Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan by Ruby Lal | Book Review

A few years ago, Hillary Clinton, speaking to a women’s magazine, said: “Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world. It is past time for women to take their rightful place, side by side with men, in the rooms where the fates of peoples, where their children’s and grandchildren’s fates, are decided.”

While she was spot-on in her observation in the wake of 21st century’s rising wave of feminism, I doubt she was aware of the dynamic woman who did all that and more at a time when it was absolutely unheard of. A woman who proved to be a feminist icon in the days of 17th century Mughal India – a time when the term Feminism had not yet been coined (it would take nearly two hundred years for the world to first hear what Feminism was). And yet, this astonishing woman accomplished what no other woman in the history of Mughal India, neither before or after her, would ever hope to.

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Ruby Lal, in this remarkable biography titled Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan, traces the rise of Mihr un-Nisa, born to a Persian noble and widow of a subversive official, who became the twentieth and most cherished wife of Emperor Jahangir, and later co-sovereign and ruler of Mughal India.

To know more about this phenomenal woman with a fascinating history, read my detailed review published as a Featured Post on Women’s Web, here.

Title: Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan
Author: Ruby Lal
Publisher: Penguin Random House India
ISBN: 978-0-670-09062-4
Edition/Year: First Edition 2018
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Non-Fiction/Biography
Pages: 328
Source: Women’s Web
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Ruby Lal is an acclaimed historian of Mughal India. Her previous books are Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World and Coming of Age in Nineteenth Century India: The Girl-Child and the Art of Playfulness. She teaches at Emory University and divides her time between Atlanta and Delhi.

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Mothering A Muslim by Nazia Erum | Book Review

A quote credited as Anonymous says: ‘Every child is a different kind of flower, and all together, they make this world a beautiful garden.’ I couldn’t agree more, but at the same time I can’t help wonder, how does it speak for our society when these very flowers, beautiful and fragile as they are, start discriminating against each other on religious grounds – a subject they aren’t even equipped to comprehend?

If a mother has to start thinking whether the name she chooses for her child should establish their religious identity or not, it becomes a cause of great concern. Surely, every parent has a right to name their child without having to mentally run through its religious repercussions?

Unfortunately, in a country claiming to be secular, we as a nation are becoming increasingly divided over religion. While there is the strong political angle to it, Nazia Erum, the author of Mothering A Muslim, discovered the shocking reality of the religious segregation that has slowly, steadily, crept into the classrooms and playgrounds of India’s elite schools.

As she reached out to 145 families across twelve cities, over a period of one year, she realised naming her child was the least of her concerns.

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Erum has researched extensively on the subject of this book. To begin with, she consciously chose to speak with Muslim women living in mixed localities rather than those from all-Muslim neighbourhoods. She documented personal experiences of urban, educated Muslim women and their families. In the course of her interviews she also met many ‘authentic Muslim women’ who seem to be missing from our society but are more than just a symbol. As she found out, this authentic Muslim woman could be your neighbour, your doctor, or your child’s school teacher. She is everywhere, in all her hijabi feisty-ness, as long as you care enough to pay attention, and she too is struggling to prove her identity in a community that is constantly judging her for how she practices Islam.

All these women made a varied collection of subjects, each with their own stories that had one thread connecting them. They were all fearful for their children who had been targets of Islamophobia and nationalism in school.

The author has presented a subject considered taboo in our society with a brilliant sensitivity. She highlights how conversations from our drawing rooms are growing roots into the minds of children as young as six years old, which in turn are becoming the cause of trauma and rampant bullying in school yards and classrooms.

It may be a harmless seeming remark when a student decides to call his Muslim classmate ‘Paki’ or ‘Terrorist’. But as the author discovered, it has raised alarming questions in the mind of the child labelled so, regarding his identity. It was disturbing to read how a parent did not reprimand their child for one such insensitivity and instead replied that it was in response to being called ‘fat’. What more can one say? And this was only of the many stories revealed in this book.

The experiences narrated are horrifying and heartbreaking, to say the least. Yet, many parents let it slip by, choosing not to report them to the school authorities, because it is something that happens and one has to learn to live with. The statistics presented at the end of the book clearly speak for themselves – not enough is being done. However, as the author points out, schools need to create a policy and parents need to sit up and take notice.

Mothering A Muslim is not an argument over religion. It is a conversation on the values with which children are being raised today. Children perceive actions more than words and unknowingly imbibe the sentiments of the elders around them. This book is a call to parents and teachers on the role they have as nurturers and educationists. For they are the ones who must rise to fight for what is right in the hopes of creating a better future for all of us.

Title: Mothering A Muslim
Author: Nazia Erum
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
ISBN: 978-93-8622-853-6
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 248
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author:  Nazia Erum runs a fashion start-up called The Luxury Label. She lives in Noida.
She is active on Twitter and Instagram.

Note: This blogpost is a top post on Indiblogger.in and has appeared on their homepage.Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers

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Marital Advice to my Grandson, Joel by Peter Davidson | Book Review

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, hearts, roses, and teddy bears have already hijacked our social media timelines. While those with a special someone in their lives can’t get enough of the season of love, there are others, like me, who once again struggle to resist rolling their eyes at those big red hearts. It is only apt then that I chose to read this book in the month of February. To understand why, read on.

Being a 30-something single woman, when I see the way romantic relationships, especially those committed in marriages, function today, I can’t help but agree with British writer Rosamunde Pilcher, OBE, who said: ‘People today expect too much from marriage. Getting married is really like taking on a big new job.’

I believe it was Leonardo da Vinci though, who described it best, saying: ‘Marriage is like putting your hand into a bag of snakes in the hope of pulling out an eel.’ As off-putting as that may sound, I do think it captures the true essence of the institution.

When American author Peter Davidson’s grandson, Joel, got engaged, he decided to jot down a few words of marital wisdom for him, based on his own experiences as a husband. Then he thought, why share this wisdom with only one person when he could share it with the whole world. So, he started a blog, listing new marital advice every week. As the popularity of the blog grew, people suggested that the material be turned into a book, and, well, he did turn it into one! A book that explained to the reader – How to be a husband your wife won’t throw out of the window in the middle of the night.

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We’ve all heard of marital advice being passed down generations. Every family has their own treasure trove of wisdom that they swear by. This grandad is no different. But you can be sure he knows exactly what he is talking about. Let me share an example or two.

The first piece of advice he received when he himself was getting married was that ‘It takes a lot of effort to make a marriage work.’ Sure, everyone knows that. Okay, almost everyone. But no one told you exactly how much effort you should expect to put in. Davidson, on the other hand, gets it spot on when he explains that this advice is like giving you a rowboat somewhere off the coast of California, pointing out into the ocean and saying, “If you paddle in that direction you’ll eventually reach Hawaii”.

Another well-meaning gentleman advised him: “Measure twice and saw once.” The purveyor of this fabulous wisdom was a carpenter, he says, but in marital terms it probably means you should think twice before you open your mouth. I think most people, married or not, would stand to gain by following this.

The author starts his book on marital advice from the very beginning. As soon as the ring finds its place on the finger, it already seems too late in getting started with wedding preparations. He explains exactly what the man’s role is in his own wedding – right from deciding the date (sports lovers: you might want to pay attention to what he has to share here) to planning every little detail that goes into putting together a wedding.

Once that is done, there is more valuable advice on settling into married life, understanding your wife and other myths about marriage, being the exemplary husband she wants you to be, and last but not the least, how to make sure you’re in it for the long haul. All of his advice has simple tips, easy to understand and follow, that are explained by way of examples.

However, the one particular piece of wisdom that made me laugh like none other was his observation on the measure of being a good husband. As he points out in his book, there are few things married woman enjoy more than getting together with their friends, mothers, and other wives, and having a full-blown bitching session about what a bunch of low-down, miserable, worthless, lazy, sloppy, gross, crude, barbaric idiots their husbands are.

There is one thing though, that they like even better. It centres around the magic word B.R.A.G.. As long as wives can brag about all the wonderful ways in which their husbands help around the house, the husbands can be sure they have hit the jackpot in their marriage. Rest assured, his advice includes steps, with examples, to win that elusive jackpot.

I wouldn’t deny that much of his advice is off-the-charts wacky. Nonetheless, it is a hilarious look at marriage. Davidson’s nuggets of wisdom are as entertaining as they are insightful which makes this book a priceless find. These are things you won’t find in a book on marital relations written by a psychiatrist, nor will you learn them in a session with a marriage counsellor. This is real advice, for real people, that just needs to be followed everyday.

Whether you are married, engaged, or single, this is one book you can all relate to. Women will have a good laugh while at the same time appreciate the message because, let’s face it, we are far more attentive to detail and all we need is for the men in our lives to understand that. This book might help in using some of the ideas to our own advantage.

Most importantly, this may be the one book that helps you decide how important marriage is to you. In the author’s words, it might convince some of you to take the plunge, or perhaps confirm your belief that being single is a blessing. If you’re still stuck deciding, I strongly recommend you pick this up. It is a quick read that is sure to brighten up your day, one way or the other.

Author: Peter Davidson
Publisher: Sweet Memories Publishing
ISBN: 978-0-692-99815-1
Edition/Year: First Edition 2018
Format: Kindle Edition
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 152
Source: Author
Rating: 4 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Peter Davidson is the author or co-author of twenty-nine books including fiction, non-fiction, college textbooks, and children’s picture books. His works have been published by McGraw-Hill Book Company, Perigee/Putnam Publishers, Sweet Memories Publishing, Haworth Press, and others.
Davidson is also a songwriter and one of his songs was used in a television series in the Netherlands. For more than two decades, Davidson was one of America’s most active writer’s seminar presenters, having presented over 625 one-day seminars. Davidson has been a professional recording studio owner, college professor, and retail store owner. Peter and his wife live in the Lake Okoboji resort area of Iowa in the summer and in their Arizona home in the winter.
Follow Peter on Twitter and Facebook to connect with him. You can also read his blog at www.maritaladvicetomygrandsonjoel.com, where the idea for this book began.

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The Perils of Being Moderately Famous by Soha Ali Khan | Book Review

What is it like to be known as Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi’s daughter?
Or to have a mother as famous as Sharmila Tagore?
Or to be recognized as Saif Ali Khan’s sister?
Or as Kareena Kapoor’s sister-in-law?
And where does one stand among them?

Actor Soha Ali Khan’s debut book is at heart a brilliant collection of personal essays where she recounts with self-deprecating humour what it was like growing up in one of the most illustrious families of the country. With never before published photos from her family’s archives, The Perils of Being Moderately Famous takes us through some of the most poignant moments of Soha’s life – from growing up as a modern-day princess and her days at Balliol College, to life as a celebrity in the times of social media culture, and finding love in the most unlikely of places – all with refreshing candour and wit.

The blurb (as above) is quite convincing; to the point that the reader is compelled to pick up the book. I, on the other hand, bought this on the recommendation of a total stranger at the bookstore who, when she overhead me asking the store-owner his opinion on the book (his recommendations are always spot on), jumped into the conversation and insisted that I give it a read. I confess, at the risk of sounding judgemental, that I did peek at the selection of books she was buying to make sure her advice was dependable. I wasn’t disappointed – either with her shopping list, or this book.

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Once you move past the book’s title, which raises some very interesting questions by itself, and begin to start reading, you realise that Khan writes her story with an effortless poise. Her language is simple, yet extremely entertaining; her expression fun, with a quirky sense of humour.

She makes it explicitly clear at the beginning that she is not out to create a controversy, or scandal, or reveal family secrets, as most celebrity memoirs, lately, tend to do. This is simply her story of being born a princess, raised like any other girl born to famous parents before the advent of social media, and experimenting with life’s challenges before finding her true calling.

She begins by introducing both sides of her illustrious family and their rich cultural heritage. She describes her early years growing up in Delhi and then in London. Her affinity to the performing arts, or lack thereof, in favour of a strong academic foundation to begin a career in the corporate world so as to pave her way to settle down in London, makes for quite a story.

Most people see celebrities and their lifestyles as aspirational than anything else. But underneath all the glamour and fame are some regular people living very real lives.

How that came to be for Soha Ali Khan, what changed and why, makes her seem more girl-next-door than a star, which, incidentally is also what her name translates to.

The Perils of Being Moderately Famous is exactly as the title suggests. Hilarious, honest, warm and wise. As long as you don’t expect it to be a Bollywood flavoured gossip column, you will chuckle at the author’s wit and marvel at her courage and charm with which she has written this self deprecating memoir.

Title: The Perils of Being Moderately Famous
Author: Soha Ali Khan
Publisher: Penguin Random House India
ISBN: 978-0143439967
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Personal Copy

Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Soha Ali Khan is an Indian film actor who has appeared in movies such as Rang De BasantiTum Mile and Go Goa Gone. She studied modern history at Balliol College, Oxford, and earned a Masters’ Degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is the youngest daughter of actor Sharmila Tagore and Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, the ninth nawab of Pataudi. Both her father and paternal grandfather, Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi, were former captains of the Indian cricket team. Her older brother is Saif Ali Khan and she’s married to actor Kunal Kemmu.
She is active on Facebook and Twitter.

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2017: One Year One Hundred (108) Books

As 2017 draws to a close, I can’t help but wonder at how amazing this year has been for me in terms of books. Despite a more than erratic reading schedule, which was pushed back time and again to accommodate other things, I did meet my reading target of 108 books. But that’s not all. In addition to all the wonderful books I discovered and read, there are three things that happened for me, specifically around books, that call for special mention this year.

The first is how, by a genius stroke of luck, I won the Stacy Alesi & ITW International Book Giveaway which delivered seven new International thriller releases (translation – not yet released in India), all signed by the authors, at my doorstep. To know more about what it is and how it happened, click here.

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The second was the joy I discovered in adult coloring this year and how I was able to pair it with books. It all started with a book in which blue roses featured almost as prominently as a character in the story and I was so fascinated that I had to colour them. And almost suddenly, I turned into, what I call, a colouring addict.

If you’ve been following me on this blog and/or on Instagram, you would have seen that most of my posts on books are paired with a colored sketch of something that matches the book’s theme. Now, I’ve read enough posts and articles on the internet on how adult coloring is lame and if at all one wants to do something creative, Bullet Journaling is the trend. I, however, beg to differ. As much as I enjoy the beauty of BuJo, I love the therapeutic calm of colouring. I have also paired books with some papercrafts, but colouring is what I enjoy best. Do drop by for a visit here and let me know what you think.

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The third and most recent reason of joy was my experience at a books-by-weight sale. A friend convinced me to accompany her to one, even though I wasn’t too keen. But I decided to check it out anyways. Long story short – I went and bought a truckload of books. Yes, a truckload. No exaggeration. (If you remember my Instagram post: that number listed there was accompanied by another bigger number that was added later and not disclosed on Instagram).

So, while I now have a roomful of books that would fulfill at least the next three years of my reading requirements, I have also, sadly, blown away my entire book budget for these next three years. All I can hope now, for buying new books (because I can’t stop myself from doing that, no matter what), is the mercy of book gifts and gift vouchers. If you don’t know, my birthday is in March,  but I accept gifts all year through 😀

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With all this bookish amazing-ness, I am now ready to reveal the books that made it to my list of favourites this year. But before I do that, I do ask for your patience because there is one important thing I need to get out of the way. Statistics.

Of the 108 books I read in 2017 – I have collated some reading statistics from my list of books. Why, you ask? Well, because I love doing this. Naturally, I had help getting some of these figures from Goodreads’ Year in Books.

So here we go:
Total number of books read = 108
Total number of pages = Approx. 30,606 pages. It shows a drop by about 1,800 pages from last year.
Shortest book = Tit for Tat by Archana Sarat (an ebook of flash fiction) at 36 pages
Longest book = Holly’s Inbox by Holly Denham at 736 pages. Surprisingly, I read it in a few hours and it was amazing. An entire story told by way of emails only.
Most popular book = The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Number of Non-Fiction books = 16. Up 4% from last year.
Number of books by Indian/Indian Origin Authors = 48. Up 10% from last year. This is a conscious effort on my part to read more such books.
Number of books translated to English from other Indian or Foreign languages = 8. Down 1.8% from last year.
Number of books by debut authors (fiction novels) = 15. Of these, 4 feature in my list of favourites this year.
Number of books reviewed = 17 with detailed reviews on the blog. There were 19 others whose Instareviews were posted only on Instagram. But Goodreads carries short reviews of all 108 books.
Number of physical books read (paperback/hardcover) = 57
Most books read in a month = 18 in November. With only one month left, I was desperate to catch up.
Least books read in a month = 1 in February. I was too busy writing, I think.

Brunch Book Challenge 2017 Landscape Resized

And now, once again, for the third year in a row, I pick my favourite books of the ones I read in 2017. Here is the list, categorised by Indian and International authors, in Fiction and Non-Fiction:

Indian Fiction (in random order)
1-In the Light of Darkness.jpg1. In the Light of Darkness – Radhika Maira Tabrez
I loved how the author brought this heartening story of Susan and Meera to life . The struggles and sacrifices the characters endure should be a reminder to all women that they always have the strength inside them to fight their way towards a better life. That the struggle will only heal them and make them stronger.

28-Baaz - Anuja Chauhan

2. Baaz – Anuja Chauhan
She has been my favourite author ever since I read her first book and this time she wows with a story set during the ’71 war, starring a determined young woman, and a hero who, beside being deliciously swoon-worthy is an Indian Air Force pilot. Pulsating with love, laughter and courage, Baaz is Anuja Chauhan’s tribute to our men in uniform.

3. The Association of Small Bombs – Karan Mahajan32-The Association of Small Bombs - Karan Mahajan.jpg
The book begins with a bomb blast in a South Delhi marketplace in the late 1990’s, and in it’s aftermath, folds within itself the lives of various characters.
The author’s prose is captivating, despite the grief and agony his characters experience. He presents a perspective that is evident and yet so easy to disregard. The book makes you introspect about why things happen and how they impact an individual’s decisions.

34-Cantilevered Tales - Jayant Kripalani4. Cantilevered Tales – Jayant Kripalani
The author says, he overheard a group of people talking about saving a water body from some unscrupulous builder and started keeping tabs on them. This is not a Builder v. Helpless Citizen epic. In fact that is the least important part of the book. This is about the quirks of ordinary citizens and their response to situations around them, which in turn makes them the people they become. This, is a literary masterpiece, laid out with generous servings of wit and humour, as evident from the writing style that spotlights the sociopolitical theme chosen.

40-Revelations of an Imperfect Life - Sankhya Samhita5. Revelations of an Imperfect Life – Sankhya Samhita
A young woman finds herself stuck in a perfunctory marriage and in an impulsive moment, decides to leave her indifferent husband. The characters are delightful, written with such perfection, despite each of their flaws, that after a point you can feel them being a part of your life. The prose reads like a song – every note mellifluous with picturesque descriptions. The expressions captivate you with the gorgeous play of words.

63-I Quit Now What - Zarreen Khan6. I Quit! Now What? – Zarreen Khan
This story of a young, single woman, going on a sabbatical, is a fun read, with the perfect mix of dreams, fantasy and practicality. In addition to her overt subtlety, the author writes with a definite flair for humour. It comes naturally to her and she infuses it at the right places, often coupled with eye-rolling sarcasm that makes you roll on the floor from laughing so much it hurts.

65-‎The Windfall - Diksha Basu7. The Windfall – Diksha Basu
Diksha Basu presents a hilarious tale of a middle-class Delhi family struggling to fit into the mould that comes with their new-found wealth. A tug of war between values and aspirations. If you’re looking for a better-than-good book that will spread warmth in your heart after reading it, I recommend this one.

97-When I Hit You - Meena Kandasamy8. When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife – Meena Kandasamy
When I Hit You is seething with rage. It is painful and devastating. It is also powerful, courageous and inspiring. It is a lesson. Of the signs that should be identified. Of hope. Of strength. Of being the woman not the world wants you to be, but what you want to become.

International Fiction (in random order)

Thrillers Square Resized.jpg1. Gregg Hurwitz, K. J. Howe, Brad Parks, David Baldacci, Lisa Scottoline, Ben Coes, Joseph Finder, Michael Connelly, Nelson DeMille, David Lagercrantz, Reed Farrel Coleman, Andrew Gross, David Ignatius, Matthew Dunn
This selection of thrillers writers has been my favourite this year, some of which I have been following closely and others that I discovered thanks to TheRealBookSpy. (For more, read all about my #RealBookSpyReadingChallenge here.)

66-Britt-Marie was Here - Fredrik Backman
2. Britt-Marie was Here – Fredrik Backman
This Swedish author who first wrote A Man Called Ove has been another favourite for the eccentric, yet endearing, characters he writes. His books are my sunny stories, for they warm my heart.

David Walliams Resized.jpg3. Grandpa’s Great Escape, The Boy in the Dress, Gangsta Granny, Billionaire Boy – David Walliams
I came across this children’s author on Twitter and, out of curiosity, picked up Grandpa’s Great Escape. I loved it so much that I got seven more titles by him. But since I have to choose, these four are my favourite. And yes, I do occasionally read children’s fiction as well. We are, after all, only kids at heart.

73-‎The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
I read this for a book club meeting and found it to be immensely hilarious and surprisingly relevant for today’s time, despite having been published in 1979. With a dry and subtle sense of humour, this books takes its time but eventually grows on you when you realise it is not a book but a way of life.

102-‎The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson.jpg5. The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson
I have come to realise, after reading all of Jonas Jonasson’s books (another new favourite Swedish writer on my list, that there is a world out there where things happen for a reason, or for no reason at all. His characters are charming and his plots are preposterous. But, you see, things are what they are, and whatever will be will be. And for that reason alone, I can’t help falling in love with his books. Do also check out The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden and Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All.

101-Holly's Inbox - Holly Denham6. Holly’s Inbox – Holly Denham
This is a one of a kind novel which I discovered in the non-fiction section of the books-by-weight sale I went to last month. It is a light hearted page turner with a narrative that is completely written by way of emails. It is an absolutely delightful read and I am now looking to get my hands on its sequel.

Indian Non-Fiction (in random order)
4-Kohinoor


1. Kohinoor: The Story of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond – William Dalrymple and Anita Anand

An intensively researched account of the story of the world’s most infamous diamond which has been shrouded in a fog of history and mythology for centuries.

27-Bag it All - Nina Lekhi.jpg2. Bag it All – Nina Lekhi (as told to Suman Chhabria Addepalli)
The journey of the woman behind Baggit, the famed eco-friendly handbag brand, who planted the seeds of a tiny project at the young age of 18 when she failed her First year of Commercial Art. What started in one half of the children’s bedroom in her parents’ house, only as a means to move forward from her failure and to prove herself, has today grown into a 100+ crore company.

52-Sonal Mansingh - Sujata Prasad
3. Sonal Mansingh: A Life Like No Other – Sujata Prasad
A mesmerising account of her passion to dance and to life, her worship and also her struggles, to achieve all that she has. Reading her biography makes you feel that hers is really a life like no other.

72-Kissing the Demon - Amrita Kumar
4. Kissing the Demon: The Creative Writer’s Handbook – Amrita Kumar
With the repertoire of her experiences spanning four decades, the author lays out a simple and effective method to traverse the seemingly arduous path of pursuing Creative Writing, either professionally or as a hobby.

International Non-Fiction (in random order)

55-Why Won't You Apologize - Harriet Lerner1. Why Won’t You Apologize? – Harriet Lerner
It explains how a wholehearted apology means valuing your relationship and accepting your as well as the other person’s responsibility without any hint of evasion, excuse or blame. It teaches you to lead with your heart, have the courage to apologize and the wisdom to do it meaningfully.

61-Rich Dad, Poor Dad - Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon L. Lechter.jpg
2. Rich Dad, Poor Dad – Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon L. Lechter
Using simple examples, the author explains the fundamentals in making money work for you, instead of you working for money.

76-‎The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love - Per J. Andersson3. The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love – Per J. Andersson
This is an inspiring account of PK’s journey through life, of overcoming obstacles that began with being born an untouchable in India, amidst hunger and poverty, to travel 7000 miles to find and marry a Swedish woman of noble descent whom he loved.

92-‎The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving A Fck - Sarah Knight
4. ‎The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving A F*ck – Sarah Knight
In this book, the author helps identify things we don’t care about (Step 1) and shows how not to spend time, energy and/or money on them so that we can use those finite resources in what we really do care about. (Step 2). A simple concept to separate Annoy from Joy.

If you want to check out the complete list of books I read in 2017, you will find it here.

My review and rating for these books is available on my Goodreads account.

I also tweet about the books I read, in as much as 140-280 characters allow. You can always find me writing about the latest book to catch my fancy at https://twitter.com/AshieJayn.

For books with detailed reviews published on the blog, check out the links in the above mentioned list carrying all 108 names.

As for 2018 – I am all set for a brand new year of joy and have my bedside TBR all set to begin reading at the start of the new year. But another, more important target I have this year is to start setting up our family library. All these books I have read or am yet to read (from the truckload collection) do not deserve to be put in storage. They need a proper home and that is what I intend to do. Hopefully, 2018 will be the year for it.

If you like the selection of books listed above, do share with your reader friends and write to me, in the comments below, about your favourites. Let’s share some book love!

Here’s hoping you have all had an amazing 2017 and I wish you a Bookish 2018, full of love, joy and some great books. Remember, read for yourself. Not to conform to other’s expectations. Most importantly, read books that make you happy!

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My 2017 Reading Challenge Part-1

Another year comes to an end and, though I struggled to keep up with my reading targets, I have successfully completed my challenge of reading over one hundred books for the third consecutive year.

I also reviewed some books on this blog during the course of reading, the links for which are in the list of titles below. Some of these reviews have been published on Writersmelon and Women’s Web as well.

So without further ado, here is a complete list of the 108 books I read as part of my 2017 Reading Challenge, which is an extension of the Brunch Book Challenge, run by the Hindustan Times’ Sunday Magazine HT Brunch from January to December, 2017.

To know more about the books that found a special place in my heart and made it to my top reads of the year – click here.

And. . . do checkout the second part of my 2017 reading challenge, here, which was all about thrillers!

Brunch Book Challenge 2017 Portrait Resized

1. In the Light of Darkness – Radhika Maira Tabrez
2. The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper – Phaedra Patrick
3. Lanka’s Princess – Kavita Kané
4. Kohinoor: The Story of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond – William Dalrymple and Anita Anand
5. When Love Finds You – Yashodhara Lal
6. Finding Juliet – Toffee
7. The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad – Twinkle Khanna
8. White Collar Blackmail – Peter Ralph
9. The Nowhere Man – Gregg Hurwitz
10. An Unsuitable Boy – Karan Johar with Poonam Saxena
11. Cabbing All the Way – Jatin Kuberkar
12. Power Down – Ben Coes
13. Coup D’Etat – Ben Coes
14. The Last Refuge – Ben Coes
15. Eye for an Eye – Ben Coes
16. Independence Day – Ben Coes
17. Unns-The Captivation – Sapan Saxena
18. That’s News to Me – Manjula Lal
19. Chronicles of Urban Nomads (Anthology) – Edited by Sutapa Basu
20. Turtle Dove – Divya Dubey
21. First Strike – Ben Coes
22. Mock, Stalk & Quarrel: A Collection of Satirical Tales (Anthology) – Edited by Indrani Ganguly
23. The Freedom Broker – K. J. Howe
24. A Thousand Unspoken Words – Paulami DuttaGupta
25. The Dove’s Lament – Kirthi Jayakumar
26. Mission Overseas: Daring Operations by the Indian Military – Sushant Singh
27. Bag it All – Nina Lekhi (as told to Suman Chhabria Addepalli)
28. Baaz – Anuja Chauhan
29. Defiant Dreams: Tales of Everyday Divas – Edited by Rhiti Bose and Lopamudra Banerjee
30. Kunti’s Confessions and Other Short Stories – Compiled by Women’s Web (This is an anthology that includes a story I wrote)
31. Behind Bars: Prison Tales of India’s Most Famous – Sunetra Choudhury
32. The Association of Small Bombs – Karan Mahajan
33. Khullam Khulla: Rishi Kapoor Uncensored – Rishi Kapoor with Meena Iyer
34. Cantilevered Tales – Jayant Kripalani
35. Write India Stories – Edited by Vinita Dawra Nangia
36. The Tree with A Thousand Apples – Sanchit Gupta
37. Crossed & Knotted – Edited by Sutapa Basu
38. Confessions on an Island – Ayan Pal
39. In a Dark Dark Wood – Ruth Ware
40. Revelations of an Imperfect Life – Sankhya Samhita
41. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
42. Say Nothing – Brad Parks
43. The Fix – David Baldacci
44. One Perfect Lie – Lisa Scottoline
45. Into the Water – Paula Hawkins
46. Trap the Devil – Ben Coes
47. The Switch – Joseph Finder
48. New Market Tales – Jayant Kripalani
49. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing – Marie Kondo
50. Em and The Big Hoom – Jerry Pinto
51. The Sellout – Paul Beatty
52. Sonal Mansingh: A Life Like No Other – Sujata Prasad
53. Shadow in the Mirror – Deepti Menon
54. Rain: A Survivor’s Tale – Sriram Subramanian
55. Why Won’t You Apologize? – Harriet Lerner
56. The Late Show – Michael Connelly
57. A Strange and Sublime Address – Amit Chaudhuri
58. Onaatah of the Earth – Paulami DuttaGupta
59. The Last One – Alexandra Oliva
60. The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
61. Rich Dad, Poor Dad – Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon L. Lechter
62. The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat – Oliver Sacks
63. I Quit! Now What? – Zarreen Khan
64. ‎Jukebox (Anthology) – Edited by Priyanka Roy Banerjee
65. ‎The Windfall – Diksha Basu
66. ‎Britt-Marie was Here – Fredrik Backman
67. ‎The Alphabet Killer – Prachi Sharma
68. ‎The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden – Jonas Jonasson
69. ‎Tit for Tat: A Collection of Thriller Shorts – Archana Sarat
70. ‎Dark Entries – Ian Rankin
71. ‎Rich People Problems – Kevin Kwan
72. ‎Kissing the Demon: The Creative Writer’s Handbook – Amrita Kumar
73. ‎The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
74. ‎Museum of Memories – Amrita Mukherjee
75. ‎When They Spoke: Tales by Inanimates – Edited by Arpita Banerjee
76. ‎The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love – Per J. Andersson
77. ‎The Colours of Passion – Sourabh Mukherjee
78. ‎A Window To Her Dreams – Harshali Singh
79. ‎Grandpa’s Great Escape – David Walliams
80. ‎The Boy in the Dress – David Walliams
81. ‎Awful Auntie – David Walliams
82. ‎The Excoms – Brett Battles
83. ‎Into the Firestorm – Kat Martin
84. ‎Hitman Anders and the Meaning of it All – Jonas Jonasson
85. ‎The Cuban Affair – Nelson DeMille
86. ‎Demon Dentist – David Walliams
87. ‎Gangsta Granny – David Walliams
88. ‎The Restaurant at the End of the Universe – Douglas Adams
89. ‎Life, the Universe and Everything – Douglas Adams
90. ‎So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish – Douglas Adams
91. ‎Mostly Harmless – Douglas Adams
92. ‎The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving A F*ck – Sarah Knight
93. ‎Leaving the Sea – Ben Marcus
94. ‎Billionaire Boy – David Walliams
95. ‎Mr. Stink – David Walliams
96. ‎Ratburger – David Walliams
97. When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife – Meena Kandasamy
98. ‎The Woman Who Saw the Future – Amit Sharma
99. ‎Dear Customer Services: Letters From the World’s Most Troublesome Shopper – Terry Ravenscroft
100. ‎Elixir – Sinjini Sengupta
101. ‎Holly’s Inbox – Holly Denham
102. ‎The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson
103. ‎The Girl Who Takes An Eye for An Eye – David Lagercrantz
104. ‎A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English – Shappi Khorsandi
105. ‎What You Break – Reed Farrel Coleman
106. The Saboteur – Andrew Gross
107. The Quantum Spy – David Ignatius
108. Act of Betrayal – Matthew Dunn

Have you read any of these books that you also loved? What books have you read this past year? I would love to hear about your favourites. Do share in the comments below so I can build my TBR for 2018 🙂 .

The Amazing Story of the Man who Cycled from India to Europe for Love by Per J Andersson | Book Review

The title screams it is a love story. Of one man fighting against all odds to travel seven thousand miles over land and be with the woman he loved.

In reality though, this book is far more.

This is the story of a man, Jagat Ananda Pradyumna Kumar Mahanandia, born in a remote village on the edge of a jungle in Orissa, who experienced crushing hardships during his childhood as an untouchable in the early years of Independance. Forced to sit outside the classroom, he would watch his classmates wash themselves if they came in contact with him. He was pelted with stones when he approached the village temple, for the priests said he dirtied everything pure and holy. But as PK later realised, his life would have turned out very differently had he not been an untouchable.

PK, as he was fondly addressed by his friends, was inclined towards the Arts, while his father wanted him to become an engineer – a career that promised bright prospects for his future. However, after a disastrous term struggling with Maths, Physics and Chemistry, PK applied to art school and was later accepted on a scholarship to continue studying in New Delhi.

It was here that he met Lotta, a young European woman of noble descent who had driven from Sweden, in a beat up VW bus, with a couple of friends. He had a chance encounter with her on a cold December evening, amidst a queue of people waiting for PK to sketch their portraits for a paltry sum of ten rupees, which was to change their lives irrevocably.

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Since this is a true story, it wouldn’t be fair to assess and review the author’s work as is done with most fiction and non-fiction writing. I rather see it as the passion in his endeavour to bring PK’s story out into the world in a way that is endearing, inspirational, and, most of all, authentic.

The story begins when PK was born and the village astrologer made the prophecy that he would “… marry a girl from far, far away, from outside the village, the district, the province, the state, and even the country”. He had looked straight into PK’s eyes and  whispered to him that he wouldn’t have to go looking for her, she would come to him. The prophecy, as scratched on a palm leaf with a sharpened stick continued that she would be musical, own a jungle and be born under the sign of Taurus. PK grew up believing his fate was written in the stars, as for all newborn children, and he carried these stories in his heart.

What follows is PK’s struggle to survive amidst poverty and hunger, without a roof over his head. It was when he decided to become a commercial artist and set up shop by the fountain in Connaught Place Park that his fortune began to take a turn for the better.

Andersson has written a memoir on PK’s life which shows how his experiences shaped him into the man he was to become. It was these experiences that would be his strength on the long journey he was to eventually take across continents and cultures.

About a third of the book describes the actual journey from India to Sweden, via Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Austria, Germany and Denmark.

PK had decided he would take a month to travel on a bicycle from India to Sweden, but it took him four months. He ran out of money for food and shelter fairly quickly and would earn his way by painting portraits. His charming personality ensured he made many friends on the way. He carried with him an address book of travellers on the hippie trail he had met in New Delhi and would look them up on the way. He soon realised this was the warmest community of people.

When he finally arrived in Sweden, he wasn’t sure if Lotta would still want him. Another man was already vying for her affections and one evening he came to Lotta’s home, upset that she was living with PK.

PK realised this man was the perfect match for Lotta and he was wasting his time here if there was no love. He needed a home, security, a place to build his life. He decided he would cycle back to New Delhi.

The following night, Lotta cried when PK refused to budge on his decision. She said to him, “…I don’t want you to buy a bicycle and leave. … I want to be with you, together in one big mess. For life.”

PK took a four month course in Swedish for immigrants and worked hard to fit into his new home country. He started teaching art at the local high school. Exactly two years after they were reunited in Sweden, PK and Lotta were married. The children, Emilie and Karl-Siddhartha arrived a few years later.

PK has since travelled back to his birth-place with his family and built a house between the mountains and the river where he grew up. From here he co-ordinates his charitable work – the water-wells, the school and the activity centre for women.

PK’s story is not about the pursuit of love. It is about his journey through life that unravels the psychological layers of the man who decided to rise by getting past the obstacles that lay on his path. It is a testament that nothing is impossible and that despite the flaws, there is love and beauty all around us. It is this narrative that makes his story truly amazing.

Title: The Amazing Story of the Man who Cycled from India to Europe for Love
Author: Per J Andersson
Publisher: One World Publications
ISBN: 978-1-78607-207-8
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non-Fiction / Travel-Memoir
Pages: 304
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Per J Andersson is a writer and journalist. He is the co-founder of Sweden’s most well-known traveller’s magazine Vagabond, and has been visiting India for the last 30 years. He lives in Stockholm.

About the Translator: Anna Holmwood translates literature from Swedish and Chinese to English.

About PK and Lotta: PK and Lotta have been happily married since 1979. They have two children and live in Borås, Sweden. PK is an Art and Culture Adviser for the Swedish Government, and also the Oriya Cultural Ambassador to Sweden.

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Kissing The Demon by Amrita Kumar | Book Review

If you have decided to embark on a writing journey, either professionally or as a hobby, you will soon realise it is a feat akin to kissing the demon. Fortunately though, Amrita Kumar, with the repertoire of her experiences spanning four decades, lays out a simple and effective method to traverse this seemingly arduous path.

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She starts from the absolute beginning – why one should write, for that is the most important question a writer must be able to answer. Not to anyone else but to the self.

Once that is established, she goes on to explain the integral elements of creative writing: plot, characterization, narration, setting, dialogue, that help form a compelling story. She explains with examples which are relevant to the aspiring as well as the seasoned writer. Kumar draws parallels from notable films as well as award winning and popular books to drive the point.

What is most important, however, that sets this book apart from almost all others on the subject of writing, is that she dedicates an entire section to the publishing process, specifically tailored for the Indian writer.

Starting from when, how and where to look for a publisher and/or agent, pitching your manuscript, waiting for a response, negotiating a contract, understanding advances & royalties, to the actual editing, and finally publicity/marketing, she brings focus to an otherwise blurry image that few debut writers can claim to have fully understood.

Last but not the least, she also helps with tips and tricks to manage the complicated balance of dealing with everyday life, and staying fit while indulging in an altogether sedentary writing habit.

You may choose to read this book before you start writing, or after you have written a first draft, nonetheless it has a wealth of information on both creative writing and publishing that you would otherwise rarely come across. One you cannot afford to miss.

Title: Kissing The Demon
Author: Amrita Kumar
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers India
ISBN: 978-93-5264-303-5
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 268
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Amrita Kumar is an anthologist, novelist, writing-mentor and creative writing teacher. She began her career in the godowns of Daryaganj to select books for a chain of bookshops, moving on as research writer for the Department of Culture, Government of India, then on to publishing as associate editor, Penguin India; editor-in-chief, Roli Books; managing editor, Encyclopedia Britannica; editor, Indian Design & Interiors magazine; and vice-president, Osian’s Literary Agency. In addition, she has freelanced for Rupa & Co., HarperCollins India and Oxford University Press.
She lives in New Delhi.

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#MyFriendAlexa – A Wrap-Up

The month of September passed by in a frenzy with the multiple activities I decided to squeeze into my schedule for these thirty days. My Creative Writing classes picked up pace with quite a few recommended reading and writing assignments. Then I had my own reading to catch up on (especially since I am running way behind schedule) and some much needed writing.

Out of everything, one activity I was most looking forward to was the second season of #MyFriendAlexa – a campaign run by Blogchatter that I signed up for in August. The aim of this campaign is to help participants improve their Alexa ranking by following a dedicated blogging schedule which includes reading a variety of blogs and posting new content (a minimum of eight posts) on your own blog in a span of one month.

However, I soon realised that as excited as I was to be a part of this and pick up some tips and tricks to the secret of blogging on the way, this was going to be a lot of hard work.

Despite the blog reading and posting schedule I had mapped out for myself at the onset of the campaign, I found myself falling behind even before the first ten days were up. I did somehow manage to pull through the first two weeks by putting up four blog posts and following the recommended reading list.

By the time the third week rolled in, I was so caught up with everything happening simultaneously that I could barely manage finishing my daily blog reading. Putting up my own blog posts seemed far from possible.

So, I gave up on Week 3 and decided to step back. There was absolutely no way I could turn this into success. But then, at the end of that week, I felt terrible for not standing up to the challenge I had signed up for. I decided it was time to take the bull by its horns in Week 4. That meant covering up for the time I had lost, by posting four new blog posts in the last week.

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Today, I feel thrilled that I was able to complete my challenge successfully, even it it meant putting up the last blog post on the last day.

I started the campaign with a Global Alexa Rank of 11.83 million and no India rank. At the end of the month, the campaign has shown a 90% improvement in my Alexa rank – As of 1st October 2017, my global rank was 1.27 million and India rank at 41,876 and this is continuing to drop with each passing day.

MyFriendAlexa 31stAug17  MyFriendAlexa 31stOct17

This is how the ranking changed during the course of the campaign:

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My experience with the Alexa campaign has been very informative and entertaining. I have learnt much along the way and discovered some wonderful blogs. Of course, Blogchatter has been a great support in help me blog better.

I now look forward to using the knowledge I have picked up during this campaign in taking Aquamarine Flavours to new heights. Here’s to a new beginning of better blogging!

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Why Won’t You Apologize? by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D. | Book Review

Sorry. This word can be said in many different ways with many different emotions behind it. Barring a few exceptions, however, saying sorry to someone is hard, and putting your pride down in saying that is probably the hardest.

In Why Won’t You Apologize?: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts, the renowned psychologist and bestselling author of The Dance of Anger, Harriet Lerner sheds new light on the two most important words in the English language: ‘I’m sorry’ – and offers a unique perspective on the challenge of healing broken relationships and restoring trust with the proper use of this phrase.

Lerner has been studying apologies for more than two decades. In this book she offers compelling stories and solid theory to demonstrate the transformative power of making amends, and what is required for healing when the damage we’ve inflicted (or received) is far from simple.

Lerner challenges the popular notion that forgiveness is the only path to peace of mind and helps those who have been injured to resist pressure to forgive too easily. She explains what drives both the non-apologizer and the over-apologizer, and why the people who do the worst things are the least able to own their misdeeds. With her trademark humour and wit, Lerner offers a joyful and sanity-saving guide to setting things right.

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I happened to come across this book on my Instagram feed and was compelled to pick it up after reading the title and tagline.

The most wonderful thing about Why Won’t You Apologize? is that not only does it explain how to apologize like you mean it, but also how to accept an apology from the wrong-doer. An apology can only work if both parties involved in the hurt or betrayal understand the issue without being defensive.

I particularly loved how the author explains what different kinds of apologies imply and why we may feel that despite saying sorry, the person who is hurt is not forgiving.

Why Won’t You Apologize is a must read for those who believe that relationships mean a commitment to understanding each other.

Readers of this book learn how to craft a meaningful apology and avoid signals of insincerity that only deepen suffering.

It does not tell you to be overly generous in your apology or to give in to unreasonable demands. Nor does it ask you to forgive too easily when you are still feeling hurt.

It explains how a wholehearted apology means valuing your relationship and accepting your as well as the other person’s responsibility without any hint of evasion, excuse or blame. It teaches you to lead with your heart, have the courage to apologize and the wisdom to do it meaningfully.

A sincere apology forms the basis of effective leadership, relationships, personal integrity and love. Nothing is more important in life than that.

Title: Why Won’t You Apologize?: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts

Author: Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.
Publisher: Touchstone
ISBN: 978-1-5011-2962-9
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Kindle Edition
Genre: Fiction/General
Pages: 209
Source: Personal
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., is a relationship expert. Renowned for her work on the psychology of women and family relationships, she served as a staff psychologist at the Menninger Clinic for more than two decades and is currently in private practice. She has written numerous scholarly articles and bestselling books, including the New York Times bestseller The Dance of Anger, which has sold several million copies.
She and her husband live in Lawrence, Kansas, and have two grown sons.
Follow Harriet on Twitter and friend her on Facebook. You will find more about her and her work at www.harrietlerner.com.

This post is participating in #MyFriendAlexa because I am taking my Alexa rank to the next level with Blogchatter.

UPDATE 25th Oct 2017: This review is now also published on womensweb.in

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