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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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.

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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.

The Stacy Alesi & ITW International Book Giveaway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Other books included in the set are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Unns: The Captivation by Sapan Saxena | Book Review

Much has been said and written about love, the most profound of emotions known to God’s creations. I believe French Novelist and Memoirist, George Sand, wrote it best – “There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved”.  

While love may provide an all-encompassing feeling, its quest and fulfillment cannot be experienced in this one emotion alone, but in stages. The mystical philosophy of Sufism describes seven stages of love – beginning from Hub (Attraction), moving onwards to Unns (Infatuation), Mohabbat (Love), Aqeedat (Respect), Ibaadat (Worship), Junoon (Obsession), to Maut (Death).

Some may know of these stages, fewer may have lived through them. With his new book, Unns: The Captivation, Author Sapan Saxena takes the reader on a journey through these seven stages of love.

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Atharva Rathod and Meher Qasim meet as adolescents and are drawn to each other, only to be separated by circumstances shortly thereafter. Many years later, when they meet again, Atharva is on a covert mission. Caught in the battle between circumstances and destiny, willingly or unwillingly, Atharva and Meher transcend the seven stages of love.

Unns is a quintessential tale of love and romance, set against a backdrop of international espionage.

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

Author: Sapan Saxena
Publisher: Inspire India Publishers
Edition/Year: 2017
Format: Paperback
Genre: Romance Thriller
Pages: 244

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Sapan Saxena is a software engineer by profession and an author by choice. Born in the city of Nawabs, Lucknow, he earned his Engineering degree from MNNIT Allahabad. Sapan started writing when he was coding for a complex algorithm and found that a fictional story would at least make some sense.
Currently based in Nashua, New Hampshire, he is the author of Finders, Keepers. Unns-The Captivation is his second attempt at writing fiction.
To connect with him, visit him at facebook.com/authorsapansaxena or follow him on Twitter @sapansaxena.

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

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Birds of Prey by Archana Sarat | Book Review

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We, as humans, take form from what happens to us. Every incident we experience – be it of joy, sadness, or simply contemplation on the events around us – shapes us into the person we allow ourselves to become.

There are some who choose to walk with the flow of these events and let nature take its course. There are others who find the strength to fight the natural flow and use their experiences to change the norm.

Ex-ACP Anton Pinto reluctantly joins an investigation into the mysterious disappearances of men from affluent families in Mumbai. Despite the lack of any connection between victims, all clues indicate a similar pattern of abduction. However, with few witnesses and no ransom demands, the trail has long gone cold.

As Anton starts following the clues, he discovers a common link between the victims. Further investigation misdirects him to a few dead-ends, until another man is reported to have gone missing.

Driven by rage at not having his head in the game, he races between schools, old-age homes, illegal dingy hospitals, and dilapidated bungalows, in his quest to find the perpetrator. New leads take him through a labyrinth of incest, abuse, torture, and suffering, spanning decades, that makes his hair stand on end.

Will Anton uncover the motive behind the crime? How is the seemingly harmless, yet mysterious old woman connected to this case? Can justice be served before it is too late?

Birds of Prey is a thriller that leaves a deep impact on the reader. The unfolding events are narrated from two different points of view standing at opposite ends of the spectrum.

With each clue, the author peels back the dark, untold horrors of child abuse plaguing our society. Her treatment of the subject urges you to pause every now and then – to introspect on the harsh realities it reveals. As the story progresses, the reader can’t help but get emotionally tangled in the riveting plot that gets your heart racing.

Archana’s writing style is simple, with a clear line of thought maintained throughout the book. She switches effortlessly between the two points of view to create drama and build suspense. The protagonist and antagonist have been written with strong personality traits to fall in line with their role in the plot. Supporting characters are also etched and added with the precision of a near perfect recipe.

I did feel the Criminal Profiler seemed more whimsical, rather than an analyst of behavioural psychology as I expected him to be. Nonetheless, with his small role in the play of events, it was not something that would bother one very much. Besides, it was probably all the episodes of Criminal Minds I have binge-watched, that made me even notice it in the first place.

I also noticed a few sentences seemed grammatically incorrect. In the first couple of instances I thought it may have been deliberate on the author’s part, but later I realised it was more likely an editing oversight.

Birds of Prey throws light on the lost innocence of victims who are haunted throughout their lives by the psychological trauma of the crimes they are subjected to. However, when trauma sets out to seek justice, the fight sometimes gives rise to a form of misdirected vigilantism that could well turn into crime.

David Rains Wallace, a writer of Conservation and Natural History, wrote in this book ‘The Untamed Garden and Other Personal Essays’ – “Every time we exterminate a predator, we are in a sense creating a new predator.”

Rarely have I come across a novel which is as horrific in the crime it reveals, as it is subliminal about the state of our society.

Archana has handled the subject with the tenderness and sensitivity it craves. I expect her work will receive many accolades in the coming year.

Title: Birds of Prey
Author: Archana Sarat
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-93-858542-0-0
Edition/Year: First Edition 2016
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction – Crime Thriller
Pages: 192
Source: From the Author
Rating: 5 Stars

Available on Amazon.

About the Author: Archana Sarat is an Author and Poet for the last ten years. She shuttles between Chennai and Mumbai and loves both cities passionately. Her works have been published in various popular newspapers, magazines and anthologies like The Times of India, The Economic Times, the SEBI and Corporate Laws Journal, the CA Newsletter, Me Magazine, the Science Reporter, the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, the WRIMO India Anthology, the Glo Mag Literary Journal and many more. She is popular in the online world for her flash fiction that appear every Saturday, called ‘Saturday Shots’. Though she is a Chartered Accountant by qualification, she took up her childhood love for writing as her vocation. She has a Diploma in Creative Writing from the Writers Bureau, UK. She lives with her husband and two sons in Mumbai.
Birds of Prey is her first novel.
To connect with her, visit her webpage – http://www.archanasarat.com or follow her on Twitter @archanasarat and facebook.com/archanasaratauthor.

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

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