim's Review : The Star of Kazan

Eva Ibbotson wrote the Star of Kazan in 2004 and it won the Nestlé Children's Book Prize Silver Award (9-11 years category) and was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal.

Although, the Star of Kazan was selected for the Nestle Childrens Prize in the 9-11 years category, the depth of Historical and Cultural information on Vienna under Emperor Franz Joseph makes it a captivating read for older children as well.

The story revolves around Annika who is found abandoned in a country church by 2 housekeepers who adopt her and bring her up in the house of the 3 Professors that they work for in Vienna. Annika does all that normal children do, but also helps around the house. She particularly loves to cook and develops a strong sense of taste and balance at an extremely early age.

Her birth mother comes to claim her when she is almost a teenager and takes her away to their family estate - Spittal, in Germany.

While the initial part of the Star of Kazan describes life in Vienna, the beautiful countryside, the Viennese delicacies, the amazing Spanish Riding School and its horses, the second part shifts the action to Germany which is much bleaker and lonelier. But, the story hurtles forward with a series of twists and turns.

Its a lovely book and well written, so that readers across ages can find something to enjoy in the book. Eva Ibbotson also wrote a couple of adult novels which have now been recategorised and released as Novels for Young Adults. This is just further proof of her appeal to readers of all ages.

Rating : 4 / 5

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Brajesh's Review : Our Iceberg is Melting

Discovered this book while cleaning up my office cabin. Actually discovered a cupboard full of books :) :) :) :) collected by my predecessors over many years - "What Joy!"

Someone once mentioned to me a speech by one of my early mentors - around the melting iceberg theme - which had made a great impact on him. While I hadn't attended that speech, the memory of that comment prompted me to pick this book up. Its a short book, which can be finished in about an hour.

"Our Iceberg is Melting" narrates a fable of penguins to explain the 8 principles of change management as outlined by John Kotter in his landmark book "Leading Change". As change is the only constant in today's fast paced world, any-one could benefit from this simple 8 step guide.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Friday, 26 July 2013

Brajesh's Review : 99 Thoughts on Ganesha

Another simple, yet powerful Devdutt Pattanaik book. The line drawings are beautiful and could have formed a book on their own, the narrative is pure bonus and what a bonus it is. As usual the mythological insights in the book are profound and intuitive at the same time, that remains Devdutt's signature in all his attempts.

Being a collector of Ganesha idols, the book evoked strong affection and feelings for me. I am a Devdutt Pattanaik fan and believe that he is a modern day Valmiki - a master story teller, hence the book gets an additional 0.5.

Rating : 4 / 5

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Brajesh's Review : The Secret of Leadership

No management lessons, no global gyaan, no hi-funda philosophy .... Just a collection of stories giving simple uncomplicated but universal lessons on Leadership. Prakash Iyer has given us another beautiful collection of fables to keep in our drawer and pull out at random intervals to use it in our lives.

Easy read, great relatability and a strong recommendation for all current and aspiring leaders. The only reason I haven't rated this book is because Prakash has been an "eraser" for me. As the book says, you only thank erasers but never judge them (read the book to figure this one).

Rating : Not Rated as it is written by a friend.

Also Read My Review of Prakash Iyer's other book :  The Habit of Winning

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Kim's Review : The Missing Queen

The Missing Queen is Samhita Arni's second title after Sita's Ramayana. In The Missing Queen, she completely twists the situation to address the common contentious issues in the Ramayana.

The Missing Queen takes the premise of the Ramayan and has a journalist heroine who is searching for Sita, a decade after Ram renounced her. But this tale is not set in the Ayodhya of yore. Television, phone lines, secret service headed by the "washerman", all exist in this Ayodhya.

The tale is divided into 4 distinct parts, where the journalist interacts with Ram & Kaikeyi in Ayodhya, Surpanakha in Lanka, Urmila in Mithila and finally Sita herself.

While the book is an excellent work of speculative mythological fiction, it also raises multiple current issues. The rapid expansion and modernisation of cities, winners rewriting history, exploitation of the people that lose the war, the status of women in society amongst others.

 I don't want to give away more of the story in terms of story line, but I do recommend the book heavily, especially if you like Mythological or Speculative fiction.

Rating : 4.2 / 5

Friday, 12 July 2013

Brajesh's Review : Why CEO's Fail

"Why CEO's Fail - The 11 Behaviors That Can Derail Your Climb to the Top - And How to Manage Them" is an Excellent book. I strongly recommend this book to all leaders who want to succeed.

Constructed around physiologist Robert Hogan's work of derailers, "Why CEO's Fail" talks about 11 reasons why CEOs fail. The interesting bit is that each of these 11 qualities are virtues if managed well, and can catapult one to the top. In fact I would say that a person who lacks some of these qualities,  will be unlikely to reach to the top level of management.

The trick as always, lies in the balance. The moment the leader crosses the balanced line these virtues turn into derailers [Arrogance, Melodrama, Volatility, Caution, Distrust, Aloofness, Mischievousness, Eccentricity, Passive Resistance, Perfectionism, Eagerness to Please].

I think this book will be a corner-stone in the future of leadership development (if not one already). The book doesn't take a holy ground on these derailers and the last page summarises it beautifully "We all need to acknowledge that a flawed human beings can still be outstanding leaders" ..... In fact I would modify the same to say "All great leaders are flawed human beings at some level".

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Brajesh's Review : Private Eye Anonymous

I was quite disappointed with the last graphic novel (Alchemist) which I read. Hence I picked up "Private Eye Anonymous" with a lot of initial reluctance. But this short book by Tejas Modak was funny, quirky and fast.

The story isn't much to write about, but the sketches were beautiful and the humour consistent (though it gets cheesy at places)

Rating : 3 / 5

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Kim's Review : The Homing Pigeons

The Homing Pigeons is Sid Bahri's debut novel.

Sid's journey from Guwahati to Chandigarh, his current move to Majkhali near Ranikhet after giving up his job to focus on writing, his job stint with Citibank, all these experiences have shaped him and wormed their way into the story line of The Homing Pigeons.

There were a few similarities that hit home for me too. Like the hero & heroine of The Homing Pigeons, I too graduated in 1999, I had a bunch of classmates that joined Citibank (amongst other companies). I hail from Mangalore which is supposed to be the hometown of the anti-heroine in the book - Divya. So I was hoping to identify more with the lead characters.

Aditya and Radhika are the Homing Pigeons of this tale. Classmates in High School, colleagues at Citibank after a couple of years, separated by continents only to throw them back together again in a year. Life seems to be drawing them apart and yet they keep coming back to each other.

The Homing Pigeons, moves forward and backwards through a series of flashbacks alternating between Aditya and Radhika's viewpoints. A lot of historical events are covered over the years : the backlash against the Sikhs in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi's Assassination, the recession that hit the job market badly, the reverse brain drain - amongst others are all woven into the tale through the perspective of our 2 lead characters.

The tale is interesting, but to me their actions at times seemed extremely impetuous and at times downright childish. And hence I couldn't really identify with the characters. But I also know that a ton of students in colleges across the country will identify with them very well and this could be the main target audience for The Homing Pigeons.

The start is quite gripping and the middle is quite fast paced too, but at the end, somehow the entire tale seemed to rush to finish in 5 pages. After agonising over every tiny detail in the preceding 300+ pages, the ending seemed abrupt.

If Aditya hated being dependent on his wife once he lost his job, how come he is suddenly OK with living off Radhika and her ex-husbands money?
Why does Radhika take him back so easily given how badly he treated her, especially during the abortion he forced her to undergo?
***End of Spoiler***

It is these questions that beg to be raised that made me feel the ending was abrupt. However, if the target audience for the book is teens and those in their early 20's, the Happily ever After Ending, may just be enough for them to love the book.

I don't think, that I'm the target audience for this book, so my rating is low, however except for some minor editing issues, the book isn't bad and I'm sure it will do very well for itself among readers of this genre.

Rating : 2.8 / 5

This Review is a part of "The Readers Cosmos Book Review Program". To get free books visit and can be checked out on Good Reads

Kim's Review : Geronimo Stilton

The Geronimo Stilton series is a lovely collection of graphic novels for children. Given the depth of information in the stories, I would not classify these as comics, but more of illustrated stories - hence graphic novels for kids.

Geronimo Stilton is a mouse and he, his friends and assorted relatives undertake time travel to save the world's history from the machinations of the cat pirates.

The issues that I skimmed through were all relating to ancient civilisations like the ice age, the Chinese empire at the time of Marco Polo's visit there, the Egyptian empire during the reign of Khufu.

While the stories are entertaining and  I have gotten past the fact that cats are the villains and mice are the heroes in this series, what makes this series special is the amount of history and facts that are slipped into the story line. Facts are marked differently, so its easy for kids to differentiate between fiction and facts while reading, yet they don't disturb the story line flow.

Rating : 4 / 5 (for young readers)

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Brajesh's Review: Without Fail

Another Lee Child, another Jack Reacher, another page turner, another thriller, another US landscape explored, another satisfying read.

Being a Jack Reacher fan, "Without Fail" is totally wholesome and will not disappoint. For a change Jack Reacher is working WITH a law enforcement agency, secret service in this case. He also collaborates with the FBI to stop the Vice-President elect's assassination plot......

And I have already given away enough (you will realize when you read the book). I recommend reading "Without Fail", irrespective of your past non-association with Jack Reacher, as its a great stand alone book.

Rating : 4 / 5

Read my Other Reviews of Lee Child / Jack Reacher

Monday, 8 July 2013

Brajesh's Review : The Alchemist - Graphic Novel

I had read the Alchemist half a decade back and ordered this graphic novel with great expectations as a refresh. This one is a total flop, while the images are cool and using Paulo Coelho as inspiration to draw the King of Salem is smart, nothing else worked for me.

I remember the original book moving me deeply and this graphic version didn't even stir any emotions. AVOID if you are seeking any connect with Coelho.

My fear is that instead to expanding the base for "The Alchemist", this version will actually put people off the philosophy of the original. My advice, keep away from the graphic version, submerge yourself in the original and enjoy the beauty.

Rating : 2 / 5

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Kim's Review : 1001 Foods - The Greatest Gastronomic Sensations on Earth

The Covers of "1001 Foods - The Greatest Gastronomic Sensations on Earth" and "1001 Foods to Die For" look remarkably similar (as you can see in the picture above) However, the introduction for the first is written by Terry Durack and the second one by Corby Kummer. The publisher for the first is Pavilion and the Publishers for the second are Andrews McMeel Publishing and Madison Books. So I'm not sure if they are the same or just share a common topic and cover page.

The book that I own and have reviewed in this post is the 1st one - "1001 Foods - The Greatest Gastronomic Sensations on Earth"

The Editor of this compendium - Terry Durack is Australia's top food writer and restaurant reviewer and also a regular contributor to the UK's Independent on Sunday.

"1001 Foods - The Greatest Gastronomic Sensations on Earth" is divided into 11 chapters following the general courses of a classic dinner. Appetizers & Small Food, Soups & Salads, Noodles & Rice, Fish & Seafood, Poultry & Game, Meats, Beans Cheese & Eggs (a surprise chapter), Fruits Nuts & Vegetables, Desserts, Breads Cookies & Pastries and Beverages. This makes the book a quick and easy reference when you are searching for inspiration. There is also a detailed index at the back if you are searching for something in particular.

Do note, that not all 1001 foods have recipes provided. About 25% of the dishes have detailed recipes, the remaining 75% have general descriptions on what the dish looks and tastes like and a bit about its cultural heritage. If you are comfortable cooking without measurements, these descriptions may be enough for you. But even if you can't do that, you can always run an online search for a recipe of a dish that interests you.There are plenty of full colour photographs that will help you visualise what the finished product should look like.

The recipes have been compiled from a number of well known chefs including Julia Child, Heston Blumenthal, Mario Batali, Nigella Lawson, Madhur Jaffrey, Jamie Oliver, Delia Smith, Ina Garten, Rick Stein, Claudia Roden, Nigel Slater, Gary Rhodes and Donna Hay among others.

1001 Foods also has some single page features like : 25 Best Nibbles to Eat with Champagne, 25 Favourite Poultry & Game Dishes, 20 Superb Sausages, Smoked Foods, Best Barbecued Meats, Salumi (Cured Meats), 4 Strong Cheeses, 4 Sheep Milk Cheeses, 4 Children's Favourites - eggs, 15 Apple Desserts, 20 Chocolate Treats

The book covers recipes from India, USA, France, China, Japan, South East Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand), UK, Jamaica, Mexico, Spain, Italy, Greece, Middle East, Lebanon, Morocco and Germany for the most part.

A couple of recipes from Russia, Ireland, Scotland, Korea, Belgium, Sweden, Mauritius, New Zealand, Israel, Iran, South Africa, Canada, Australia, Portugal, Cuba, Turkey, Balkans, North Africa, Hungary, Poland, Peru, Egypt, Denmark, Nethrlands, Switzerland, Cyprus, Austria, Scandinavia, Balkans and Eastern Europe also make an appearance.

And some recipes whose origins can't really be conclusively traced are classified as European or International.

As you can see, not all countries are covered. I for one would have loved to have seen some SriLankan & Ethiopian dishes in the book and more recipes from South Africa and South America.

But it would be difficult to create a truly comprehensive book on world cuisine that will satisfy everyone.

Rating : 4 / 5

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Brajesh's Review : Mr. Majestic - the Tout of Bengaluru

I had started "Once upon a time in Scandanivistan" by Zach O'Yeah some time back, but couldn't read it beyond a few pages. I can't remember why. But after reading Mr. Majestic's adventure I am eagerly waiting to get back and read "Once upon a time in Scandanivistan".

I recommend " Mr. Majestic - the Tout of Bengaluru" to anyone who has had life touched by Bangalore &/or Bengaluru. It's a thriller laced with humour and wit. Covers a lot of geography and sociology of Bangalore. The characters remain quirky and odd but still seem real and not caricatured. Situations seem stretched and odd but never contrived. A different genre explored by me. The book does complete justice to the craft, city & characters.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Friday, 5 July 2013

Kim's Review : The Conqueror

I first read Georgette Heyer, way back in the early 90's, because my mum and her sisters had some of them in my Grandparents library. (Yes, our family has a long history of Bibliophilia)

What I loved about her books was the period settings, the historical references, the believable characters and the sheer depth and range of descriptions, that transported me directly into those eras. So meticulous was she, that Georgette Heyer is considered the innovator of the historical romance genre and its subgenre - Regency romance.

Heyer's strongest suit was the meticulousness of her research. Given that she lived in the pre-internet, pre-google search era (1902-1974), it is not surprising that at the time of her death, she had over 1,000 historical reference books and it was widely accepted that no one in England at that time, knew more about Regency language than Heyer.

I'd been wanting to read more Georgette Heyer, ever since Arrow started reprinting her books. But this idea lay on the backburner for awhile. I bought 2 last year, but only just got around to reading the first.

Georgette Heyer wrote "The Conqueror" in 1931, over 900 years after the events described in the book.

This book tells of William the Conqueror, bastard son of Robert the Magnificent - Duke of Normandy. Since Robert died when William was around 7 years old, with no legitimate sons, William succeeds him as the Duke of Normandy.

Most of the story is told through the eyes of the fictional character Raoul de Harcourt. Raoul is captivated by William at a young age and enters into his service. He comes to the notice of William who realises that Raoul has been sleeping unbidden outside his bedroom to keep him safe from would-be traitors and murderers (earning him the sobriquet - "the Watcher") and actually saves his life by doing so.

Raoul becomes William’s favourite, and serves with him in all his military campaigns and is the closest thing to a friend, to the calculating and political William. Raoul also provides the reader with a more humane world view and is a more endearing character than William himself.

The book which starts from Williams birth, tells of how he regains control of his Duchy on attaining adulthood. He then unifies and strengthens Normandy and finally is crowned King of England with the blessings of Rome after defeating Harold Goodwinesson.

The Conqueror offers an interesting contrast between Harold Goodwinesson and William the Conqueror. While Harold is loved and respected by his people, William inspires respect through fear. Harold reacts emotionally, whereas William is extremely cold, calculating and plans everything in great detail, he does not let his emotions interfere in his decisions in any which way, except in the case of his courtship and marriage to Matilda of Flanders.

And what a strange courtship it was. Since she refused in open court to marry him as she was of pure Royal blood (her Father was Earl of Belgium and her mother was the sister of the Queen of France) and he was a bastard, whose grandfather was a tanner. On hearing of this insult, William rode from Rouen to Flanders, rushed into her castle, whipped her with his riding crop and then pretended to forget about her for a couple of years!

The book is generally true to history, except for a few characters that have been created to smooth the story along. Also, while the book says that Judith who married Harold's brother Tostig was Matilda's sister, history says she was most probably Matilda's aunt.

The Conqueror is an interesting read but slightly difficult because of the language and structuring of sentences and period dialogues. (Read an excerpt here to see what I mean) But its worth persisting.

My most interesting takeaway from this book, is that although the Normans ruled England for almost a century, they soon lost not only England, but also their identity in Normandy. Normandy was retaken by France and amalgamated into the French culture.

I wish there were more books like this about Indian History too. The fights and squabbles between the various rulers in Europe are so similar in ways to the skirmishes and wars between local Indian rulers and chieftains. They would definitely make for interesting reading.

Rating : 3.8 / 5

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Brajesh's Review : The Last War

The back of the book states "The greatest story ever, told again". And you know it's a modern day retelling of the Mahabharat. Any decent writer is highly unlikely to go wrong with that. Sandipan Deb does an excellent job. Set in Bombay turning to Mumbai era and with control of the underworld at stake.

The Last War makes some excellent metaphors. Gaandeev turns to a gun named Gaandu, Karna's armor to a bullet proof vest, Chakravyuh to Dharavi, Chausar to cricket betting and so on. At every stage, you feel the writer could have done better in recreating the parallels, but then you realize that no one can ever achieve the perfection of the original.

Overall the story is gripping and fast and the book is a page turner, even when you are totally familiar with the narration. If you are a fan of the "greatest story" you must give this a shot and finish over 2 days stretching late into each night (just as I did :-))

Rating : 4 / 5

Also read Kim's Review of the Last War

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Kim's Review : The Witches - Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl's - the Witches has courted its fair share of controversy. It appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990 to 1999, at number 22.

While it may seem politically incorrect today, I enjoyed it as a child and the re-reading was equally pleasurable.

The story is about how witches live among humans, looking completely human, until they take off their gloves and wigs and shoes. Their one purpose in life is to get rid of children because they don't like how they smell.

This story is like the ghost stories my nana used to tell. Stories we begged her to tell us, of ghosts and witches and demons. There is a wicked pleasure in reading books like these or hearing the stories. It scares you, without terrorising you, while at the back of your mind, you still know that they are just stories.

I think kids today (9-14 year olds) will also enjoy this book, especially little boys and girls who love to be scared. Be aware, tha this book isn't in the same genre as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but its still a good read.

Rating : 3 / 5

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Brajesh's Review : Manuscript Found in Accra

Manuscript Found in Accra flows like a serene stream in a mountainside and feels the same. Peaceful message in a simple and pleasant voice. The setting is a village in Jerusalem on the brink of destruction in 1000 AD. The villagers ask ordinary and universal questions to a Copt in presence of a Rabbi, Imam and Priest. The answers are lucid , uncomplicated and universal. The books leaves you with a sense of calm, serenity and peace that is signature Coelho.

Rating : 4 / 5

Monday, 1 July 2013

Kim's Review : The Last War

The concept of Sandipan Deb's "Last War" was so interesting, that I was ready to order the book immediately, without bothering to find out anything more. The teaser said that it was the Mahabharat reinterpreted in the scenario of Bombay's underworld. The author had also release the first chapter online, which I read and I was immediately hooked.

For a change, I started reading the book, the day it arrived (rather than putting it in my extremely high stack of bedside books). I sped through the book, even though I was on an extremely hectic travel schedule with a group. I couldn't wait for events to end, so I could come back to my room and read some more. That is how completely gripping "The Last War" is.

Sandipan Deb has re-imagined the Mahabharat in the fight for control over Mumbai's underworld. Yes, some things are changed: the characters of Madri, Nakul, Sahadev are dispensed with. Gandhari's equivalent does not walk around blindfolding herself, nor does she have a 100 sons, 2 of them are more than enough to take the story forward.

Some things were a little far fetched like Yash Kuru (Bhishma) demonstrating archery skills at the Gateway of India ala William Tell. But the story itself hurtles forward headlong into sex, lies, cunning, conniving, betting, deception, love, romance and teenage angst.

The reinterpretation/modernisation of "The Geeta" is also completely brilliant.

This is not the way I normally write a review, but I really don't want to give away anything of the story as it will blunt your reading pleasure, if you haven't read this one already.

I highly recommend "The Last War" even if you have never heard of the Mahabharat, the book will definitely entrance you.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

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