31 July, 2013

#BookReview :: The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken (Vish Puri #3) by Tarquin Hall

Vish Puri is as fond of butter chicken as the next Punjabi. So when it’s served at the Delhi Durbar hotel at an India Premier League cricket match dinner, he’s the first to tuck in. Faheem Khan, father of Pakistani star cricketer Kamran Khan, can’t resist either. But the creamy dish proves his undoing. After a few mouthfuls, he collapses on the floor, dead...   

I had heard about this series before and so when the book was up for review, I quickly grabbed my chance to snag a copy. I was intrigued by the idea of a British writer writing about Indian Detective.

When a famous Pakistani cricketer’s father is murdered at the Delhi Durbar hotel at an India Premier League cricket match dinner, Vish Puri and his family was present at the event. So, the “Most Private Investigator” takes up the case. But that is not the only mystery and investigator around. There’s also the case of missing moustache and Vish Puri’s Mummyji’s insights to keep you involved. But things start boiling up as Vish Puri starts his investigation… Match-fixing and smuggling are no simple matters to deal with. Will our detective be up to the task?

First things first… Characters! Vish Puri is such an unorthodox figure in the detective world. Nicknamed chubby by his wife, Vish Puri is put on diet but irrespective of his diet pills, he is unable to lose weight. The gobbled up snacks here and there and the occasional binge of Butter chicken is not helping. He is more of an old fashioned detective who relies on clues and information directly available to him than scientific measures. His Mummyji also an asset with her vast experience and insight into life and human nature, she is often able to steer him into the right direction. The plot is quite good. With the help of his trusted employees of the Investigation firm, Tubelight, Facecream, Handbrake [Have to read the previous books to find out what lead to such nicknames] his father-in-law and Mummyji he makes steady progress. Also, Vish Puri’s trip to Pakistan and his change in mentality/outlook was impressive.

What I loved the most is the bulk of information about the two countries and a small recap on the situation during partition of India.  I enjoyed taking this journey with Vish Puri and will surely be picking up the previous books in the series.

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30 July, 2013

#BookReview :: Birthdays of a Princess by Helga Zeiner

To be famous and be admired by total strangers can be very dangerous.
Her little girl has always been her princess. In fact, she was so lovely, Melissa entered her toddler into child beauty pageants, making her a star from an early age. But her dreams and hopes are shattered one October morning, when Melissa watches a breaking news story on television. A young girl has been filmed by bystanders, committing a brutal assault in broad daylight in a downtown Vancouver Starbucks…and it looks like the girl is her daughter.
From this moment on, a story unfolds, so shocking, that it will hold you captive and you will find yourself reading faster and faster into the night. 

Tiara has always been a ‘beauty queen’.

Tiara was raised by her mother and aunt from the very beginning as her father had lost his life to war. What starts as an easy way to earn money, soon turns to be something so much more sinister. Not only is nothing as beautiful and glittering as it looks like on the pageants circuit. When she is caught assaulting a lady, and its flashed on news, Tiara come in contact with a psychiatrist and a detective who take steps in order to help out Tiara. But the Doctor’s suggestion of Tiara start writing a journal soon opens a can of worms that shock the readers.

I have read Ms. Zeiner’s work before. Her previous novel Section 132 dealt with a polygamous sect in Canada. As a well written novel dealing with a serious matter, this author had captured my heart right away and I had made it a point to keep out for her upcoming works. When this book came up for review for a Blog Tour, I knew I had to be part of it. But at the same time, I have to admit that I had picked up this book with some previous expectations. And am finally glad to report that I wasn’t let down.

The author has her own style of writing wherein she seamlessly mixes in facts and fiction to create a world for us. There’s a certain ‘darkness’ about the plot and some of the characters in the story that absolutely took a grip on me. Horrified at moments by some of the characters, I pitied Tiara at times, felt bad for her most of the times and yes, finally I cheered for her. Tiara’s character is a hope for humanity. She emerged as a strong person in the end – even after all the abuse and that gave me hope that maybe humanity’s resilience is stronger than evil. The author has also dealt with some serious issues – from the world of child beauty pageants to paedophilia with great deal of sensitivity and originality. The plot and characters are supported by and excellent narration style wherein we hear the story from multiple point of views thus giving us a chance to make up our own mind about each character.

Awesome book. Do not pick up this book if you are looking for a light fun read or to get tips on fashion or learn about brands. (try Pretty Little Liars Series for that). But in case you are a serious reader who likes to know more about ‘facts’ through fiction, or like to read books that touch your heart, or makes you really think, please go ahead and pick this one up.

"In Birthdays of a Princess, Helga Zeiner has captured the inner thoughts of an abused teen with amazing sensitivity. From my own experiences in 25 years of Forensic Psychiatry both in private practice and at Youth Forensic Services the psychopathology of the characters is accurate and realistic."
~~ Dr. Paul Janke
Forensic Psychiatrist, M.D., F.R.C.P., Vancouver, BC

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Check out the other Stops in this Tour

29 July, 2013

#SpecialFeature :: #Interview with #Author Joyce T.Strand

Now Presenting:
*** SPECIAL FEATURE - July'13 ***

Mystery author Joyce T. Strand, much like her fictional character, Jillian Hillcrest, served as head of corporate communications at several biotech and high-tech companies in Silicon Valley for more than 25 years. Unlike Jillian, however, she did not encounter murder. Rather, she focused on publicizing her companies and their products. Joyce received her Ph.D. from The George Washington University, Washington, D.C. and her B.A. from Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA She currently lives in Southern California with her two cats, a collection of cow statuary and art, and her muse, the roadrunner.

What is the life of a head of corporate communications in Silicon Valley like?
We corporate communications types exhibit a comprehensive perspective, oversee many projects in parallel, and experience a lot of interruptions. Relevant to an author’s life:  We write and publish articles, press releases, SEC documents, white papers, etc. to reach out to all constituencies of a company. We also talk on the phone—to the extent that today I avoid it as much as possible. We go to too many meetings, give many presentations, conduct interviews with reporters and investors, brief executives, and travel.  Oh, and we develop and monitor budgets, manage corporate donations, and offer tours to interested students and community members. 
We seldom encounter any murders like my publicist protagonist does, however.

What was your first piece? Yes, that scribbled thing in a notebook that’s somewhere in one of the boxes of memories?
So how do I define my “first” piece?  In high school and college, I wrote poetry in addition to the many research papers. My doctoral dissertation was close to 200 pages, so I suppose I could count it as my first book. Then there are the many by-lined articles I’ve written – the first for fulfillment of my job in the 1980s. I started my first mystery novel in 2009, and still have approximately five “first” drafts on my computer. So many “firsts.”

When did you first decide to submit your work and how is being a published author treating you?
I decided to publish my own fictional work after exploring the pros and cons of traditional versus self-publishing at a writer’s conference. Bottom line: I want to control the process. I tend to be impatient. Given my marketing experience, I deluded myself into believing I could manage the process successfully.  Of course, I underestimated the amount of work self-publishing involves, but I would make the same choice today. What I still find difficult are the negative reviews. After I get over the initial humiliation, I try to incorporate the feedback to improve the next book and still satisfy my target readers. 

Why Mysteries? How did you come up with ideas for your books? 
I love reading mysteries, watching mysteries on movies and TV shows, and exploring real-life mysteries. Therefore I progressed to writing mysteries with little hesitation once I decided to write fiction. I especially love creating the puzzles for readers to solve. To come up with the ideas for my series, I looked in the news for relevant California cases that a public relations executive in Silicon Valley might encounter. I have based each of the Jillian Hillcrest mysteries on a fictionalized account of a real California case.

How would you introduce Jillian Hillcrest to the people who haven’t read the series yet? 
Publicist Jillian Hillcrest enjoys her career at a small biotech company in Silicon Valley. She is divorced, although her ex-husband Chad is working hard to re-engage her in a relationship. Her mother reared her as a single parent when her father was killed at the end of the Vietnam War and never met her. Unfortunately, Jillian’s routine is interrupted when her best friend is murdered and a San Francisco inspector pulls her into solving it. Thus begins her investigations into solving crimes she encounters through no fault of her own.

What one quirk or characteristic of yours did you give your character? Who was it? 
I enjoy drinking red wine and eating at fine restaurants. Jillian and her ex-husband-looking-to-become-current-husband Chad explore both throughout the series.

What's your big distraction or vice while writing? 
Since I write on my computer, whenever there’s a ding indicating an e-mail, I HAVE to read it.  Then I check out Facebook, and then my blog, and Twitter, and …  Of course, I could turn off the ding, but then there’s the little number that appears on the e-mail icon and I can’t stand seeing that number – it calls to me to check out my mail and then Facebook, blog, Twitter… Sigh.

What is the best and worst advice you ever received? 
For some reason, I find it difficult to answer this question. Perhaps because I either accept or reject advice and never look back. It is an opportunity, however, to point out that we authors are in this together and should help each other whenever we can. For example, I have learned much valuable information from my participation in the World Literary Café (WLC), an association of authors founded and maintained by best-selling author Melissa Foster.  With this caveat, I can say that the best advice I’ve ever received came from my late husband who suggested that I write a mystery novel when it seemed hopeless that I would ever find another job.
If you were a casting director for the film version of Jillian Hillcrest Series, who would play your lead roles?
The easiest character to fill would be Jillian’s next door neighbor, Cynthia Anderson. She is an ex-cop whose demeanor changes from friendly cohort to menacing challenger in seconds, and Dianne Wiest does that morphing better than anyone. For Inspector Loren Sherwood, I would opt for either Mark Valley or David James Elliott.  Brynn Bancroft, the shapely blonde with a Mensa IQ who is Chief Financial Officer at Jillian’s company, could best be played by Michelle Pfeiffer.  I would choose Matthew Broderick to play Chad, Jillian’s ex-husband whose purpose in life is to make Jillian laugh and win her back. To interpret the role of publicist Jillian herself, I would select Rene Zellweger, who can perform as a professional corporate executive with a sense of wistfulness and openness Jillian possesses.

What three things would you carry to the famous deserted island?
First, I would take a case of red wine, which I’ve decided counts as one item. Second, I would pack my favorite novel, SHOGUN. I know it’s not a mystery, but it is the one I could read over and over given its intricate chess-like moves of the SHOGUN in feudal Japan. Finally, I would bring some kind of writing apparatus for my third choice—a computer if there’s electricity, and pens and paper, if not.

What are top 3 Most played songs on your playlists? 
I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to music. I like classical, Broadway, and jazz. My top 3 most played are: Mahler’s 1st, Elton John’s Aida, and Porgy & Bess.

Quick Choices:
Pizza or Pasta?  Pasta
Mocha or iced tea? Neither
Hercule Poirot or Ms. Marple? Both
Drama or Romance? Bit of both! drama
Action or Suspense? Suspense

Besides writing, what else interests you? 
I really like Broadway musicals and attend whenever I get near one. My favorites are Elton John’s Aida, Wicked, Les Mis, Man of La Mancha, Phantom – oh, so many more. Actually, I enjoy a variety of live theater productions in addition to musicals. I even dappled in a bit of acting myself in college. There’s nothing like the exhilaration of a good performance on stage! 
Oh, and I also enjoy playing the piano. While working at a high-tech company that offered six-week sabbaticals every four years, I used the time to practice eight hours a day and performed recitals at the end of each of them. Great fun, and a break from the routine!

Have you started your next project? 
I’m just finishing the final edits of the third Jillian Hillcrest mystery, FAIR DISCLOSURE, which I plan to launch in November. Second, I’m creating a new series starring one of the characters in the Jillian Hillcrest series, Brynn Bancroft, and have started writing it. I’m also excited about an historical mystery I’m researching based on the life of a judge in 1940s California. 

Is there a message you would like to send out to your readers?
First, thank you for reading my books and those by other independent authors. Second, if you like our books, please write a review on Amazon or Goodreads or wherever you can post one. And thank you to those who do.

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Ms.Strand has offered to giveaway 5 Paperback copies of Open Meetings! Don't worry, they can be read as stand-alones and so even if you have not read book one, you can have a go at this one. The Giveaway is open to the residents of US, Canada, UK, New Zealand or Australia.

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26 July, 2013

#BookReview :: Crusher by Niall Leonard

The day Finn Maguire discovers his fathet bludgeoned to death in a pool of blood, his dreary life is turned upside down. Prime suspect in the murder, Finn must race against time to clear his name and find out who hated his dad enough to kill him.

Trawling the sordid, brutal London underworld for answers, Finn exposes dark family secrets and faces danger at every turn. But he's about to learn that it's the people you trust who can hit you the hardest...  

I recently finished reading ‘Confessions of a Murder Suspect by James Patterson’. The premise of these two books seemed similar to me when I picked up this one and read the summary. In both cases, the main suspect is the child of the victim and both the families had a lot of dark secrets. But that’s where the similarities end. 

Finn Maguire discovers his step father murdered and once police is involved, he becomes the main suspect in the case. Finn doesn’t trust the Detective in charge of the case and decides to take matters into his own hands and starts investigating on his own. What he does find leads him to the underground world of organised crime and things get more and more murky and dangerous. The book follows Finn’s journey to find out the truth and clear his name.

First, the characters… There wasn’t a single character in the book that I can point out as the one I liked, including the protagonist Finn. I have read enough books to have come across plots involving regular people rising above their ordinary life to solve a mystery. In most cases there is something to the protagonist’s character or their path that would make it easy to believe in them. But in this case it was really difficult to believe in Finn. He is careless, ruthless with his boxing training as the only trick up his sleeve. The way he handled things were outrageous and most of the time it was just luck and coincidence that he came across some clue or came out alive in a situation. I could almost imagine Professor McGonagall awarding him points for ‘sheer dumb luck’. Another thing that I did not like was the way the author handled the matter of dyslexia. I found it to be very insensitive and not properly handled. According to Wikipedia – ‘Dyslexia is characterized by difficulty with learning to read fluently and with accurate comprehension despite normal intelligence.’ Having Finn blaming all his faults on his dyslexia wasn’t really fair because people who read this book without prior knowledge of this syndrome may come out of it with wrong idea about it. Dyslexia isn’t responsible for Finn’s inability to connect with people or him functioning normally in his day to day life or even in this situation.

The only saving grace of this book that made it possible for me to complete it was the few twists that were incorporated into the plot. Few seemingly innocent information sums up to something entirely different. Also, Finn’s love for boxing made way to some pretty good action scenes that were intense.

Overall, Mystery and Thrillers being my top favourite genre, I found this book not up to the mark and will not be reading it a second time.

Have any of you read and liked this book? Tell me more about your reading experience of this book in the comments section.

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25 July, 2013

#BookReview :: Journey to Ithaca by Anita Desai

Matteo and Sophie join the 1970s flight of young Europeans to India. Matteo - Italian, raised in the luscious countryside around Lake Como, restless since childhood - has been introduced by a tutor to Hermann Hesse's The Journey to the East, and it opens in him a desperate longing. Sophie - German, practical, worldly - is willing to follow him to the ends of the earth. In India, together they visit swamis, gurus, ashrams - always searching. Matteo is seeking spiritual enlightenment, but for Sophie fulfillment lies in earthly love. And when they meet a holy woman known as the Mother, the differences between them seem to explode. When we learn the Mother's story, we see it as an earlier version of their own - the story of a young girl growing up in Cairo and finding her way East by joining a troupe of Indian dancers she has met in Europe. Her journey, a young woman's daring progress through Paris and Venice and New York, until she finds her moment of transcendence in India, comments on, and gives added breadth to, the young couple's quest.

I absolutely am in LOVE with this lady’s works. Every time I think that things can’t get better and that one of these days one of her books will not be able to live up to the expectation that I associate with her name… She just goes ahead and proves me wrong every single time!

‘Journey to Itchaca’ is the story of a European couple, Matteo and Sophie. They have travelled to India to seeking spiritual enlightenment. While Matteo chooses to believe in everything he discovers and is told by the Swamijis, Sophie takes a more logical approach to everything that is offered to her. She is more of a believer of love which is why she is willing to follow Matteo to every corner of the earth even though their beliefs and needs are so different at this point. The story also covers the life and journey of a spiritual lady who the couple are introduced to as the ‘Mother’. The couple’s differences are magnified with the entry of the ‘Mother’ whose life isn’t that different from theirs. Originally from Cairo, the ‘Mother’ had found her way to India. India was the first place where she felt peace and perfection in life – something her previous life in other countries did not have to offer her.

On one hand the story gives us a look into the life of a couple who are bonded yet broken through their needs. On the other hand is a look into the lives of many foreigners who travelled to Indian Ashrams looking for spiritual enlightenment. On the other hand is again the story of the ‘Mother’ a simple girl from Cairo and her journey to India through American and European countries. Then again there is Sophie’s own quest to prove the ‘Mother’ as a fraud and to get to see Matteo the truth in her eyes. Anita Desai has yet again woven a beautiful story with the threads of human nature and their psyche bringing together ordinary characters with somewhat similar stories.

He r prose is as beautiful as ever in this book. The unexpected, some would say unresolved, ending was a surprise. For me the ending was what sealed the deal… Sometimes it is just better that way – not knowing what really happens next and leave it up to the readers to make out an ending.

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24 July, 2013

#BookReview :: Ink by Amanda Sun

On the heels of a family tragedy, the last thing Katie Greene wants to do is move halfway across the world. Stuck with her aunt in Shizuoka, Japan, Katie feels lost. Alone. She doesn’t know the language, she can barely hold a pair of chopsticks, and she can’t seem to get the hang of taking her shoes off whenever she enters a building.
Then there’s gorgeous but aloof Tomohiro, star of the school’s kendo team. How did he really get the scar on his arm? Katie isn’t prepared for the answer. But when she sees the things he draws start moving, there’s no denying the truth: Tomo has a connection to the ancient gods of Japan, and being near Katie is causing his abilities to spiral out of control. If the wrong people notice, they'll both be targets.
Katie never wanted to move to Japan—now she may not make it out of the country alive. 

I have been wanting to read this book ever since I heard about it about two months back. So, when my request got approved on netgalley, I was super excited!

After her mother’s untimely death, Katie Greene is forced to move to Japan and live with her aunt till her grandparents can claim her custody. Settling in a different continent, where food, language and culture are completely different from what Katie is used to is no easy job. And doing the same while still grieving for the loss of her mother is even more difficult, but once Katie lands there, she finds that she is quite good at adapting. With the help of her aunt, her friend Yuki & Tanaka and cram school, she picks up the language quite fast an soon starts to settle in. Soon, she discovers the school’s pretty but mysterious boy Tomohiro was up to something. The more she discovered about him, the more she was attracted to him. But Tomohiro’s powers spiral whenever she is near him which in turn puts them both at risk.

I will get out my not so favourite parts first. I have issues with the plot’s slow build up from the very beginning. Not much happens till about three quarter of the book passes you by. I also like the protagonists’ friends to play important roles. Though Ishakawa had a role to play, Yuki and Tanaka felt like wallflowers in the novel and I wished more involvement on their behalf. And Jun was predictable.

What I did like was the setting in Japan. I learnt quite a bit about the culture there. I had heard about students having to clean up the school after hours as a part of character building exercise. So, seeing that part being incorporated into the story was kinda nice. It was also a chance for me to learn about kendo, a bit about Japanese food and few words of the language too. The references to Japanese mythology were interesting. The writing style in general was quite good. It was what made me going irrespective of the slow start.

I wish though that the author would have answered a few ‘whats’ involving Katie in this book instead of making us wait to find out in the next instalment. But these unanswered questions and the lack of the explanations are also the reason why I will be picking up the next instalment.

Have any of you guys read this book? What did you think? Let me know in the comments section.

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23 July, 2013

#BookReview :: In Custody by Anita Desai

Touching and wonderfully funny, In Custody is woven around the yearnings and calamities of a small-town scholar in the north of India. An impoverished college lecturer, Deven, sees a way to escape from the meanness of his daily life when he is asked to interview India's greatest Urdu poet, Nur - a project that can only end in disaster.

This is one of the few cases where I have watched the movie before reading the book. Having watched the amazing movie couple of years back and Anita Desai’s name raised my expectations really high.

Deven is a Hindi lecturer, living a modest life in a small town. But nothing is okay in his life. His wife is unhappy with him, his students do not listen to him or respect him and all those around him take advantage of him. Shadowing all these is his reminiscence of his dreams of becoming a poet that he had to give up in order to bring in money for his wife and son. When he gets a chance to interview Nur, a relatively famous Urdu poet, his enthusiasm knows no bounds. But as always, nothing is simple in Deven’s life… Starting with a faulty recorder, things only go downhill as Deven tries to hold on to his enthusiasm for the language, poetry and this opportunity.

Characters in this story have similar shades even though they have different background and Deven’s story really touches you. Throughout the story you wish that life would finally give him a break. You hope for a happy ending, at least for his sake right from the first half of the book. Nur is a character that again somehow will strike a sad chord in your heart. Deven’s wife is a character I could understand but not really sympathise with.

From downright comical situations to the absurdities of Nur’s life to Deven’s own sad little life, the story flourishes with each stroke of life’s different colours. I admit that it is not a happy-go-lucky or fun book. It accentuates the failures of a man’s life and that makes the pace of the story feel a bit slow. Yet it was difficult for me to put it down. Frankly, this book is not for everyone. It is for more matured readers who is okay with reading a bit of heavy material, understanding that life is not all roses and petals and that most people outside the world of fiction have a lot of thorns to pick up in their lives. Even then, not all can get to the rosy petal part of their lives.

This may not be Anita Desai’s best, at least to me, but it certainly lives up to her standard in prose. Loved it!

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22 July, 2013

#SpecialFeature :: #GuestPost - Sleuthing for Suspense By #Author Joyce T. Strand

Now Presenting:
*** SPECIAL FEATURE - July'13 ***

Sleuthing for Suspense
By Joyce T. Strand, Author
Jillian Hillcrest Mysteries

Before I wrote mysteries, I read them—cozy, spy, detective, historical. 

So when it came time to create my protagonist, I pondered how to identify characteristics most likely to intrigue mystery readers. Would someone who reads British puzzle mysteries by Agatha Christie also pick up hard-boiled detective stories by Michael Connelly or Stieg Larsson? Because I enjoyed these authors’ characters, would other mystery aficionados? 

When I conceived Jillian Hillcrest—a publicist and sometimes-amateur sleuth—I checked with readers to comprehend what characteristics and plot they’d prefer in a non-detective solving a crime.  That’s when I realized that I was asking the wrong question.  I had already decided to write a mystery that exploited my public relations background, which dictated that my sleuth would be an amateur. 

Therefore the relevant question is: what do readers relish when the protagonist is an amateur sleuth?   

British author Dick Francis exploited his experience as a jockey, and his non-detective characters encountered criminals and plenty of crimes to solve around the horse racing industry. Mary Higgins Clark creates everyday protagonists, whose crime-fighting varies with her settings, and they certainly find evil-doers. Nora Roberts manages to mix crime and romance and also uses settings to vary the plot. Even Nancy Drew was an amateur who as a teenager managed to uncover crime.

What drew readers to these authors’ books? 

First, they are well-written with a page-turning plot and puzzle to solve. That’s a given.

Second, and more pertinent to the topic at hand, the authors conceive the plots in such a way that their amateur sleuths are compelled to solve the crime.

Third, although the amateur sleuths frequently stumble, they are competent and have the skills to figure out whodunit.

But not everyone likes amateur sleuths. So next I identified those readers who appreciated non-detective or non-procedural mysteries to figure out what they liked. I informally polled 25 such readers and discovered some interesting points.  Most, although not all, want to learn a little something with their mystery—but not too much. Second, they like a little romance, but not graphic sex. Third, they appreciate humor. Fourth, they don’t want gore and violence.

Meeting these criteria has been somewhat of a challenge, because sometimes my characters make me write things I fear are pushing my readers’ envelop.  I base each Jillian Hillcrest mystery on a real California case to assure a credible plot.  Each novel has a public relations theme around which I can inform readers, although I try to minimize back story.  Jillian is definitely an amateur who uses her resourcefulness to help solve crimes that appear on her doorstep.  And we do try to keep the sex to a minimum. But sometimes we get a little violent.

Perhaps my characters know better than I what will help turn pages.  In the end, readers will decide.    

Murder intrudes on PR Executive Jillian Hillcrest's routine as head communications executive at a small Silicon Valley biotechnology company. She is eagerly staying "on message" to inform investors, the media, and the community about her company and its products. First, she receives a peculiar package. Then, a homicide detective calls. Jillian soon discovers that solving a murder is more hazardous than writing press releases.

PR Executive Jillian Hillcrest is having lunch with a reporter colleague when a woman enters and begs him not to print anything she's told him because they will kill her if he does. A few days later, the reporter tells Jillian that the woman was killed in a car crash in his hometown. The police ruled her death an accident caused by driving under the influence of alcohol.
Although Jillian is busy promoting her Silicon Valley biotech company, the reporter draws her into an investigation of his hometown's police department, located in California north of the Napa-Sonoma wine region. Coincidentally, Jillian's neighbor Cynthia Anderson wonders about the untimely death of her policeman husband years earlier as part of the same police department. Meanwhile, Jillian's ex-husband hovers over her to reverse the "ex" status. Unfortunately, none of them anticipates the frightening events that follow.

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Ms.Strand has offered to giveaway 5 Paperback copies of Open Meetings! Don't worry, they can be read as stand-alones and so even if you have not read book one, you can have a go at this one. The Giveaway is open to the residents of US, Canada, UK, New Zealand or Australia.

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20 July, 2013

#BookReview :: The Wishing Thread by Lisa Van Allen

The Van Ripper women have been the talk of Tarrytown, New York, for centuries. Some say they’re angels; some say they’re crooks. In their tumbledown “Stitchery,” not far from the stomping grounds of the legendary Headless Horseman, the Van Ripper sisters—Aubrey, Bitty, and Meggie—are said to knit people’s most ardent wishes into beautiful scarves and mittens, granting them health, success, or even a blossoming romance. But for the magic to work, sacrifices must be made—and no one knows that better than the Van Rippers.

When the Stitchery matriarch, Mariah, dies, she leaves the yarn shop to her three nieces. Aubrey, shy and reliable, has dedicated her life to weaving spells for the community, though her sisters have long stayed away. Bitty, pragmatic and persistent, has always been skeptical of magic and wants her children to have a normal, nonmagical life. Meggie, restless and free-spirited, follows her own set of rules. Now, after Mariah’s death forces a reunion, the sisters must reassess the state of their lives even as they decide the fate of the Stitchery. But their relationships with one another—and their beliefs in magic—are put to the test. Will the threads hold?

‘The Thread’ tells the story of the Van Ripper sisters. When the Stitchery matriarch, Mariah, dies, she leaves the shop to her three nieces – Aubrey, Bitty and Meggie. Three very different sisters are brought together by Mariah’s designs. Aubrey had a calling for stitchery from the very beginning. She knits the wishes of the town’s people all the while sacrificing her wishes for her own life. But fate has other ideas for her. Bitty with a history of a not so fairy tale-ish marriage, wants a stable and simple life for her children. She has no interest in the family business. Meggie, the youngest, is a restless soul who wants to get over feeling lonely all the time. She too has no interest in the family business and is always in search of their wayward mother. Now the three of them have to come together to decide the future of this business that has been left to them by their Aunt.

The leading characters of the three sisters were very well developed and very distinct. There were a number of characters in this book besides the three sisters who played an influential role. The plot is not extraordinary to stand out, but it has enough material to keep a reader engaged. From the characters and their quirks, to the concept of stitchery, to the final fate of the Van Ripper family business, to the eminent changes in the town and people’s reaction to it – the book has a pretty lot to offer. There’s love, drama and even a little bit of mystery in it.

My only complaint is the pace. It took time for things to take off and even then the pace was bit too slow for me. I read this book over a period of couple of days and I found it quite easy to put it down to come back for it later. And coming back to the book after a gap, I found it extremely easy to remember all that had happened before.

Overall, it was an okay book that can help when you are looking for a change of pace and a light read.

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19 July, 2013

#BookReview :: Romi and Gang by Tushar Raheja

Unruly and reckless, thirteen-year-old Romi is the hero of his universe. His great affinity for adventure and the unknown is shared by his gang - the rascal Sukhi, the deadpan Sunny, the naïve Golu and his blood brother, Kim.

When legendary Kim disappears from Mauji, it is left to the four to conquer the maidan with cricket and the world with their wits. Of course, they must prepare for responsibility in between and, one day, go after Kim.

Romi, is a small town boy in love with all things cricket and especially the God of cricket – ‘Sachin Tendulkar’. The story follows the life of Romi and his gang of friends as they wade through their young life and deal with school, teachers and parents all with their innocent enthusiasm. They are four boys, brothers in arms, brought together by their common interest in cricket and their affinity to playing pranks. Their little world starts to tumble down upon them when Kim disappears.

Reading this book was like taking a walk down the memory lane at two levels. First, having grown up as a tom-boy with four elder brothers at our joint family home – Romi’s story could have very well been mine. Secondly, it also reminded me of the books that originally ushered me into the world of reading – Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and the Five Find-Outers series.

Cricket plays a major role in Romi and his gang’s life and so it does in this story. Quite a number of matches have been described and I found myself cheering for Romi.  The essence of innocence, the thirst for adventure that the kids of that age have has been captured beautifully by the author. Also, there are certain messages hidden in these pages – messages about being truthful, about loyalty and friendship and the importance of failures in one’s life. The characters also play an important role in making this story a lively one. Romi, Sunny, Golu and Sukhi are each distinct young minds, each with their own quirks and their own fair share of troubles. Besides them there were also a couple of characters who have influenced the story, for instance Romi’s father. The illustrations in this book were also quite good.

For a thirty year old like me, this book was a way to ‘Nirmal Anand’ for 2-3 hours. The little 9 year old in me enjoyed this book thoroughly. The target audience for this book, pre to early teens, would surely find this book to be a fun read and may even learn a thing or two from it.

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Review Copy Received from Pirates in exchange of a fair review. 

18 July, 2013

#BookReview :: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed - within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. 

His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang. 

It was a pleasure to finally read Neil Gaiman’s work. I have heard & heard about him from lots of different sources and none of them have ever had an average thing to say – everyone simply gushes about this author’s works.

As a boy, the narrator was quiet and introvert. He would remain at home and read a book rather than go out and play with other children of his age. It was when the narrator was seven years old, his family rented out his room, moving him to bunk with his sister, to a mysterious miner due to financial crunch. But things were never the same again. When the narrator returns to his hometown as a forty something years old, his long suppressed memory resurfaces things that were extraordinary and not all so pleasant things. And well, then there’s the three Hempstock women who live in the farm at the end of their lane. Young Lettie has been eleven years old for quite some time now and is convinced that their pond is actually an ocean. As weird and mysterious they are, there’s more to the Hempstock women than meets the eye and they may be the only people who can help the narrator uproot the evil that seemed to have taken root at their little town.

Awesome. Amazing. Chillingly beautiful.

This novel left me speechless for hours after I turned the last page. Author’s language and narration style left me awestruck. There is no way anyone can describe it… one has to experience it for themselves to understand the wonder that this work is. What stands out the most is the author’s way of describing things through the eyes and mind of a seven year old boy. You cannot expect a seven year old boy to understand and describe the intricacies of a dress or a building, but you can expect him to remember his beloved books, his toys and the face of the mysterious lodger who took up his old room. And the author has done just that, described things the way the boy would see and remember it and not gone into details and description that would be impossible for a boy. 

The characters are well developed and engaging. The plot in itself is another wonder on its own. It gives you goose bumps at times, makes you nostalgic, makes you think and in the end leaves you with a powerful ending. 

This is a book that one should buy, read more than once and cherish for a lifetime.

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17 July, 2013

#BookReview :: Two Brothers by Ben Elton

Berlin 1920

Two babies are born.

Two brothers. United and indivisible, sharing everything. Twins in all but blood.

As Germany marches into its Nazi Armageddon, the ties of family, friendship and love are tested to the very limits of endurance. And the brothers are faced with an unimaginable choice....Which one of them will survive?

The story is starts in 1920. Hitler’s National Socialist Party was just starting to take form. And unbeknownst to what it would come to mean, the people of Germany were mostly living a good life. It was the same for Wolfgang, a musician and Frieda Stengel, a medical student expecting twins. When one of their twins is stillborn, the couple adopts a child whose single mother had died in childbirth an hour before. They take home their children and raise them as their own twins. So much so, that even the children are not aware that they aren’t really related by blood.
But their bubble of a happy is abruptly broken with Hitler's continuous rise to power. The Jews were targeted for all that is wrong in the country. Increasing hatred against Jews and the slaughters of Jewish families put the Strengels’ on the edge. Their only chance of survival comes with a very difficult decision.

The Nazi reign in Germany is a well discussed and well explored territory. Between classroom syllabus, fiction and non-fiction books and movies, I doubt there is anyone who doesn’t know about the situation back then. But Ben Elton takes it to a whole new level through his characters in this book. The characters being so well developed, gives a sense of reality which in turn takes us on a high emotional ride because it is just that easy to get involved. The impersonal narration in history books to the fact based reporting in news articles – no matter how horrific doesn’t really touch your core because of the lack of emotions in them. ‘Two Brothers’ makes you feel for its characters and fall in love with them before narrating the horrors of their story – which could easily be the story of thousands of other families of that period. The Stengels can be described as an average family, whose experiences are anything but average.

I guess the author’s own family history has helped him to lend such authenticity to the story. His writing and narration style has complimented to the overall story. The humorous edge during the boys’ childhood to the darker shade of narration during their later life helped with the flow. The twists and turns in the lives of the ‘twins’ are unpredictable touching.

From the first page to the last, this book held me in a vice tight grip that I didn’t want to break away from. A real page turner that make certain ideas turn to feel like reality.

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