30 December, 2016

#BookReview :: Cabbing All The Way by Jatin Kuberker

Twelve people agree to an idea of running a shared transport service from a common residential locality to their out-of-civilisation office campus. Twelve different minds with equally diverse personalities gel with each other to fulfil a common need. At first, the members collide on mutual interests, timings, priorities and personal discipline, but in the course of their journey, they become best friends, make long-lasting relationships, mentor and help each other on various mundane matters. The journey goes on fine until one day some members try to dictate terms over the group. The rift widens with each passing day, the tension surmounts and finally all hell breaks loose... Will the journey continue? Fasten your seatbelts for the journey is about to begin... 

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A group of acquaintances come together to carpool for their convenience. They have almost nothing common with each other, well, except that they work in the same company and live in the same area as well. The carpool system starts with nothing but good intentions. But soon their individuality starts to stick out. There are ego clashes about whose needs are to be prioritized. Some squabbles and certain conflicts later, will the group be able to overcome their hurdles and continue with their journey together peacefully? Their journey is what Cabbing All The Way is about.

Having lived in Hyderabad for over 5 years, I have seen such carpool options cropping up in reality. Most of the people seem to land job far from their homes – at IT Parks at the complete opposite end of the city, and spend hours traveling since public transport facility is poor and not dependable. So, it was quite easy for me to imagine and believe in the solution that this bunch of people comes up with. Each character has their individual identities that set them apart from the other and as a result the entire cast of the book turns out to be a colourful set. The author has narrated the story at a steady pace with a liberal amount of humour and drama sprinkled throughout. As a result, the book does manage to hold the readers interest to quite an extent. I particularly enjoyed the dialogue delivery style of some of the characters. As for the plot, I don’t think I can draw a bottom line framing the plot of the book. It is more about human interaction and relationships than anything else.

One of the highlights of the book also turns out to be its drawback. The idea that the book is all about human psyche is attractive. But at the end, when we put down the book, it feels kind of pointless since the buildup of the story doesn’t really reach its peak.

Review Copy received from the Author

29 December, 2016

#SpecialFeature :: #Interview with Saiswaroopa Iyer, #Author of Abhaya

*** Special Feature - December 2016 ***

Quick Recap:
1st December - Introducing Saiswaroopa Iyer
8th December - Guest Post: Craft of Female Characters in period fiction
15th December - Excerpt from Abhaya by Saiswaroopa Iyer
22nd December - Excerpt from Abhaya by Saiswaroopa Iyer

About the Author:

An IITian and investment professional turned author, Saiswaroopa's interests include Indian history, literature and Philosophy. Also trained in Carnatic Music, she has won a gold medal from Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams in rendering Annamacharya Kritis. Currently based in London, she is working on her next novel based on a Rig Vedic Legend. 

Website * Facebook * Twitter * Goodreads * Amazon

An Interview with the Author:

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer/ a storyteller?
I don’t remember a particular moment as such where I decided to be one. But I grew up listening to a variety of stories and being the eldest in my generation in my family, I was the obvious storyteller to my younger cousins. My attempts to add creative bits into Puranic stories started quite early in life. Once I gave up my corporate job to pursue my luck as a freelancer, writing as a habit came in handy in many ways and I returned to storytelling too.  

What inspires you to write?
As a storyteller, I think we need to make inspiration happen. The root inspiration comes to me from characters. At times where I face a block, I try to imagine a typical day for each of my characters and try to see them work their way to their goals, talk to each other and face their demons, all of this irrespective of whether the particular part makes it to the final draft or not. I would like to imagine that this effort makes them reward me in turn with the necessary inspiration. 

What kind of research goes into your book?
For Abhaya, the storyline is based on a Puranic incident of Narakasura Vadha mentioned in Bhagavatam, Hari Vamsham, Vishnu Puran and in Shakta texts (Kalika Purana). But the world I based it on was drawn heavily from the Mahabharata. Referring to the versions by KM Ganguli and Dr. Bibek Debroy (translation of BORI’s critical edition) helped me clarify the socio political side of the story. I also whetted my assumptions and creative deviations with a couple of enthusiasts and scholars. But all this is limited to (for the lack of better word), factual side of the storyline. 

But the crux of the story in my opinion is the motivation, philosophy and principles of the characters who make the story. For this, I listen to Katha Pravachans of some Telugu Scholars (Sri Samavedam Shanmukha Sharma and Dr. Garikipati Narasimha Rao for instance). In these talks, they critique and enunciate the nuances on Indic storytelling and the insights, independent of the topic are invaluable in my story crafting.

I also observe the contemporary writers in my genre and listen to their reader base to stay aware of the reader expectations. 

What are you working on at the moment?
Right now, I am wrapping up the draft of my second novel temporarily titled The First Queen. It is a story set in pre historic India or Vedic India, about a Queen whose is mentioned in the Rig Veda. This was a completely new experience for me going back from the sophisticated social structure of Mahabharata times to maybe a couple of millennia earlier where social structures were nascent, religion was much more explorative with contemplation and Tapasya taking the precedence over rituals as we know them today. Even the institution of wedlock was a new concept to this world. I enjoyed the experience of world creation at the dawn of ancient Indian civilization as well as character creation in those conditions. I hope the readers enjoy too. 

How did you come up with the idea for your current story? 
Thanks to Abhaya! While writing Abhaya, I was stuck at a scene where a six year old Abhaya was being fed by her father who also tells her a story. My challenge was to find a story suitable for a warrior father to inspire his daughter (who he expects to be a warrior too) with a female protagonist. In the pre Mahabharata era, we had an example of Kaikeyi, but that did not appeal to me. There was this story of Goddess Durga but I wanted a very human story and this made me delve into Vedas. Rig Veda rewarded me with the legend of Vishpala who served as the right inspiration. That moment, I felt it was an under explored legend and deserved a novel on its own! 

6. Please share three interesting facts about the characters in your book.
- Variety. I feel variety in characters is what shows the world of the story to the readers. Especially with female characters (even male), it is a turn off to see monochromatic angry women or men who become alter egos to the author and parrot what the author wants them to. Introducing variety helps me construct the story arcs better. In Abhaya, even if I set the protagonist aside, there was Kadambari who started out as a rebelling woman who leaves an abusive husband and evolves as someone with equanimity and insight. Dhatri was a wronged woman who is elevated to the position of a Goddess but, (I am not giving away spoilers now!) discovers that she was but a pawn in someone else’s hands. Shyeni is a woman from a non-patriarchal society who experiences interesting shifts in her beliefs once she finds love.
- Relationships. My characters celebrate their relationships. (Loving, defying, rebelling, making up, compromising, all is a part and parcel of relationships). This was pointed to me by a reviewer. In Abhaya, four different kinds of brother-sister relationships and four different kinds of romantic relationships are portrayed. Each added its own flavor and dynamics to the story. 
- Un-labelled. This is something I discovered while writing The First Queen. It is difficult to package a character as progressive or regressive or as conservative or revolutionary. (They can be both!) Avoiding this dichotomy threw up interesting results where I found genuinely progressive characters who held civilizational values and traditions very close to their hearts. I found another character whose views on women were not very liberal but takes a revolutionary plunge for wronged outcasts. Without this vibrance and internal conflicts, they would have come across as one dimensional

If you could pick any famous author to review your book who would you pick and why?
I had the good fortune of getting reviews, inputs and suggestions by some really good authors including Amish Tripathi, Prof Vamsee Juluri and Sangeeta Bahadur. Inputs from published authors like Venkatesh Ramakrishnan, Krishna Udayasankar and Nilanjan Chaudhury helped me a lot in the early phases of the draft. I still cherish a dream that Sri S L Bhyrappa and Dr. Garikipati Narasimha Rao read Abhaya and The First Queen. 

Do you ever experience writer’s block? If so what helps you to get over it?
Ohh I guess I have faced the worst of Writers blocks. In my experience, the blocks are overcome when the writers are fine with ‘imperfect writing’. Often, the expectation of writing perfect pieces and the disappointment at not being able to write so results in very bad writer’s blocks. The key is to not lose out on the writing discipline. In all honesty, I am trying to make a discipline of writing regularly. Good writing, as my mentor Otis Haschemeyer says, is a product of rigorous editing and to do that in the first place, we need to write even if we do a bad job. 

What part of the writing process do you enjoy the most?
Day-dreaming :D No story emerges without dreaming.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone that wants to get into writing?
My thoughts on writing regularly, introducing variety among and within the characters, day dreaming, all have been suggestions from very good authors to me. Putting all we learn from others into practice itself is a process. My addition would be to believe in our own selves and at least not become barriers in our own way.
About the Book:

A tale set in the times of Mahabharata. An assertive and idealistic Princess Abhaya meets the enigmatic Krishna Vaasudeva. A bereaved Dhatri, hounded by her own family is saved by Lord Bhauma. When subverted religion becomes a tool in the hands of power thirsty and strikes Bharatavarsha, the land of Aryas, Abhaya finds herself face to face with the impending doom. 

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Enter in the rafflecopter below to win a copy of Abhaya by Saiswaroopa Iyer
- 1 Paperback for Indian Residents Only
- 1 eBook for International Readers

27 December, 2016

#BookReview :: Eye of the Eagle by Shirsendu Mukhopadhyay, Uttora Ganguly (Translator)

The Characters.... Three Women and Bishan Wife Shivangi, wife's friend Nandini and Jahnavi 

The turn of events... Nandini is brutally murdered! Shivangi is found in the bedroom, lying half naked and fatally injured. All evidences are pointing at Bishan. 

But, is it that simple? 

And the truth... 

Eye of the Eagle delves into the complications of relationships and world of complicated characters where mystery unfolds only through the eyes of Detective Shobor!

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This is one of those very rare cases where I watched the movie before reading the book. In my defense, when I went to watch the movie, I had no idea that I would be able to get my hands on the book so soon, even if it is the translated version.

A girl, Nandini, is found murdered and in the same house another girl, Shivangi, is found fatally injured. Nandini is Shivangi’s friend who lives in the same house along with Janhavi and Shivangi’s husband, Bishan. In a house full of entangled relationships where nothing seems to be simple, Inspector Shobor Dasgupta has the job to look beyond all the red herrings to capture the real perpetrator.

The plot revolves around human complexities and the various relationships in Shivangi’s household. Bishan is portrayed as a character that has a magnetic personality and women fall over each other to get to him. His relationships with Shivangi, Nandini and Janhavi have various aspects to it. And there’s a lot of sex involved. So it is needless to say that the tangled web of relationships within this household is really complex. Shobor Dasgupta comes to the scene of crime and instead of following the apparent thread of evidence decides to investigate the case from each and every possible angle.

The characters are mostly well developed, though I wouldn’t have minded a bit more details about Janhavi and her experience over the years in the household. With a limited number of suspects, it wasn’t difficult to deduce who the mastermind was. But it was interesting to watch Shobor Dasgupta investigate and follow his each step to understand his line of thinking. 

This is an entertaining mystery that will take only a couple of hours to finish. Mystery lovers, give this a try.

Review Copy received from Bee Books

#Spotlight :: Prejudice Meets Pride by Rachael Anderson

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 Don't miss this fabulous freebie! Grab your copy of Prejudice Meets Pride by Rachael Anderson today!!

Prejudice Meets Pride by Rachael Anderson 

After years of pinching pennies and struggling to get through art school, Emma Makie’s hard work finally pays off with the offer of a dream job. But when tragedy strikes, she has no choice but to make a cross-country move to Colorado Springs to take temporary custody of her two nieces. She has no money, no job prospects, and no idea how to be a mother to two little girls, but she isn’t about to let that stop her. Nor is she about to accept the help of Kevin Grantham, her handsome neighbor, who seems to think she’s incapable of doing anything on her own. Prejudice Meets Pride is the story of a guy who thinks he has it all figured out and a girl who isn't afraid to show him that he doesn't. It’s about learning what it means to trust, figuring out how to give and to take, and realizing that not everyone gets to pick the person they fall in love with. Sometimes, love picks them.


26 December, 2016

#BookReview :: Code Blue by Zvika Amit

Israel becomes a theocratic military dictatorship in a captivating suspense novel
A divorcée history professor and peace activist, Rinat Gal finds herself involved in a passionate love affair with Gavrush, a married settler. When a secret cabal conspires to change the face of the country, Rinat cannot escape the notion that she is more involved than she realized. Following a violent coup, as Israel transforms into a theocratic military dictatorship, Rinat discovers that her lover plays a leading role in the cabal and decides to take desperate actions.

A political thriller usually comes with a promise of conspiracies and action that can keep a reader engaged through out.
Code Blue is set in Israel where there is a conspiracy to bring down the current government. When the cabal takes control, our protagonists are in the dang middle of it all. On one hand we have Gavrush, a West Bank settler who brings together a group of people for the coup. On the other hand we have Rinat, Gavrush’s lover who initially has no idea how big a hand Gavrush has in the coup. Will Gavrush be able to control the country’s future? And what will Rinat do once she fully comprehends what Gavrush’s plans are?
The characters are well developed for most parts. Gavrush’s character is especially flawed and that is what makes him more human. His biggest problem is that he doesn’t see the big picture. There was something missing from the narrative style that made me re- read certain parts to ensure I was on the same page with the author. It did take away a bit from the overall reading experience. But I did like the plot which had enough action, drama and romance to keep me going.

Review Copy received from eBookPro

23 December, 2016

#GuestPost :: No Matter What I Do, I can never stop writing! by Devanshi Sharma

About the Author:
Devanshi Sharma, 21, is an Indian author who has published three novels. Her first novel was released in 2012 and received a warm response from the young audience. Her second novel was released by the Vice President of the Film Writer’s Association and the third book, which she has co-authored, was launched by Hon. Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Dr. Raman Singh. Her fourth book is scheduled to release in the first week of December.
Devanshi has been an active speaker at public gatherings since she was in school. She has attended an international conference and presented a paper on ‘Indian Economics’ as the youngest presenter of that conference, when she was 15. She has also published a paper on ‘Indian Writing in English’ in an international journal. She has participated actively in the Literary society and Creative Writing Society of Miranda House College. In 2013, she was honoured for her academic and literary achievements by the Malva Rangmanch Samiti in Indore.
An active blogger, Devanshi is intrigued by politics and loves discussing about it. She is sensitive to social issues and is contributing her bit by starting a group named Mithaas where she spends time with kids and helps explaining them the concepts of their textbooks with a practical approach, which she believes is the best way to teach.
She is currently working with an MNC in Gurgaon. 
A firm believer in Hope, Devanshi believes in the quote; ‘If you can dream it, you better do it.’

Visit the Author's Website

Excerpts from Author Interviews:
1. ‘Unimaginably Talented’— Hindustan Times, 2013.
2. ‘Dreams as a ray of hope: Devanshi’—The Chronicle, Raipur.
3. ’19 years and two books old’—Hindustan Times, 2014.
4. ‘City Girl releases her second novel’— The Times of India, 2014.
5. ‘She’s making the write choice’— DNA, 2013.
6. ‘I believe in dreaming and imagining. There will always be one character in my stories who would be an avid dreamer’— Hindustan Times, 2014.
7. ‘Devanshi’s second novel, First Love Lasts Forever launched’— Free Press, 2014.
8.  Dainik Bhaskar, Patrika, Prabhatkiran, Dainik Jagran, Dabang Duniya and Naiduniya too extensively covered the launch. 

No Matter What I Do, I can never stop writing!

“Writing is addictive; the more you write, the more you would want to write.”

It was recently when I visited a group of seventy odd students in a college and asked them, ‘What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘writing?’’

The first answer was, to express feelings; the second voice from the crowd said that it was sharing inner thoughts; and some other answers included sharing stories and feeling satisfied. I stood and smiled peacefully. These were exactly the things I was expecting them to share, after all.

Writing, for me, is photography with words. Just like a photographer captures reality with his camera, a writer captures reality with words. And that is one of the strongest reasons why readers connect with a story. To make the picture of words most interesting to readers, I believe writing about reality, with a cherry of imagination, does its work.

In fact, while I think of writing, I see it as a cake. It was just yesterday that I was baking a delicious chocolate cake for the first time and I realised that it couldn’t be baked without battering flour, sugar and butter. Similar to that, a story cannot be complete with battering hard work, innovation and zeal. Just like flour, hard work is the base of anything that would take you closer to success; just like sugar, innovation makes a story tastier and interesting; and just like butter, zeal keeps the process of battering going. Lastly, the cake is to be put inside the oven, in the heat, just like a writer goes through the testing period of getting published. But, once the cake is ready, don’t we enjoy most of it? Just like the feeling of enjoying a dessert, even completing a good book gives unimaginable satisfaction.

If stories are cake, why not bake them with innovation, hard work and zeal?

On that note, for all writers, readers and dreamers – I am one among you. Signing off my little piece on my favourite topic, I would say, be it writing or any other dream in life, you know what the most important thing is?

To keep going.

Hurdles will come, you will face moments where you have time, energy and a story to write, but you fall short of words; you will face phases of endless frustration; you might have to reconsider your priorities in life and the list of challenges continue. But, one thing that you need to hang on to is your writing. Trust people, but trust your story more than anything else. Once that bakes into a delicious story, I am sure you would enjoy the taste of success to the fullest.

PS: There is nothing as satisfying as taking the book that you have written in your hand.

PPS: This goes with full self-experience.

Keep writing, keep dreaming and chase your dreams!

About the Book:
KABIR - Politically ambitious, Loves the centre stage, Enjoys attention, Loves to love, Bright ray of sunshine

AMAIRA - Free-spirited, Reversing stereotypes, Dreamer, Bubble of confidence, Salt in tea

KUSHANK - A thinktank, Brilliant businessman, Wants to, but never does, Lacks confidence, Distrusts himself

SUHANI - Timid and shy, Accepts life, Scared to rebel, Sings beautifully, Searching for herself

No Matter What I Do is a story entangling the lives of these four
very different people who are bound together by love and
friendship. Will the world mould them into its colours, or will they find themselves?


22 December, 2016

#SpecialFeature :: Read an #Excerpt from Abhaya by Saiswaroopa Iyer

*** Special Feature - December 2016 ***

About the Book:

A tale set in the times of Mahabharata. An assertive and idealistic Princess Abhaya meets the enigmatic Krishna Vaasudeva. A bereaved Dhatri, hounded by her own family is saved by Lord Bhauma. When subverted religion becomes a tool in the hands of power thirsty and strikes Bharatavarsha, the land of Aryas, Abhaya finds herself face to face with the impending doom. 

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An Excerpt

The stillness of the night was undisturbed, except for the sound of waves that came from a distance far enough from Gomantaka to be soothing rather than intrusive. It was the kind of night conducive to sound sleep. But Vikram’s eyes shot open even before the moon had begun its descent from the zenith. The vision he had seen in his dreams sat bitterly on his tongue and his body was slick with sweat. Relief washed over him when he realized it was only a dream, but there was still the lingering sense of unease.
He had seen vague images of vultures hover above the fortress of Anagha, tearing its flag to bits with their talons. He had seen the city burning. He had tried to run towards it, but the distance between him and the fortress only seemed to increase. He could not recall the details of the dream. He had not seen Abhaya in danger. On the other hand, he had not seen her at all. He closed his eyes again, but sleep evaded him. He shifted in the feather bed and that's when he felt someone beside him. Shyeni! He sat up in shock as the memory of the previous evening came to him in a flash. It was the seventh night he had spent with the Garudas on his quest for the Shakta group. The hospitality of the Garuda King Vainateya had left nothing to be desired.
The afternoon, The Garuda king had sent for him having heard from another young Garuda about a group of ascetics who had camped two Yojanas away from the shore to the south- east of Gomantaka. He had sought to leave immediately. But Shyeni, the sister of Lord Vainateya, had insisted he stay the night. One look in her eyes and Vikram could not refuse. He promised himself he would return to Gomantaka as soon as issues at Anagha were sorted out. He had not eaten much during the meal, but the wine had found its way into him, as she filled pitcher after pitcher. When he could take no more, she had helped him to his hut. Vikram could not remember anything beyond that and the sight of Shyeni lying in his bed, her clothes barely covering her frame, came as a shock.
By Mahakala! What came over me!
He sat up, pulling the rug over Shyeni. She sensed his movement and opened her eyes, the effect of wine still on her.
“Manikandhara!” Her lips curved into a lazy smile. She reached out to pull him back under the covers.
“Shyeni!” Vikram leaned over her, brushing the hair out of her face He didn't know what to say.
“You will leave by dawn, won’t you?” Shyeni asked, still languorous with sleep and lovemaking.
Vikram felt his throat go dry. He could not leave Shyeni; not after crossing the line. “I don't want to ever leave your side Shyeni. But I am on a mission.”
“Fine, leave if you have to.” Shyeni yawned and turned to her side. A baffled Vikram shook her awake.
“Do you even remember what we did, Eagle Princess?”
Shyeni sat up sensing his discomfort and smiled putting her arms around him. Vikram’s hands went around her, his heart at a loss to understand how he could protect her from the consequences of the night. “I want to ask you to stay for another night. But that would hold you back from finding those who endanger your sister. So I shall not. I shall remember you, Mani, forever.”
“Come with me!" Vikram said suddenly. “I shall go right now to Lord Vainateya to seek your hand. We shall leave together.”
“Wait!” Shyeni said, pulling him back. “Why would I come with you leaving my home?”
It was some time before Vikram fully comprehended what she was saying. He swallowed hard, hoping that it the wine that was making her speak in this manner. He said gently, “My home is yours too, Love. My father and sister will welcome you.”
Shyeni smiled again, running her fingers through his hair. “I would love to visit you, Manikandhara. Just that your city seems so far from my home...” She stopped as she saw his shoulders droop and his hands fall to his side. “Manikandhara...”
“Vikramasena. That is the name with which people at my home call me.”
“Well, that is new! What do you want me to call you?”
His eyes narrowed, his gaze no longer tender. “It does not look like it makes much difference.”
“Come on Mani, or Vikrama or whatever your name is. I love you. Nothing would delight me more than if you could stay here with us forever. But did you expect me to be one of those women who leave their homes to live with one man for the rest of their lives?” He turned away from her and got out of bed, adjusting his garments.
“Don’t you ignore me this way!” she screamed, jumping out of the bed in a resolve that startled him.
“Listen Manikandhara Vikramasena, my home is to me, as yours is to you. The social norms of your world don’t bind me. You came here seeking to protect your father and sister. I want to stay here, ensuring the wellbeing of my family. Do you still want to make it look like I am cheating you? No! I do love you... but I won't leave all that is dear to me behind to prove that. And if you truly loved me, you would not ask it of me!”
Vikram shook his head. But looking into Shyeni’s indignant eyes, he found nothing but sincerity.
His eyes softened. “I shall never ask you to do anything that pains you Shyeni. But will you be fine after I leave?”
Shyeni shrugged. “What makes you think that I shall not be fine, Vikrama, if I can call you that?”
The question made him smile. He knelt before her and held her hand. “Can I ask you something, Shyeni? Don’t refuse me this, I beg of you.”
“Arise, Vikrama! I understand this is hard for you. I shall not refuse you anything that is within my power.”
“If you discover that you are pregnant with my child, will you let me know? You know where to seek me out.” Shyeni nodded. She knew she had the right and the power to decide about any child that she might bear. But if the Divine Eagle Suparna willed, she thought to herself, destiny would fall in line and Vikram would return to Gomantaka. Vikram's relief showed on his face. He got to his feet and collected his sword and upper garment.
Shyeni approached him and held his arm. “I shall walk with you till the foot of the mountain, Vikrama.” Vikram agreed, hoping against hope that she might still change her mind. But when they reached the bottom of the mountain, she turned to head back. She turned back to give him one last smile and wave, and he felt a lightness in his heart, knowing he couldn’t expect more.
Duty and destiny. Strange are their ways indeed! If Shyeni’s duty towards her home and family came first, I have to respect her choice. But if we really love each other, may Mahakala unite us when one needs the other.

About the Author:

An IITian and investment professional turned author, Saiswaroopa's interests include Indian history, literature and Philosophy. Also trained in Carnatic Music, she has won a gold medal from Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams in rendering Annamacharya Kritis. Currently based in London, she is working on her next novel based on a Rig Vedic Legend. 

Enter in the rafflecopter below to win a copy of Abhaya by Saiswaroopa Iyer
- 1 Paperback for Indian Residents Only
- 1 eBook for International Readers

15 December, 2016

#SpecialFeature :: Read an #Excerpt from Abhaya by Saiswaroopa Iyer

*** Special Feature - December 2016 ***

About the Book:

A tale set in the times of Mahabharata. An assertive and idealistic Princess Abhaya meets the enigmatic Krishna Vaasudeva. A bereaved Dhatri, hounded by her own family is saved by Lord Bhauma. When subverted religion becomes a tool in the hands of power thirsty and strikes Bharatavarsha, the land of Aryas, Abhaya finds herself face to face with the impending doom. 

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An Excerpt

“Welcome to the abode of the Supreme Goddess.”  The voice rang across the temple hall as Bhauma faced the followers of the Shakta order who had convened here from various corners of Bharatavarsha. “In these trying times where lesser gods and their worship has assumed intimidating heights, you the honourable Shaktas have chosen to stick to the only true path of Moksha, the way of the Supreme Goddess."
A cheer erupted in the temple of Kamaksha. The temple hall facing the Sanctum of Goddess Kamaksha teemed with hundreds of Shakta practitioners. For a cult that normally chose a reclusive life, this was a welcome event that brought them all together. Groups had arrived from across Bharatavarsha, from the secluded hill areas of northern and eastern corners and even from the south of Vindhyas. The fatigue of travel, though, was forgotten as they listened to effusive words of praise and reverence from the Lord of Kamarupa himself.
Away from the larger groups, a woman stared at the cheering crowd. Perhaps her own lack of excitement was due to fatigue. Kadambari had travelled all the way from the southern parts of Bharatavarsha to Kamarupa. She turned to another woman beside her who she had met at Varanasi, on the way to Kamarupa
“Why does he deem the other gods inferior?” she asked in a whisper. The woman shrugged at the question and turned back to catch Bhauma's words. Another loud cheer erupted. Kadambari looked around. Had she missed something? A male Sadhaka sat leaning against a nearby pillar.
“The Mother Goddess will grace us in person!” he said.
In person? Kadambari turned back to the dais where Bhauma stood, facing the sanctum. The door of the small room to the left of the sanctum opened and Kadambari saw three women walk out, dressed in red. She saw Bhauma’s hands rise and come together over his head as he bowed low. People followed suit saluting the three women as they first faced the crowd, then turned towards the sanctum.
“Supreme Goddess Kamaksha! Your devotees, the Shaktas, have gathered. Bestow your grace. May we bathe in the effulgence that surrounds you. May we drown in the sea of your compassion. May we stay blessed as you grace us in person.”
Kadambari watched him prostrate and saw the three women kneel and bow before the shrine of Kamaksha. The shrine that represented the Yoni of the Supreme Goddess was decorated with garlands. Kadambari looked around for the members of the group she had arrived with. They were mingling with the rest, making new acquaintances. The senior most among them, her guru Vamanatha, who initiated her into the Vamachara Shakta order, sat aloof. The old man’s eyes were closed.
When she saw him opening his eyes, Kadambari moved to his side. “Gurudeva”
“I regret coming here.” Vamanatha’s words were more of a whisper. “This is not the high seat of Shaktism. He is not a true Shakta.”
Kadambari held his arm, relieved that he had expressed what she had felt. “Shouldn’t we voice our thoughts, Gurudeva?”
“No, just look around you.” Vamanatha cautioned. In his tired eyes, there was a disappointment. “The fools get excited at the mere thought of pursuing a ‘superior’ religion. Practising a religion is a personal Saadhana, Kadambari. We don’t choose a religion because of stupid claims of superiority. We choose a certain religion not only because its tenets suit our temperament, but also because practising those tenets helps us to overcome our weaknesses. It is an endeavour to kill false pride and the sense of superiority. It is an endeavour to feel one with the universe.” Vamanatha’s voice had started to falter.
Kadambari felt a stab of guilt at the thought of her own initial enthusiasm about visiting the famed seat of Vamachara Shaktism. Vamanatha had never shown much inclination towards attending the conclave. But he could not deny the enthusiasm of his students.
“Gurudeva, if we don’t protest now….” Kadambari stopped when she saw Vamanatha shake his head vigorously.
He glanced around to make sure that none was listening to them. He need not have worried as everyone else was spellbound by the prospect of seeing the 'Goddess in person’ that Bhauma had promised them. “He, this Bhauma, cannot be taken lightly. He seeks to control the Shakta cult. I am afraid it is not just the cult he seeks to control. It might be... it might be….”
Kadambari swallowed seeing the growing concern on Vamanatha’s wrinkled face. His hands sought her support, his discomfort increasing at every word. She stroked his shoulder gently. “I understand, Gurudeva. Who knows, if we are outnumbered, they might even tell these soldiers to harm us.”
“We shall leave this place by dawn. This is not the temple of Shakti. This is a tool in the hands of a wayward overlord lusting for power,” Vamanatha whispered.
Someone clutched at Kadambari’s arm startling her. She glared at the intrusion. The Shakta looked apologetic. He then pointed towards the sanctum. “Pay attention. Don’t miss the spectacle!”
Despite her growing disgust, Kadambari turned back to the sanctum. Bhauma and the three women were still seated on the dais. Suddenly, a flower garland fell off the platform onto the shoulders of one of the women. A hush descended on the crowd and then gave way to gasps. Kadambari watched, unsmiling.
“The Supreme Goddess has chosen her medium!” Bhauma announced. His words reverberated across the hall. “You see in front of you, the personification of the Goddess, Mahadevi Dhatri.”
Kadambari’s eyes narrowed. A cheer much louder than before erupted and the crowds rose to their feet. She glanced at Vamanatha. His eyes remained closed. From what she had learnt about the Vamachara practice, she understood the distinct rituals of Mudra, Maamsa, Madhira, Meena and Maithuna as symbolic of the human pleasures. The pinnacle of pleasure when the mind went beyond physical yearning was, Vamanatha had taught her, the state of bliss, the state of Shiva. The Shakta order considered women the embodiment of Shakti, the giver of the bliss, which made them worthy of worship.
The crowd jostled for a glimpse of the woman declared the Mahadevi. Kadambari leaned back against the pillar, rebellion in her heart rising. Isn’t every woman a personification of Shakti, the energy, the very Goddess? What is the need of a Mahadevi and how could she become the only voice of the Supreme Mother?
Kadambari made her way out of the crowds to the outer sanctum. The day seemed to wane quicker in the eastern part of the land.
The unrest in her heart did not die even in the evening when the other woman from Varanasi came to her side and gave her a leaf bowl filled with a mixture of boiled grains and pulses. It was dark and she did not move from the sheltered corner after eating the meal. Kamarupa. There was something about this place that did not allow her to sleep. She waited for dawn, eager to leave this place as soon as she could with Vamanatha. Following his advice, she refrained from arguing with anyone.
This place has three layers of fortification. Why, in the name of Amba, does a temple town need such defences? The outermost fortification housed the soldiers and guards. Armed to the teeth, far beyond anything she had seen at Avanthi and Prabhasa. The middle layer housed the practitioners and the innermost one the temple and the palaces of Lord Bhauma and his close associates. Like something is hidden here?
“You there, it is time to move out of the sanctum.” The condescension in the guard's voice irritated her.
“I came here on invitation. Treat your guests with respect!”
The guard looked suitably chastised. “Nobody sleeps in the open. It is an order that the pilgrims vacate this place by sunset. There are rooms made comfortable for you just outside. Where is the rest of your group?”
Kadambari moved towards the nearest exit. The guard took his position there as she left.
“That area over there isn’t safe. You might fall off the cliff,” he called out and she nodded without turning.
Given a choice, Kadambari wanted to leave the place as soon as she could. Walking around in the middle ring, she found the Shakta practitioners chatting. Most of them found the rooms they had been given very comfortable compared to their usual forest residences.
“We don’t need to take turns and look out for a wild animal,” a woman remarked aloud to none in particular. “We can all sleep well tonight.”
Kadambari sighed. An hour later, she found herself in one of the rooms. The night was dark outside, and the silence, punctuated only by the noise of crickets, belied the fact that there were so many pilgrims camped there. Kadambari closed her eyes and tried to sleep. She was on the brink of sleep when a sudden scream pierced the night.  

About the Author:

An IITian and investment professional turned author, Saiswaroopa's interests include Indian history, literature and Philosophy. Also trained in Carnatic Music, she has won a gold medal from Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams in rendering Annamacharya Kritis. Currently based in London, she is working on her next novel based on a Rig Vedic Legend. 

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13 December, 2016

#Spotlight :: Concrete Smile (Internet Tough Guys #3) by Bernard Maestas


Concrete Smile by Bernard MaestasA crooked conglomerate makes a move on fictional Newport City by first attempting to incite a war between its existing criminal organizations before taking over with its own "in-house" group. Hired by a major gang leader to avert the war, freelance information broker Kevin recruits his ex-enforcer, ex-con brother Chance, and Kaity, a reporter with a vendetta, to uncover the conspiracy.

Book Details:

Genre: Crime, Thriller
Published by: Rebel ePublishers
Publication Date: December 15, 2016
Number of Pages: 270
ISBN: pending
Series: Internet Tough Guys, #3
Purchase Links: Coming Soon!

Read an excerpt:


Lost somewhere in Newport City’s densely crowded, late-night skyline, six bulky bodies packed into some unimportant restaurant’s musty storeroom. Bulging with prison muscles and bulletproof vests, their dark skin branded with black tattoos broadcasting their gang affiliation, the men were silent. They crowded around a single rickety card table, the room’s only furniture, and toiled under the dim glow of a single yellow bulb dangling from the ceiling. A masonry bucket full of glittering brass ammunition sat centered between them. None spoke. The rhythmic clicking of guns and bullets was the only soundtrack accompanying the tension. Aside from their silence and the grim, practiced precision with which they pressed the unstamped cartridges into their magazines, they each had one other detail in common: Each man, whether dangling from a pocket, knotted around a wrist, or cinched across his brow, displayed a deep crimson bandana. That bandana, the gang flag of The Reds or Red Nation – the umbrella under which all the African-American gangs in Newport City fell – was the most crucial accessory. Durel Rivers, better known as Bones, set aside his last loaded magazine and grabbed his weapon. Exceedingly illegal, the fully automatic Tec-9 machine pistol, with its taped grip and folding stock, actually had a Federal law banning it by name. A loud slap cut the stifling air as he locked a magazine into the receiver and jacked the first round into the chamber. Bones covered his body armor with a baggy sweatshirt, loose enough to conceal the illicit firearm beneath it, its papoose pocket stuffed with the ready reloads he’d prepared. Behind him, the rest of his crew wrapped up their own loading tasks, donned jackets and hoodies of their own and then followed him out of the storeroom. The creaky storeroom door swung open into the deep gloom of a deserted kitchen. The restaurant’s legitimate business hours long over, the white-coated cooks and staffers long gone, Bones and his crew had special access. He led them past the stainless steel appliances and shelves to and then through the back door. Windows down, keys in the ignitions, a pair of black SUVs waited in the greasy shadows of the narrow alley behind the restaurant. Bones climbed into the shotgun seat of the leading truck while the rest of the crew split up between them, wordlessly sliding into their plush leather seats. Bones gave a simple and wordless nod to the man who took the driver’s seat beside him. Engines came to life with deep rumbles but the music that came on in the cabins was low. They were on a mission and there would be no distractions. As one, the pair of SUVs rolled out of the alley and onto the darkened Newport City streets. While the bustling city of nearly five million had plenty of nightlife, Bones’ crew stuck to the quiet streets of closed businesses, darkened storefronts, and slumbering apartment dwellers. It was late, or more precisely, early in the morning, and only the creatures of the night were out haunting the streets. Moving patiently, always five miles per hour over the speed limit – no more, no less – they rolled to their first stop at the fringe of a housing project complex, a U-shaped cluster of old tenement towers. Silent and pensive, Bones scanned every inch of the block around them, scrutinizing each of the people who made up the sparse nighttime populace. A pair of teenagers with Reds’ flags on display occupied one corner while a homeless man wandered the block further down. No police, no “jackers,” Bones was as certain as he could be of that. He twisted in his seat and said it all to the gangster in the back with another wordless nod. The back door popped, as did that of the trailing SUV, two men emerging into the street and crossing, their hands beneath their shirts and gripping the handles of their guns. As they disappeared into one of the building lobbies, Bones let his attention slip for just a moment. He plucked a cigarette from his pack, set it between his lips, bringing it to life with the click of his lighter, and blew the fumes from his nose. He had only taken two deep drags when the gangbangers emerged. The one from the trailing truck led the way, alert and ready. The man behind had a small gym bag slung over his shoulder. Bones turned to look as the man climbed back aboard the SUV. “All there,” he said simply, ripping open the zipper to give Bones a look inside at the bricklike bundles of cash. Bones straightened in his seat, his cigarette hand pushing out through the open window and waving the trailing SUV forward. Together, they pulled away from the curb and rolled off into the city. It was after three when they finally pulled away from their last pickup in East Charity, a sleepy neighborhood on the southeastern side of the City’s eastern borough. Bones lit up a third cigarette and then threw a glance into the backseat. Aside from the burly gangster riding with them, more of those bulging bags of cash now packed the seat to shoulder height. Over the last hour and change, they had stopped everywhere from drug dens to basement casinos, collecting the week’s deposits. With the trucks laden with money, the first half of the job, in some ways the easy half, was done. Alert, mind focused, Bones allowed himself to relax just a little, let the flood of nicotine calm his blood slightly. From here on, it was a straight drive to their final destination where they would turn over the money to be cleaned. No more stops, no more tense minutes of waiting on the street like sitting ducks. That said, he also knew that the best time to hit the convoy would be now, when it was flush and the crew had backed off the razor’s edge of their nerves. The bold glow of their headlights swung down a street heavy with shadows, most of the streetlights out except for some pale yellow ones at the far end. Bones’ hackles came up and he was just about to order them off the street when shrieking tires sang their discordant chorus into the night as something flashed out of the driveway ahead. No headlights had offered any warning. “Shit!” Bones’ driver seethed as he stood on the brakes, grinding them to a hard halt. In the glare of their SUV’s headlights, Bones now made out the form of the battered minivan that had darted across their path and stopped. He was already pulling his Tec-9 from beneath his shirt when the van’s sliding door scraped aside with a raspy grind of worn metal. Crouched tightly in the back of the van, shoulder-to-shoulder, a pair of masked men took aim and opened up torrents of fully automatic gunfire. The driver beside Bones jerked and flopped violently, his body riddled with relentless fire. Bones himself managed to duck down below the dash, behind the protection of the engine block, the only part of a normal car that would actually stop a bullet. Jagged pebbles of shattered glass rained down on the back of his neck. Behind Bones, the back door kicked open and the armed gangster ducked out as he sprayed the van with his own vicious rake of fire. Without rising from behind the dash, Bones reached out, shoving open the driver’s door and rolling the bloody, shredded corpse of the driver into the street. He was halfway over the center console when he saw his doom. From behind the row of parallel-parked cars lining the far side of the street, cloaked in the heavy shadows, more gunmen popped up, bracing and steadying their rifles on the hoods, trunks or roofs of the parked cars. Bones threw his machine pistol into line but it was too late. The last thing Bones ever saw was the hellish strobes of the muzzle flashes popping in the darkness as they poured another withering hailstorm of copper-jacketed death into the street. *** Don’t shit where you eat. Words to live by in Kevin Wyatt’s book. So, even at three in the morning, making the drive across the Admiralty Bridge into the peninsular eastern borough was just smart business. Polished black paint gleaming, throaty engine growling melodically, Kevin’s ’67 Mustang fastback made short work of the trip, weaving only occasionally around slower moving traffic. An oasis in the night of closed businesses on an otherwise nondescript street in East Charity, a brightly lit parking lot snipped off the corner of the block. It wrapped around two sides of a large diner that, despite its size and popularity with the late-night crowd that knew of its existence, still looked like a greasy hole in the wall. Kevin had grown fond of the place, though. Referring to it as his office, he conducted those meetings there that required a certain degree of public exposure mixed with only a modicum of privacy. He’d chosen the spot for the food initially and had quickly adopted it as a regular haunt. Despite this, no one greeted him by name as he entered and left the biting air of the early November chill in the parking lot. The diner was warm inside, full of the aroma of food frying in grease. At least a half-dozen parties of three or four twentysomethings in nightclub attire were scattered among the booths and tables. His regular booth, the one at the far back corner, just on the fringe of the last overhead bulb’s halo of light, was unclaimed, he noted with a smile. Kevin took another moment to scan the diner’s patrons and confirm that his clients hadn’t arrived yet. He pivoted and swung down the row of booths running along the diner’s storefront of greasy picture windows. As he went, he sloughed his black leather jacket, a dark T-shirt with a stylish designer logo beneath. Though he could have melded into one of the packs of club goers in the diner with his age and good looks, he wasn’t here to socialize. He had a narrow face of mildly chiseled features decorated with a light dusting of freckles that went appropriately with the rusty copper color of his short hair. He was above average height at just under six feet, but his fit and trim frame was not particularly remarkable. A waitress, mopping the countertop with a rag, glanced up as he passed her. She made contact with his bright hazel gaze and a faint smile of passing recognition turned up the corners of her mouth. “The usual?” she asked, getting a nod and a smile in reply. Kevin dropped into his booth’s far side, his back to the wall, his face to the door, and slid into the corner. It was a good spot, behind the wall and out of the frame of the big window while still giving him an excellent line of sight into the parking lot and the establishment. Kevin scanned with intent while taking care to seem oblivious, just another late night customer out for a midnight snack. A nondescript sedan, gray, neither old nor new enough to be noteworthy, coasted to a halt outside. Three young men, cautious and patiently panning their gazes over every angle of surrounding night, sat in the car for a few long moments before dismounting and approaching the diner door. The waitress returned and slid Kevin’s order in front of him just as the trio filed through the front door. She turned and left the table while he raised an arm, brushed with a sleeve of freckles, and waved them over. In a moment’s pause of prudent appraisal, they sized Kevin up from the door before sliding down the row. They were dressed to slip under notice, plain jeans and plainer hooded sweatshirts, but that didn’t fool Kevin for a second. “You the guy?” the first, a deeply tanned Hispanic in his late twenties, asked with no discernable accent. “I am,” Kevin confirmed with a nod. “Have a seat.” “How’d you know it was us?” asked the second, a black man of the same age as the first, as the whole trio – rounded out with a smaller and younger Asian man for diversity – took the opposite side of the booth. “Lucky guess,” Kevin replied plainly. He lifted his steaming cup of black coffee and nursed a sip, careful to keep his eyes above the rim to watch the three of them. “You have something for me?” He set the cup beside the plate holding his so far untouched “Heartstopper” sandwich. The trio exchanged glances before the leader threw one back over his shoulder at the rest of the diner. Kevin didn’t have to look so obviously to know no one was paying them any mind. Satisfied, the leader nodded at the Asian at the end of the booth. He slipped an envelope from the papoose pocket of his sweatshirt, laid it on the table and slid it across. Kevin took the envelope and peeled it open in his lap, leafing through its stack of crisp twenty-dollar bills. He kept his poker face firmly in place as he did, lifting his head to nod to his clients in approval. He reached across the booth, stuffing the envelope into the inner pocket of his jacket and slipping out a coin-sized SD card. He slid it across the table the same way he’d received his payment. The Asian man took it, plugging it into a small tablet and scanning through it. “As promised,” Kevin said, his focus on the leader. “Truck routes, communications protocols and duty rosters for Allied Armored Couriers. Good until the end of the month.” The leader looked from Kevin as he finished, to the Asian, who had completed his scan and nodded. Kevin scooped up his mug and took another sip of his coffee, watching as the leader turned back to him. “How’d you get this?” Kevin smiled a thin smile that didn’t reach his eyes as he lowered the mug. He offered his hand across the table for a shake. “A pleasure doing business with you.” The leader’s eyes narrowed, but he clasped Kevin’s hand in a brief squeeze before he and his crew exited the booth. He watched them leave, as did the waitress, who glanced over at him and met his eyes. This time, his smile was a little warmer as he offered her a shrug and dropped his attention to his plate. *** The Heartstopper was an egg sandwich, in simplest terms. To be more exact, however, it was a heaping serving of scrambled whole eggs capped with a slice of full-fat American cheese and enclosed in two slices of grilled and buttery bread. It was decadently delicious and so worth the bloated feeling in Kevin’s gut as he left his booth, leaving cash, including a generous tip, on the table top and exited the diner. He mounted up the Mustang, kicking it to grumbling life, and swung out of the parking lot, aiming for home. Business for the night finished, it was late and, crucially, he had a very early and very important errand awaiting him in the morning. Blue and red strobes blazed through the Mustang’s rear windshield as the howl of a siren drowned out even the healthy rumble of his powerful engine. Kevin’s heart nearly stopped as his eyes flicked to the rearview mirror framing the police sedan rushing up on his bumper. “Fuck me,” he breathed, hands tightening around the wheel. For half a second, he considered running. Lean fingers coiled around the shifter, his dress boots settled over the pedals, and Kevin sketched out a plan for his flight for freedom. It started with a downshift and a ferocious bellow of acceleration but he had no idea where it went from there. Instead, he reminded himself he wasn’t carrying anything illegal, nor did he have any warrants out for him. At least, as far as he knew. Easing toward the first gap in the row of cars lining the curb, Kevin blinked as the patrol car blew past him. Before he had a chance to relax, crack a smile of relief, three more cops in roaring sedans, their emergency lights screaming their urgency, sirens wailing, blasted down the road. They were moving fast, fast enough that their passing rocked Kevin’s heavy car as they went. Kevin stared after them as they faded into the distance before whipping around the corner at the end of the next block. His hands squeezed the wheel tightly and his mind reached, pondering the possibilities. Slowly, his thin lips spread in a smile. Something big had happened. He had a pleasant influx of new business to look forward to.

Bernard Maestas

Author Bio:

Bernard Maestas lives in paradise. A police officer patrolling the mean streets of Hawaii, he has a background in contract security and military and civilian law enforcement. When not saving the world, one speeding ticket at a time, and not distracted by video games or the internet, he is usually hard at work on his next book.

Catch Up With Bernard Maestas on His Website, Twitter, or Facebook!




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