Elixir by Sinjini Sengupta | Book Review

It was at a creative writing workshop earlier this year, where I first met Sinjini Sengupta, the author of this novel. She had written a short story which her husband had picked up to make a short film. The film was travelling across the globe, being screened at various International Film Festivals at that time, and collecting accolades. Meanwhile, the author herself was busy working on its full length novel.

Since the moment I first heard about the idea behind Elixir, at that workshop, I had been curious to read it. I remember she had described the story in a way that sounded almost magical. Many months later, when the book’s cover was launched and I read the tag line below the title, my interest was piqued yet again:
A Dream of a Story
A Story of a Dream.

Manisha leads a normal life. She is celebrating her wedding anniversary with her husband of ten years and is achieving success in her career which is taking her to new heights.

On one such normal day, she wakes up from sleep and goes to work. On her way back home, she walks into a coffee shop. The cafe is empty but for an old man behind the counter, and another man at a corner table. Later in the night, this man comes back to her in her sleep, and then, every night thereafter. A new journey begins, and a transcendence.

Manisha is well on her way to building a whole new life. The kind that is made of dreams. For it is, truly, made in her dreams. A story weaves itself around a life unfulfilled, and a destiny, beautiful and fated. But… where does this journey lead her to? Will Manisha be able to find her way through these parallel worlds?

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When I started reading Elixir, what first caught my attention was the imagery Sengupta has created with words. It reads like poetry,  with a breathtaking visual impact. Her writing has a certain rhythm to it. It brings movement, such as in music – with high and low notes, with breathless continuation, with broken pauses, all of which evoke a range of emotions.

On the surface, Manisha is a woman who has all the pleasures and luxuries of life. But does she really? Why does she appear to consider herself unimportant, unwanted? Why does she feel wrong to want something, to expect it? It is in the way Sengupta builds the character sketch of the protagonist that the author displays her deep understanding of human emotion. She peels away the glossy, albeit weak and thin, layers shrouding the reality of our lives to deliver a relevant social message.

As Manisha balances herself between her dreams and wakefulness, the fine line between imagination and reality is blurred, lost in its own definition. The nuanced transition from one to the other is what sets a benchmark in writing literary fiction.

Elixir is a journey into a magical world, one that is beautiful, heartbreaking and deeply emotional. As the name implies, it is both magical and medicinal for the beat of your heart. So read it. Read it for the thrill and read it for the salve. You won’t be able to free yourself of its hold on you.

Title: Elixir
Author: Sinjini Sengupta
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-93-858545-4-5
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 264
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: An alumnus of the Indian Statistical Institute, Sinjini spent several years of her working life as an Actuary, clearing difficult exams and designing, pricing and reserving for insurance policies, before she took a career break in 2015 to revive her long-dead passion for writing. Writing didn’t disappoint her, either.
Within just a year or two, Sinjini went on to win quite a few coveted national and international awards. As a poet, Sinjini won the National-level English poetry contest—Rhyme India—hosted by Times of India in 2016. Several of her poems got selected and published in the poetry anthology She—The Shakti. One of her short stories themed on Nature writing won the prestigious South Asia FON contest and is soon to be published in an international anthology.
The screenplay of Elixir won her the Best Screenplay award from among 550-plus films internationally. As a columnist, Sinjini was awarded the coveted Orange Flowers Awards 2016 (Runners-Up) for her social columns. She writes mainly on gender issues, social reforms and sensitive parenting in a plethora of publications, such as the Huffington Post, Youth Ki Awaaz, Anandabazaar Patrika, Readomania, Feministaa, Women’s Web, MyCity4Kids, SBCLTR, Bonobology and several other popular publications. Sinjini was conferred the ‘Iconic Woman’ award at the international Women Economic Forum in May, 2017. She serves as the Gurgaon Chairperson for Readers and Writers of All Ladies League. Sinjini was recently featured by ICICI Bank as one of the ‘Inspirational Women of India’ in the Fund Your Own Worth initiative.
Sinjini lives in Gurgaon with her husband Anirban Guha, a banker by day and a filmmaker by night, and Roopkatha, their six-year-old grandmother-cum-daughter cum-spiritual guru.
To read more about her, visit https://sinjinisengupta.blogspot.in/ or connect with her on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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When I Hit You: Or, a Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy | Book Review

One can beat around the bush as much as one wants, but the fact of the matter remains: Violence against the women and girls is considered to be one of the most prevalent human rights violations worldwide. The United Nations Population Fund, in a 2015 report, states that “one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime”.

I have always been troubled as to why women suffer from domestic violence. Why do they need to stay in such a relationship? Why don’t they just walk out? What holds them back?

Meena Kandasamy, in her novel – When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife – writes a hard-hitting account of a writer’s marriage in an effort to lift the veil on the silence that surrounds domestic violence and marital rape in modern India.

She addresses compelling questions in her lyrical style of writing that is poetic and draws you into it’s prose. The incidents she describes play havoc with your mind, and they are not even a fraction of what the victim would have experienced.

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A fictional novel, When I Hit You is inspired by the author’s personal experience. Nonetheless, despite all that she has been through, the narrator does not lose her faith in love. She continues to believe in it, albeit brokenheartedly.

When I Hit You is a lesson to not let your loyalty become slavery. Any relationship, when becomes overbearing, needs to be terminated. One always needs to remember that one can always get out.

And when you have gotten out, then, as Rumi said: “You have escaped the cage. Your wings are stretched out. Now fly.”

To find out more about this book, read my detailed review as published at Writersmelon.com.

Title: When I Hit You: Or, a Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife
Author: Meena Kandasamy
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
ISBN: 978-93-862283-0-7
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Meena Kandasamy has actively sought to combine her love for the written word with the struggle for social justice through poetry, translation, fiction and essays for the last fifteen years. Her debut collection of poems, Touch, was themed around caste and untouchability, and her second, Ms Militancy, was an explosive, feminist retelling/reclaiming of Tamil and Hindu myths. Her critically acclaimed first (anti)novel, The Gypsy Goddess, smudged the line between powerful fiction and fearsome critique in narrating the 1968 massacre of forty-four landless untouchable men, women and children striking for higher wages in the village of Kilvenmani, Tanjore. When I Hit You: Or, a Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife is her second novel.
She grew up in Chennai, India where she lived most of her life before moving to London in 2016.
She was a fellow of the International Writing Program (IWP) at the University of Iowa in 2009, and a British Council Charles Wallace India Trust Fellow at the University of Kent in 2011. She holds a PhD in sociolinguistics. Her work has appeared in eighteen languages.
To read more about her, visit https://www.kandasamy.co.uk/ or connect with her on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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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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The Windfall by Diksha Basu | Book Review

I had been seeing this book pop up on my Instagram and Twitter feed every now and then and had made a random note of it somewhere on my TBR list.

Then, I landed at the bookstore to pick up a few books that had been out of stock when my trusted bookseller pulled out a book from the large display table on his right and placed it in front me. “Read this,” he said, his gaze pointing at the copy of The Windfall by Diksha Basu. His recommendations having always been spot on, I couldn’t refuse and returned with a book that was to soon become one of my favourites.

The Windfall begins by introducing Anil Kumar Jha who has worked hard and is now ready to live well. Having sold off his website for what he thinks was an unbelievable price of twenty million dollars, he and his family are moving out of their modest flat in East Delhi, that had been their home for thirty years, into a spacious bungalow in upscale Gurgaon. But, his wife, Bindu, is heartbroken at the prospect of leaving their neighbours and doesn’t want to wear designer sarees or understand interior decoration. Meanwhile, their son, Rupak, is failing business school in the US and secretly dating an American girl. He has still not summoned the courage to talk to his parents about either of these developments.

Once installed in their mansion, the Jhas are soon drawn into a feverish game of one-upmanship with their new neighbours – the Chopras. When an imitation Sistine Chapel is pitted against a crystal-encrusted sofa imported from Japan, and each couple seeks to outdo the other with increasingly lavish displays of wealth, Bindu begins to wonder where it will all end.

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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. Their discovery of a lifestyle they have never known, one which Mr. Jha is determined to embrace while Mrs. Jha is fearful of accepting, highlights the insecurity that plagues us all.

Basu’s prose is simple and easy going, much like the family whose story she tells. She infuses a sense of humour in her writing which makes one laugh out loud at every page. The novel is paced exceptionally well, discouraging the reader of any urge to pause. She weaves a captivating narrative of the Jhas’ new lifestyle in Gurgaon entangled with the confusion Rupak experiences in the face of his parents change in mindset.

The Chopras play their part as supporting characters to perfection. Dinesh Chopra, the new neighbour, is as nosey as they come. Watching every move the Jhas make, he is determined to prove he is better and richer.

I particularly loved the nuanced character of Mrs. Ray, the 37 year old widow who is Mrs. Jha’s best friend. Basu loops her story in the narrative effortlessly, and draws attention to the meaningless stigmas associated with being a young widow in India.

The Windfall is a tug of war between values and aspirations. As Michael Mandelbaum said, ‘The windfall of great riches can, if mismanaged, make things worse, not better, for the recipients’. This book simply shows the reader how, albeit with dollops of humour.

If you’re looking for a better-than-good book that will spread warmth in your heart after reading it, I recommend this one. I guarantee it will make you laugh so much that you will cry.

Title: The Windfall
Author: Diksha Basu
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
ISBN: 978-93-86606-62-4
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction/General
Pages: 304
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Diksha Basu is a writer and actor. Originally from New Delhi, India, she holds a BA in Economics from Cornell University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times , Cosmopolitan , Buzzfeed and the BBC. She divides her time between New York City and Mumbai.
To connect with her, find her on Twitter.

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

UPDATE 14th Nov 2017: This review is now also published on womensweb.in

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Jukebox: A Short-Story Anthology from Writersmelon | Book Review

There are these lines in the song All I Want by Joni Mitchell, from her album Blue:

I wanna be strong, I wanna laugh along,
I wanna belong to the living.
Alive, alive, I wanna get up and jive,
Wanna wreck my stockings in some jukebox dive.

This is as close as it gets to how I feel when I read the stories in Jukebox – Writersmelon’s newest anthology – a product of fifteen best short-stories handpicked from Melonade 5, their annual nationwide writing competition.

Each of these stories is written by a fresh, new voice: The story you wish was never narrated to an eight-year-old. A cold December morning and a lone gravestone that changes a woman’s life. A teenager who, struggling to deal with the challenges in her life, believes she is cursed. An ageing alcoholic superstar who finds a magical cure for his baldness. The love story linked to a missing earring. A teacher’s faith in her student that bears fruit fifteen years later. These are just a sampling of what the book has to offer.

Categorised in three sections – Suspense, Humour, and Romance – these stories take the reader on a journey where the characters’ lives would have been very different, were it not for the choices they made. They display the protagonist’s strength in drawing courage from within. To do the unthinkable, the supposedly taboo, or to simply follow their heart.

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I can’t deny the fact that I was caught in the web of this jukebox right from the first page.

Abhishek Mukherjee’s ‘Story’ had me biting my nails from the sheer anticipation of what his protagonist was unravelling. His pointed questions to his mother, about his father’s murder, were something you wish no child had to ask. Mukherjee narrates it with the innocence and curiosity of an eight-year-old.

In ‘A Deep Fried Love Story’, Diptee Raut weaves an interesting tale of fat, fried, and love on fire. A woman’s chance sighting of a delicious snack in the hands of a man, puts both man and woman on the fast track to love. The absurdity of such a normal encounter is what endears this story to you.

Purba Chakraborty describes a teacher’s affection for a student unlike others in ‘Her Favourite Pupil’. Her leap of faith in pushing him to test his limits backfires and she ends up losing him. This story is as inspiring as beautiful, and reading it brought tears to my eyes.

‘One Day in December’ by Deboshree Bhattacharjee Pandey is so full of spine-chilling suspense that I am still reeling from the shock of how it turned out in the end.

Avishek basu Mallick begins ‘Lizard Grass’ with a disclaimer that is difficult to ignore. His tongue-in-cheek humour and the obvious reference to reality makes this an absolutely hilarious read.

I could go on to review every story but it wouldn’t do justice to them. There is something unique and special about each one of them.

I did feel that some of the stories could have been edited better, though Priyanka Roy Banerjee has done a remarkable job with most.

Even so, once you pick it up, you will find yourself lost within its gripping tales, losing all sense of time. This jukebox sure carries a delectable selection for aficionados of all genres.

Title: Jukebox
Author: Various
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-93-858543-3-0
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 176
Source: Writersmelon.com
Rating: 4 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About Writersmelon:  They are a leading community of book lovers, constantly buzzing with ‘real conversations’ around Books, Authors, and Writing.
Budding authors & bloggers can explore interesting writing opportunities to review books, contribute articles, or cover a book related event in their city.
Writersmelon has a unique approach for new release books, combined with other professional services which have been widely appreciated with glowing testimonials from authors, their agents, and reputed publishing houses.
They also run a nationwide writing competition – Melonade – which is an attempt to provide a platform to young and upcoming writers from all walks of life. It gives them an opportunity to get judged & reviewed by some very respected & widely read authors and  showcase their stories.
With hundreds of entries received every year as part of Melonade, the best stories are published as an anthology, the first of which was First Brush on the Canvas.
Jukebox is their second anthology, edited by Priyanka Roy Banerjee and with a Foreword by Preeti Shenoy. 
Follow Writersmelon on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Also check out their website http://www.writersmelon.com/wm/ for some great articles.

Note – I received this review copy from Writersmelon.com in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

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

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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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The Stacy Alesi & ITW International Book Giveaway

I can barely contain my excitement as I write this post. I can feel it, smell it, taste it, and yet, it seems surreal. One of those things you desperately want, but know in your heart it is impossible to receive. Well, almost impossible. Until you do.

Before you lose patience and decide to label me crazy, allow me to clarify. What has got me all charged up is the fact that I happened to win the Stacy Alesi & ITW Book Giveaway – One of the most coveted International Book Giveaways.

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ITW or the The International Thriller Writers is an honorary society that represents professional thriller authors from around the world, both fiction and nonfiction, who write books broadly classified as “thrillers.” This would include (but isn’t limited to) such subjects as murder mystery, detective, suspense, horror, supernatural, action, espionage, true crime, war, adventure, and myriad similar subject areas.

An international book blogger I follow – Stacey Alesi’s BookBitch.com – runs this giveaway in conjunction with the International Thriller Writers organization where, every month, they put together a list of books (mostly new releases) from debut authors to bestsellers.

What makes this contest extra special is that all of the books (except eBooks) are signed by the author! Books with multiple authors are signed by at least one of them.

So, if you win, you get some of your favourite writers’ books and also find some new favourites.

I was introduced to Stacy’s blog by one of my most-loved thriller writers – Joseph Finder, when his book was announced as part of the July giveaway in 2016. Since then I have been diligently sending in my contest entry email every month.

While the giveaway is open internationally, I always thought the chances of me winning were one in a million. However, after almost a year  of participating, I heard from them a few weeks ago that I had won the February 2017 Bookshelf of Thrillers. They had been holding onto the announcement as they were yet to receive the signed copies from all participating authors,

The books arrived a couple of days ago  and I couldn’t be happier that I won.

The set includes one book I’ve already read – THE FREEDOM BROKER by K. J. HoweKidnap-and-rescue negotiator Thea Paris’ worst nightmare comes true when her father is kidnapped and the only way to rescue him may involve an unthinkable sacrifice

I am thrilled that I finally own a hardback of her debut novel. Here’s what I wrote when I read it back in April.

I finally got hold of @kjhoweauthor's The Freedom Broker earlier this week, after waiting over two months. The book was so addictive, it had me stealing time from all my activities to keep reading. I just couldn't put it down. The author has brought to life an exceptionally strong, smart and intelligent character in Thea Paris. I can hardly wait to see where her adventures take her next in SkyJack. Until then, I am fangirling over Thea (& Rif). This one has been added to my list of favourite thrillers. The anchor sketch is by #EverythingEtsy, coloring creativity by me :). Swipe for full colored artwork. #thefreedombroker #kjhowe #books #booklover #bookstagram #booksofinstagram #amreading #ebook #fiction #thriller #kidnapandransom #readingchallenge #RealBookSpyReadingChallenge #brunchbookchallenge #htbrunch #bookcommunity #obsessivecompulsivereader #madaboutbooks #aquamarineflavours #bookblogger #fabercastell #colorpencils #fire #coloringisanart #coloringaddiction #bookpairing #sea #ship #anchor

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Other books included in the set are:

WHAT YOU BREAK by Reed Farrel Coleman: Investigating the brutal murder of a wealthy businessman’s granddaughter, Gus Murphy navigates a minefield of hostile police, street gangs, and a Russian mercenary with ties to heinous crimes committed decades earlier in Vietnam and Russia.

THE TRAPPED GIRL by Robert Dugoni: When a woman’s body is discovered submerged in a crab pot in the chilly waters of Puget Sound, Detective Tracy Crosswhite finds herself with a tough case to untangle.

INTO THE FIRESTORM by Kat Martin: Luke Brodie meets his match in fellow bounty hunter Emma Cassidy, as both of them try to hunt down a vicious criminal with whom Emma has history.

THE EXCOMS by Brett Battles: From best-selling author Brett Battles comes the first book in a spinoff series from his award-winning Jonathan Quinn thrillers.

DEEP DOWN DEAD by Steph Broadribb: Lori Anderson is as tough as they come, managing to keep her career as a fearless Florida bounty hunter separate from her role as single mother to nine-year-old Dakota, who suffers from leukemia. But when the hospital bills start to rack up, she has no choice but to take her daughter along on a job that will make her a fast buck. And that’s when things start to go wrong.

THE SPIDER AND THE FLY by Claudia Rowe: A New York Times journalist traces her psychologically provocative, four-year conversation with a young serial killer who murdered eight women and hid them in the basement of his family home, a relationship that dangerously challenged her sense of self.

Being the thriller-novel junkie I am, I can’t wait to get started on these and discover some wonderful new authors.

Having read the descriptions of these books, if any of you fellow thriller lovers are planning to ask me to lend or trade these, please know it would be in both our interests if you don’t. I wouldn’t want to lose a friend. 😉

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

Picture Source: aquamarineflavours.wordpress.com

 

I Quit! Now What? by Zarreen Khan | Book Review

I remember reading a quote by John Ortberg which said, ‘I have always heard that you need to give yourself a long time to unplug when you do a sabbatical. I unplugged so fast I was a little concerned that I was losing brain capacity.’

I couldn’t help being reminded of his words when I started reading I Quit! Now What? by Zarreen Khan:

As the title explains, Nimisha is exhausted. Of endless weekdays, working weekends, making presentations, working with complicated Excel sheets, handling a boss with time-management issues and the general politics of the workplace. Sigh! After eight years of this life, her only personal insight is that she’s terribly unambitious and constantly struggling to be an average performer in the competitive corporate world.

When a colleague flashes the glint of a golden sabbatical, she catapults into it headfirst. After all, one has to find one’s calling at some point in one’s life.

So, will the sabbatical miraculously change her life forever? Or will she go rushing back to her pocket-money-generating job?

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Khan, having chosen a single, twenty-something female professional as the protagonist, speaks for all the unmarried women today who are looking to take a break after a seven-to-ten year career track.

The fact that Nimisha is inspired by a colleague who is four months pregnant, itself speaks volumes. I, for one, have never understood why it is considered normal for a married woman to take a break from work, but when a single woman decides to take this step, everyone – from her company’s chief (insert name of your company’s top honcho – man or woman) to the chaiwallah outside her office building – has an opinion; her own relatives included.

The first obvious question is what said single woman will survive on, without the luxury of a regular salary being credited to her account. The author tackles this in an understated way. She lands a sharp punch on the nose of all those who think a single woman sitting at home is only living off her parents money. (Hello Uninitiated! Are you familiar with the term ‘Savings’? No? Look it up!)

In addition to her overt subtlety, Khan also has a definite flair for humour. This is evident from the opening scene and is carried throughout the book – Only one of the many reasons I ended up reading this through the night. 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.

The story is told in two parts – The Corporate Life and The Sabbatical. And these pictures couldn’t have described it better. (Kudos to whoever came up with the idea….I love them!)

When she does eventually bite the Sabbatical bullet, and begins her quest to discover a new passion, Nimisha is supported by a loving family, two adorable nieces, a gang of 2:00am friends and, last but not the least, the quintessential best (boy) friend.

Wait, don’t start jumping in excitement just yet. There is a (boy) friend, yes, but this is not a romance novel. So, don’t pick this up if that’s all you’re looking for. You won’t find it here.

What you will find though, is a lot of cupid confusion, which is just about the amount of romance I can handle. 🙂

As Nimisha soon finds out in her preparation to dive into this new phase, armed with a list of activities she has been meaning to pursue, it turns out there really is a technique to live and enjoy a sabbatical. No wonder John Ortberg said what he did about the time needed to unplug.

I Quit! Now What? is a fun read, with the perfect mix of dreams, fantasy and practicality. Zarreen Khan has definitely made her presence felt with her strong writing and should consider making this a series. I will surely be lining up to get hold of her next book.

Title: I Quit! Now What?
Author: Zarreen Khan
Publisher: Amaryllis – An Imprint of Manjul Publishing house

ISBN: 978-93-81506-97-4
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction/General
Pages: 296
Source: Author/Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: The author, Zareen, is NOT on a sabbatical. She is a mother, cook, maid, doctor and magician for her kids – a very demanding job! And when she gets time off, she works as a marketing consultant.
Zarreen loves writing and has been secretly maintaining piles of self-written storybooks since the age of eight. I Quit! Now What? is her first novel.
She lives in Delhi with her husband, Moksh and children, Zayn and Iram.
Follow her on Facebook to know more about the author and her writing.

Note – I received this review copy from the Author/Publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

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

UPDATE 3rd Oct 2017: This review is now also published on womensweb.in

Picture1 Source: aquamarineflavours.wordpress.com
Picture2 Courtesy: Amaryllis - An Imprint of Manjul Publishing house

Revelations of an Imperfect Life by Sankhya Samhita | Book Review

One of my favourite quotes I learnt growing up, is that Home isn’t a place; it’s a feeling. It is the people who you live with, amidst those four walls of your house, who provide a sense of belonging.

What, then, is one supposed to do, when the feeling of home is no longer there, and the people whom you regarded close, seem far, far away?

One utterly ordinary day, thirty-three-year-old Tanaya realizes that she is stuck in a perfunctory marriage, nursing a resentment at having to live life like a rolling stone and in an impulsive moment, decides to leave her indifferent husband and uninspiring apartment to go back to where it all began: the sleepy town of Tezpur, Assam.

Back home, in the company of family, friends and unavoidable wagging tongues, Tanaya is forced to face her indecision and confusion, even as she tries to find answers to the unsettling questions running in her mind. Dealing with the aftermath of a decade-long heartbreak, coming to terms with new revelations, when she reaches the fork on the road, will Tanaya be able to make the right choice?

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Revelations of an Imperfect life is a book that evokes memories of idyllic life, of growing up in simpler times, of roots, and of being home. The story is one you would want to read over and over again, for it imparts the feeling of being snuggled inside a warm blanket on a cold, rainy day.

The author starts off with a delectable description of maasor tenga (the signature Assamese dish), and just as your mouth starts to water from the flavour of the tangy gravy, she decides to jolt you from your reverie with the hard-hitting monotony of a life that is far from what one would desire.

Her protagonist travels to a time and place in her past, as a way to move forward, and along her journey she is reminded of the things that she misses today – Little gestures that would go a long way in bringing joy to her life.

Samhita’s characters are delightful, whether it is Dueta, Ma, Aita (one of my favourites), or Nobou Mami from across the fence, Nila (the sister who, for all you know, could be your kindred spirit) and even Nibir (whom one only hears on the phone for most of the book).

She writes them all with such perfection, despite each of their flaws, that after a point you can feel them being a part of your life. They hold on to you and gently pull you in, tugging you along into every memory and conversation.

The plot builds around recollections of growing up as a young girl within and around the walls of her family home, which then connect with the present-day events like a natural flow of the river current.

Her prose reads like a song – every note mellifluous with picturesque descriptions. Her expressions captivate you with the gorgeous play of words she weaves.

She brings Assam to life through the food, the clothes, the festivals, the seasons, and the wonderful people, right before your eyes.

The buildup to the climax and the end leave you amazed at Samhita’s talent and finesse which is akin to that of a seasoned writer. It seems impossible to believe that this is indeed her debut novel.

Tanaya’s account, as described here, may all be about the revelations of an imperfect life. However, as the author remarked at the end of her book launch: No life is imperfect. Your life is your own perfect, as long as you find what makes you happy.

That is really the essence of the book –  to know where and how to find what makes you happy. And for that simple reason, amongst the many others I described above, this book will be endeared by all those who read it.

Title: Revelations of an Imperfect Life
Author: Sankhya Samhita
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-93-858544-2-2
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction/General
Pages: 270
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Born in a small sleepy town in Tezpur, Assam, rebelling against the name her Dad had given her in the hope of turning her into a mathematician, Sankhya Samhita fell in love with words from the moment she realised that syllables make up a word, words make sentences and sentences are basically magic. Despite a short-term affair with Physics and Computer Applications, she refused to give up on words and started her blog seven years ago. She was a part of the editorial team of the online magazine Fried Eye for five years and responsible for the feature articles and music reviews, a role she relished. She even dabbled in teaching the English language to adults in far-flung Vietnam and Malaysia after her marriage, until she settled down for the more challenging role of a stay-at-home-Mom to her daughter.
She currently lives in Singapore with her husband, her daughter and more books than she can ever hope to finish reading.
To connect with her, find her on Twitter and Facebook, or follow her blog https://ssamhita.wordpress.com/ for more of her delightful writings.

UPDATE 8th Aug 2017: This review is now also published on womensweb.in

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