To Hell and Back by Anurag Anand | Book Review

Call me a cynic if you will but I don’t think Voltaire, when he said: ‘Paradise was made for tender hearts; hell, for loveless hearts’, would have made much sense today. Two reasons. One – the world we now live in can no longer be deemed paradise, and thus, two – tender hearts no longer have a place to survive. That is precisely what, as if to disprove Voltaire, this book draws its premise from.

A mindless road-rage incident leaves a young and promising entrepreneur dead. The woman travelling with him is the sole witness to the event. Is it an accident, or a cold-blooded murder planned to absolute perfection?

Namrata, a young professional, is enveloped by all the quintessential elements of life in the fast lane – a staling marriage, an extramarital affair, and eyes full of dreams, until a fun evening turns into a chilling nightmare for her. Renu, a girl living a life marred by regressive customs and dated practices, has resigned to the patriarchal ways of her world, until they begin to cast their malicious shadows on her unborn child.

Their worlds, although separate, intersect each other in a single strike of tragedy that none could have imagined. It is then that this story begins and sends everyone’s life on a dizzy tailspin. Will they be able to get back to their safe and secure lives, or will their world have shifted on its axis forever?

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The book opens with the accident and then proceeds to retrace the events from eight months ago. The author delves into Namrata’s life and gradually brings Renu into the picture, their narratives proceeding alongside each other, yet not crossing paths until the end.

Anurag Anand has crafted his characters well, giving them a layered persona. Whether it is the lead, or supporting cast, they have all been fleshed out in detail which is displayed in the part they play in the story. Every character has a time and place for their literal presence and they perform on cue.

Anand’s writing is smooth and exhibits a natural flow in the events that form the framework. The parallel narratives sometimes do appear to be vague and disconnected which, I gather, may have been deliberate on the author’s part to add to the suspense. Even so, when after three quarters of the book, there is no sign of any connection between Namrata and Renu or why the accident came to be, the interest starts to wane.

The story finally brings the players together and ties up loose ends to put it all in perspective in the final few pages in a conversation led by the protagonist. It appears as if the suspense may have been resolved but the thrill of the mystery loses its impact. What would have made a spine-chilling revelation, ends up seemingly rushed. The aftermath of the accident also leaves much to be desired.

Nonetheless, the concept of how all tragedies are not orchestrated by fate is an interesting one. When it comes to people we think we know, virtue has a veil, vice a mask, and it is behind the mask of sanity that psychopathy might lurk. And to know how, To Hell and Back deserves to be read.

Title: To Hell and Back
Author: Anurag Anand
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-93-858546-2-0
Edition/Year: First Edition 2018
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 238
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Anurag Anand is a prolific author, a corporate professional and a devout family man, who finds himself shuttling between Pennsylvania, where his family is settled, and Gurugram. Two of his works – The Legend of Amrapali and the Quest for Nothing – have made it to the final shortlist in the past editions of the Crossword Book Awards. His other books are Love on 3 Wheels, Where the Rainbow Ends, Birth of the Bastard Prince, of Tattoos and Taboos! and Reality Bites.
He is a contributing author to several renowned publications, including the Times of India, and his column, ‘Corporate Whispers’, is a monthly feature in the Suburb Life magazine. The biggest reward for his writing, he believes, is hearing from his readers and interacting with them.
You can reach him with your comments and feedback on the book via Facebook and Twitter, or email him at contact@anuraganand.in.

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How I Became a Farmer’s Wife by Yashodhara Lal | Book Review

In an interview, many years ago, Bill Gates remarked: “I know there’s a farmer out there somewhere who never wants a PC and that’s fine with me.”

At the time he said this, Gates probably didn’t take into consideration the rapid development of technology and, more importantly, our dependence on it. Nor did he account for Vijay Sharma’s determination to venture into farming and rely on the now omnipresent network-connected device as a valuable resource to aid his endeavour.

Can you blame him? Who in their right mind would’ve thought, back in 2006, that an educated man would contemplate giving up a successful corporate career to become an urban dairy-farmer? Even today, it all seems a little far-fetched, but Yashodhara Lal’s latest offering narrates the story of just such a hare-brained idea.

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Mild-mannered Vijay is the perfect Indian husband – responsible and predictable. Well, at least he was, until he decided to turn Farmer! Vijay’s unsuspecting wife Yashodhara is caught off guard when, tired of the rigours of city life, he actually rents land and starts dairy farming! As if Yash didn’t have enough going on already, what with her high-octane job, three children and multiple careers. As Vijay dives deeper into his quirky hobby, the family is plucked out of their comfortable life in the steel-and-chrome high-rises of Gurgaon and thrown headfirst into a startlingly unfamiliar world – complete with cows and crops, multiple dogs and eccentric farmhands, a shrewd landlady and the occasional rogue snake. Will these earnest but insulated city-dwellers be able to battle the various difficulties that come with living a farmer’s life?

To find out more about this book, read my detailed review as published at Women’s Web, here.

Title: How I Became a Farmer’s Wife
Author: Yashodhara Lal
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-93-5277-585-9
Edition/Year: First Edition 2018
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 328
Source: HarperCollins India / Women’s Web
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Yashodhara Lal is an author, mother of three children, marketing professional, and fitness instructor. She lives in Gurgaon with her family, her husband Vijay and three kids – Peanut, Pickle and Papad – who never fail to provide her with material for her blog.
To connect with her, find her on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

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Gurgaon Diaries by Debeshi Gooptu | Book Review

I remember when we were kids, and Gurgaon was a far cry from what it is now, we would pile up in the car and often head over for a drive outside Delhi, via Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road, relieved to leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind. Admiring the vast expanse of farm land along the way, secretly counting the dhabas and petrol stations on the highway to see who got the most, we would continue along until the mountains came into view.

Then, on the the way back, we would stop for ice-cream at Jumbo Point, sit on the top of the car, and wait. Wait for the sound of an approaching airplane and, as soon as it became audible, attentively follow its path until it descended lower and lower, and finally crossed the airport wall right above our heads with a deafening roar.

As far as we knew back then, going to Gurgaon meant the thrill of driving fast on wide, empty roads and see an airplane land or take-off over our heads. But when I look back now, I also remember how the landscape of Gurgaon evolved slowly and steadily. By the time I started working a few years later, and began driving myself to Gurgaon, the village and its people were already unrecognizable. I made sure I was always armed with a city map, for it was not yet the time of smart phones and Google Maps, and one couldn’t afford to be stranded in this strange land.

Modern-day Gurgaon was Guru Dronacharya’s village, a gift from the Pandavas and Kauravas for training them in military arts. While the legends of the mythical village are woven around the warrior mystic, the Millennium City, as it stands today, owes its rapid growth to globalization, outsourcing and the BPO boom.

From swanky malls and skyscrapers to pot-hole-ridden roads where gleaming Mercs vie for space with rickety rickshaws, from voluptuous North Indian aunties and brawny local men to rotund Bengali mashimas, from designer stores and Starbucks coffee to roadside vans peddling chole bhature, Drona’s village is riddled with contradictions, both hilarious and poignant, irreverent and bittersweet. Debeshi Gooptu’s Gurgaon Diaries is a humorous peek at the workings of this modern-day village and how the Millennium City is a paradox in itself.

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The author begins with a lovely introduction chronicling the history of Gurgaon from as far back as the Mahabharata. She describes how she first saw it upon moving here nearly two decades ago, having left the city of her birthplace, Kolkata (I believe it had still not been renamed from Calcutta back then), behind. Land, roads, infrastructure, people, and the language – it was all the hallmark of North India’s very own village bordering the grand capital.

Then came the boom in property and while builders and real estate agents seemed to take over the landscape to raise the skyline, there was an influx of people from all over the country who came in hordes for better opportunities. The village was taking over.

Unfortunately, this village wasn’t prepared to handle the rapid development and urbanization. Infrastructure was severely lacking. Gurgaon was unable to keep up. Soon enough, the success story developed large cracks, much like its potholed roads come monsoon season.

Nonetheless, the city has continued to grow and Gooptu has captured the nuances of her experience through the years in a short story / essay format.

The book is divided into three sections – Life, Work, and Play. True to their name, the stories in each category describe her various adventures of living in Gurgaon. Some are humourous, while others evoke anger, and then there are those that completely appall you.

The wonderful thing about the book is how, within the backdrop of development, it is a study in Gurgaon’s Sociology. Changes in values, culture, morals, ethics – life in Gurgaon and the people here are shown as the mishmash they are. As the author still learns to come to terms with this development of an entirely different kind, you – whether you are a resident, or visitor – can’t help but marvel at it.

I may be a born and bred Delhiite, yet, having been closely associated with Gurgaon in more ways than one, I still find myself amazed reading these stories. And while I continue to have an old, foldable map in the dashboard of my car (probably quite outdated now), I still trust it to help me find my way home if I do get lost in the burgeoning city. Though, I must confess, I am strongly considering supplementing the map with this book. For all you know, it might teach me a trick or two in handling tricky situations, or trickier Gurgaoniites.

Title: Gurgaon Diaries
Author: Debeshi Gooptu
Publisher: Rupa Publications
ISBN: 978-81-291-4995-4
Edition/Year: First Edition 2018
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Debeshi Gooptu is a business journalist turned digital content strategist and entrepreneur. With more than twenty years of experience in print and television (Business Standard, Business Today, Plus Channel) and higher education (British Council, Canadian High Commission, Intel Asia Electronics), she runs an online research consultancy for overseas education organization and works as a digital content strategy head for Digiqom, a digital media agency. Debeshi is also the India editor for Innovation Enterprise, a Singapore-headquartered publication tracking trends in technology and innovation in Asia-Pacific.
She frequently blogs for The Huffington Post and runs ‘The Gurgaon Diaries’, a successful blog. In 2015, she self-published an e-book (with the same name) comprising a few of her stories from the blog, on Kindle Select. The book did extremely well with readers across the world requesting for more writing in this genre.
Her latest book – Gurgaon Diaries: Life, Work and Play in Drona’s Village (also based on her long-running blog of the same name) – was published by Rupa Publications in January this year.
Her book, Dragon Aunty Returns, and a collection of short stories has been published by Juggernaut Books in January last year.
In her spare time, Debeshi plays the piano, sings in the bathroom, and desperately tries to emulate Nigella in the kitchen.
She lives in Gurgaon, Haryana and continues to blog while also being active on Twitter.

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Little Maryam by Hamid Baig | Book Review

One can’t deny that deep down we are all hopeless romantics who believe that love makes us grow stronger, which is why we have consoled our broken hearts time and again with the age old saying: ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

The story of Little Maryam begins on quite the same note and by the end one can’t help but question: How far are we willing to go, for love?

While giving a speech for his Nobel Prize nomination, Dr. Saadiq Haider, a renowned gene therapist, receives a phone call that changes his life. Abandoning his duties and responsibilities, Saadiq hurriedly boards a flight bound for India, embarking on a journey that spans thousands of miles and pulls him back into a past long-buried.

Seated next to him on the flight is Anne Miller—an intrepid journalist with a nose for headline news— who senses the reclusive genius has a bigger story to tell, and she is determined to get it. With some coaxing, Saadiq transports Anne back in time to a small, sleepy town nestled in the mountains of northern India. A time where every second of Saadiq’s life belonged to Maryam Dawood – a girl Saadiq was born to protect – his first and only love. But when the friendship between Maryam and Saadiq matured, it was tested in the face of tragedy. She was forcefully taken away from him. And now, decades later, Saadiq is finally going to meet Maryam. One last time.

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The book seems to grip you before you’ve managed to turn over the first page. It is evident there is a mystery waiting to be revealed, depending on how fast you can read to get to it. The author successfully adds a thrill, by way of conversation between an unwilling protagonist and a persistent reporter, even as he has only just begun narrating. It creates the framework that is enough to keep you hooked.

The story is divided into two parts – Saadiq’s life as it is now while he is on a plane reminiscing his past, and what is to come later when he finally does meet Maryam. In the first part, the events oscillate in a steady rhythm between the past and the present. Timelines are paced strategically in tune with the narration. The second part moves slowly, adding to the suspense.

Baig allows his lead characters to traverse the highs and lows of love, heartbreak, separation, and reunion. He brings an intensity in his writing with the way he creates conflict in person and story. Saadiq’s character is etched with a nuanced detailing that makes him endearing as a young boy, while at the same time absolutely loathsome as an adult. The transition is seamless and falls right into place as demanded by the events in the story.

The simplistic elegance of the prose comes as a pleasant surprise, unlike most books by debut authors. However, I found it to lose its crispness as the book progresses. It calls for a thorough proof-read and edit to fix grammar which seems rushed after about a quarter of the book.

Despite that, what wins you over is how the author treats the theme of friendship and love . I have always believed that there is something truly magical in the love that begins from a deep friendship. Bruce Lee explained it in its simplest and purest form when he said: ‘Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable.’

Little Maryam is just such a beautiful, yet heartbreaking tale of love and loss. The story of a deep childhood friendship that grows into a love that is powerful and intense. And when love calls to make the ultimate choice, it is the power of love itself that makes the decision. With that Hamid Baig proves the paradox that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.

Title: Little Maryam
Author: Hamid Baig
Publisher: Notion Press, Inc.
ISBN: 978-1-64249-055-8
Edition/Year: First Edition 2018
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 296
Source: Author
Rating: 3 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author:  Hamid runs a successful market research company, providing customer insights to some of the biggest names in the industry. He is a voracious reader and has been one for as long as he can remember. He started penning short stories at a very young age, but never thought of writing a full length novel until the idea for Little Maryam popped into his head. He writes as fast as he reads, which is sometimes just a little too fast.
Apart from enjoying good books, Hamid is passionate about travel and food. He is sometimes called “the culture connoisseur” by his friends because he loves having long conversations about different cuisines, exotic travel locations, and of course, books.
Hamid lives in New Delhi with his wife and two wonderful kids.
He is active on Facebook and Twitter.

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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.