#MyFriendAlexa – A Wrap-Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MyFriendAlexa 31stAug17  MyFriendAlexa 31stOct17

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

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

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

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Reminiscent Love

I learnt long ago that we win some, we lose some, yet, life goes on.  Even then, many, like me, who have experienced a great joy or a heartbreaking tragedy will agree it is easier said than done.

It has been a few months since I came out of a nine-year-old relationship and letting go was probably one of the toughest decisions I had to make. There are days when my heart still weeps and I don’t know how to deal with it.

So, here I am, trying to deal with it the only way I can – by writing.

As far as I remember, everything was fine until the first cracks began to appear at the start of the new year. We hadn’t been spending much time together and I assumed that was the reason. I ignored the cracks. Besides, there were other things keeping me busy, leaving me no time to tend to tantrums. That was Mistake No. 1.

When realisation dawned that I was expecting far more than I was investing in the relationship, I decided to rectify my actions. By then, unfortunately, the cracks had deepened.

Despite the glaring signs to which I refused to pay any attention, I convinced myself that it was nothing more than misbelief. That time would heal what was broken. It wasn’t the end yet, it couldn’t be. We had so much more to share. We had to have more time together. That was Mistake No. 2.

When I told my family, some encouraged me to continue, seeing how hung up I was on this relationship. Others tried to convince me it wasn’t worth it. That I should just snap the link once and for all. But I couldn’t muster the courage to take that last step.

So, I decided to seek professional help. Maybe what we really needed was for someone to clinically analyse and gauge if we were worth fixing. When the report came, it broke my heart. The damage was far too extensive. It was then that I finally gave up. If we were so un-mendable, it was best to break all ties. Had it not been for this report, I doubt I would have gone through it .

On June 9th 2017, I finally sold my beloved Honda Civic that had been my partner for all my travels in and around NCR for the last nine years.

In hindsight I think I should have taken this decision much earlier. It would have saved me from so much heartache. But this being my biggest purchase ever, It wasn’t easy at all.

The day the buyer came to collect it, I was trying to think of something to keep with me as a memory. I would have liked to rip a side-view mirror off since we have some special memories together, but those things alone go for a minimum of Rs.5,500. There was no way I could take that.

Eventually, my gaze fell on the pair of cushions emblazoned with the Honda logo which I don’t ever remember using. They sat snug in the boot, wrapped in original packing, since they day I drove the car out of the showroom.

I reminisced about the times, while driving on a long route, when I would think how nice it would be to have a chauffeur while I sit back against the cushions and enjoy the view of the sky, not having to worry about traffic.

So, moments before the buyer arrived to take delivery of my Civic, I sneaked the cushions out of the car and inside my house.

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Nearly four months later, my gorgeous misty-violet beauty may be gone, but its memories are alive. And as I sit and write this, my hand running over the velvet face of the cushion, fingers skimming over the logo, I close my eyes and remember all the good times we’ve had.

I do carry the hope that we may meet someday on the streets of Delhi, side by side on a traffic signal, and beam in that joyous moment of seeing each other again.

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

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Profit & Loss | Visual Poetry

It has been a month since I started taking a creative writing class at the British Council. The modules cover various aspects of creative writing that include short stories, flash fiction, and also different forms of poetry.

While I have tried my hand at writing a few poems and Haikus, I don’t consider myself capable of writing poetry, except for a few rhyming lines I may have penned here and there.

Nevertheless, I was quite intrigued by a relatively newer form of poetry I was introduced to, called Visual Poetry.

Literary theorists have identified visual poetry as a development of concrete poetry but with the characteristics of intermedia in which non-representational language and visual elements predominate.

Academic Willard Bohn prefers to categorise the whole gamut of literary and artistic experiment in this area since the late 19th century under the label of Visual Poetry and has done so in a number of books since 1986. From his reductionist point of view, “Visual poetry can be defined as poetry that is meant to be seen – poetry that presupposes a viewer as well as a reader”.

As an optional exercise, we were given a few themes and asked to create a visual poem on any one of them.

The theme I picked was ‘A mountain peak’ and my visual poem looks like this:

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(If you can’t read my uneven handwriting, you can read it below:)

Profit and Loss
By Ashima Jain

He runs across the valley
And drops into a gorge,
Struggles to climb some hills,
Wondering how much more.
Then he sees a mountain,
Its peak – the place to be.
If only he can reach that height,
Of his shackles, he’d be free

What do you think of this? Do you see the theme in this graph? Let me know by sharing your feedback 🙂

Any writers reading this – Have you seen or written any visual poetry. I would love to see it. Do share in the comments below.

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

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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.

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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

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Picture2 Courtesy: Amaryllis - An Imprint of Manjul Publishing house

#MyFriendAlexa and Why I Signed Up for It

As I approach the second anniversary of Aquamarine Flavours, I can’t help but reminisce at how the blog has evolved since it first went live. I started it with the hope to discover a new passion, after having spent over twelve years in the apparel industry. And somewhere along the way, Aquamarine Flavours steered me in the precise direction I was meant to go.

I have been reading voraciously since the past two years, an activity I sorely missed before, and gradually began to experiment with writing as well. Over time I have had my short stories published online and in literary magazines. Earlier this year, I was selected as a contributing author of an anthology of short stories published by Women’s Web – my first published book.

Recently I also forayed into reviewing books and editing manuscripts, the latter providing me a new insight into the art of creative writing.

Aquamarine Flavours has been my platform to share all of this with the outside world, and while I have received a lot of encouragement from friends and readers, I have always wondered how to take it to the next level.

A few weeks ago I was part of a Creative Writing Retreat organised by BlogChatter and during one of their sessions I discovered the Alexa Ranking system. Upon checking the statistics for my blog, I was shocked to discover how far behind it is in visibility.

As of 31st August 2017, my Global Alexa Rank stood at 11,823,468 and (gasp) I don’t have an India rank at all. (Faints.)

So here I am, taking the plunge in committing to take my Alexa Rank to the next level with #MyFriendAlexa and #BlogChatter – The world’s second and India’s first campaign based on Alexa rank and associated tools.

If you like what you see on Aquamarine Flavours and are not following yet, I invite you to join me here (see link to follow on the right sidebar) for some great content. Your support will go a long way.

Thank you!

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