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UTI, Anaikatty, Homoeopathy and Tomatoes

Interesting car I saw on the road. Yet to try Mini Melts though. Any good?

I’ve been procrastinating for a week now, sorry for that, I just got real lazy. :)

I’ve been away from my weekly updates for a couple of weeks now. So, I guess I need to catch up. A lot happened over the last few weeks and I think a couple of them will become full blog posts, but here’s the short of it.

I got a UTI. Oh yeah, it’s as terrible as it sounds. I guess if I hadn’t had a family of doctors, I’d have suffered more :( But the Mom’s together put me to rights; nothing beats being taken care of by Mom when you’re ill. So, UTI stands for Urinary Tract Infection, which isn’t so bad except for the discomfort but it requires immediately attention, a culture test and medication. If it’s ignored or medication is delayed the infection can move into the kidneys and then it’s real trouble.

Anyway the UTI got better but I guess since my immune system was compromised I came down with the flu. I don’t mind falling ill once in a way (I love the pampering) but two illness one after the other are a piss-off. I enjoyed my week at Mom’s but didn’t much done at all. Now maybe that’s a good thing. :)

Che and I stole another quick vacation (before the dogs got back home) to Anaikatty, a little town that sits bang center on the Tamil Naidu and Kerala border. The trip was fun, especially since Dad, Shiva and Saravana also joined in. I met an interesting couple who work at the Bethany Medical Center there who dream of moving to a big town like Bangalore. How I wish I could make them see just how good a life they have, but that’s a conversation for another time.

The hills look beautiful from here

Satyamangalam ghats were a joy as always

Anyway I was talking about Anaikatty and the border which I thought was cool. Now, the town main market has a bridge in the middle that marks the border. On one side of the bridge there were a line of lottery shops and not one when you cross to the other side. When I remarked about it I got to know that in Tamil Naidu sale of lottery tickets is banned so in Anaikatty all you have to do is cross the bridge and buy it in Kerala, same for stuff banned in Kerala. Pretty cool nah? :)

Our return and my flu bout being over marked the return of the dogs. Oh it’s not that simple as anyone who has dogs will tell you. Before they return the house has to be doggy-proofed and checked again. All doggie stuff aired and cleaned. And then after, they step in, starts the week of bathing, cleaning and tick picking that feels like forever. But with all of that, it’s good to have them back. The house is full again. :)

In the doggy arena the other updates are that we started Buddha on homoeopathy medication for his heart condition and arthritis. It’s been two weeks and I’m definitely seeing a difference in him. I’ll keep you posted on how the homoeopathy worked out. I also finally got my hands on some clickers and I’m all excited to use them to work with the dogs. Sindhoor had introduced me to them a couple of weeks back, but they weren’t easily available. If you’ve used clickers before, I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips.

Well, what else… This is what happens when there so much to talk about 😛 Ok, on the gardening front. I lost all my tomatoes to the monkeys on my friends roof but I did get a resonable harvest of chilles and learned some good lessons on gardening. The silver lining to my loss of tomataoes are two tomato plants I planted in pepsi bottles in my balcony, which have grown well and now have fruits. With the dogs to guard them, I think they’ll get a chance to ripen and I can’t wait to try them out. It’s time to plant the next batch and I’m looking forward to trying out new veggies along with the ones I’ve already grown. This time I’m trying purple turnip, white bringal and cherry tomatoes along with the earlier tomatoes, chillies, basil, celery and spinach.

Tomatoes in a bottle

Aside from all of this, I’ve been playing with the idea of shifting my blog to a more recognisable domain for me. I’m thinking freya3377.com /.in would be more appropriate for me since that’s my ID across the internet and more people know me as Freya rather than Fatema. What do you think?

Ofcourse, shifting blog means I need to learn a lot of new stuff. And if I’m making changes I might as well put in some improvements I’ve had on my list for a while now. With all this in mind I joined Blogelina‘s course a while back but haven’t worked enough on it. It’s a course that’ll definiely help, from the little I’ve seen until now. The best part is the help groups you get access too. I’ve been learning a lot from other bloggers. But I’ve also been considering hiring help. Do you think I should or should I just stick with DIY? Do you know anyone cost-effective? (you can also read cheap 😀 )

I also travelled on the Bangalore Metro for the first time. I enjoyed it and thought it was quite cost effective. That said it’s very basic, I guess the finishing touches will take ages. But I don’t mean basic in just looks; I needed to use the toilet and there weren’t any easily accessible. The one I used was a long walk away, clean, small and cost Rs.3.

The Metro token and the Toilet Ticket with time stamp

I wasn't the only first timer. There was a group posing :)

I think there is more but I maybe this is already a lot for now. If you got till here, thanks for reading 😀

It seems I wasn’t the only one absconding the last couple of weeks. I hadn’t been on the computer and Feedly on the iPad has not been working, so I was way behind on my reading. I was dreading Feedly but there wasn’t so much after all, everyone else seems to have been on break too. 😀 Here’s some stuff from friends that you may want to check out…

Life as We Know It –

Farida’s story of how she didn’t quit on Farheena’s walking, warmed my heart.  She’s one of those people I look up too, she is so much and has done so much. It’s a gift to know people like her.

The world is a small place and and we make friends in some of the weirdest ways and places. Mariellen a friend of mine took a Mumbai Local Tour along with Andrew Adams a friend of Che’s. Her post and photos make me long for the maximum city, Bombay.  :)

Doggie Doo –

Jennifer’s post about 5 sounds that make her dogs come running got me listing out the sounds my dogs love. And I could think of only two off my head. :( Gotta think some more and make a post of it, don’t you think? :)

Angel shared a great list of healthy veggies for dogs on her blog K9 Instinct. The only one that I’m concerned about is cauliflower. It causes gas in me, wondering if it would do the same in dogs?

I’ve been thinking of reviewing my dogs toys but Sindhoor beat me to it. Here’s her review of the kong, wobbler and dead skunks.  I can vouch for these – Buddha loves his skunk, it’s the only toy he enjoys; Cuckoo loves the wobbler and makes a racket with it at home and Senti the chewer, loves to chew on his kong.

Someday I hope to have a garden and with the dogs planning it is important. Martha’s put together a list of edible flowers that I’m looking forward to plant. A good article to bookmark if you have pets.

Crafty Craft –

There are clothes I have that I don’t want to give away but I’d love to reuse. Leah converted one of her soft tees into a simple cute summer dress for her daughter. Here’s her method to convert tees into dresses.

We’ve been talking about putting up pin-boards at home for a while now. So I’m super excited to see Whitney’s tutorial on making fabric pin boards. Can’t wait to try it out.

I’ve been thinking about making and selling some quilled earrings but packaging them had me stumped. Ann’s post on All Things Paper about Art Paper Packaging was perfectly timed. I’m looking forward to trying my hand at these. Don’t you just love the pyramid boxes. :)

Pyramid Boxes created by Hana Vyoralová

Stephanie’s shared this lovely bib necklace design that I think would make for a nice baby bib too.  Adding it to my never ending list of things to make. 😀

Book Nook –

Ebook Friendly had this rather cute cartoon by Angela Liao about the future for book stores. See it for yourself… :)

Created by Angela Liao

Interesting that I haven’t read even one of the 12 bestsellers on ebook friendly’s list. Hmm… Have you read any?

Laura E. Kelly’s put together this awesome infographic that classifies some 50 reader species. I’m an omnireader and hoarder. What are you?

Foodie Goodies –

My all time favourite food is dal rice, nothing in the world can beat my Mom’s way of making dal. It’s my comfort food. But the simple dal is a dish that comes is uncountable varieties. Here’s Priya’s method of making Dal Tadka. This one I’ve never tried before; should soon.

Glory shared this awesome looking Strawberry Lemonade Cupcake recipe that has me all drooling.  Can someone make this for me please 😀

Glory's Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes

Rather long post, nah? 😀

August 11, 2013   2 Comments

Book Review: Rising of a Dead Moon by Paul Haston

Title: Rising of a Dead Moon
Author: Paul Haston
Paperback: 238 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace independent Publishing Platform (October 9th 2012)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Read: e-book
Stars: ****/5
Buy On: Amazon
Summary: (Goodreads)

An Indian girl is forced into an arranged marriage then widowed. She escapes a widow’s burning and flees to Africa to find the father who has abandoned her.

Set against a backdrop of 19th century Indian Indenture, the shipment of Indians to work on white-owned sugar plantations in Natal, Paul Haston’s critically acclaimed novel is a story of hope and tragic drama.

My Review:

Thanks Paul for offering me your book to read and review :)

Cover: A cover that makes you think of the classics!

Paper and font: Font and layout was good.

Readability, language: : Reads easy!

Why did I choose this book: I’d never read the story of an Indian slave in Africa before.

Usha, a young Indian girl becomes a widow at a very young age. Unwanted by everyone, even her mother she get packed off to Vrindavan, the city of widows. Dejected and rejected she decides to go in search of her father who went to Africa when she was a little girl. However life doesn’t get better for her, she escapes the Indian sigma of widows only to become an Indian slave in Africa.

As I read the book the aptness of the title become clear as Haston explores the darkness in Usha’s life. The new moon or day of the dead moon brings darkness and is an evil omen in Zulu lore. The cover is simple with the silhouette of a woman looking out into the fields. I would have preferred to see more of the image as half the image is hidden behind parchment that carries the title and authors name.

I’ve read a few books about African slaves in America but this was the first book I’ve read about Indian slaves in Africa. The plot is well laid out with the initial set-up of Usha’s life in India as a child, a young bride and a widow. Haston then moves on to Africa along with Usha, as she becomes an indentured slave on a cane plantation. In her dark world James Rothwell brings a glimmer of hope, however he has his own demons to fight both in Africa and England.

Set in three countries during the Victorian era, Haston draws a detailed picture of India, Africa and England during those times. The people and culture of those times are described well and I found myself amazed at how a non-Indian got India, its people and its customs so right.

The main protagonist is Usha but James also plays a strong role to counter the feminine. Usha is the average Indian widow who decides to defy the sati tradition and live her life. She has a lot of sorrow in her life and the dark cloud never seems to go away. But through out the cloud has a silver lining, keeping her moving forward in hope. James is a victim of circumstances but also the man who takes the easy path. However he has strong principles and values that hold him in good stead but don’t always lead him to happiness.
‘Rising of a Dead Moon’ also has a host of supporting characters who add to the story and make it richer.

The story is structured well starting out in India before travelling to Africa, then England and back to Africa to complete the circle. Haston ties up all the loose ends in the story and gives it an unconventional end that leaves you with just the right questions to take away to mull over your hot cocoa.

Like I said before the insight into India by someone non-Indian amazed me. Haston’s research on Africa and India and their cultures shows in the book. A well written book with a good pace, the ‘Rising of a Dead Moon’ makes for good reading. I’m definitely looking forward to Haston’s next book.

Since there are a lot of dark undercurrents in the book, I wouldn’t recommend this book for kids. If you’re not a kid and like historical cultural unconventional romance, ‘Rising of a Dead Moon’ is a book to read. Don’t miss it! :)

About the Author:
Paul Haston now lives with his family on the west coast of Canada but he is originally from England. Other than ‘Rising of a Dead Moon’, he has also written another novel ‘Blood and Doves’ along with several short stories and screenplays. He is currently working on his next novel ‘Shadow of the Tiger’. He can be found on his Facebook page for his novel Rising of a Dead Moon.

Buy On: Amazon

August 6, 2013   No Comments

Book Review: Once Upon a Prince by Rachel Hauck

Title: Once Upon a Prince
Author: Rachel Hauck
Paperback: 305 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (May 7th 2013)
Genre: Christian Romance
Read: e-book
Stars: **/5
Buy On: FlipKart | Amazon
Summary: (Goodreads)

Susanna Truitt never dreamed of a great romance or being treated like a princess—just to marry the man she has loved for twelve years. But life isn’t going according to plan. When her high-school-sweetheart-turned-Marine-officer breaks up instead of proposing, Susanna scrambles to rebuild her life.

The last thing Prince Nathaniel expects to find on his American holiday to St. Simon’s Island is the queen of his heart. A prince has duties, and his family’s tense political situation has chosen his bride for him. When Prince Nathaniel comes to Susanna’s aid under the fabled Lover’s Oak, he is blindsided by love.

Their lives are worlds apart. He’s a royal prince. She’s a ordinary girl. But everything changes when Susanna receives an invitation to Nathaniel’s coronation.

My Review:

Thanks to Book Sneeze for offering me this book to read and review :)

Cover: Could have been much better.

Paper and font: Layout and font was good.

Readability, language: : Simple LONG read.

Why did I choose this book: A prince charming story had sounded appealing.

After being in a relationship for 12 years, Suzanna finds herself heart-broken and single. In the spirit of freedom she quits her firm and becomes an independent landscape architect, giving herself up to God’s will. And then she meets her prince charming, Nathaniel, who turns out to be a real prince. The prince soon becomes King of Brighton Kingdom but there are laws and entrails that they must overcome to be together.

The cover is very Mills and Boonsy and could have been much better. Every time I see covers with women in gowns on them, especially with theirs heads chopped off I wonder what the cover designer was thinking. How does a gown justify the story or is it just that gowns stamp the book as romance? The cover has no connection with the title ‘Once Upon a Prince’. An image of a prince, with or without the bride would have been way better.

Inspired by Kate and William’s story, ‘Once Upon a Prince’ is the story of a commoner marrying royalty. To this mix Hauck adds the twist of a law prohibiting royalty from marrying foreigners, an entail that will decide the future of another Kingdom and a scheming wannabe Duchess. as plots go, this is a good one.

Set on St. Simmons Island in America and Brighton Kingdom somewhere in Europe, Hauck has done a good job of describing the places and people. I could see most scenes in my minds eye as I read the book and could associate with the characters and their situations.

Susanna and Nathaniel are supported by a full set of quirky characters. Avery, Susanna’s sister is a burst of energy and sunshine. Stephen, Nathaniel’s brother wants to convert the throne room into a bowling alley. Then there’s Aurora, who lives in a tent and appears out of nowhere to make prophecies. Expect for Susanna and Nathaniel who made me want to whack my head a few times, all the other characters were fun.

The story follows a clear three act structure and is split into three parts. Technically Hauck’s book is sound except of the loose end of Lady Genevieve, who is build up as a wonderfully cunning and evil person but is forgotten in the happily ever after end.

Though technical soundness may make for a good text book, it does not necessarily make for a good novel. ‘Once Upon a Prince’ at 305 pages is just too long and a lot of times I wished Hauck would just get on with it. Susanna and Nathaniel had one too many preachy sermony conversations and for a romance they prayed more than they kissed. Actually come to think of it, every time they were together in the book they prayed, the kiss came only after the proposal at the end.

The plot and storyline are good but the book could have been crisper with more unchaste romance :) If you are someone who likes royal romances that are long, slow and chaste, ‘Once Upon a Prince’ is for you. Considering the chastity of the book, it’s a book for almost all ages. 😀

About the Author:
Rachel Hauck is a RITA Finalist and Carol Award winner recently chosen by Family Fiction readers as one of the top five romance authors in CBA. She has written more than 15 novels. Rachel lives in central Florida with her husband and writes from her ivory tower (her 14th-floor office painted ivory!). Read more about Rachel Hauck at www.rachelhauck.com.

Buy On: FlipKart | Amazon

August 1, 2013   No Comments

Review: The Blue Jackal Series – An Interactive Book for Kids

Photo Credit: Brad Flickinger on Flickr

Even though I have an iPad the one type of book I hadn’t read until now was of the interactive kind, so when Pankaj Gupta got in touch with me to review his interactive Blue Jackal series based on tales from the Panchatantra I jumped at it, even though the books are for children.

Since it’s my first interactive book I wasn’t sure about what to expect or even what parameters to gauge by. I figured I’d give the stories a spin at bedtime and see what I felt about some aspects of it. Over a couple of nights I took a look at two stories/apps –

1. The Blue Jackal

2. The Blue Jackal in America



Languages

‘The Blue Jackal’ had multiple language and voice options. I could choose between English Male, English Female, French Female and Hindi Female. I enjoyed trying out the different options and listening to the story in Hindi.
I really liked the idea of the same story in multiple languages as it has the dual benefit of reaching out to a larger audience and getting children to listen and learn more than one language.

‘The Blue Jackal in America’ however had only one option for narration – English Female.

Story

The story of ‘The Blue Jackal’ is the old tale of how the jackal became the blue king. The story is told well and even has a moral at the end.

‘The Blue Jackal in America’ starts where the previous book ends – the animals get caught and are shipped to a circus in America. This story is longer with an introduction to classic American landmarks, a plot hatched to escape the circus and a sub-plot from the Panchatantra to inspire the animals to escape.

Over all this is also a well told story with a moral at the end that children will enjoy. However I did not like some messages in the story. America is repeated talked about as the land of the free, the land that everyone aspires to be in, etc. Considering the brain drain we are already facing, this isn’t the message I’d want children to take away from the story at that vulnerable age.

Characters

The first book has some common characters from the forest apart from the jackal – the lion, the hare, the tortoise, the elephant, the mouse, the bear, the monkey, the snake and the giraffe. Though there are quite a few of them, they don’t have much to contribute except play the supporting roles in the story.

However in book two some of them come back to play more substantial roles. There is the lion, the rooster, the monkey, the parrot, the elephant, the deer, the mouse, the tortoise and the hare who this time round add to the story. The jackal along with the other animals set the stage for a good plot and variety in characteristics.

Music, Sound

Both books have a lot of music and sounds that children will enjoy, but Book Two definitely has more than the first. I found myself clicking on the characters and all over the screen constantly trying to find new dialogues and sounds that were built in.

The dialogues, music and sounds add to the story and make it entertaining even in repeated reads. I think children will enjoy revisiting the stories over time.

Animation

There is also a lot of animation but just like with music there is more animation in Book Two than One. It took me a while to figure out that there were interactive elements in Book One, but once I did, I had to click on everyone of them. And ‘The Blue Jackal in America’ kept me busy for quiet a while with the amount of animation it had. Kids are sure to like the bit where you shake down a Christmas tree and redecorate it.

My Thoughts –

‘ + + + ‘

On the whole the stories were engaging and fun. The working of the apps was quite intuitive and easy to figure out. Children of all ages will enjoy them but younger children will enjoy them repeatedly.
Each story seems to end with a connection to the next, so I’m looking forward to the next story in the Blue Jackal series where I think the animals will visit France.

‘ – – – ‘

There were a few things I felt were missing in the books like there was no pause button in either book to stall the narration, so I had to go back a page to restart the narration if I missed something. I would have also liked a button to repeat the narration on each page.
The Blue Jackal had a counter showing how many interactive elements there were on each page so they were easier to find. However The Blue Jackal in America did not have a displayed counter, so I had to click on absolutely everything on the page to make sure I didn’t miss out. That said, the narrator did give instructions to animations on some pages.
I also would have preferred to have more language options than just English in book Two.
Lastly the apps did hang on me a few times and that needs some looking into.

Going by what I saw in the first story and the next, I think the team at Five Axioms Inc. is learning and getting better at the stories and apps. The Blue Jackal series is definitely something for parents and kids to look forward to.

Have you read an interactive book before? Reviewed one? Do you have any suggestions for me?

July 24, 2013   No Comments

Book Review: Penelope by Anya Wylde

Title: Penelope
Author: Anya Wylde
Paperback: 302 pages
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services, Inc. (January 13th 2013)
Genre: Regency Romance
Read: e-book
Stars: ****/5
Buy On: Amazon
Summary: (Goodreads)

Leaving behind the rural charms of Finnshire, Miss Penelope Fairweather arrives in London with hope in her heart and a dream in her eye. The dowager, no less, has invited her for a season in London, where she will attempt to catch a husband.

Thus begins our heroine’s tale as she attempts to tackle the London season with all her rustic finesse. Unfortunately, her rustic finesse turns out to be as delicate as a fat bear trying to rip apart a honeycomb infested with buzzing bees.

What follows is a series of misadventures, love affairs, moonlit balls, fancy clothes, fake moustaches, highwaymen, sneering beauties, pickpockets, and the wrath of a devilishly handsome duke.

My Review:

Thanks Anya for offering me your book to read and review :)

Cover: Makes you want to pick it up!

Paper and font: The font and layout is good.

Readability, language: : Easy Read!

Why did I choose this book: Look at the cover, how could I not 😀

Penelope who has a knack for saying and doing the most idiotic things at the most inappropriate of times is invited by the dowager at Blackthorne to London for a season, where she hopes to catch a husband. The idiosyncrasies start right from her arrival when she arrives dripping wet with her pet goat Lady Bathsheba in tow to the surprise of the Blackthorne Household.
The rest of the story is a hilarious tale of Penelope’s season as she learns London society-etiquette and goes about finding a husband.

When Anya got in touch with me for a review of ‘Penelope’ it was the cover that first caught my eye. With a pink background, a dainty girl and a 4 line introduction to Penelope, it was just so Julia Quinn and P G Wodehouse that I had read it.
And the cover was balanced well with a blurb that completed and sealed my interest in the book.

The plot of ‘Penelope’ is the age old one of a simple naive girl finding her prince charming. However Anya tells it in a refreshing way and I laughed my way through the book as Penelope puts her foot in her mouth and puts herself in a spot repeatedly while prince charming is right there under her nose.

Set in Regency London Penelope’s rustic charms of rural Finnshire stand out and make for a good comparison with the big city, it’s society and it’s people. London with all its rules and stipulations still has its quirks and moments.

Anya has created a set of memorable characters with endearing quirks that I’m going to remember for a while. There’s Sir Henry Woodville with his fixation for moustaches that goes so far as to require a supply of fake moustaches. Lady Bathsheba the goat who adds to every situation with full gusto. Jimmy the Falcon who is a poet, a highwayman, a deer stealer and a burglar of some note. And not to leave out Miss Penelope Winifred Rose Spebbington Fairweather who is at the root of it all!

Along with Penelope we get introduced to a lot of new characters and plots as she makes her way through London Society looking for a husband. However Anya neatly ties up all the loose ends and wraps the story up well with the couple living happily ever after and making lots of babies :)

‘Penelope’ reminded me and left me longing to revisit Wodehouse. There’s clear influence of P G Wodehouse in Anya’s writing and though no one can touch the master, Anya has done a good job and written an enjoyable regency romance with a good sense of humour and comic timing.

If you’re someone who enjoys Humourous Regency Romance, this is a book for you. A great read to curl up with on a rainy afternoon. And don’t forget the hot coco :)

About the Author:
Anya Wylde lives in Ireland along with her husband and a fat French poodle who’s now on a diet she says. She can cook a mean curry, and her idea of exercise is occasionally stretching her toes. Anya Wylde can be reached through her Facebook Page.

Buy On: Amazon

July 23, 2013   No Comments

Review: Woodpie – A Paper-Book Sharing Site

Photo Credit: Andrew Subiela on Flickr

As a reader one of my biggest pain points has always been getting more books. While growing up my biggest challenge was my limited pocket money; my budget still is my biggest challenge.

Libraries helped solve this to some extent through the years but I’ve exhausted a few and there aren’t many left. Ebooks have also helped in price and availability but nothing beats paper books. I belong to book communities like Goodreads to make more reader friends but exchanging books across countries is unfeasible. Well, you get the gist of the problem, don’t you? 😀

Then a while back I heard of Woodpie – a site that encourages the exchange of paper books. This I had to check out.

Woodpie’s main page says that it helps you explore what’s trending, what your friends are reading, find rare books you’re looking for and even make real friends.

Here’s what you get when you login. I’ve filled in a bit of my profile, added some books and a review to see how the site works.

So, How does it work?

As a new user after setting up your profile, the first thing to do would be to add books to your shelf. When adding books you get two options – shelf and wishlist. In both cases you can choose who your book is visible to by adding circles and specific friends names. The shelf option also allows you to mark the book as read, reading or will read.
Circles here work just like on Google+. You categorise your friends into circles that you can then use to share relevant books.

Challenges –

I couldn’t find an invite friend option, and that would have been helpful to reach out to my friends on G+, Facebook and Twitter.
I would have loved an import G+ circles option, since it’s circles here too.

Plus –

Choosing circles and friends gives me privacy control over each book and I like that. No everyone needs to know what books I have and read. 😀

Library

Your library (separate from shelf) is a collection of books your friends have shared with you and all the books members have shared publicly. Basically these are the books that are accessible to you.

If it’s a book you want, you can request it from the main library page. Clicking on the request button gives you a list of people who own the book and options in the mode of exchange.

Clicking on the book takes you to a page with more details on the book, user ratings, reviews and a list of people who have the book. If its a book from your shelf you’ll also see a list of people who want the book and offer it to them with a click of a button.

Challenges –

The book details page does not have a request book button. To request a book you have to come back to the main library page.

Requests

We saw one way to request for books above but you can also request for books directly from on your wishlist. Aside from that there is also a page for all requests, where both sent and received requests can be tracked.

Matches

This is a interesting feature to me as it compares my shelf and wishlist against that of my friends and public and gives me a list of books I can share or borrow. Simply put I can see who owns books on my wishlist and request for them easily. I can also find people to pass a book onto after I’ve read it.

Plus –

It’s a great way to make new friends, share books, and save paper and save money.

Offers

The offers section works just like requests. You can track all your sent and received offers. You can also recall/cancel an offer.

Trends

This section gives you a snapshot of the most active books and members.

My Thoughts –

‘ + + + ‘

On the whole I like the idea and site. I have a lot of books on my bookshelf I’d like to share and Woodpie lets me do just that with relative ease. It also helps me find books I want to read without having to buy them. And all of this helps me make actual new friends and widen my reader circle. This is good stuff.

‘ – – – ‘

That said, the site still has a long way to go. There isn’t a large base of members yet, and that means that there isn’t a large variety of books to choose from. The probability of finding books from your wishlist on people’s shelves is currently quite small. I couldn’t find anyone to borrow Chanakya’s Chant from and that’s a fairly famous book.
The various social networks used by readers are not integrated into the site. I’d like to see options to invite friends, announce book requests & offers and import book lists. Adding books would be easier if I could import a book list from Goodreads, rather than add one book at a time.

Woodpie is a great idea and if there are enough people using it, there’d be a lot of happy readers. I’m going to be watching the site to see how things go.

One question though is picking at me – In the age of ebooks, where we are seeing libraries disappear, can a paper book exchange program work?
Are you on Woodpie? What do you think of it?

July 17, 2013   2 Comments

Book Review: Jacob Hills by Ismita Tandon Dhankher

Title: Jacob Hills
Author: Ismita Tandon Dhankher
Paperback: 259 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins (May 2013)
Genre: Murder Mystery
Read: Paperback
Stars: ***/5
Buy On: FlipKart
Summary: (Goodreads)

It’s just another evening at the Tiller’s Club.

Near the bar, Capt. Rana, the Young Officer undergoing training at the War College stands among his course mates, consciously avoiding his pregnant, Muslim wife, Heena. Rumour has it she had forced him to marry her because of the baby.
Saryu, village belle turned modern babe, drink in hand, chats up a YO. Her husband, Maj. Vikram Singh, shoots angry glances at her. She isn’t bothered; the question is, who will she go home with tonight?
Pam and Gary, the flamboyant Sikh couple, chat merrily with the senior officers, charming as ever. Who’d ever guess that they lead the infamous Key Club, an underground swinger couples’ club.
And in one corner stands the Anglo-Indian wife of Maj. George Chandy, Eva, who finds herself at the heart of a murder mystery when a woman’s bleeding body is discovered at the old church under the black cross. The murdered woman’s body is covered with cigarette burns. A six-year-old girl’s wrist is similarly marked. Another little girl shows signs of severe abuse.

Jacob Hills: an army station that houses the War College where young officers receive training. A world of army officers and genteel conversation, of smart men and graceful women. Set in the 1980s – in an India that was at the cusp of tradition and Westernized modernity – this is the story of the ugliness that lies beneath the garb ofJacob Hills’s beauty and sophistication. An ugliness the Chandys find themselves confronted with. Will they uncover the truth behind the woman’s murder? Will their love survive Jacob Hills?

My Review:

Thanks Ismita for offering me your book to read and review :)

Cover: Bright, eye-catchy and a bit gaudy!

Paper and font: Smell-worthy!

Readability, language: : Easy on the eyes!

Why did I choose this book: Army life has always fascinated me but I’ve never read a book about it.

A woman is found murdered with cigarette burns on her body in Jacob Hills. Eva, who has moved here with her husband Maj. George Chandy, finds that Jacob Hills is not what it seems, the army station has a lot of undercurrents with much happening under the surface.
As Eva tries to solve the murder of the woman she found bleeding in the church, she uncovers some dark secrets of the residents – abnormalities in the ordered life of an army station.

Filled with the colours of sunset in the hills the cover is bright, eye catchy and a bit gaudy, but the name made me stop and relook at the book. The blurb is a good snapshot of what to expect and supports the title with a clear pointer to the army station at Jacob Hills.

People and the TV had created this image in my mind of an army station. A place filled with class, finesse and style. Jacob Hills was an insight into what happens behind the glossy veneer of army life. The infallible men are just as human and crass as everyone else.
The story is about a lot of things – a young couple, an abusive man, wife swapping, sexual favours and more. Eva who is a new army wife finds her way around in the army life of Jacob Hills discovering well hidden secrets. Ismita has woven a good plot that kept me reading right to the end.

The book is set in 1980’s India, a time when things were changing and there was a lot of tussle between the old and new schools of thought. Ismita explores the conflicts and emotions of people during that time.
Though there isn’t much place description in Jacob Hills except where needed. It gets balanced by the in-depth descriptions of people and society in the 80’s.

Jacob Hills has quite a few characters telling the story and it took me a while to figure out and remember who was talking and who was who. Though seeing the story through a characters eyes was insightful, I would have preferred fewer characters narrating. It did confuse me.

The story starts out with murder that is followed by instances of abuse, scandal and suicide. There were a lot incidents that I felt would tie up to the main crime but they worked out into different sub-plots in the last part of the book. Though there were no loose ends and each thread was neatly tied up, I was a bit disappointed. The murderer did not make an appearance until the end and Ishmita took me on a wild goose chase though the book. There should have been more of the main murder I think, and less distraction and dilution with irrelevant seperate incidents.

The story is interesting and written well. It seems clear from the story that Ismita has an army background and knows the life well, else she has done her research :)

Jacob Hills is an easy read, though I felt it was more of an insight into army station life than a murder mystery. That said, it is still a book worth reading, and you should check it out.

About the Author:
There isn’t much known about Ismita, but here’s what I found out. Ismita had studied in Sophia College, Ajmer before doing her MBA and working with the foreigh exchange division of Thomas Cook for a short time. She now writes books and poetry full-time. Other than Jacob Hills, Ismita has also written a romatic thriller ‘Love on the Rocks’ in 2011. She blogs her poetry at www.lesserknownpoet.com.

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July 11, 2013   2 Comments

Review: My Gola – A Custom Trip Planning Site

Photo Credit: Tamas on Flickr

Planning for a trip is the most difficult part of a trip for me. There is just so much research and planning to be done to make sure I don’t miss out on something on the trip. Anything that would make this easier would be a god-send.

There are a lot of tools to help with this online today and I have used some of them. But, I’m always on the lookout for new ones. Here’s where MyGola comes in. MyGola claims to help you create a custom trip in 15 minutes. So, I figured I’d give it a spin.

The site offers three types of sign-in – facebook, twitter and id & pw. The twitter login didn’t work for me though and I had to refresh the page to get the twitter login to register.

Straight up you are asked to plan a trip in 15 minutes. I decided to go with Thailand. Che and I had travelled there last year and so I know a little bit about the country.

The ‘Thailand’ place-search results in a lot of package options. I can either select a listed package or filter the travel packages based on themes, dates and places. Filter it is – so I choose History and Outdoor as themes, days as 10-20 and places as N/A (my choices didn’t make any difference). Here’s the short list of 10 that I got –

One of the things Che and I didn’t get to do in Thailand was visit the hill tribes, so that’s the package I choose to explore. A 12 day Trek to hill tribe villages of Northern Thailand.

My first view of this section of the trip plan leaves me wowed. I like the idea of seeing a day map for each day, it gives me a immediate realistic understanding of distances to be travelled through the day.

Each day of the itinerary has a drop down of places to be seen. Each place when selected shows you a photo of the place and gives you details about it along with more photos and videos. All the places can be marked as either definitely or maybe going.

I quickly went through all the places and selected the ones I wanted. Some I definitely wanted to see and a couple were maybe’s. I ended up with 19 places before I clicked on the ‘See Your Plan’ option.

Here’s what the plan looks like –

The planner is quite neat. It shows the day in timeslots and I could add, move and remove places from it. I could also extend and reduce my time spent at each place.
When I tried to add a place, I got options of places near-by to choose from with details. I could also had an option to add a place that was not listed.
Clicking on each place on the planner to took me to more details about it, there was even a description right here in the block.
Like I said before the planner is neat, it gives you control over your entire trip.

Once you’ve saved the basic plan, you can invite people to edit and refine the plan. If you have questions, you can ask the experts at MyGola. And you can also download the current plan as a pdf, that looks quite handy for travel with maps and other details.

Another way to plan a trip is by using the ‘Start Planning’ option in the left column. This method works a bit differently. You enter the countries or places you want to visit, the number of days you have and the site gives you a recommendations of cities and locations to visit. Mark the ones that interest you with definitely or maybe and you’re back to the planner we saw earlier. This option is great if you don’t want to start with a package and want to plan your trip from scratch.
You can also mark places as favourites and save your plans for future use on MyGola.

My Thoughts –

‘ + + + ‘

The planner from MyGola impressed me. It’s the first planner I’ve seen that gives me so much flexibility, info and help, all in one place. I didn’t finish planning my trip in 15 minutes as promised but I did enjoy spending one hour planning it. 😀
MyGola has a good coverage of the world through tour operators. I found packages for most countries and cities I tried searching for, even those in India.
If you’re looking to plan a trip abroad or to one of the tourist destinations of India, this planner will work well for you.

‘ – – – ‘

There are some things though that were missing. I noticed that not all places had enough relevant photo and video content.
Though you can plan what you will do in each day, there are no details for in-between the days. E.g. I could plan what to do in Bangkok on day one and activities for Chiang Mai on day two but I couldn’t find a way to plan how to get to Chiang Mai from Bangkok. I wasn’t looking for tickets, but I would have liked to know the distance between places. I also would have appreciated space to add my travel details in the planner, so it would show on the pdf.
Like I said above, MyGola currently works well only for countries and touristy cities. A search for locations or lesser known places will not help much.

I’m looking forward to using MyGola to plan my next international trip. Have you used MyGola before? What do you use to help plan your holiday? Do you have any favourite websites or apps?

July 10, 2013   No Comments

Book Review: Chanakya’s Chant by Ashwin Sanghi

Title: Chanakya’s Chant
Author: Ashwin Sanghi
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Westland Ltd. (January 1st 2010)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Read: Paperback
Stars: ***/5
Buy On: Amazon | FlipKart
Summary: (Goodreads)
The year is 340 BC. A hunted, haunted Brahmin youth vows revenge for the gruesome murder of his beloved father. Cold, calculating, cruel and armed with a complete absence of accepted morals, he becomes the most powerful political strategist in Bharat and succeeds in uniting a ragged country against the invasion of the army of that demigod, Alexander the Great. Pitting the weak edges of both forces against each other, he pulls off a wicked and astonishing victory and succeeds in installing Chandragupta on the throne of the mighty Mauryan empire.

History knows him as the brilliant strategist Chanakya. Satisfied—and a little bored—by his success as a kingmaker, through the simple summoning of his gifted mind, he recedes into the shadows to write his Arthashastra, the ‘science of wealth’. But history, which exults in repeating itself, revives Chanakya two and a half millennia later, in the avatar of Gangasagar Mishra, a Brahmin teacher in smalltown India who becomes puppeteer to a host of ambitious individuals—including a certain slumchild who grows up into a beautiful and powerful woman.

Modern India happens to be just as riven as ancient Bharat by class hatred, corruption and divisive politics and this landscape is Gangasagar’s feasting ground. Can this wily pandit—who preys on greed, venality and sexual deviance—bring about another miracle of a united India? Will Chanakya’s chant work again?

My Review:



Cover: Eye-catchy!

Paper and font: Easy on the hands and eyes.

Readability, language: Easy read…

Why did I choose this book: Because of Chanakya.

In 340 BC Chanakya sets out to take revenge for his fathers death. In a revenge that spans years he thwarts Alexander, unites Kingdoms and puts Chandragupta Maurya on the throne. Having accomplished his revenge and dream he steps back to write his Arthashastra.
Ages later Gangasagar Mishra stumbles upon a chant written by Chanakya. Possessing qualities like Chanakya, he sets out to play the game of political intrigue with the objective of making his chosen disciple the Prime Minister on India.

Considering the book is about a cursed chant discovered, that is connected to Chanakya the title is quite appropriate. A copper tinted cover with a mix of ancient and modern coins is eye catchy and the blurb makes you want to read the book.

Chanakya is a known name, almost everyone has either studied about him in school or watched a story on TV. The one thing Chanakya is known for is his cunning. He is the Indian equivalent of Merlin, scheming and plotting until he put Chandragupta Maurya on the throne.
Sanghi retells the story of Chanakya with a twist – Gangasagar Mishra, the modern day Chanakya. He switches between Chanakya’s time and the present day as he draws political parallels. The plot is interesting and for a political noob like me it was an insight into what transpires behind the curtain.

The book is set in present day India and Chanakya’s time around 340 BC; both have been described well. It was a trip down memory lane re-imagining places I’d read about first in school – Takshila University, Pataliputra, Magadha, Paurus, Alexander… How I wish I could have studied at Takshila.
In the present day the story travels from small town Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh to Rashtrapati Bhavan in Delhi on a journey that makes a small time party a national political power.

Mainly revolving around Chanakya in old times and Gangasagar in present day, the story has a host of other characters supporting the plot. Both the protagonists go about using the people around them to achieve their goals, losing sight of the people themselves most times. Chanakya uses Suvasini, the woman he loves without remorse in furthering his grand plans. Gangasagar gets his disciple Chandini shot when he thinks it would benefit their political career.
The cunning and witty Chanakya may have been the best at the political game but he was also a cold calculating man with very few emotional attachments. Chanakya’s Chant is an insight into the man Chanakya was, and not just the political strategist.

Sanghi maintains a good pace and ties up the story well. There are of course a lot of plots and sub-plots, and sometimes you get muddled about characters but it all fits in at the end. Considering that it’s two stories running parallel, there was a lot happening and sometimes I lost track of things. But it could also just be the naive political me who missed the nuances.

When I first came across the book, I thought it was about Chanakya, so I was disappointed to find Chanakya sharing page space with Gangasagar. That said, I don’t have any other complaints about the book.

This was the first book of Ashwin Sanghi’s that I read, and it set the benchmark for his work. No wonder then that The Rozabal Line, his first book was hugely disappointing and The Krishna Key, his third was a redemption as it looks like Sanghi is getting better with each book.

Unlike The Rozabal Line and The Krishna Key, Chanakya’s Chant is a political thriller and if that’s your thing, you’ll enjoy this book.

About the Author:
Ashwin Sanghi is an entrepreneur by day, novelist by night and has all the usual qualifications of an Indian businessman. ‘The Rozabal Line’ was originally self-published in 2007 under his anagram-pseudonym—Shawn Haigins. In 2008 Westland published the book in India under his own name. Ashwin lives in Mumbai with his wife, Anushika, and his eight-year old son, Raghuvir. His website is www.ashwinsanghi.com.

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June 27, 2013   2 Comments