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 reviews, ranking and rating) and 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

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Brajesh's Review: Cutting Chai and Maska Pao

"Cutting Chai and Maska Pao" is a cute small book, which is sure to bring a smile to every reader. The quirky text-plus-picture take on Mumbai's vocabulary is the result of a college project of three young girls.

Even for a person familiar with Mumbai, I found a few nuances in pages dedicated to - Baida, Italian Barber, Mewad Kulfi and Zunka Bhakar. The book has arranged the Mumbai vocabulary alphabetically including typical Mumbaiyaa words like Aila, Tapri, Rapchik, Rokda, Dhinchaks, Jhakaas, Waat

Rating : 3 / 5

Monday, 21 October 2013

Brajesh's Review : The Kill List

Frederick Forsyth remains the master story-teller for sure. This page turner is to be picked up only if you have a free Sunday afternoon to finish it in one go. His timing is uncanny as always. This novel goes deep into the Somalian operations of Al-Shabaab. With Kenya's mall shoot-out not even a month old, a novel with the terrorist group (Al-Shabaab) responsible for same as the central plot was quite spooky. This is not the first time I felt the same. Even the release of his earlier novel "Afghan" and the killing of a few high profile Al-Quaeda officials were eerily close.

The Kill List - story also has an interesting sub-plot of Somalian ship highjacking, which coincided with me watching "Tom Hanks starrer Captain Phillips" yesterday. Overall a master thriller set in the current complexity of global terrorism is both well researched and well timed. Must read.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

My Philosophy when it comes to buying books :)

Brajesh's Review : Sita's Ramayana

Ordinary text with Extraordinary Art, is the best way to describe this graphic novel - Sita's Ramayana. The Patua Graphics are the only reason you should pick up this book. This Bengali folk art-form has been beautifully and artistically adopted for the graphic novel genre, but the text falls short on providing any surprises.

Maybe Samhita's "Missing Queen" had raised my expectations. The story begins at Vanvaas and ends at Sita's departure into Earth's belly. It is told from Sita's perspective but the only interesting perspective for me, was the passage describing the plight of war widows.

The 2.5 is all for the beautiful drawings in the book.

Rating : 2.5 / 5

Also Read : Kim's Review of Sita's Ramayana

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Kim's Review : The White Queen

Philippa Gregory's - "The White Queen" begins where "The Lady of the Rivers" ends and runs parallel to the story line of "The Kingmakers Daughter". So while The Kingmakers Daughter" is about Anne Neville (and a little about Isabelle Neville - the daughters of the Earl of Warwick) and The Lady of the Rivers is about her mother Jaquetta of Luxemburg, later Lady Jaquetta Woodville/Rivers, The White Queen is about the widowed Lady Elizabeth Grey (nee Woodville) who rises to become Queen Consort to King Edward IV (of York)

"The White Queen" begins with the widowed Lady Elizabeth Grey (nee Woodville) waiting by the roadside with her 2 young sons for the newly crowned young King Edward IV (of York) to pass by, so she can petition him to win back her rightful lands and sons inheritance from her mother-in-law who has appropriated it all after the death of her son. However, Edward IV falls in love with her and she with him. So while some call it witchcraft and she calls it love, yet they get married in secret, while the Kingmaker is trying to arrange the Kings Wedding with a Princess from France.

So through her marriage, she automatically makes some very powerful enemies. To counter this, she and her mother raise their own relatives to high positions across the land and the church and arrange high ranking marriages for their extensive family which further angers and upsets both families of Royal blood and rank and the commoners.

The whole of the book deals with the multiple wars that are fought during this period of the War of the Cousins / War of the Roses and the machinations and plotting around these events. Jaquetta's Wheel of Fortune keeps turning for this young couple too, but ultimately ends with Edward IVs early death when his heir and son Edward V is still barely 12 years old.

Edward IV's brother Richard (Duke of Gloucester) kidnaps Edward V with the intention of becoming his Lord Protector, but ultimately ends up locking him in the tower and declaring himself king. The unfortunate Edward V and his younger brother Richard are the "2 Princes of the Tower" whose bodies were never found and whose disappearance is an unsolved mystery unto this day.

However, in this version of events, Philippa Gregory hints that having had her eldest son locked in the tower, Elizabeth actually secreted her second son Richard into hiding and substituted him with a simple page boy when forced to give up her second son into the keeping of their uncle Richard of York.

The White Queen ends with the death of Anne Neville, Elizabeth's eldest daughter (also named Elizabeth) betrothed to Henry Tudor (another cousin claimant to the crown) but in love with Richard of York and Richard of York being suspected by the people of poisoning his wife.

I would love to read an account of Elizabeth of York too and I hope Philippa Gregory has planned to write one, because she is another strong woman who was forced into marriage like a pawn with a man she did not care for. And in The White Queen, Gregory alludes to her having greater power than her mother in terms of magic.

{Added on 20 Oct 2013 : Yes, she has written a book on Elizabeth of York, released earlier this year called "The White Princess"}

Any woman who ever dreamed of being a queen or a princess would quickly grow to even hate the concept if she reads these books of Historical Fiction. Being used as a pawn by their fathers, brothers and husbands to further their own alliances, then married off to philandering husbands (no matter that they are Kings) and constantly worried for the life, health and safety of themselves, their families and their children.

As Elizabeth of York tells her mother when they are hiding in sanctuary - "It is a curse to be born Royal, I just want to be ordinary and marry a man of my choice and live in the country"

Yes, its another wonderful book by Philippa Gregory. What is truly amazing is how even a reader who completely empathises with Anne Neville in The Kingmakers Daughter and distrusts Elizabeth Woodville, can completely empathise with Elizabeth Woodville in "The White Queen" and that is the genius of Philippa Gregory as a writer of Historical Fiction.

Starting on "The Red Queen" next. will let you know how it goes :)

Rating : 4.5 / 5

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

The Red Queen
The Kingmaker's Daughter
The White Princess

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Kim's Review : The Lady of the Rivers

The "Lady of the Rivers" is chronologically the first book by Philippa Gregory around the War of the Roses / War of the Cousins. But since I had read The Kingmakers Daughter first, I was completely prepared to hate Jacquetta - the main Heroine in this book. It is a testament to Philippa Gregory's talent as a writer, that I fell in love with Jacquetta within the first few chapters of this book.

Historically, not much is known about Jacquetta. Born Jacquetta of Luxemburg (to the Count of St Pol, rulers of the Duchy of Luxemburg) she is married while still a child to the widowed Duke of Bedford - brother of King Henry V (House of Lancaster) and uncle to Henry VI who became King when just 7 years old. With the scandal attached to his widowed Mothers remarriage, Jacquetta became the foremost female of the English court with the wife of her husbands brother the Duke of Gloucester.

However Jacquetta's husband died early in her marriage and she fell in love with her husbands squire Richard Woodville and created an international scandal of sorts by marrying him secretly (she being of the Royal family and him being a Commoner) She was forced to pay a huge fine and live the life of a common land owner until the marriage of Henry VI to Margaret of Anjou - a French Princess.

Given Jacquetta's French roots, she was considered by the Court of England to be the best person to help the new Queen acclimatise to England and the ways of the Court and sent to bring Margaret from Anjou to England. Given their common background (French Ancestry - marriage to English Royalty, early marriage etc)) Jacquetta as chief Lady-in-Waiting to Margaret again became the 2nd most powerful woman in the English Court and her husband Richard Woodville is entitled Earl Rivers.

Over the years, Jacquetta and her 2nd husband - Richard Woodville - supported the Lancastrian claim to the throne and fought wars on their behalf, until her husband Richard, lost a battle to Edward of York and as terms of his release swore to never again take up arms against the Yorks.

With the York cousins in power, Jacquetta's family again fades from memory until her daughter Elizabeth Woodville - a widow with 2 sons - manages to enrapture King Edward of York who marries her secretly while his marriage is being negotiated with a Princess of France and takes her to London as his Queen.

While this causes a huge scandal again and breaks down the relationship between King Edward of York and his mentor the Earl of Warwick, as mother to the Queen, Jacquetta again rises to the position of 2nd most powerful woman in the realm, but this time in the service of the Yorks.

Her rise and fall from power and influence change with each war and she calls this the turn of the wheel of Fortune.

Jacquetta is a descendant of the mythic Goddess/mermaid Melusina and legend holds that the oldest girl of every generation of the House of Luxemborg, would have special wisdom and powers.

But this is also the mid 15th century and Joan of Arc is imprisoned in her uncles castle under the charges of treason, heresy, witchcraft and wearing mens clothes. While still a child, Jacquetta witnesses the burning of Joan of Arc by the Church and her Grand aunt cautions her to keep her "gifts' to herself.

However, her constant rise back to power, the number of children that she begets and her influence over key decision makers, has the Earl of Warwick declaring her a witch when he seizes power back from King Edward of York.

It is around these facts, that Philippa Gregory builds a tale of a powerful, independent woman in the mid 15th century. A woman who threw caution to the winds to follow her heart. Building on the recorded accusation of witchcraft against her, Philippa Gregory attributes many more magical powers to her heroine in this book and it makes for an extremely fast paced read.

It was really tough to put down this book at any point, because you just want to keep turning the pages. I absolutely loved it, as will any other reader of the Historical Fiction genre.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Also Read Kim's Reviews of the other books in Philippa Gregory's - "Cousins War" Series:

The White Queen
The Red Queen
The Kingmaker's Daughter
The White Princess

Monday, 14 October 2013

Kim's Review : Sita's Ramayana

After reading the Missing Queen, I knew I had to go back and read Samhita Arni's first book - Sita's Ramayana, which had been lying unread on my book shelf for almost 2 years. (with my love of books, my book buying speed overtakes my book reading speed by about 40%)

If you expect another piece of brilliant speculative fiction like her 2nd book, then Sita's Ramayana is not for you. It is much more traditional in the sense that it retells the events as is accepted by most famous retellings, but it tells the story from Sita's perspective and hence the label of Speculative Fiction.

Sita's feelings and thoughts imbue this book and that is what made it feel so familiar to me. The same thoughts and questions that plague me when I read the "Ramcharitmanas" or other more popular versions are vocalised by Sita in this book by Samhita Arni & Moyna Chitrakar.

The futility of war and the loss of life worry Sita, The predicament faced by Tara (wife of Sugriva, remarried to his brother Vali and then handed back to Sugriva by Rama) upsets Sita, as it would any other woman who values her independence. This is the beauty of Sita's Ramayana. Samhita Arni has given Sita a voice and a voice that echoes with womanly sentiment, emotions, fears and reasoning.

Moyna Chitrakar is a Patua Artist from Bengal who has adapted the Patua scroll paintings style to a graphic novel with wonderful illustrations like these.

Moyna's paintings came first and Samhita Arni then added the text to the story by building on Chandrabati's Ramayana (a 16th century female re-teller of the epic from Bengal) which tells the tale of a brooding and sorrowful Sita who is abducted, rescued, doubted, tested, temporarily accepted, re-doubted and banished by her husband.

Its a beautiful book, that anybody interested in different versions of the epic would appreciate. But most women would resonate strongly with the Sita in this version which begins with the appearance of Surpanakha in the forest and ends with Sita returning to her earth mother.

Rating : 4/ 5

Also Read : Kim's Review of The Missing Queen

Note: The 2nd picture is an image that appeared in the DNA's Review of Sita's Ramayana

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Brajesh's Review : The Enemy

My 8th Jack Reacher in under a year - Yes! my addiction is now totally confirmed. Lee Child's - "The Enemy" was spicy and wholesome. It uncovers a lot of Reacher's past, including his demotion to a Captain and his mother's death in Paris.

The story of the US army going nuts in expectation of a reduction in manpower, post the Berlin Wall collapse is a smart backdrop which weaves well into the murder mystery. Although the novel is loaded with army references, it didn't overwhelm someone like me with limited interest in army details.

I recommend that you read this after you are well and truly into the Jack Reacher franchise to enjoy the unraveling of his past, while you are aware of his present.

The book ends with Jack Reacher stating that he would do what others tell him, as he is in army. This gives a peek into his future rebellion and nomadic life, which is primarily driven by the need to be free of order and orders.

Rating : 4 / 5

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Brajesh's Review : Amreekan Desi - Masters of America

Kim received Amreekan Desi for review from The Readers Cosmos along with Good Reads, so since it was at home, I picked it up, but with really low expectations (given the title and cover you can't blame me).

But once again Amreekan Desi, proved my "judgement by cover" erroneous. The story of a young Indian professional starting his life in US (Amreeka) is explored to death. But Atulya Mahajan brings a freshness and sincerity to his humour which I think is rooted in is his autobiographical experiences.

The characters are stereotypes but keep you engaged, situations are standard but keep you turning the pages and climax is cliched but brings a smile. A light read for anyone, but a MUST read for all engineers who are buried under Baron's guide to GRE.

Rating : 3 / 5

Also Read Kim's Review of Amreekan Desi - Masters of America

Friday, 11 October 2013

Brajesh's Review : Raj Yoga Mediation & Children's Father - Prajapita Brahma

I bought these when we visited the Brahmakumari's HQ ashram in Mount Abu.

I wanted to know the History behind the Brahmakumaris movement - hence the Amar Chitra Katha like book and the Philosophy - hence the Raj Yoga Booklet.

In both cases the thought is nice, simple and idealistic. But the books  are written so badly (language/grammar / sentence construction) that you are more likely to dismiss an interesting philosophy than be engaged further.

If you want to delve into the sect and it's philosophy I would recommend watching Astha Channel's discourses rather than read any of the official publications in English.

Rating : 2 / 5

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Brajesh's Review : The Popcorn Essayists - What Movies do to Writers

I highly recommend "The Popcorn Essayists" to every movie and literature lover. It is an awesome collection of essays on how movies impact writers and writings.

"Two languages in conversation" by Kamila Shamsie is the jewel in this collection. A deep, insightful and emotional commentary on how the two mediums differ and grow richer when they come together. Malin Suri's story on dressing like Helen and performing "Piya Tu Aab To Aaja"on Time Square is a lesson in breaking free and expressionism.

I discovered Kaurismaki through Anjum Hasan and learned about the secret meaning in Maula Jatt through Musharraf Ali Farooqi. Jaishree Mishra writes about life as a member of Censor Board and Sumana Roy deconstructs Ritwik's Ajantrik.

Overall the book is like a brilliantly presented salad with ingredients for all. Simple yet complex, sweet yet sour, rich yet basic, profound yet elementary. Strongly recommended.

Rating : 4 / 5

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Brajesh's Review : Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul

I picked up "Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul" in my quest to add knowledge and gain inspiration for my own weight loss regime. Must say, I was mighty disappointed. All the stories have an identical theme and hardly any layers or insights.

American lifestyle leading to a moment of crisis, which brings a lifestyle change resulting in significant weight loss is the common script of all stories.

Only one story stood out for me, where the writer relates his over-eating problem to childhood deprivation. To some extent I could relate to it. The book is a totally avoidable read. If you want to read a good relatable book on weight loss I would recommend "Confessions of a Serial Dieter" by Kali Puri.

Rating : 2 / 5

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