The Doodler of Dimashq by Kirthi Jayakumar | Book Review

How many times in a week do we crave for five magical minutes of peace amidst a particularly rough day at work? Just so we can take a step back, breathe, and jump back into action, reinvigorated.

Imagine the aching desire for those same moments of peace when you are in a nation torn apart by war. A war which brings your entire world crashing down around you. A war that consumes all that is material, all that is human, and destroys every little emotion inside of you, and reduces it to the devastating remains of blood and tears. Imagine how precious those rare moments of peace would be, if at all, and how hard would you be willing to fight to keep them close.

Caught in the cross hairs of a raging civil war in Syria, is Ameenah. Displaced unexpectedly as a child bride, she navigates out of the heart of Dimashq (Damascus), and plunges into the ancient city of Haleb (Alleppo). Her voyage of self discovery is a heady mix of the personal and the political, and the maddening noise of conflict weaves a fabric that entangles her with the lives of many around her. As missile after missile brings the city down into a hapless pile of rubble, Ameenah builds it back up with her simple act of resistance: doodling.

In The Doodler of Dimashq, Kirthi Jayakumar brings a heart wrenching tale of hope that rises from Syria’s rubble like a phoenix.

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There is a moment towards the end of the book, when Ameenah recalls a conversation with her husband. He tells her he doesn’t like the word homesick’ because it’s like saying you are sick of home. He offers an alternate instead from the Welsh language – Hiraeth – which means the bond you share with your home. It has everything, he says, nostalgia, memories, dreams, sights, smells, sounds. Everything that made home what it was for you.

Ameenah’s story does not choose to take sides between the government or the resistance. Her story is really about home and a sense of belonging. Belonging to a place, to its people. It is about finding a way to survive, to hold on to what little remains when all that is taken away from her.

As Ameenah travels through the cities on her journey, the author describes Syria in all its splendour as it once was. She unearths it from beneath the news stories we see today, to reveal a land of exceptional beauty that few are aware even existed. And then, as the cities fall to the ground brick by brick, she shows how Ameenah fights to share her strength by way of her art.

The author’s words are powerful. She captivates you with the stark contrasts between the good and bad, the past and the present, the happy and the sad, that she draws at every scene. The following lines are a brilliant example:

I was alone. Alone, as alone could be.
And then there was this girl. Alone, as alone could be.
Do two alones make a together? What is a together – a weak bond of alones held by loose filaments of fragile mortal promises that could be blatantly broken when life chose to arm wrestle with it?

Each chapter in the book is preceded by a doodle where the author picks up one simple pattern and translates it into a way of life. As Ameenah’s story progresses, the patterns become more complex, the lines taking shapes of petals and swirls, each describing their beauty in a doodle, as well as in life.

As a reader, I often found my heart in the grip of fear, beating wildly at the loneliness of a young girl’s perilious journey. I couldn’t help but shed a tear at her struggles, or refrain from rejoicing in her achievements.

In her Author’s Note, Jayakumar writes: I may not be Syrian; I may not have lived through the war. But I’m human. And I can feel. And so, I leave this peace of my heart at your doorstep and knock thrice, on your doors of empathy.

This achingly beautiful story of Ameenah will break even the strongest of hearts.

I read a quote that without peace, all other dreams vanish and are reduced to ashes. The Doodler of Dimashq may appear to be a quest for peace in a state of war. Yet, Ameenah’s story is so much more. It is an inspiration and carries in it an unbeatable strength. It is a reminder that all we need is a little hope to carry on. That when all is lost, it is hope that will take us closer to our dreams.

Title: The Doodler of Dimashq
Author: Kirthi Jayakumar
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-93-858544-4-6
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 202
Source: Publisher

Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Kirthi Jayakumar is an activist, artist and writer from Chennai, India. She founded and runs the Red Elephant Foundation, a civilian peacebuilding initiative that works for gender equality through storytelling, advocacy and digital interventions. She is a member of the Youth Working Group for Gender Equality under the UNIANYD. Kirthi is the recipient of the US Presidential Services Medal (2012) for her services as a volunteer to Delta Women NGO and the two-time recipient of the UN Online Volunteer of the Year Award (2012, 2013). “Stories of Hope” is Kirthi’s first solo book, comprising a collection of short stories. She also co-authored a book titled Love Me Mama: The Unfavoured Child, along with Elsie Ijorogu-Reed, the founder of Delta Women NGO. Her second book, The Dove’s Lament, published by Readomania, made it to the final shortlist for the Muse India Young Writers’ Literary Award. In addition, Kirthi has published a series of eBooks centered around Peace and Conflict. Kirthi was recently invited to the United State of Women Summit at the White House in Washington DC, as a nominated change maker. She is also a Zen Doodler and her works have been commissioned by corporate establishments, non-profits and art collectors world over. She runs an Instagram based project called “Femcyclopaedia” where she doodles portraits of inspiring women through the ages and from across the world and curates their stories under these portraits. The story of Femcyclopaedia won a Story Award from World Pulse in February 2017. Kirthi lives in Chennai.
She can be contacted on social media via Facebook and Twitter.

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

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House of Discord by Sadiqa Peerbhoy | Book Review

There is an anonymous saying that family problems come in all shapes and sizes; some are short-lived and easily managed, while others are more chronic and difficult to handle. Somewhere, between these two ends of the scale, is where the story of Barrot House begins.

The Deshmukhs, residing in this rambling house in the heart of Bombay, are barely surviving. An effete father who shrugs reality, a rebellious son who marries a Muslim girl, a spinster daughter depressed with her flawed life, a resident ghost who is known to forewarn impending danger, and family secrets buried for decades that are clawing to get out. All of whom are bound together in a taut hold by a tough matriarch.

Outside Barrot House the post Babri-Masjid Bombay of 1992 is a city wallowing in hate, and when violence comes knocking on the Deshmukhs’ door, they find themselves in the eye of the storm.

Will the famed spirit of Bombay eventually rediscover the healing magic of communal tolerance? Will the Deshmukh family be able to bring down the walls they have built around their hearts and find the love that will help them survive?

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House of Discord begins with quite the thrill when a young boy sneaks into his house in the dead of the night, and the resident family ghost chooses that moment to make her presence known. From thereon, members (living and otherwise) of the Deshmukh family are introduced one by one, along with snippets of their family history thrown in for good measure.

The author unravels, layer by delicate layer, every fabric fold of Barrot House’s present and past, such that the layers appear almost fluid in their movement. She weaves her characters seamlessly into the story, taking time to acquaint the reader with each one of them.

While we learn about the turmoil in each of their individual lives, there appears to be a storm brewing behind the action, slowly and gradually making its way to Barrot House. That, coupled with the tensions in the Deshmukhs’ lives breaking surface, the story takes on a momentum making your heart beat faster as it lodges itself in your throat.

The city of Bombay plays an important role in the narrative. Known for its tolerance, its resilience is tested in the wake of the riots arising from the communal violence and the Deshmukhs find themselves surrounded. The scenes from this part of the story are described in vivid detail and bring back memories as if it all happened only yesterday.

The author has invested deeply in her characters and it shows in the way the unfolding events bring out their humane side despite their rebellious or antagonistic nature. One can’t help but fall in love with them for the sometimes subtle and sometimes grand change of heart.

The prose is picturesque and expressive; the language fluent and metaphorical. The narrative moves at a leisurely pace, bubbling slowly to a point where it suddenly bursts, turning the entire plot on its axis. It is the kind of writing a reader would undoubtedly enjoy losing themself in.

House of Discord is not just a saga about a family breaking apart in a city that is burning. It is a story of bonds that run far deeper than blood. Bonds that build love and compassion. That unite us in the face of adversity. No wonder they say, problems are like washing machines. They twist us, spin us and knock us around but in the end we come out cleaner, brighter and better than before.

House of Discord is a heartwarming story of just how that is possible despite the harsh, cruel, and turbulent world we live in.

Title: House of Discord
Author: Sadiqa Peerbhoy
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-93-858544-6-0
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 298
Source: Publisher

Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Sadiqa Peerbhoy was born in Hyderabad, grew up in Mumbai and lives in Bangalore. She has been an advertising professional all her working life and is the creative force behind many Indian and international brands. She started writing a humorous topical column in the local papers to keep her sanity in a deadline-ridden career and wrote it for thirty years, collecting a huge fan following in Bangalore. She has also scripted serials for television, scripts for BBC, short stories for the weekend papers, has four published books and many creativity awards. She ran a British college, Wigan and Leigh, in Bangalore and has taught advertising, brand building, life skills and lateral thinking in corporates and colleges.
Sadiqa is married to advertising legend Bunty Peerbhoy, is the mother of two, and remains an ardent student of Hindustani music.
She can be contacted on social media via Facebook and Twitter.

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

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Looking Forward to Spring | Short Story on Juggernaut

Whenever one of my stories get published somewhere, I start jumping with joy. Today, I have exactly one such reason to dance a little jig.

Looking Forward to Spring is a short story I wrote some time ago which has been published on the Juggernaut Writing  Platform.

It is a story of a young widow who is unsure how to answer her six year old son’s questions on bringing home a sibling and completing a family that has forever been left incomplete.

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The story is available to read for free on the Juggernaut website or mobile app here.

Do stop by to read and leave a short review. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

Book Announcement | When Women Speak Up

I am bursting with joy as I type this post to announce the release of a book that carries my name. This being the second such publication, in a span of a little over a year, I do believe the news accounts for a wonderful beginning to 2018.

This new book has been published by Women’s Web – A digital media platform that began with a firm conviction that women were more interested in the world around them than conventional magazines gave them credit for. They enable women to tell their stories, inspire other women, and be inspired by them too.

If you may recall, Women’s Web launched their first book – Kunti’s Confessions and Other Short Stories at the start of 2017 which featured my short story, ‘Personal Effects.

This year, they have launched another collection of inspiring stories titled When Women Speak Up and includes two short stories written by me:
A Step Out of the Box
A Matter Of Style

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Raised as ‘good girls’, we are often told that we must know our place, we must stay quiet to ‘avoid trouble’, and of course, that men don’t like women who are ‘too bold’.

Indian women today are breaking all those norms and stereotypes! This powerful collection of short stories will show you exactly how.

From re-imagining characters from India’s best loved epics, to utterly relatable stories set in urban bedrooms, kitchens and offices, these 19 stories capture the angst, the struggle, and the joy, of women speaking up. Sometimes, when you have trouble finding your own voice, you may even want to look back to them for a little dose of inspiration!

The book is now live on Amazon and you can buy it here: When Women Speak Up: A Women’s Web Collection of Inspiring Stories

I would love for you all to read it. I guarantee these inspiring short stories are highly readable and will have you rooting for their protagonists.

Please, do also leave your reviews on Amazon and Goodreads so others may be inspired to read it too 🙂

Image Courtesy – Women’s Web

 

2017: One Year One Hundred (108) Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brunch Book Challenge 2017 Landscape Resized

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

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

28-Baaz - Anuja Chauhan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Fiction (in random order)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

International Non-Fiction (in random order)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My 2017 Reading Challenge Part-2 (RealBookSpyReadingChallenge)

In addition to my third round of reading one hundred books in a year, I decided to take up an additional reading challenge in 2017. One conducted by TheRealBookSpy – my go-to website for discovering all the latest international thrillers – because, let’s face it, I am a thriller novel junkie and no one does it better than TheRealBookSpy – Ryan Steck.

It so happened in early January, that one of the website’s followers tweeted in jest that he was taking the “Real Book Spy Reading Challenge”, following which it was introduced as a full-fledged, official challenge by the team at TheRealBookSpy.

The challenge meant that every month TheRealBookSpy would publish a monthly reading guide with a list of new releases in the thriller genre for that month. The challenge was to pick a title from each list, read the book and tweet about it.

In order to qualify, one had to read from a minimum of eight of the twelve months in 2017.

The real challenge for me, though, was to get my hands on these books when over 90% of the titles were international releases which means they are not released in India. So I would add them to my amazon wishlists and wait till the kindle prices dropped to affordable amounts.

With all of that, I managed to read fourteen books from eleven of those reading guides. If I count only the thrillers this year from the total list of 108, I read 26 thrillers in all. I was lucky to have won some of these titles in the Staci Alesi & ITW International Book Giveaway a few months ago, all of them signed by the authors.

For a complete list of the books I read as part of this challenge, see below (the month listed against each name is which reading guide it was picked from). To know which of these made it to my top reads of 2017 – click here.

Real Book Spy Reading Challenge 2017 Square - Resized

1. The Nowhere Man – Gregg Hurwitz (January)
2. The Freedom Broker – K. J. Howe (February)
3. Say Nothing – Brad Parks (March)
4. The Fix – David Baldacci (April)
5. One Perfect Lie – Lisa Scottoline (April)
6. Into the Water – Paula Hawkins (May)
7. Trap the Devil – Ben Coes (June)
8. The Switch – Joseph Finder (June)
9. The Late Show – Michael Connelly (July)
10. ‎The Cuban Affair – Nelson DeMille (September)
11. ‎What You Break – Reed Farrel Coleman (February)
12. The Saboteur – Andrew Gross (August)
13. The Quantum Spy – David Ignatius (November)
14. Act of Betrayal – Matthew Dunn (October)

Are you also one of those readers for whom thrillers are the bread and butter of reading? If yes, well, what are you waiting for? I would love to know which are your favourite thriller novels. And they don’t even have to be 2017 releases 🙂

Before you go, don’t forget to check out my complete list of 108 books that I read this year (if you haven’t already), by clicking here.

My 2017 Reading Challenge Part-1

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

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

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

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

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

Brunch Book Challenge 2017 Portrait Resized

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

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

The Woman Who Saw the Future by Amit Sharma | Book Review

Dreams. The result of our subconscious thought. Generated from the blankness of our mind. Disintegrated into the vast nothingness of our lives. We hope for them to be a peak into our future. We see them as a window to our past. They are manifested into our intuitive power. A gut feeling, a sixth sense, a premonition.

Khalil Gibran said, Trust in dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity. But can dreams tell us the truth? Can premonitions show us the future?

Amit Sharma, in his new book: The Woman Who Saw the Future, spins an intriguing story around the concept.

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Sapna Vaid, a timid, wide-eyed, college-going girl, has lived with a unique power for a decade; a power that has turned her into the most influential and powerful Goddess on Earth. Sapna can see the future by way of premonitions that haunt her at night, where death and blood await her in her dreams. She saves thousands of people around the world every year through her record-breaking, popular show ‘Lucky People’. The show has given Sapna’s life a meaning and gives her the courage to sleep every night.

Even though the world is at her feet, this power costs Sapna her personal life. Broken relationships and separation from her son bring her unbearable pain. Her parents and the thousands of prayers that come her way every year are her only solace, her only reason to live. When blinding hatred leads to a desperate act of revenge, a single misuse of her great power triggers a reversal of her fortunes. Now she must decide the path she has to take to preserve her unique gift and her fame, even if it turns her into a murderer on the brink of insanity.

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

Bonus: Checkout my interview with the Author, here.

Title: The Woman Who Saw the Future
Author: Amit Sharma
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-93-858545-5-2
Edition/Year: First Edition 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 276
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Amit Sharma is an IT slave (read professional) since the last twelve years. He lives with his family in NCR but his work does take him to foreign lands. His wife was a teacher till she gave it up because of sheer exhaustion of answering questions of their four-year-old daughter all day.
His first fiction book, False Ceilings, a family saga spanning one hundred and thirty years, was published by Lifi Publications in 2016. The book garnered many good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and critical acclaim.
Amit’s hobbies include reading, watching world cinema, travelling, digging into various cuisines, cooking, listening to music, painting, blogging, making his daughter laugh and helping his wife with her unnecessary and prolonged shopping.
To read more about him, visit http://amit-sharma.co.in/ or connect with him on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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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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