Book Review — How May I Help You? by Deepak Singh

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How May I Help You? is a memoir that traces Deepak Singh’s experiences in America, as a well educated individual who is compelled to work a minimum wage job. Through chapters that unravel his descent into American society, we are also pulled into the lives of his colleagues and acquaintances who are themselves struggling to get by in a world that is foreshadowed by apathy and fallacy. Spanning across two years and some, this book brings to light the strong culture shock that Deepak deals with, when confronted by an America quite unlike the picture painted by the big screen. What this autobiography succeeds in doing commendably is emphasizing that people may be separated by oceans and borders but we all couldn’t be more alike due to our shared sufferings and encounters.

As someone who has aspired to live abroad, the synopsis of this book was very intriguing to me. At the same time, I don’t really read autobiographies. That said, How May I Help You? is a very smooth read, captivating because of its simplistic depiction of a foreign society and earnest in its portrayal of a profession that isn’t held in high esteem. The author’s writing style is very straightforward which I appreciate when it comes to non-fiction; I found myself wanting to finish the book in one sitting. The story is endearing to say the least. I’m sure we’ve all felt lost at some point in time and so Deepak’s sentiments resonate with us. To be stranded in a foreign land, unable to form genuine connections with people there, can be a heartrending experience. I really liked how diverse lifestyles were reflected in addition to Deepak’s. All of which help us get a better understanding of the non-glitzy aspect of living in America.

It also draws comparisons to the low income group in India, trying to find a togetherness in the struggles of people across the world. The voice of immigrants and diasporic communities is always a refreshing one and this book is no different. We come to learn just how ignorant people can be about other cultures, misled by popular representations. Kudos to the author for having aptly delineated themes of poverty, loneliness, camaraderie and personal growth. Don’t be intimidated by the harsh realities that are mirrored here; it is one that we should acknowledge. All in all, I really liked this book and it has encouraged me to pick up other memoirs. I would definitely recommend it to everyone; whether you read autobiographies or not, DON’T MISS OUT ON THIS!

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? An honest glimpse of what it means to be working abroad, devoid of any sugar coating. And a taste of culturally diverse mindsets.

Thank you Penguin India for sending me this book in exchange for a review. 

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Book Review — The House That Spoke by Zuni Chopra

The House That Spoke is a story of how darkness makes its way into Kashmir, in the form of a demon that haunts Zoon’s house as well as the growing socio-political tension in society courtesy of militants. At 14 years of age, Zoon is a very spirited young girl, unaware of the power her lineage has. But as her fifteenth birthday looms near, she begins to realize that the strange occurrences are tied to her father’s bloodline, generations of Guardians meant to protect Kashmir and all of its inhabitants.

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At this point, it’s no surprise that I enjoy reading peculiar books. And if the title wasn’t explanation enough, EVERYTHING in Zoon’s house “speaks”. Remember the enchanted household objects in Beauty and the Beast? Exactly like that! Although, the books flinging themselves off the shelves was always a cringe-worthy moment. I liked the plot, despite its very obvious tropes of “the chosen one” and darkness being equated to the villainous  component. I LOVED the setting and how the author weaves a tale around the realistic situation in Kashmir; bringing to light the troubled lifestyle of locals who have to be on guard, lest they get caught in the crossfire between governmental troops and rebel militants. Zuni Chopra’s writing style perfectly reflected the cold, hilly vibes which makes this an apt wintery read.

Most of the times, I enjoyed the conversation between the household objects because their personification was interesting to observe. But I found it quite surprising that Zoon’s mother never really caught on to that. And try as I might, I couldn’t bring myself to connect with or remotely like the protagonist (Zoon!). She was unnecessarily rude. And even though the burden of protecting her hometown ultimately lands on her shoulders, I couldn’t digest her butting into matters that were beyond her maturity. As far as I’m aware, in a household, you wouldn’t see 14 year olds making life-changing decisions or even intervening in such conversations between the elders. Zoon’s mother and Tathi (grandmother) are the two supporting characters. They come across as very affectionate and lenient, but shockingly they weren’t involved in the life threatening situations, even a least bit. The cover of this book and the illustrations on some of the pages is absolutely gorgeous. All in all, I didn’t like this novel as much as I had hoped to. Nevertheless, I’d recommend it to younger audiences.

Ratings – 2 out of 5 stars.

What do you get out of it? Those in and around the age group of 14 years may enjoy this a lot more than I did. That aside, this book captures a realistic portrait of the social scenario in Kashmir and envelops you in the vivid imageries of a winter wonderland.

Book Review — The Indian Spirit by Magandeep Singh

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The Indian Spirit captures the historic events and societal nuances that led to Indians embracing spirits  and alcoholic drinks like rum, vodka, whisky, wine, beer etc. It digs deep into the origin tales, bringing out the long processes of evolution in our drinking culture, some of which we imbibed from foreign forces. Equipped with years of experience in the field, the author throws light on the many brands that took root in India; some of which have inevitably soared to international standards and others that have been forgotten. Almost every kind of spirit has a deep rooted connection to the growth of the F&B industry in India. This book in its entirety is a delight for those who indulge in alcohol, heightening our experience of consuming the said liquor, with tips on how to best approach it and amazing anecdotes from the past.

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but some books (like this one) are simply splendid and the subject matter of The Indian Spirit appeals to me a great deal. The author’s writing style is quite conversational, flavored by quips and straightforward commentary on various products. Even though there’s a lot of factual information, it doesn’t feel textbook-ish because the narrative style is light and catchy. I often found myself cracking up at the humor wedged in between all that data. There are separate chapters on whisky, wine, beer and many more. The chapter on local alcohol variants was an eye-opener because if not for this book, I wouldn’t have even heard of many of the traditional alcoholic beverages. I like an occasional (read often) glass of wine, rum or vodka, but it wouldn’t be far fetched to say that my understanding of these drinks has been absolutely bleak, when compared to what I learned from the book. Thanks to the little guide at the end of certain chapters, I now know the correct way of tasting, judging and serving some liquors.

Since this book explores a rather wide variety of drinks, it is best read slowly, so you can grasp as much of the information as possible. Rush it, and you’ll risk not remembering more than half of it. Many of the anecdotes mentioned in this book were really intriguing. My favourite chapters (which I am going to re-read again and again) were the ones about wine, drinking etiquette and rum. Overall, this book makes for a great reading experience and I would recommend it to EVERYONE, whether you are a tippler or not. Also, regardless of the number of times I have tried beer and whisky, I strongly believe that they still taste like “something that could power space expeditions”!

What do you get out of it? Priceless knowledge about how alcohol was brought or came to be made in India. With the help of amusing stories and factual deductions, we are able to follow the changes that this market has gone through.

Ratings – 5 out of 5 stars

Thank you Penguin India for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for a review. 

Book Review — 5 Ingredients Quick Easy Food by Jamie Oliver

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How often have you googled recipes only to realize that the ingredients required are five times more than the number of servings or that the time needed to prepare the dish is a lot longer than what you’re ready to invest? With Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients Quick Easy Food, you don’t need to worry about a thing! It has clear cut instructions, pictures of ingredients, so you know exactly what’s required and drool-worthy snaps of the end product. If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is. From basic dishes like egg fried rice and and steak sandwich to extravagant meals like smoky mushroom frittata and succulent lamb stew, this cookbook offers something for everyone. Split into 11 sections based on the nature of the dish (veg, fish, salads, sweet treats, pork etc.), this volume is diverse and incorporates different cuisines. So now, you can cook as per your mood and have a fabulous meal ready in no time! Concerned about nutrition? Flip to the very end where you’ll find tons of information about staying healthy, straight from a nutritionist.

Skim through to whichever section you prefer at that moment.

The structure and form of each recipe. Ingredients to the left, final product to the right and some basic instructions in the middle.

Made the Egg Fried Rice and Quick Steak Stir Fry.

Cooking is not one of my favourite things to do. And yet, when I had a glimpse of what this book offers, I knew I had to get a copy. I was pleasantly surprised by how everything had been made convenient for the reader. For starters, the instructions to each and every recipe are written in a simple and direct manner, that too in just a couple of paragraphs. More often than not, I’ve found that lengthy procedures make the whole ordeal even more troublesome because you have to take care of so many elements. Since the specialty of this book is that all the dishes were made out of 5 main ingredients, it was very comforting. Secondly, the structure of this book earns major brownie points. Each section has 9 – 12 recipes on average. That way you don’t need to run to the grocery store, every time you intend to cook. 85% of the ingredients are basics like eggs, sugar, meats, sauces, bread, vinegar and so on. The only thing that bothered me a little is that a select few of the sauces and vegetables aren’t as easily available where I live. Another thing that I really liked about this cookbook is that pictures of the ingredients are aligned to the left in a strip format. So you can flip through the pages and pull out recipes relevant to ingredients that you have at home.

You can’t go wrong with a cookbook that has been put together by a renowned chef such as Jamie Oliver. All of the dishes look really enticing. I’ve tried out three recipes at random, and true to the word, they have all turned out spectacular with minimal effort! *pat on the back* I highly recommend this book to everyone, even if you’re not much of a cook. Don’t be intimidated by the names of the dishes, they are as easy as can be. Get a copy and see for yourself!

What do you get out of it? You learn how to cook different cuisines with ease, while retaining the quality of the dish. Quick, quality cooking at your fingertips.

Ratings – 4.5 out of 5 stars

Thank you Penguin India for sending me this book in exchange for a review. 

Book Review — How To Be A Bawse by Lilly Singh

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Summary – Lilly Singh’s How To Be A Bawse is as much an honest representation of the star as it is a well guided recipe to cure oneself of the blues. Her words of wisdom, courage and understanding fill us to the brim with the zeal needed to pick ourselves up and keep going. Split into 50 chapters and other sections, this book takes us on a journey of revelation as to how she rose to power and popularity – none of which came easy. As consumers of media, our perception of celebrities can be deficient if not entirely skewed. Lilly opens our eyes to the gritty truth of it all. Through the course of this book, she sets us on the path towards becoming change-makers, influencers and sculptors of a better world. Glossy pages, bouncy colors and a great sense of humor make this tome much superior in comparison to other self-help books. If you wish to conquer every aspect of your life, you’ll find a whole lot of inspiration and motivation here.

Review – Ever since I discovered her YouTube channel, I have been devouring any content that she put forth. So it was but natural that I would get a copy of her book for myself. At first glance, this book appears to have been manufactured by Skittles. No, really. There are four sections, each of which are done in a particular color. Within each of these chapters contained in these sections, there are page length photos of her as well as quote prints, and chapter-end tasks. This makes it a delightful reading experience because you’re able to apply the lessons to your life actively. Her undeniable sass and wit, which we are familiar with through her videos, translates perfectly into the narration. The writing style is colloquial, emphatic and humorous. What makes this book endearing is the inclusion of personal anecdotes in plenty. In fact those were my favourite parts!

I’m super lazy and I procrastinate a great deal. Reading this book has made me less of that person. And every chapter I re-read chisels away a bit more of the lethargy. The content is so inspiring, that I no longer think of my role in this world as a minuscule one. I know for a fact that I, too, can bring about a great change. Recurring themes of this book include positivity, self-control, hustling, being grounded etc. Some of her guidance overlaps across chapters, so occasionally you find yourself reading the same thing again. But that’s actually quite necessary to drive home the point. People are familiar with iiSuperwomanii who has done great deeds, but only few know of her insecurities and concerns. It is very evident that she has poured her heart and soul into this book, to encourage other’s to not give up on themselves. The chapters speak to people suffering from lack of self-esteem, depression, despondence and heartbreak. The lessons she has learned on her journey would be useful to anyone, regardless of their stature. That being said, I didn’t agree with some points in the book. But to each their own. I would absolutely recommend How To Be A Bawse to every one. I’m going to re-read this book again and again in the future. Lilly, you’re a gift to humanity.

What do you get out of it? Unicorn kisses. Haha, just kidding! HTBAB has a feel-good factor in it that convinces you of your greater potential in life. It makes you want to dream big and then act on it. And it shows you exactly how to do it.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review — The Sacred Sword by Hindol Sengupta

Thank you Penguin Random House India for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

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Summary – The Sacred Sword chronicles the rise of Guru Gobind Singh, a Sikh warrior to be reckoned with. At the prime age of 9 years, Gobind Rai’s childhood came crashing down when his father, Guru Tegh Bahadur, was assassinated by the Mughals. In order to restore the Sikh faith in the minds of thousands of people, Gobind assumes the position of guru and begins to train villagers. He builds the Khalsa, a group of extraordinary warriors who mirror the values of Sikhism and fight to defend its honor. Despite all of his successes, the northern kings underestimate his power, plotting with Emperor Aurangzeb to defeat the guru. But they too learn by experience, what it is to cross Guru Gobind Singh. Hindol Sengupta’s novel merges history and fiction to create an empowering tale.

Review – Historical fiction is one of my all time favourite genres. I have never read anything by Hindol Sengupta, so this one was a pleasant surprise. Even though the author forewarns us that there’s a good mixture of fiction in the novel, I found myself rooted to the spot with all of the events I was learning about. I have never been exposed to stories about the Sikh community. And I felt like this book was great in conveying their values, mannerisms and other sensibilities. The fact that their sayings or proverbial phrases were even translated in English was a wonderful addition. You get to understand their religious texts and their perspective about God. Naturally, religion is a major theme in this novel. It poses quite a few questions about the clashing of two religions. In light of their outlook, you find yourself evaluating certain perspectives of yours. Further, the novel also explores elements like war, blind faith etc.

The writing style is refreshing and vivid. For a majority of the novel, I was so inspired by the portrayal of Guru Gobind Singh that I could almost imagine myself as a character in the story. Aurangzeb’s depiction did him no good. I wanted to punch him every time his narcissistic persona made an appearance. The battle scenarios were invigorating to say the least. All those who aren’t familiar with Hindi or Punjabi terms, fear not; there’s a sizable glossary at the end. While the story reflects Guru Gobind Singh’s expertise, we are not made privy to how he became so well versed. I would have liked to know about his upbringing and training. That would have made the story more realistic. Some of the poetry included is truly splendid. I really enjoyed reading The Sacred Sword because it was a worthy history lesson devoid of the monotony of textbooks. It is told from the point of view of Gobind and that makes it more special. If you enjoy historical fictions, PICK UP this novel.

What do you get out of it? Invaluable lessons about loyalty, bravery, the Sikh faith and the tyranny of the Mughals. Overall, a good update on Indian history.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review — Encounters Of A Fat Bride by Samah Visaria

Thank you Penguin Random House for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

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Encounters of a Fat Bride unveils the humiliation and harsh circumstances that an overweight woman has to undergo in order to find a groom in India. Madhurima Pandey has learnt to set aside her complex about feeling like the quintessential DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend). While all her friends find fairytale-esque romances, Madhu has devoted her time to work and study, so as to steer clear of the reality that no man in his right mind would ever choose her. But as per societal norms, marriage is the most essential rite of initiation into adulthood. And soon, her middle class family begins to invite a bevy of eligible men in the hopes that one of them would accept Madhu into their household. Samah Visaria’s novel aptly reflects the age-old customs of dowry and arranged marriage, complete with nosy neighbors and body-shaming parents of potential grooms.

It should be noted that some people may view this novel as being offensive, but I assure you that it is not. The author, in no way, propagates discriminating against “fat” brides. She is merely trying to convey to the audience that women should be confident regardless of their physical appearances.

As lighthearted as this book is, it also approaches some very serious issues like that of fat-shaming, mental health disorder, the dowry system (wherein the family of the bride compensates the groom’s family in cash or kind for going ahead with the marriage) and gender bias. While a lot of these issues are dealt with rationally, I wasn’t comfortable with the way mental health disorders were handled. You begin to think that Madhu is a very mature and educated woman, but then her sidelining of mental instability as “retarded” or “losing it” is totally not acceptable. On the other hand, through Madhu’s strength of character, we see how other negative elements are treated strictly. Her acceptance of her body image and understanding that all genders ought to be equal attempts to remove society’s misconceptions.

What’s unique is that the chapter titles feature a countdown; so you are made aware of the ending but you don’t know how that transpires. See, there’s some mystery in there too. The author’s writing style is colloquial, humorous and incorporates few Hindi terms. There are a couple of cliches, but nothing major. She makes several references to the movie industry, juxtaposing Madhu’s behavior and feelings which made light of the situation at hand. The narration is so convincing that I’d feel just as infuriated at society as Madhu does. I mean, it is appalling that people expect you to be a certain way and if you aren’t, they rain down the most horrible comments on you. I really liked the plot because it is still so relevant. Some aspects of the story were a little over the top, but you can’t expect anything less from a dramatic character like Madhu. Her character arc sees quite a change throughout the novel. Initially, she is against the idea of arrange marriage, then tired of being lonely, she begins to crave it. Even her outlook undergoes certain essential changes. Without a doubt, Madhu’s funny quips renders the entire novel so enjoyable that I finished it in one sitting. I liked the book and I look forward to anything else the author may write in the future. You should check it out!

Ratings – 3.5 out of 5 stars.