My Reviews

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name by Fiza Pathan highlights the plight of those human beings who are born different and are mocked at, bullied, shunned and brutally murdered just because of their gender identities and sexual orientation. Each story in this collection makes an appeal to the society to stop judging the LGBTQ community and let them live the way they want to. Some of the stories are brilliantly written while some drag on endlessly, harping on the same issue of discrimination and intimidation but an emotional touch is marred by Fiza’s dramatic presentation.

There are some discrepancies in the description of American culture in some stories like  “mea culpa” and “murder during revolution.” Setting and backdrop, which play an important role in developing an effective story is hazy in many stories, as they focus on main theme of prejudices against LGBTQ. Character development gets a backseat. Most of the stories trudge through dark corridors, offering no hope. The only change that I could discern was that in the 50s, Sreekanth accepts the decision of his father with mute reconciliation but a few decades later, Rajesh is bold enough to leave his home and finds freedom from the compulsions and expectations of his family and society. A ray of light also shimmers in the last ten pages of the book.

This book needs to be read by everybody to understand gender disparities and emotional upheavals that this community has to face due to the apathetic attitude of people in schools, families and work places.

 

I avoid the stories that haunt, ghosts have never been my favorite characters yet Haunted House Ghost beckoned mebecause I have been following Braxton Campus series that coruscate with delightful mysteries, well-crafted characters and witty dialogue. Spooky imagery sets the tone with a meticulous choice of words right in the beginning, easing a little as the book progresses.

The plot is so intertwined with present and past connections that you have to be alert all the time. A plethora of characters that James keeps excavating demand an extra effort. This book is not an easy read but is a harmonious blend of conjectures, judgments and investigations about who is haunting the house and why. The story is muddled with too many webs with one string attached to the Fall festival, another to relationships and bizarre ideas of a psychic but the magnificent revelations are worth all the effort!

My expectations have been rising with each book and Cudney never disappoints. His style has been improving but I must mention that some unnecessary details could have been eliminated to keep the flow, which is hampered by many POVs, repetition of Kellan’s family details; his routine and then cramming in the demeanor problems of Ulan. Too much description doubts the imagination of the reader. Probably an incisive editing could make this book an unparalleled sensation. It deserves five stars despite all those issues.

 

Bound by love or destiny, Forrest tries to seek answers through profoundly personal monologues that communicate his confidence. Though he admits he is considered to be a rebel whom the world wishes to change but he is no longer tied to parental pressures or societal diktats. Having found freedom from fear, self-loathing and self-judgment, he feels empowered to share his love and laughter through this book. A quick read, his vividly erotic description of sexual exploits is a stunning revelation that puts a seal on self-validation. I am astounded at the unbarred and intrepid account of personal moments that have been shared.

There are some discrepancies in formatting and editing otherwise this book is a bold step forward for the gay.

 

Waterlilies Over My Grave by Patricia A. Guthrie evokes interest with its title, as the reader tries to guess whose watery grave is being planned. It promises to be gripping in the beginning with all the scary strategies of stalking, inflicting pain and wreaking vengeance but it loses its pace at many places. The story meanders when it talks about relationships and lacks coherence. The sub plot is too weak and doesn’t develop at all.

Duncan stands out as the best character despite his grave imperfections and dark intentions. Guthrie could enter into his mind to portray him as the devil incarnate. I would give her five stars for characterization. Mark is edgy and has been handled well according to the demands of the story but the women shine with their determination to face all that they come across. Annie evolves well and gains confidence with the passage of time. However, the book needs incisive editing and spontaneity, as some events hang out loose. I liked this book at places; it is quite readable despite some editing issues.

 

The One Discovered by Yvette M. Calleiro is a magnificent combination of fantasy and mystery that keeps you delighted page after page, as the story shrouds many layers of suspense. It is an easy read with just a few friendly characters who are trying to explore life and stumble upon some cryptic and implausible facts. Since this is the first book in the series, Yvette has laid a brilliant foundation for taking the story further. Sofia’s willow tree is my favorite too, the magnetic energy that drew Ar’ch toward her is rejuvenating and the description of portals enchanting. The best part of the book is that the story doesn’t drag anywhere; it flows at a steady speed.

All the characters are lovable except Rafe though I have been trying to analyze why I didn’t like him; probably he is haughty and stands in sharp contrast to Ar’ch and Angel who are inspirational and add a touch of tenderness to the deportment of male characters. Sofia’s relationship blues have been handled adroitly. If you like to be transported to another world through the words, this is a perfect book for you. I would surely pick up the next book in the series. Highly recommended.

 

Lady Ellen (Adventures of Lady Ellen Montagu #1) by J.G. Macleod begins with the harsh reality of infidelity but soon drifts into a dreamy fairy tale romance between Ellie and Cormac. The story is set in 1840; the eternal love triangle dominates this book yet it is a fine study into the demeanor of people of that era. Only later in the story could I understand the significance of such a shocking beginning.

Since it is told from the perspective of an eighteen-year-old daughter of a Duke, the story focuses on the emotions and feelings of a young girl who looks forward to marrying a handsome young man of her choice but fate has something else in store for her. I happened to read this book after a murder mystery and it seemed like treading on petals, such is the language and the style of MacLeod. She opens the doors of adventurous trails slowly, charming the reader with her sensitive portrayal of characters.

Cormac is a fine gentleman, well versed with the courtesies of an aristocratic society. He even apologizes for touching Lady Ellen without her permission. A character driven plot, it is quite predictable with her peculiar outbursts yet she evolves into a kind woman who could understand nuances of life, knows what she wants and refuses to be pushed around by men who try to dominate her. Grady remains an enigma till the end. The ending is a little startling, probably to let the story go forward into another book!

If you are fond of soft and breezy romances, this is the book for you. I always thought that I have grown out of romantic novels but this book has reignited that flame.

 

A murder mystery with a difference, Flower Power Trip by James J. Cudney is fast- paced than the previous two books in the series and is more entangled, with no clue for the reader. I wouldn’t call it a cozy mystery, as it has some nerve wrecking moments but there is Nana to diffuse the tension and Emma, Kellan’s daughter provides the welcome change to the investigative scenario. Having read two books in the series, I knew Cudney’s trick of dragging everyone into the net of suspicion except the murderer! He conjures up some amazing revelations that he saves for the climax. I was familiar with that, and therefore didn’t bite the bait this time to suspect anyone he kept hinting at.

What I appreciate about the series is that James keeps the gory details, curse words and sexual content out, which elevate his books above the modern wiles of the writers. He has even done away with the trick of dark secrets. Kellan has been improving with each story; now I expect to meet him in each book I read and then shake myself with the reminder – this is not the ‘Braxton Campus’ series!

The plot is interwoven in such a superb manner that one event spontaneously slips into another – friendship, family bonding and benevolence merge into each other and that too while a murder investigation is in progress. I have read very few books, which could maintain this kind of harmony. Characters evolve at a given pace and enter the story only when they contribute more to the mystery that deepens as it progresses. The arrival of aunt Deirdre evokes some hope.

The sub-plot is no less intriguing. I hope James would clarify the mystery of Francesca in another book by the name “The Mystery of the Missing Wife.”

 

I wonder why this book is entitled Strawberry Moon! Having a misleading title that doesn’t connect with any of the events in the story, this book has a weak plot but is quite readable and keeps the suspense alive by digressing a thousand times and still not arriving at any tangible solution to the so called “life-changing obstacles.” It goes round and round in circles, ending at the same spot. Probably Lilley has a sequel in mind but most of the books that run into series conclude in a satisfying manner. I kept waiting for the revelations that deserve to be disclosed but was disappointed in the end.

Is it a family saga or a murder mystery? Or just dwells on the travails of growing up from the eyes of a teenager – the author seems as confused as her protagonist Maisie. Everyday problems are thrown in as fillers. None of the characters appear strong enough to handle the challenges. Even Maisie’s stoic father banks on his daughter who is struggling to spread her wings and study further. Franz comes in as a wild card addition to the maze. A careful editing is required for this book.

 

 Long Stories Short is a compelling collection of stories that would appeal to all readers. Drifting between dreams and paranormal, they carry a touch of realism that won my heart. Just where the nightmares of Yvonne end, her real story unfolds! A shocker waits to hit you in almost all of them, giving Karen’s fantasy a magnificent edge. ‘You Summoned Me’ carries a subtle message of leaving the dead alone while Katie’s story stunned me. Just when my heart was breaking, the story turned around. Only a master crafter could accomplish that.

Karen’s love for animals stands out in many stories but in ‘Mountain Justice’ it radiates through Czar as he knows clearly what he could do for Annie. I loved Czar more than any other character of Long Stories. Action-packed and gripping, this story has been superbly told. Unintended Consequences is another gem that glitters despite its somber mood. I enjoyed each story in this collection.

 

Open, Shut by Nonnie Jules is a poignant tale of loss that is suffered by the narrator’s family. It is heartbreaking as well as shocking. Darcy, a young girl tries to figure out the significance of the door that opens itself, windows and dresser drawers of her room too keep opening and they remind her of a game that her older sister Lola would play with the closet door, chanting: “open, shut, open, shut…” Is it a symbol for life that could shut its door anytime or a metaphor for faith that one develops in distress?

The story is told from the perspective of a teenager who discovers the truths from the diary of her sister Lola. A quick read, this story reminded me of times when faith ushers itself into our lives, when all hopes are lost, we are only left with faith and God and expect Him to provide solace. Highly recommended!

 

While the Bombs Fell by Robbie Cheadle is the story of Elsie and her family, told in simple language, as it records the events from a child’s perspective. It is neither a memoir nor a biography; just the description of how this family lived during World War two, with rationed supplies, lack of enough coal to stay warm during winter and shared even their toothbrushes! Though the stories lack coherence but they lay bare the inconveniences caused by war. A story of wartime arouses a myriad emotions but Robbie has kept them out, as a child couldn’t understand them. Elsie just focuses on the activities of her siblings and the way they found their joy.

 

I was drawn to ‘And The Whippoorwill Sang’ by its unique name and was curiousto know more about whippoorwill, only to discover that it is just a symbol that Micki Peluso has used to convey the cry of a mother’s heart, a distressing wail that could only be felt, not heard.

This memoir is packed with emotions, as she shares her moments of joy, frustration, anxiety and grief in a superb manner. I am amazed at Micki’s prowess of raising six children of almost similar age and how well she could cope with adverse circumstances that shaped a young girl into a responsible wife and mother. I could flow with her story, I cried with her, laughed at her adventures, grieved with her, felt like I was holding her hand when she couldn’t take the hardest decision of her life.

Peluso’s style of writing is ingenuous but her story carries an unfathomable depth of love and relationships. Despite her own limitations and the path she chose at the young age of 17, She emerges to be a loving and resilient person whom I admire.

Hope shimmered around her even in the darkest of moments. I wonder whether anybody would be able to pack so much into a single book and keep the interest alive till the end. This is an outstanding memoir. Highly recommended!

 

 What you did:

Every month Amazon Prime offers a free book to its prime readers and that’s how I stumbled upon this book. It seemed promising but I didn’t like the story that hinges on a claim that an old friend, Mike, with whom the victim had a secret affair all her life and also shares some shocking secrets has sexually assaulted her! Doesn’t it seem bizarre? I didn’t believe it right from the beginning. It is interesting at places but loses its charm the moment some truths are revealed.

It is probably the style of McGowan that I could still finish this predictable story otherwise I could have dropped it without any qualms. I didn’t like any of the characters though I could sympathize with Ali but could anyone be so ignorant and foolish?

 

The Quest for Home (Book 2 of Crossroads trilogy) by Jacqui Murray continues the journey of Xhosa despite the losses she had suffered when the rafts crashed due to the storm. She had to wait till her group had healed, to restock food and weapons in preparation for departure. A trusted leader, determined to fight the perils, crawling up mountains, slipping down into valleys, following the sun, she leads her people with unwavering confidence. There are conflicts within the group to remain powerful, reminiscent of basic human traits.

It is interesting to note that discrimination, one-upmanship, slavery, selfishness, and revenge are as old as those people who inhabited this earth 850,000 years ago. It is not easy to write such a story but Murray could weave it brilliantly, throwing in many characters quite similar to what we know about human beings. You must read these books in order to appreciate the comfort and security that we take for granted.

 

 My Maine: Haiku through the Seasons by Bette Stevens is an exhilarating journey through the seasons, brilliantly defined in the form of haiku, each one a vivid treat for lovers of nature. Bette takes us along as she walks through the breathtaking woods and vales of The Pine State. Here, spring emerges from ‘wintery boughs,’ breaking their stony silence, as birds, bees and butterflies return to lend a riotous glimmer to the landscape. We watch in delight as mother earth divests her icy mantle, blossoms smile in harmony with the clouds as they roll in to add their sparkle to them. The shimmer brightens with the rich imagery of the poet. Awestruck, I walk further to explore more of Maine!

Summer sounds come alive in these haiku and I could almost see and hear the revelry that mingles with the ‘red, white and blue hues’ – craft fairs, festivals, dinners and timeless tales evoked by ‘crispy, crunchy leaves’ are retold by Stevens in a succinct manner. Life comes full circle as ‘icy crystal robes’ return, ‘lilacs stand naked’ and the poet is enchanted by white confetti falling on white pines! Bette’s style is so captivating that one reading of this book is not enough. I have read it twice but would keep returning to this book to savor the charm that flows through it. My favorite picture is the one with a clear rainbow heralding spring. A must read!

 

Broken Heart Attack by James J. Cudney is another murder mystery, written in the same style as the first book in the Braxton Campus Mysteries but doesn’t have any connection with the first book. We meet the same characters in a different situation, trying to figure out the real reason of Gwendolyn Paddington’s death. It moves at a leisurely pace, with a lot of humor thrown in. Nana D wins the flag once again, endearing herself with her reprimands and threats. James adroitly leaves some open ends to develop the story of Kellen’s family further, thereby keeping the interest alive.

Paddington family is portrayed with diligence and each character stands out clearly, displaying the pretentious bonds that have kept them together. Cudney understands relationships too well and gives that perceptive eye to Kellan who feels he possesses a natural talent to dig deeper, as his intellect and curiosity are intrigued by investigating real life crimes. He proves to be better than sheriff April. Myriam reminded me of a witchy boss; Cecilia worse than the former but her character development is slow. On the whole this is an enjoyable book and I look forward to reading the third one in the series.

 

A Thousand Yesteryears by Mae Clair is a superb blend of relationships, mystery and suspense. Mae sprinkles a magic powder of mothman to embellish this entrancing story that holds dark secrets and emotional upheavals, with the shadow of Silver Bridge looming large over the lives of Eve and Caden. The story is focused, arousing curiosity, as surprises tumble out of aunt Rosie’s closet – why she didn’t marry? What did she hide in her house that is so important for somebody? Why did she deny medical treatment? What was she trying to tell her niece? Clair holds a firm grip over the incidents and connects them brilliantly. What I liked the most is that not a word is wasted in unnecessary description.

Characters are well crafted and live up to their roles – aunt Rosie and Maggie make their presence felt even in absentia, Caden wins your heart as he shares his long-buried pain with Eve and Katie’s resilience in the face of all the misfortunes is admirable. Even the villain is perfectly portrayed to evoke hatred for him. The title – A Thousand Yesteryears conceals another mystery! I have never believed in myths yet this book charmed me! Such is the style of the author! I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.

 

Sundial by Sandra Cox is a fine combination of time travel, fantasy and romance. It flows forward at an amazing pace despite some historical and cultural details. This captivating story would keep you guessing at a number of places with some action-packed scenes that have been described with panache. Sub-plot is intricately laid out and presented brilliantly. I really liked the fresh perspective of time travel, Sarah’s yearning to meet somebody who has been hers through all the eras and the way she deals with the challenges she faces. Cox knows how to keep negativity out of the story, as she delights you with the unexpected. What irritated me at places was Monet.

Sandra’s characters are crafted well but what I enjoyed the most was Jesse Adams, the brave hero, reckless yet tender-hearted – a typical trait of a romantic hero! It is his charisma and strong will-power that adds charm to the story. Without his presence of mind and wisdom, Sarah could have got lost in an unknown land. Hammer would win your heart with his unconditional loyalty. I enjoyed this feel-good book and highly recommend it. I wish we could have our own sundial in our backyard!

 

A Mother’s Heart: Memoir of a Special Needs Parent by Eichin Chang– Lim is the story of hope, of light that lingers behind dark clouds, which don’t last forever. It is the story of a mother’s love that refuses to be overpowered by challenges that destiny had laid before her by giving her a blue-eyed lovely boy with Waardenburg syndrome. A first child is a treasure for a mother but Eichin’s first-born was diagnosed profoundly deaf – a staggering revelation for any mother but Eichin keeps her agony to herself when she shares the story of her son, Ted.

Eichin’s determination to give the best to her son, her decision to keep working due to financial and health benefits that she could avail, her forbearance in the wake of disappointments, her efforts to keep the family together despite the cracks are inspiring for even those who don’t have to face such tumults in life. Kudos to Eichin who could raise an independent, fun-loving son despite all the struggles she had to make. This is a wonderful book for all parents and carries a succinct message – never give up!

 

‘Compulsion’ by Verwayne Greenhoe is a perturbing story of a killer who could justify his brutal acts to himself, shifting the blame to victims or his circumstances. Greenhoe mentions that it is based on a true story though I wonder how much truth is there in the tranquil showers that Alan enjoyed after committing the crime and could face his wife with a smile. He could drive home whistling and singing his favorite songs! He was either insane or abnormal. It is surprising that his deviant behavior was never detected by anybody and he had a successful career!

Compulsion is triggered by the ache of Alan’s unspoken stress and unhappy marriage, which is devoid of any sex yet he claims to love his wife. Ironically he vents his anger in another form, roaming the infamous streets, looking for shadowy figures who could offer him some carnal pleasure. There are a lot of sexually explicit words and sentences in this book, which may seem disturbing. Almost erotic!

 

 American Past Time by Len Joy is the story of Dancer Stonemason and the trials and turbulences he has to face in his life – nothing new. It has a weak plot that lacks emotion though there are many moments that could have been handled in an insightful manner. The narrative rambles on tediously and many times I felt like dropping this book, as it failed to hold my attention. There are unnecessary digressions and mundane affairs that are lackluster.

Len’s main characters are distressing, they don’t know what they should do and what is the right path; even the author doesn’t want to give them the right direction or he himself is clueless. Dancer has no control over himself and is a failure on all fronts – how could such a character carry the story on his shoulders to captivate the readers? Dede puts forward lame excuses for betraying her husband. The only inspiring character is Jimmy, the younger son of Dancer. I was expecting that end would reveal all the truths to the estranged son, Clayton but that too didn’t happen. I was disappointed with this book.

 

 The Family History Fun Factor: How to Gather and Preserve Family Folklore by Marcha A. Fox is an excellent guide to preserve family history. It offers many ideas about collecting the experiences of family members so that they remain alive for posterity. Most of the people never think about recording the cherished moments and memories. I don’t have a single picture of my childhood. I have no idea what my grandpa looked like. Some hazy memories of what my grandma told me about her life come to my mind when I think of my family folklore. My mom has no memories of her parents as they died when she was too young and had to face troubled times of partition of her country.

I have always wished to know more about my family. Marcha inspires that instinct and emphasizes the need to gather and preserve family folklore. She tells us that whether it is cooking methods, family celebrations, festivals, transportation or how children spent their day – the next generation would be charmed by it. Technology may have made our lives easier yet family’s little activities, which seem insignificant to us, could be interesting if they are recorded. When an I-pad generation is told that we started our writing lessons on wooden slates that had to be washed and plastered everyday and a wooden pen and inkpot was required for writing, they look at me with disbelief and awe!

I am glad I stumbled across this book. I would like to recommend it to everybody. Thank you for the inspiration Marcha. Family folklore is precious and worth making the efforts to preserve it.

Caste Metal by Fiza Pathan is a heart-wrenching story of an innocent “untouchable” boy who wanted to learn. Education and schooling was taboo for him, as he was born to the lowest class. Is education a sin? Did Cacchar choose the home he was born in? How was his family responsible for his passion? These are some of the questions that Fiza seems to throw at the so-called religious heads who sit in judgment to show their supremacy. What follows is unimaginable and brutal. It is ironic that these “untouchables” could be touched for their lascivious desires. This short story makes a bold statement against society that divided people on the basis of caste.

Though the story is set in 1877 but the plight of lower class remains pathetic despite stringent laws against all those atrocities, which were heaped upon “untouchables.”

 

Red Eyes in the Darkness by D.L. Finn is a page-turner, a petrifying story of a killer who escapes the net of suspicion and shifts the blame to Cass and Will. I liked Finn’s style of building up fright with each word; it is interesting how she carries forward the story to make it more gripping and capture reader’s heart…mine beat faster with each sound that Cass could hear. How she reveals the identity of the killer is incredible!

This is not just the story of innocents being harassed by a person who slowly states his reasons; it is also the tale of self-belief, of determination, of faith in the unknown power that inspires and guides. I couldn’t put it down and devoured it within an hour. Highly recommended!

 

“Caged” by Paul Falk is set in future (2132) and raises an important issue of prison reforms, which have never received any serious attention. Focusing on the rehabilitation of inmates, warden Jack Toback, an ardent supporter of much awaited change, jumps at the position he was offered by the Governor of California to run the new Droid facility in Southern California.

While reading about his training and the implementation of reforms, I wondered why this book was entitled ‘Caged,’ as the story focuses on freedom from interaction with hardened criminals who drag their cellmates into the world of crime but the warden wants to return better individuals to society. As the story turns murky, the reality dawns who is actually caged! A fast-paced plot, it did throw up some questions: Will humanoids be accepted? Is mankind ready for drastic changes? An eye-opener, this book makes a subtle comment on human instincts and behavior, which have remained unchanged despite galloping technological changes luring us to work toward the betterment of those who remain skeptical.

Falk’s characters stand out and remain as humane as ever even in twenty second century. Self-belief, commitment to work and success remain as valuable as ever. Love has not lost its sheen. Hope remains alive and mentors goodness despite dark clouds hovering around humanity. I enjoyed reading this book. Highly recommended!

 

Lost and Found by Maretha Botha is a heart-breaking story of two sisters. This is a powerful comment on people who are driven by self-interests. Family ties are our lifelines; they have to be nurtured carefully and if they fall apart, the world around us is shattered. Miranda doesn’t seem to understand or respect relationships. Blinded by jealousy and craving to acquire all, she tries to flirt with Jonah, her brother-in-law to be. The consequences are too serious to be handled! Did Marisa, the bride-to-be find her sister’s treachery? Did she forgive her? You must read it to know how insensitive people behave.

 

Assaie’s Gift by D.E. Howard holds a child-like charm, as it transports you into the world of fairy-tale romance. It is reminiscent of grandma tales that seemed so authentic once upon a time. Assaie’s gift fills Kia’s life with an unexpected elation. The story swings between Assaie’s love and Kia’s life that seems to be perfect. A likeable story with some shocking revelations that would keep you hooked till the end.

Howard knows how to create perfect characters – most of them with positive vibes that reach the reader. Assaie comes in for a short while but her presence could be felt through out the book. Such is the mastery of D.E. in character crafting! She could enter into the mind of a teenager to bring out her emotions but doesn’t waste a single word in dwelling on unnecessary details. I enjoyed this book. However, it needs an astute editor to eliminate some spelling errors.

 

Academic Curveball (Braxton Campus Mysteries #1) by James J. Cudney is a murder mystery but moves at a leisurely pace, as there are six or seven persons who fall in the net of suspicion. Investigations just begin when another person is killed on the campus. Kellan Ayrwick tries to put the pieces of the puzzle together though the Sheriff rebuffs his interference each time he tries to share some information. James has handled the plot so well that no clues could ever reveal the real murderer. Each suspect seems to have an alibi (an oft repeated word in the book.)

There is a striking shift in Cudney’s style in this book, as two of his earlier books dwell on darker aspects of life, without even a streak of light anywhere. Academic Curveball did start with strained relationships within Kellan’s family but it quickly hops on to a loving relationship he has with his Nana D, a vivacious, fun-loving lady who seems to know the whole town. It is Nana D who has made this murder mystery so charming and likeable. She keeps on adding her own insights along with the information she collects at her own level.

A long, drawn out investigation could have never concluded without the contribution of Kellan. Being an insider, he could discuss all the angles of the murders with Conner, his former friend who trusted him. He could have an informal talk with Jordan, Carla, Striker and even coach Oliver. Characterization in James’ novels is always crafted with sensitivity. Kellan’s tactful style of speaking and extracting information, his stoic acceptance of father’s reticence and his mother’s edging away from real issues – all add an appealing touch to the story.

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Vasilisa the Terrible by April A. Taylor won my heart with a superb rendition of an old tale of Baba Yaga. I couldn’t put it down, my eyes widened with each page click and my heart missed a beat with each evil act of Vasilisa whose allure is bewitching but manipulations are irrefutable. Taylor has handled her devilish character deftly, shifting all the compassion to Baba Yaga.

The style of writing, the rich prose and fast pace of this story makes it an enthralling experience of revisiting the world of fairy tales. It also makes a subtle comment at societal judgments and expectations, very less of which has changed since those times when spinsters were looked down upon and blamed for all horrid happenings. Highly recommended.

 

Micro Fiction by Robin Leigh Morgan is a quick read. Each micro story is developed from a single word and some of them are good. I was really put off by shoddy editing, grammatical, structural and punctuation errors. I have highlighted many but must mention this one from “What a Sweet Way to Go:”

“Alas now that we’ve been have become adults our love is still there, however there’s a price now if we believe we can still eat as much as…”

Here is another excerpt from “The World of Coincidences:”

“The shock he got seeing Jessica’s face is nothing compared to what happen when Jessica told him the handed written envelope he held in his hand had been addressed by her former fiancé…”

Most of the stories have a sentence or two that cry for attention! I wonder how this book got so many five star reviews!

 

 The Master and the Maid by Laura Libricz is not just the story of a young woman who was trapped in the web of circumstances, but also highlights the plight of women in Germany in the seventeenth century and their struggle to live a decent life.

Two plots run parallel to each other and both the stories revolve around women – one who has been brutally murdered and the other who is entrusted with the responsibility of looking after a newborn child. It also underlines the role of religion, which was the breeding ground for abuse and exploitation. The pace of this book is very slow and didn’t inspire me to finish it faster. I chose to read it at leisure and could only read a few pages each night, as it lulled me to sleep quickly.

Characters are crafted so well that Katrina would win your heart, with her perseverance and resilient nature. Herr Tucker’s kindness stands out whereas Willie’s selfishness and Ralf’s sly and shrewd tricks make them the most detested men in this well-narrated historical fiction.

A good book banks on convincing characterization and a plausible plot and Laura has successfully created both, only making it too long. Despite its heaviness, I didn’t feel like dropping it as it picks up speed at places and reveals some interesting facts about the bygone era. Historical fiction is usually heavy and I am glad I could finish it.

 

I don’t know why I stumbled across The Perilous Thirst. It is not my genre but I challenged myself to read it and was instantly taken in by the unique style of Rhani, her quick building up of an inimitable aura by entering into the mind of a blood sucking character, without even telling any name. She makes a mark on the reader with this short story. I liked the rich language that is used to convey the yearning for love despite the threatening demon of HIV. It is a riveting tale that has been told elegantly. Recommended!

 

‘The Newspaper Chronicles’ by Shirley Harris– Slaughter tells the story of racial discrimination in the 70s and 80s, without putting any real emotion into it. This story begins abruptly saying: Fourteen years later… I kept waiting for those fourteen years, which seem to have passed, I thought the author would come back to tell us more about them, probably something that would be revealed when the reference comes but she doesn’t say much about those years.

The book is just an outline of a lifetime experience that cries out for elaboration. Leslie’s life was quite eventful, with ups and downs but the story focuses more on one aspect – her ill treatment at work places. Other events have been compressed to unimaginable proportions – no details about her failed marriage, how she managed with a little child and no work, why couldn’t she marry Randy, how Cameron came into her life and was accepted by her child. Characters fall face down as they are at the mercy of Shirley. Even Randy, who loved her deeply gets a few words mention. I couldn’t connect with any one of them.

The story raises a relevant question though. It looks the reader in the eye and asks how much of discrimination has been rooted out and that is where it wins my admiration.

 

‘The Choice: the Unexpected Heroes’ has everything – a far-fetched plot, a positive attitude, likeable characters, trustworthy friends with romance thrown in to lighten the tone of nerve-racking investigation but I am bewildered at the trust that Admiral Parker places in a strange woman, a civilian whom he happens to meet at a coffee bar and invites her to the Begert Airforce Base – a high security zone, just because she claims to be Sarah’s friend! Gwen’s optimism is laudable and she could hook the readers right from the beginning!

Plano’s style of writing is most terse, which suits the kind of story she is handling and the editing is incisive enough to move ahead fast yet it tires at places. Nothing worthwhile is accomplished. All revelations fall flat. I found this book quite heavy as it demanded too much attention and couldn’t be read at bedtime. It is a frightening and implausible drama of international intrigue being battled by a team of investigators, most of which takes place in the conference rooms or quarters of officers. Characterization is well drawn out and interwoven with some intense connections but the wow factor of a thriller is missing.

Ending is another incongruous surprise and I felt like saying: really? The unexpected heroes have a lot to share, probably in the next book.

 

There are very few books that stay in my thoughts long after I have read the last page. True Places by Sonja Yoerg is one such book, as it transports you to places that exude love for nature and dispel the myth that material comfort is greater than pursuing your dreams, which might have been forgotten in the maze of life’s compulsions. Though the story lacks coherence at places, as various issues spill out but nature and relationships blend beautifully to highlight the importance of both.

In a most unpredictable plot, Iris represents nature and Suzanne could feel the natural pull that she shared with the girl – a stranger yet dearer than her own family, probably because she had suppressed her real self that was struggling to break free. The characters have been handled so well that I could feel the frustration of teenagers, the agony of a mother and the pretense of an irresponsible father. How they learn from their experiences is admirable and that adds a special charm to this book.

Sonja seems to be an ardent lover of nature and it shimmers through her words. The mourning dove, the babble of stream, the flutter of the wind, the warble of bunting and many such sounds could be heard even by the reader. This book is like a waft of fresh air in the thriller dominated book world. If you would like to explore the connection between nature and man, you must read this book.

 

I wonder why this book is entitled ‘Thin Air,as the air was quite thick all the time either with killings or unsolved mysteries. A lot of smoking too affected the air! Prologue tries to grip your attention with a clueless cold-bloodied murder, which remains unsolved, with the story going round and round tirelessly. Lisa has tried her best to produce an entangled mess to keep the reader guessing but she digresses too often and that is what mars the thrill of this book. In a murder mystery, who would be interested in what the receptionist or a security manager was wearing? Such unnecessary details at a number of places are extremely distracting and slacken the pace of the story.

Lisa leaves nothing to the imagination of the reader. She wants to tell all! Two probes go on simultaneously but there seems to be no connection between the two though a perceptive reader would easily guess the tricks of trapping you for a longer time. Characterization is ineffective; as the characters lack the depth and fail to impress you; win your sympathy or love. Jessica’s tenacity doesn’t help her much in accomplishing her goal and she banks heavily on Conner, her emotions don’t surface at all even when she visits the murder house. Pryce doesn’t even stir a sentiment.

This book has the potential to electrify with its amazing plot but it needs an astute editor to make it a nail-biting thriller.

 

 Whatever It Takes by S. Burke is a riveting page-turner, with a perfect plot that unfolds at a steady pace, never letting you bat an eyelid. It kept me awake past midnight till my eyes protested! Unpredictable moves even of supporting characters elevate this story to an extraordinary level. Superbly edited, not a single word has been wasted to drag on though some curse words could have been avoided.

To begin with, Andy didn’t seem as promising as she proves to be – meticulous, disciplined, composed and sane. Her intuition shines through the investigation that she undertakes to dig the ugly truth that James’ eye couldn’t catch. Burke pays a special attention to her female characters, endowing them with admirable qualities. James doesn’t even stand a chance of earning that much respect from his readers that he rides on in Hollywood, as he could be easily manipulated by his personal secretary.

If you like fast-paced thrillers, if you venerate a terrific style of writing, you would love this book.

 

 Detached by Wendy Weiss is listed as a thriller but it is also a poignant account of parents who are struggling to come to terms with their life, which revolves around Hanna, their only child, battling with cancer. The title of the book seems to be a misnomer in the beginning as it starts with the kidnappers and their curse words, interspersed with threats. I often wonder why authors ruin a good book with curse words!

 Detachment is torturous, especially from your own ailing child and Dr. Jason is prepared to cross all the boundaries to save his only daughter. The plot darkens with serious consequences and is handled well by Wendy. She has crafted realistic characters, with streaks of inner goodness; even Dr. Jason is guided by intense love for his daughter. His efforts are heart-breaking but shocking. Donna Smith’s endurance and resilience shines through out the book.

This is not a real page-turner but an interesting novel that could have become excellent with astute editing.

 

Race into Murder by Karen Black is a tale of horse rearing and racing with jealousies and intrigues thrown in to keep you guessing who is actually the good guy amongst the horse trainers and owners. I thought it would be a thriller but the story slacks at places to whet your interest and introduces another angle to keep you guessing – a clever technique! The editing didn’t impress me, as such stories need incisive pruning.

Karen’s characterization is remarkable, as she succeeds in crafting a perfect horse lover and an equally dedicated jockey. Natalie wins your heart with her non-negotiable love for Fury even at the cost of getting alienated from her husband. Sarah is another charming character who knows how to stand by her friends in the event of crisis. A well-knit group of persons who are ready to help each other yet there is one who seems a black sheep. Who is that keeps you hooked!

Black keeps the real jolt for the last moment! An open-ended finish might lead her to a sequel, as Caleb has a lot to tell.

 

Strange Hwy: Short Stories by Beem Weeks take you on the highway of life, where he introduces you to several characters. All have been meticulously crafted to suggest how life handles each one differently. Guilt consumes some, addiction holds another to ransom while a few grapple with diseases. None of them brood or wallow in self-pity, as they know how to steer through the stormy waters of life. A quick read, variety is the hallmark of this collection.

Beem’s style of writing is inimitable, detached and different, as he writes objectively, without dragging the reader into the sea of emotions, without harping on sensitive issues but he makes it a point to highlight his point in a subtle manner. Some stories would stay with you forever and help you understand people. ‘When We Were Kids’ and ‘Dodging the Bullet’ tug at your heart, a combination of memories and guilt flow through both of them. ‘Songs of the Lost’ unfolds tenderly but stuns you with the twist it takes. Some stories leave you wanting for more.

 

This book attracted my attention due to its name and backdrop. I picked it up with the hope that it would offer some historical knowledge from a different angle but ‘In the Shade of the Shamiana’ by James Sinclair is the story of an Anglo-Indian family that lived in Panchpani and there are hardly any historical facts except short reference to Indian independence and riots that followed in Calcutta. The slow moving plot focuses on Jamie, his friends and the schools he had to change. The story picks up a little pace after 60 pages and mentions too much of rubbish boy talk. I usually drop such a book but my love for India kept me going.

There are too many words of the local language and many of them have been spelt incorrectly. Only the one who knows Hindi language would be able to understand them though a glossary of words at the end of the book translates them but in a kindle edition they are difficult to approach each time you come across a word. Some colloquial words are outrageous! The story dwells on so many unnecessary details but ends abruptly within few pages, as the British had to wrap up their “shamiana” – a metaphor used for the canopy of their colonial rule in India.

 

The Reclusive Writer & Reader of Bandra by Fiza Pathan is an anthology of autobiographical essays that bring out author’s agony as well as passion but both the emotions blend so well in this book that you wonder whether one leads her to another. A girl child, who could hardly understand why she was shunned and abandoned by her father and his family, grew up with indelible scars on her psyche. It is ironic that those who believed in Jesus and his goodness could mock at this fatherless child who wondered why she was held responsible for living with a single mother.

Fiza converted her pain into passion for reading, books became her soul mates and libraries and bookshops her favorite retreats. It is her simple and honest style of writing that would keep you engrossed. There is an undercurrent of ache that is conspicuous when she shares her ecstasy of buying, reading, writing and publishing books. Even her love for life has been diluted into books and she finds delight in being a loner, with a bag full of books and a heart brimming with “printer’s black ink,” – a symbol that speaks volumes about her emotional wellbeing.

She is either unique or odd. She writes from the heart but doesn’t reveal all. She is still hurting but takes pride in her obsession with books. This book is more than just the story of one person’s life, as it makes a subtle comment on Indian society, religion and the values, which they live for.

 

Vanished by Mark Bierman promises to be an action-packed drama right from the first chapter and it adheres to that technique till the end. It brings out the heartbreaking realities of human apathy and cruelty toward their own people. Dwelling on miniscule details of each scene, the story of this book moves slowly, as it thrives on incidents, each one dramatically presented to produce the effect. Most of the characters take a back seat and watch the action.

The plot thickens as Mark drags you along into the darkest alleys of crime, conflict, violence and slavery. Tyler and John step into this murky world willingly, without anticipating the dangers lurking at each step. Will they survive is the thought that reverberates around you! Is it worth the risk? Mark’s style of writing is objective and unemotional, even emotional issues have been handled dispassionately as the editing is too terse. The ending is lengthy, quite unbelievable and drawn out. Though the book highlights an important issue but it focuses more on making the scenes gripping, more appropriate for a movie script. If you are looking for a story that would keep you on tenterhooks, this book is for you.

 

Flowers and Stone by Jan Sikes is a passionate love story that raises some questions. Since this is a true love story, I was all the time thinking how naïve young lovers are, why their decisions are capricious and why can’t they see reason. Love is said to be blind and if this is true, no story can ever illustrate it better than this one. I wonder how could Darlina continue to love a person who didn’t confide his dark secrets to her? I couldn’t relate with either of the protagonists, Darlina is too emotional and immature and Luke, a married man with children seems to be a womanizer.

The plot moves slowly as it revolves around two lovers and their world of music and nightlife but the good part is that it is unpredictable. It is Sikes’ simple and honest style of writing that would keep you engrossed. Having said that, I must mention that it is repetitive; uses too many curse words and doesn’t tell anything about the most crucial part of the story. Evidence details are missing and the ending is too abrupt. I closed this book, longing for more. Probably the next book contains the answers.

 

Initiation (A Harem Boy Saga #1) by Young

I have always avoided erotica but this book is more than that, as it reveals the illegal activities of the filthy-rich and the powerful people who were in cahoots with the school authorities and could manipulate them to groom and procure young, innocent boys for their carnal pleasures. Initiation (A Harem Boy Saga #1) by Young tells the true story of a boy who was sent to a boarding school in U.K. by his parents but who was initiated into an “exclusive private club” under oath of confidentially and a pledge of allegiance that he wouldn’t reveal his new life to anyone (even to his family). He was transported to a secret place in the name of “cultural exchanges.”

Upbringing definitely shapes, as children are like clay that can be molded the way the mentors want and teenagers are most vulnerable, eager to learn and experience the ultimate. “It was not a road for the faint of heart”, says Young, a subtle hint that there must have been gloomy moments but he has mentioned only the positive aspects of his adolescent years that he spent in Arabian harems. Probably he was too young to understand that it is not “a privilege” to experience three way liaison and to gather knowledge about carnal desires. It is ironic that the topic of poetry reading contest at Sahara festival of Douz was “Our Youth and the Inculcation of National Values”!

Calling pornography artistic and “sacred sex,” trying to convince a 13 year old boy to model for nude shoots in erotic poses, by calling him spontaneous and passionate, pushing young boys into camel racing without their consent, blindfolding them whenever they were taken from one place to another is outrageous. This book is hauntingly disturbing, as the honest details raise many questions about the hypocrisy of humanity, it is an eye-opener that even those who claim to build the future of a child by providing quality education through so called elite schools could be deviating from their path. If you are unaware of such clandestine connivance, you must read this book.

 

Stranger Paths: The Magic in the Madness Poetry Collection by R.J. Zarkani speaks eloquently about war-torn Iraq and the eternal emotional bruises that a little girl carried within her, wondering why her father told her to get inside when she wanted to see the “fireworks making a day out of night,” – a child’s perspective about war.

All the pearls in this book belong to the same string that broke and scattered. Zarkani’s yearning to meet the child who “swallowed the smoke” and got lost in the explosions didn’t wane years after she migrated to an alien land, in search of peace and freedom. Roots pull her; the stars and the clouds appear familiar but there is a strange disconnect that seems inexplicable, as she was told “you don’t look like a terrorist!”

Superb imagery that R.J. uses blends in her reflections about “creatures crawled out of her book,” a book that calls her, visions that haunt her, images of the past linger, fairies that lived on her kitchen sink still sing; memories stand before her, trying to sweep her away into the world she still loves…’shoes filled with mud’ seem dearer…’rain in the desert’ – a childhood memory returns as Raghad writes the poignant story of the moments she treasures.

 

Spirit of the Book by D.E. Howard attracted me because of its name and I wanted to know how could a book have a spirit. I didn’t read any of its reviews and I am glad I picked it! I devoured this book in two sittings; I was spellbound by the skill of Howard who could conjure up so many details about creating magic and hold your attention, as if the spell of the book worked even on you! I don’t believe in magic but this book mesmerized my thoughts.

A fantasy with a realistic touch at places, this story has another aspect that the author wants to highlight – growing out of darkness is a journey that can be accomplished; self-confidence and potential lies dormant till it is stirred. The way Ellie lifts herself from the abyss of obscurity and grows into a determined young lady who could take her own decisions is remarkable. “Spirit” of the book too has a character that acquaints Ellie with her real self.

Human relationships form the basis of this magical tale that is riveting and entrancing. The style of Howard may not match the modern fast-paced novels but that doesn’t affect the flow of the story, which is enjoyable and ennobling.

 

Davida: Model and Mistress of Augustus Saint – Gaudens by Karen Ingalls is the story of unconditional love, written with extreme sensitivity, as it is also the story of author’s great grandmother – Albertina who was hired as a model by a sculptor. I penned down the following verses while reading this book:
Drifting into dreams of forbidden love,
Intoxicated by the jaunt of innocence,
Forgetting self to live within moments,
Hiding behind the mist of circumstances,
She flew on the clouds of ignominy.

Love for a married man or was it infatuation that Albertina couldn’t escape? Since this is a fictionalized account of their lives, nobody knows what were the real circumstances. Gus gives a new name to his model, admires her beauty so much that she accepts whatever time he offers to her, confessing his inability to divorce his wife, even after she gives birth to a son, out of wedlock! Those were the times when the rich and the mighty had many illicit affairs and Augustus Saint – Gaudens, a renowned sculptor was no exception. But Albertina refuses to be rational and takes pride in dancing to his tunes!

Karen handles the story delicately by incorporating Albertina’s love for nature and fairies that guided her. Her determination to face her family and society despite her doubts, her guilt and her helplessness has been portrayed poignantly. Her efforts to find solace in the forest and the message she got from her fairies “Davida, follow your heart” bring out her internal struggle but she emerges stronger and resilient. It is Louis, her son who steals your heart in the end though his emotions have not been given much space in this book.

 

  Just Her Poetry: Seasons of a Soul by D.l.Finn lays bare the beauty of Spring, which is welcomed by her in the company of her furry friends who gather around her to rejoice in the bliss of blooming trees and gentle breeze. With a touch of realism, her nature verses invite you to recline on a chair, forget all fears, listen to the sounds of birds, feel the love and rejuvenate your soul. Finn meets the bees, the butterflies, the dragonflies and hummingbirds with a child-like charm and records her reflections so well that I got transported to her garden to hear those songs of bees.

Finn’s poetry is like soaking in the splendor of music, each note original and fresh; each emotion spontaneous and convincing. I could relate to her bike rides, which took me down the memory lane, reliving moments of my own delight with each ride, ‘flying through the landscape’ on her Harley, she took me across mountains and rivers, ‘majestically crossing the mighty Yuba river,’ as if life is just an idyllic journey.

She does come back to the coarser realities of life, talks about anguish and worry but inspires you to dismiss them by cleaning the closet of your mind. Her poems stem more from observation than imagination, some of them seem to relate stories.

These poems would mesmerize you, make you appreciate nature, inspire you to have a closer look at the beauty around us and be happy with whatever life offers.

 

Vagaries of Life and: Girls’ Talk by Joy Lo – Bamijoko is a collection of short stories that focus on the vulnerability of women in a society, which looks down upon them and considers a single woman to be a sin in Nigeria. No woman could walk into a restaurant alone. A smile is interpreted as an invitation to bed. Even an educated woman, with a master’s degree could be humiliated and made to suffer by an insensitive and selfish husband.

However, Joy’s women know how to stand up against men who dominate and subjugate them. Helen, with her presence of mind, Florence with her fortitude, Liz with her determination and Mercy with her bold court case against her ex-husband prove that they possess the power to fight. Ayo knows that they should never let their spirit be dampened and “the secret is to hit back.” All these characters infuse a ray of hope and light.

This book could inspire all those women who live with domestic abuse for fear of facing the oppressive unwritten rules of some societies. I liked the style of handling some serious themes in simple language, without much drama or emotion.

 

Memoir of a Mad Woman by Vashti Quiroz Vega is an aggressive and intrepid comment on parenting and childcare, which goes a long way in molding children into responsible individuals. Even orphanages should have a responsibility to foster care with assiduity.

This is a horrific, dark and gripping tale, told from the point of view of a teenager who doesn’t know how to react to the brutalities around her. Emma, who grows up without any love or affection is betrayed at each step of her life, even by her only friend.

Vashti could enter the mind of the protagonist to articulate her agonies so well that it would wrench out your heart. It is so fast paced that I couldn’t put it down till I had finished it. I was shocked at the sordid details of Emma’s distressing life. A difficult story that I couldn’t forget to analyze for many days.

 

‘If Only There Was Music…’ The Poetry of Forbidden Love by Nonnie Jules and Giani Jordan lays bare the hearts of two lovers who know their passion would forever be embedded in their words yet they find the courage to sing about it. The yearning, the ache, the unquenched thirst of long distance relationship unfolds slowly but reaches its crescendo with ‘Her Eyes,’ and ‘Love is Pain’…a reminder that forbidden love scalds with fear and guilt.

A quick read, repetitive at times; the poems in this book arouse a feeling of awe for those lovers who consider love as ‘music to soul.’ Each poem validates the power of love, which is invincible despite the constraints of society and law. Most of the poems are written in blank verse but they flow spontaneously and touch a special cord of your heart. ‘My Addiction’ clearly states what forbidden love is like. This book is for all lovers – an epic of love.

 

‘You Can’t Force Love’ by Marie Drake is a stunning tale of selfish and self-centered people who fail to see beyond their own interests and don’t even know how much damage they cause to the psyche of their own children. It is heart wrenching to see the growth of Jordan and Kimberly, trying to deal with their indelible emotional scars, which they try to hide even from their own selves.

This book is fast-paced but slacks at places, especially toward the ending. I liked its superb handing of characters, so true to life and its incisive editing evokes admiration. Drake’s intense insights of human perceptions stand out as you try to analyze her characterization. She could enter into the mind of the teenagers who are trying to fight their demons. Jordan’s guilt gives him sleepless nights; Ray’s face haunts him through the flames but his yearning for mother’s love never ceases. Kimberly whimpers in sleep, “I’ll be good; I’ll be good.”

A story of love and hatred, intermingled with subtle messages for all who wish to delve deep into human relationships, this book won my heart despite a distressing plot and an unexpected ending.

Survival of the Fittest by Jacqui Murray records the imaginative history of tribes of those times, (850,000 years ago) about which there is no conclusive evidence. So the arena is open for writers to explore and Jacqui has made a brilliant effort. While Born in Treacherous Times by her was my introduction to pre-historic times, this story is more intense, as it brings out the conflict between tribes trying to establish their supremacy.

Xhosa and her people seem no different than human beings of today. They were competitive, observant, strong and ferocious. They were eager to learn from each other, from friendly tribes, even from the strategies of an opponent. It is interesting to note that basic emotions of responsibility, co-operation, loyalty and jealousy stand out amongst all tribes. Though Jacqui has given them words but I wonder what was their language and how much of it they knew!

Murray’s characters are crafted so well that a reader could predict their behavior. Xhosa and Pan-do shine while Nightshade possesses some streaks of wickedness and jealousy. Lyta is sensitive, appreciated the sounds of nature, walking in rhythm with sounds soothed her and seems to possess a divine power, as she had the ability to smell evil and dishonesty, a subtle hint that human instincts were well-developed even in early man. Do they find a homeland? When did they find peace, which remains elusive even to modern man.

If you are fond of challenging adventures, this is the book for you.

 

The Alternative by Suzanne Burke is a collection of chilling short stories that make you ponder about those segments of society, which are often neglected or brushed aside with indifference. Burke visits those dark alleys to reveal their truth and comes out with élan. Her stories suggest that there is always an alternative, it may seem unacceptable to the norms of the society but such a solution or justice is required for persons like Picasso, Ben or Frank.

I shuddered at the brilliance of Picasso and the alternative judgment that he received. The story of Deke (Human Disinterest) brought tears in my eyes and the light at the end of this gem glowed through my heart, bringing solace. The confidence and far-sightedness of Sam captivated my attention but the mother who covers up the sins of her son stunned me, leaving me with the question…is it imagination or do such characters dwell within us?

The symbolism embedded in the cover is superbly carried out through out the book. I usually drop dark fiction, as it gives me nightmares but these stories are handled with utmost care. They appeal to human emotions without dragging them into macabre details. Some curse words did trouble me but on the whole this is an extremely readable book, with diverse themes.

 

Here the Truth Lies by Seb Kirby is an engrossing page-turner, a superbly crafted book with a brilliant and unpredictable plot that unfolds without any irrelevant details. Never have I read a book faster than this one, without looking at the time and into midnight.

When I stumbled across this book, I didn’t know anything about it. Even the blurb doesn’t reveal much, just the word psychological must have lured me but you read the prologue and you would be hooked till you devour it within hours! You wouldn’t come across a single moment, a single word that could be called extraneous. So crisp is the style of Kirby! Each chapter more interesting, each detail shocking yet believable. Such stories often degenerate into darkness to give them a macabre touch but Seb handles it so deftly that he wins my admiration.

How sub plots merge into the main story is remarkable. The way the characters evolve to get acquainted with their truth is noteworthy and the style of narration is compelling. I would highly recommend this book.

 

The magical aura that ‘The Lost Spell’ creates with a clever play of words and alliteration at places is enrapturing and this tale comes to life in an astounding manner. Eging creates a spell on the readers with such expressions: “giggled and clapped when fire crackled from the mage’s fingertips, “pitter patter of rain that dribbled through the forest.” There are many more!

I like how Eging’s amusing style changes into a serious tone as the story progresses and how the stolen spell unfolds itself. Both the elf and the knight would win your heart. Highly recommended!

 

‘The Altar Boy’ by Phil Stephens holds a child-like charm in the initial pages, as Carl talks about his impressionable years of growing up in a home that lacked warmth and cordiality. Phil has brilliantly concealed the emotional upheavals under the anecdotes that unfold the story of Carl Sanders, an enthusiastic Altar boy who is disillusioned by the pretense of those involved in upholding the values of the church.

I liked the sincerity with which this memoir has been written, leaving much to the imagination of the reader. However, the fears of Carl lend a lot of realism to his story. Keeping criticism at bay, Stephens lets the narrative flow in the most natural manner, as the characters adjust to their circumstances without much ado. This book delves into the history of 60’s and gives profound insights into the power that the priests of those time wielded to help each other. 

41TYVhHDryL._SR133,200_

Journey to the Rainbow’s End: A Drag Queen’s Odyssey by Forrest Stepnowski is a brilliant anthology of blank verse and a short story that dwells on the hope of being accepted the way one is… “To be my own star.” It gives voice to all those persons of LGBTQ community, who slip into the abyss of self-loathing because of orthodox, judgmental society that spews hatred against them, declaring them “gay,” “immoral” and “abnormal.”

Each poem in this collection makes a poignant appeal to the society to understand the pain and ridicule that they have to undergo because of the apathetic attitude of the people around them, who push them into the closet, compelling them to face “The silent horror of being” and are forced to snub “the darkest secrets” but who crave for love to lead a normal life.

This is a distressing journey of emotional upheavals, a clarion call to find their own voice and light by breaking free from the shackles that threaten to suffocate them, by accepting that strength lies within. This book must be read by everybody as it contains profound words for those who look down upon other human beings.

41Vf0r9yDYL._AC_US218_The Road Beyond Ruin by Gemma Liviero is painfully slow, disconnected and confusing, as it moves back and forth in time and leaves loopholes to keep some information secret. The pleasure of reading is snatched from the reader when most of the incidents are left hanging. This could have been a brilliant novel if the plot had been professionally handled and astutely edited. Some parts of the book shine despite inept editing but on the whole, with disorderly ending, this book failed to impress me.

None of the characters develop during the meandering incidents, which break off suddenly; they don’t know what they want, just like the author doesn’t seem to know! War is just a backdrop to win some sympathy for those involved in it but none of them evoke any emotions. I would never recommend this book to anyone.

51z8gd6BL6L._SR133,200_Night Owl Poetry by Dorinda Duclos is an anthology of poems that begins with an intense symbol of Cocoon, which sheathes the internal beauty, yearning to break free. Slowly it wades into deeper waters of life, trying to figure out its real meaning and exhorting you to believe in yourself to understand the ‘jigsaw of life.’ The paradox of fleeting moments yet time standing still, past that lingers around us despite the beckoning light, A broken heart and yearning for brighter paths – all comes alive in these pages that glow with signature style of a brilliant poet.

Symbolism is the forte of Dorinda, as the night owl is an image for the poet who can’t sleep without completing her rendezvous with the wonderful words she pours into her musings. Whether she pays homage to soldiers or empathizes with ‘The Bag Lady,’ Duclos handles each theme perceptively. Once again love for nature shines through her poetry despite various issues that inspire her. This is a perfect book for poetry lovers.

51rkz4OtiUL._AC_US218_The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen delves into the secrets of Hugo, a British bomber pilot and Sofia Bartoli, an Italian woman who saves the life of a seriously wounded soldier by providing him food and affection. An interesting plot, with the backdrop of World War two but it unfolds slowly through the POV of Joanna, Hugo’s daughter and Hugo who tries to survive in an alien country despite a nasty bullet wound in his leg.

The narrative shifts between two eras, exploring the past as well as the present, seeking connection between the events. The way this plot has been handled is entirely different from the usual mysteries and keeps you hooked. Some details may seem jarring but the book holds your attention only for the time you are reading and you may feel no urgency of completing it faster than the pace you enjoy.

The characters are well drawn and Joanna appears to be the most momentous one, braving all the challenges, personal as well as those connected with her father’s legacy. The Tuscan child does appear in San Salvatore and all the mysteries get solved but the story still belongs to Joanna. I liked this book, as it didn’t put any pressure on me to read faster, to skip pages to know what happens next or create a feeling of disgust at any event. It is a nice blend of tragedy, misfortune, pleasure and reconciliation.

41qs+4hXexL._SR125,200_Dead Dry Heart by Tony Pike makes an interesting inroad into human mind but the story seems to be confused, probably in her enthusiasm to add too many twists, Pike ignores the realistic angle and incorporates some incredible details, which make the book dramatic. Quite readable and interesting as it could hold my attention from page one.

Characterization is handled in a superficial manner as Pike focuses more on the fast-paced plot. Tyler Thompson could forget his unpleasant childhood the moment he is adopted by a kind family and moves on with his life till Joshua returns with his selfish plans. It is difficult to understand his vengeance when the story ends.

51qDZchvkRL._AC_US218_Eclipse Lake by Mae Clair holds all the usual elements of a mystery – an unsolved murder, a suspect who seems to hide the darkest secrets, a villain and horrendous memories. But besides mystery, this book says much more. It focuses on relationships, which have always intrigued me. Clair has handled them deftly, pointing out glaring errors that parents make in raising a child and expect him to be perfect.

Dane was one such son who couldn’t get enough affection and the right attention from either of his parents and even his older brother Jonah, who tried to handle a delinquent adolescent failed miserably. No wonder brothers can never replace parents unless they learn to love unconditionally! Dane returns to his hometown to expunge the ghosts of his past but gets mired deeper into it.

His brother cold shoulders him, Jesse is indignant that his dad had never shared his past and people of Onyx still eye him with suspicion. Clair handles the broken trust and emotions in an admirable manner, making a subtle comment on how well he had raised his son.

The sub plot of a fairy tale romance drags the story a little just like comic relief in a Greek tragedy. Though Ellie contributes significantly to the development of the main plot but appears to be superfluous as she distracts the readers from the seriousness of the theme.

51h1UkHNvmL._SR125,200_‘Open a New Door’ by Kim Blades and Robbie Cheadle is a collection of poems, inspired from life in Africa and people who make it good, bad or ugly. All aspects are portrayed in a plausible manner.

Both Kim and Robbie have a similar style of writing blank verse, some of the themes too are identical. Realism is the hallmark of their poetry, as they talk about life and people in clear words; imagination takes a back seat. Deeply moved by poverty around her, Robbie has highlighted it in many poems. If ‘The Boys under the Bridge’ brings out the plight of the homeless youth, The Silver Lining underlines the uplifting spirits of a youngster carrying a load of recyclables with abandon, The Beggar’s Child mocks at the apathy of the passers-by but ‘The Golden Light’ focuses on helping the underprivileged children of a school in a squatter camp with books – a wonder gift for them.

Kim seems to be an ardent animal lover because many of her poems celebrate wild life and give a vivid description of how a cheetah hunts its prey, how mother cheetah nurtures her cubs, how a lion lies on golden grass, even her Utopia mentions “stamping buffalo.” Iconic South African birds too catch her attention to inspire a poem. The opening lines of ‘Lessons Learned in a rural village’ seem to be inspired from William Blake’s poem ‘The Little Black Boy.’

Some of the poems are too personal and comment on how life unfolds, offering unforgettable memories, moments of exhilaration and dismay, travails of a working mother and insecurities of an empty nest but they all make life worth living. Heaviness of this book would linger around you even when you finish and put it away.

 Songs of Heartstrings: Poems of Gratitude and Beatitude by Miriam Hurdle begins with the healing power of Mother Nature, expressing gratitude for the boundless blessings she showers on us. The poet seems to revel in the glory of her garden, blooming flowers, pouring rain, sprouting seeds and hummingbirds, as she has written about each of them with passion.

Slowly she drifts into songs of dissonance that speak about tides of life, waves that threaten to drown but faith – the ultimate savior holds her firm, strengthens her self-confidence and endows her with the resilience to endure pain with grace. Songs of physical healing reiterate how much human body can withstand if mind focuses on hope. Darkness dispels with time and effort is the mute message that Miriam conveys through these songs.

Hurdle also shares her lovely moments of marriage and parenthood. ‘Rowing a Boat’ and ‘Candlelight’ glow with the brilliance of a loving relationship and Nostalgia captures her love for her parents. There are some poems, which would really touch the strings of your heart.

 

51LMpKY09BL._AC_US160_‘Twin Desires’ by Pamela Wight and Ashley Brandt lured me due to Pamela’s clandestine style of writing and I was not disappointed. The book is fast-paced albeit repetitive at places and could have been abridged a little, as nothing is left to the reader’s imagination. Despite that it holds your interest till the end. I read it faster than I thought because the moment I finished a chapter and wanted to put it down, I couldn’t! Such is the grip of Pamela’s style.

The plot unfolds slowly, revealing layers of Alex and his twin brother Blake, two well-developed characters, one inherits his father’s business empire and the other loses it. A conflict and loathing is natural in this kind of a story, which has been handled well by the authors. Add another character with a horrendous past and a perfect filmy style plot is crafted, with romance, retribution and planned assault.

Wight manages to enter into the minds of her characters to draw out their emotions and secrets effectively yet keeps some of them under wraps to reveal them at the appropriate time. This book could steal your sleep if you pick it up at bedtime. Highly recommended.

 

Passages and Paths: A Journey of Life by Dorinda Duclos is a brilliant collection of nature poetry, abstract and imaginative but connected with some realities of life, which the poet touches tacitly. Some paths of life pass through intimidating passages but the rays of sun dance on them to “create a shimmering view” and the “light that glows from yonder moon” mingles “into the light that shines within” the eyes.

Dorinda’s poetry is like gentle and intermittent rain, slowly seeping into the skin. Her words take you by the hand to step out and admire all the soothing moods of Mother Nature. Most of her poems would warm your heart as you hear the whispers of the stars; watch the morning dew gleaming on the grass; sing and swing with her, admiring her choice of words. Short and sweet, the lyrical excellence of her poems is noteworthy, leaving you spellbound.

A subtle suggestion of pain can be perceived in some poems but her splendid imagery shrouds it with “glowing light to warm the coldest winter skies.” Your love for poetry would double after reading these simple themes, which inspire more poetry. This book must be read by all poetry lovers.

51KDyAGVXWL._SR125,200_Son of the Serpent by Vashti Q Vega takes forward the story of the fallen Angel Lilith, whose wickedness makes this story murkier than the first book in the series. Dracul, the abandoned son of Lilith and Satan struggles to find his mother through out the book, torn apart by the basic question – why did his own mother leave him to die! The plot is crafted around the journey of Dracul who craves to be good despite streaks of Satan in him. His story is compelling and fast paced, with macabre details of his mother’s ghastly tales thrown in between. Some of the revelations are shocking!

It is a marvel how Vashti holds the interest of the reader with her crisp style of dwelling only on the relevant details, making them gruesome yet banking on Gadreel, the guiding Angel of goodness. Michael (from The Fall of Lilith) too appears to remind that each creature carries good and bad characteristics and it doesn’t matter “who your parents were or where you grew up. The choice lies with you.” You can choose to be good or wicked.

Though this book stands firm to convey the dark story of fallen angels and demons, I would recommend that it should be read after the first one. If you like dark fiction that is focused and fast-paced, this is the book for you. I have always avoided such fiction yet couldn’t resist this second book in the Fantasy Angel Series by Vashti.

 

Cloud Whispers by Sedona Hutton is a family saga of emotions, relationships and kindheartedness. I liked this book because it breathes positivity with each word and character. It is the poetry of life from the brighter side. It is like a lullaby that touches your heart and should be read at bedtime if you want to drift into a pleasant dream world. Not even for a moment does it drift into darkness even when Katie and Liam meet with a motorcycle accident, with serious repercussions.

A little far-fetched, with flawless characters whose unconditional love stands out, this book whispers a lovely message – self-belief is the key to all your dreams. If you believe that the clouds are tangible, if you are intuitive enough to float with them, you would enjoy reading this book.

 

Love the One You’re With by Emily Giffin disappoints, as it doesn’t offer anything. It has no story yet it drags on with inconsequential details about the characters who seem to be incredibly hollow. Ellen, the protagonist is the weakest of all, as she can’t resolve a single issue of her past and dilly-dallies between past and present, feels guilty yet takes all the wrong decisions. She wanted stability and commitment and when she gets it, she needs reminders that she has to settle down. A fickle minded fool, she keeps running back and forth to the point of irritating the reader. Leo and Andy don’t even make any impression, as they are indifferent and spineless.

The ending is predictable and if this was what Emily had planned for Ellen, then what was the point of dwelling on tiresome details?

‘The Golden Key’ by Cathleen Townsend begins with the magical hope that Dieter holds of finding his youngest son Karl who had been taken away by Kaiser’s army. War had claimed all his sons but with no information about Karl and despair threatening to take his wife Gerda too away, Dieter promises to go into the war zone and bring information about their son. A golden bird that he had unearthed with the help of a key he stumbled upon, guides him through out his long, hazardous journey.

The story poignantly brings out the futility of war, which unnecessarily creates a divide between loving and kind hearts, maims and kills the young and the old who clutch hope despite mayhem all around them.

This novelette is fast paced and riveting, with profound messages for humanity. Fantasy and reality merge into each other to describe the horrors of war and the golden key is a symbol of light that shimmers through out this story.

 

 Father Figure by James J. Cudney starts well and seems to be a gripping story in the beginning as it focuses on relationships and challenges that all youngsters have to face while growing up but the plot gets murkier as it moves ahead. It loses its plausibility with the negative elements thrown in like marbles as if life is one dark tunnel with no hope. All the misfortunes were reserved for Amelia and one streak of hope that shimmers at last too is wiped out! There is too much drama, which could have been better with a little positivity.

Characterization is so weak that I could neither sympathize with Amelia nor with her daughter who couldn’t see what all her mother had done for her. Emotional connection between the characters is fragile and shallow and therefore their problems couldn’t touch my heart. The book becomes irritating at places as it drags on too much to hide the secrets, which could be guessed. So many issues have been compressed into this book that it muddles them up with unnecessary description at places, leaving nothing for the imagination of the reader. A little disappointing for me but quite readable if you like dark fiction.

All We Ever Wanted’ by Emily Giffin brilliantly brings out the most significant issues of modern society – superficial relationships, parenting, behavioral problems, adolescent fun and racism that is taken so lightly by the immature youngsters.

A must read for all teens and young adults, the theme of this novel hovers around growing up through the most challenging years of life. This is hardly fiction as it deals with the real life situations every parent could face, every teenager could relate to. Fast paced and focused, Emily doesn’t digress even for a moment from the issues that she wants to highlight and her characters are perfectly crafted to fit in the story.

Nina loves her son Finch but refuses to accept his lies and disrespect for values that she wants to instill or probably didn’t emphasize them at the right time. If her eighteen-year-old son is insensitive to his girl friends and manipulates them, he could have been doing it for a long time, oblivious to her mother’s pride, with which she moves in her elite society, feeling a little doubtful whether her indulgence with riches has gone too far. If her husband has drifted away from her, the fact that she notices it only when crisis hits the family throws immense light on her negligence.

Giffin’s strength lies in creating strong female characters who know their worth and can take bold decisions. (Even Lyla rises to the occasion when the hour demands her to act.) She can get into their minds to portray the right emotions, hold the attention of readers to empathize with them and then follow the well-known, predictable path. I found this book engrossing, rewarding and thought provoking as it touches upon some fundamental questions that need to be pondered upon.

 

 ‘Mourning Dove’ by Claire Fullerton is a brilliant comment on mothers who happen to alienate themselves from their children despite their best efforts to connect and love. Posey was not an indifferent mother yet her children felt more attached to their alcoholic father who was abandoned by Posey.  I am not familiar with the Southern culture or the difference that seems to be well defined in the setting of this book but I could empathize with Millie and her brother Finley who were uprooted from the “bucolic comfort” of Minnesota at an impressionable age and planted in the unfamiliar surroundings of the sprawling house and affluent society of their mother, into which she slips most naturally and doesn’t care to be emotionally present in the lives of her children.

Mourning Dove doesn’t have a well-defined plot, it is more like a memoir, a study in relationships but Claire doesn’t delve deeper into the minds of her characters and therefore many questions remain unanswered. None of her characters open their heart and the reader eagerly waits for the moment when the turmoil would tumble out of them in the form of words. All of them seem to be too good at conquering their emotions. Millie admired her brother ardently, she begins the story with him and ends with him, revealing right in the beginning, on the second page of the novel, “Finley’s in heaven, and I don’t know why.” In reality, her love is hero-worship, as she always places her brother at a higher pedestal, looking up to him for support and guidance. She doesn’t know him, as he has never evinced any of his secrets with her. He believes he could handle his life without the love and support of his family and takes a catastrophic path, without telling anybody.

It is Fullerton’s style and coruscating language that entranced me more than the characters or their way of handing life. I savored this novel slowly, lingering on some pages and admiring how a well-written novel enriches our soul. Though the wrapping up was a little hasty but it is a book that reminded me of some old classics.

 

 Shattering Time by K.J. Waters is the second book, which continues time travel travails of Ronnie, who is tricked by her deceitful boyfriend, Jeffrey Brennan, as his experiments of time travel are more important than sincerity in a relationship. He refuses to agree that Ronnie has been going back in time and tells her that she must be dreaming! I would wait for that moment when this pretender gets exposed!

This book couldn’t match the breathtaking speed of story telling as the first one in the series. It starts slowly and gives a ray of hope that the investigations against Jeffrey would reveal something but takes the same course as the first one after meandering here and there. Ronnie seems to be naïve and weak and has not shown much development in the second book too. The events at the hospital are quite unbelievable, as nobody seems to notice what is going around them! The book ends without a proper conclusion, probably paving way for the third book. I look forward to justice for Ronnie.

 

 Phoku by Annette Rochelle is an exquisite tribute to Mother Nature and its various hues and moods that have been captured along with poet’s reflections about sun and seasons. It is amazing to note that she could hear the call of geese to share their fun and peace in their natural surroundings. Images of Spring and Fall inspire magnificent poetry and Annette’s haiku are brilliant. I have read this pictorial haiku book on my Kindle Cloud reader but a paperback must be fantastic to hold and read.

 

Where I’ll Find You by J.A. Owenby has all the elements of being a good book as it is fast paced, dwells on the right emotions and carries a fair amount of surprise and mystery. I wanted to like it but found it disappointing for two reasons. First – the language really put me off. The author uses swear words extensively; you would find them on each page! Only Kaisen seems to speak decently. I usually drop such a book but it has the potential to hold the attention.

Second, a fantastic story is ruined by a hasty and irrational ending. Even steamy sex scenes got more words than the most significant part of the plot. Sudden change of heart just within two pages and many more shocking incidents are resolved just within the last two chapters. I am giving it 3 stars just because of its plot and the way it unfolds.

 

510kqdlqnyL._SR138,200_Hearts Unbroken’ by Lisa Thomson is an anthology of short stories that tug at reader’s heart, as they talk about human emotions and relationships, some of them so fragile that they need a solo long drive to figure them out. Sarah’s marriage is a façade and she discovers it the day she decides to attend her family reunion without her husband who has no respect for her emotions and desires. He shrugs her off with an insensitive remark. No less poignant are the questions of Samantha who is too little to understand why her mommy is not coming home to tuck her in her bed.

Lisa excels in bringing out raw emotions without letting them melt into a melodrama. Her characters move on with their life despite heavy baggage of betrayal and internal strife. If Kora felt imprisoned within her own home, she had the courage to break free from the dazzling world of Jack, if Ava had rebuffed men to avoid an affair, she also knew how to calm her carnal desires. Grief stricken Rachel could rise to the occasion to save Alex. All these persons seem to be so familiar. They could be one of our friends, struggling with an unhappy marriage or a neighbor who doesn’t know how to deal with domestic abuse.

Lisa’s stories deal with these realistic problems in the most authentic manner, holding the reader’s interest till the end. If you wonder what good relationships are and how they can be nurtured, read this book. If men fail to appreciate the role of a woman in their homes and how much work is required to keep it blossoming, they would surely learn from Mack. I devoured this book within hours!

51bfsz59fXL._SR125,200_Swamp Ghosts by Marcia Meara is symbolic of all those ghosts that we carry within, one is carried by Maggie, and many more by people around her. The story starts with a prologue that whets reader’s interest and without naming the character, the author succeeds in building up a superb suspense, dropping hints of dark deeds going around the shallow waters of the creek. The plot of this novel is woven around Maggie Devlin, a single woman who didn’t have a good opinion about men. She couldn’t think of a single reason to date another man after she “kicked” her ex-husband out of her home. She had a small eco tour boat business but could hardly earn enough to pay her bills.

The story moves smoothly and gets a romantic hue with the entry of Gunner Wolfe, a wildlife photographer who hires Maggie to go deep into the swampy river system, canoe the backwaters, and click an ivory-billed woodpecker to earn some recognition for his work. However, to their surprise, they discover swamp ghosts, which follow them in an unbelievable manner. These ghosts add some gruesome touch to an otherwise lovable story, told in an adorable manner.

I enjoyed reading this book because of the astute style of Marcia who writes beautifully, eliminating all superfluities, focusing on the story and building up characters within the story. She wastes no word in dragging on any situation and wins the heart of the reader despite some harrowing details. She doesn’t let the feel good factor drown in the swamp.

 

 Colleen celebrates summer with fairies, nymphs and those magical creatures that have constantly enchanted mankind. Her spiritual encounter with “a tiny creature, with transparent wings and lavender fragrance” mesmerized her and gave her an amazing power to become a fairy whisperer. Her poetry and stories, which exude magic, are inspired from the swamp fairy she had met. She could sense her presence even after she had vanished into the fog, as it fired her imagination, impelling her to write about their realm.

Colleen transports you to the magical world of fairies, slowly opening each door to reveal the wonders of fairy kingdom where spells are cast to win love or heal, where fairies get tipsy and stop whispering into the ears of Roger, where the thrill of spiritual bliss could be felt. When Regin plans to trick Aerwyna into the words of spell to win her love for a few hours, all he gets is the love of an old woman Mrs Hawkins, the most aged woman in the country while Aerwyna laughs at the spectacle! This book is a superb combination of stories and poetry, which has a mystical connection with spirits and myths.

‘Born in a Treacherous Time’ by Jacqui Murray explores that period of time, (1.8 million years ago) which was most challenging for mankind, when survival and finding food were the major issues, the only weapons to kill were stones or sticks and predators could attack any moment. I haven’t read any other book in this genre and have never given a serious thought to how humans lived in pre-historic times. It is interesting to note that nature ruled human beings! A feeling of revulsion hit me when I was reading the details of eating raw meat, with blood dripping from their mouths.

Only a few books have such a magnetic power! This book pulled me more because the protagonist is a woman – Lucy who had a ‘capacious’ brain, could invent tools, understand the herbs and plants that heal and is strong enough to save Baad, one of her male companions from the attack of an eagle. An element of mystery makes this fictional account of early man quite fascinating.

Murray’s superb handling of characterization, with the basic instincts of bonding, care for each other, urge for learning and raising children stands out to lend authenticity to the plot. However it is the resilience of human spirit and hope that shimmers through out the book.

 

 ‘Born Survivors’ by Wendy Holden is an incredible story of three women and concentration camps into which they were pushed just because they belonged to a community, which was detested by the Nazis, the self-proclaimed superior race! The true story that focuses on Priska, Rachel and Anka is horrific beyond imagination, powerful and heart wrenching yet inspiring as it also brings out the determination of human beings to survive in the face of shame, hunger, inhuman conditions and unbearable cold weather. It is the human spirit that emerges victorious in the end, vanquishing all those who didn’t spare a single effort to annihilate a human race.

Wendy tells the story of three pregnant women who wanted their children to take birth despite all the odds, living in the perpetual fear of being discovered and sent back to Auschwitz, wearing filthy rags, fighting vermin, festering sores and disease, walking bare feet to the factory, which was almost two kilometers away. Deprived of the most basic needs while slaving for the Nazis, these women could only think of surviving one more day.

However, Wendy’s style of putting together the historical facts is incoherent and repetitive at places. The stories of three women don’t blend well in the beginning as they do towards the end of the book. Despite this flaw, the book deserves a reading to remind us that such brutalities occurred and should not ever be repeated in future.

 

 Twenty Years: After “I Do” by D.G. Kaye highlights the fact that love can conquer all…only if you understand what is real love. Love is not just passion for each other, laughing or going out together. It is also listening intently, it is being emotionally present in those conversations, it is cleaning the mess of your partner who may get sick just after you marry her. Kaye has shared her personal story of marrying Gordon, who is twenty years older than her but age didn’t deter her from her decision of marrying a man whom she loved. Despite the challenges, love strengthened their relationship in the face of storms of life, taking care of each other in all situations.

This book may be based on the personal experiences of Kaye but it makes an in-depth analysis of marriage, which is not just a commitment that brings blissful joy in the lives of a couple while they are healthy and energetic but also demands care, unconditional love, respect and trust that the partner has to give spontaneously.

In a successful marriage, romantic love morphs into a loving and eternal relationship if we understand that forbearance and patience are as essential as passion and sex. A spouse who can’t pick up your luggage from the carousel or who needs a wheel chair at the airport to board a flight just after 20 years of marriage just needs your smile and support.

Conflicts are natural in a marriage but Kaye illustrates with real situations how she copes with them, giving a message that one has to devise one’s own ways to resolve them.Any married person can feel the connect with the thoughts of D.G. but if you are at the threshold of this new phase of life, you could collect some pearls of wisdom from the experiences that she shares in this book. The last two chapters of the book are heart-wrenching and left me wondering how could mortality be discussed in so many words. Kudos to Kaye for her bravery!

 Amazing Matilda by Bette A. Stevens has been on my list for a long time. I had been waiting for my grandchildren to grow up a little to understand the process of change that occurs in a caterpillar to transform into a beautiful butterfly. I am proud to read this book to my grandchildren who want me to read it again and again.

The story of Matilda, with beautiful illustrations has been told in an engrossing manner, with encouragement from her friends, the wise sparrow who advises her to listen to her instincts and have patience, a toad who agrees that patience pays and another friend rabbit shares his story of hopping. This is not just a cute story that tells children about the cycle of a butterfly, it hints at following your dreams and cultivating patience. Highly recommended for children.

 

Quill and Ink…Inspirational, Motivational and Creative Writings by Deborah Bowman is an anthology of poems; short stories and inspiring articles that evince author’s understanding of emotional aspect of life. A profound thought that holds your interest right in the beginning is ‘the quill and the ink, the rose and the thorn, teach us patience and reticence.’ The poems exude the philosophy of life…”you’ll have to dig a bit to find your true purpose…Destiny and infinity are never-ending goals!”

Section – 2 of the book is dedicated to writing process that inspires the writers and reassures them how their imagination cannot be hijacked by computers. Only a human mind can keep track of a fictional plot, its consistency and clarity. Bowman wears the hat of a writer and an editor alternately while sharing her experiences in this part of the book.

Deborah’s short stories are gripping as they slowly drift into past and present, with surprising details. Her style is crisp and intuitive, quite different from a storyteller as she writes in various genres. This book clearly reflects her penchant for diverse interests.

 Hinting at Shadows by Sarah Brentyn is sheer poetry in the garb of flash fiction. The emotions flow spontaneously and so succinctly convey the hurt, the guilt, the fear, the regret and a myriad other emotions that each story leaves a room for imagination, yearning for more. Coruscating poetic expressions like ‘where sunlight pools just a few feet away from the shadows,’ ‘Home was a minefield,’ ‘Drifting laughter caresses me,’ ‘Until fingernails become half moons of filth,’ ‘Cold seeped into my heart and even in summer, I could never stay warm’ would leave you spellbound!

Sarah’s characters are stoic, resilient and powerful. Whether it is the grief of losing a child, shattered dreams, a simple regret or serious mental health issue, she writes with the brilliance of an accomplished writer, handling emotions with acumen and touching your heart with just few words.

This book exemplifies how a lot can be said just within few words. True to its name, the book hints at all the shadows around us and bewilders you how they could be compressed into poignant poetic tales. Each one is better than the other but some stand out as exceptional – ‘Closet Space,’ ‘Twilight,’ ‘Maybe’, ‘Bitter Cold’, ‘Mirror, Mirror.’ This is a book to be read leisurely, to be savored slowly and felt deeply.

Into the Hearth by Wendy E. Slater is a poetic journey into self, a comment on self-discovery from flame to love to home and hearth. Though it has been marked as spiritual poetry but it addresses the most basic truths connected with life, probably suggesting that spirituality begins from within. Hurts merge with reconciliation, as “your absence means neither anything nor everything,” yet “I will always sing to your heart and you mine.” Emotions recede like waves, get restored in the heart, where they ebb and discover a new path, sometimes taking solace in the superficial sounds.

Slater’s poems have to be read gently to discern their depth. The imagery is drawn from the universe…waves, stars, moon, music are mere instruments that ignite the fire to understand our harmony with the blue and the green, into which our souls would merge one day.

From the softness of lotus that unfolds slowly to “Sahara, all me” – are the symbols of the struggle with passion and solitude, eventually arriving at only one conclusion…“There can no attachment, it’s all within.” This is a brilliant anthology of poems and I would recommend it to all poetry lovers.

On the Edge by Brittney Sahin offers nothing new. It is a predictable story with an overdose of sexual spices to hook those readers who like raw romance. The characters lack depth and insight and hang on two extreme edges, either too good or completely dark. Anna comes to Dublin, Ireland as an intern at McGregor Advanced Communications but lacks the seriousness or focus! Soon she realizes that her boss is more desirable than her career and the boss too is madly in love with this girl. So where lies the problem? Some absurd situations and characters are created to create a story that doesn’t make sense. Could Donovan be more powerful than Adam, with all his physical strength and money?

This book loses its charm just after few pages and drags on. The swear words used by Sahin further deplete its standard. This is just a frivolous, time pass romantic story.

 

Disappearing in Plain Sight by Francis Guenette is power-packed with raw emotions and real issues that are often brushed aside but haunt us like demons till we deal with them. This book doesn’t seem to be fiction, as it talks about life in authentic terms. It highlights the fact that trying to put up with tragedies and traumas doesn’t liberate us, burying the past doesn’t make it ‘disappear in plain sight’ because our sight may fail to see what lies beyond.

The book makes a slow start and doesn’t seem to be as powerful as it emerges halfway. It would grip your attention and you would feel drawn emotionally as well as psychologically into the lives of well-crafted characters. Caleb, though dead seems to come alive through the words of Guenette, leaving his mark on the lives of each character. I am amazed how an absent character could impress so much! Such is the impact of characterization! The story unfolds through the characters and their interaction.

The tranquility of the lake setting is in sharp contrast to the turbulences that rock the lives of Izzy, Lisa-Maria, Liam, Bethany, Justin and Jesse. Francis could enter the minds and hearts of all her characters with ease. I couldn’t believe that this is her debut novel. If you appreciate the value of emotions and relationships, if you believe in the purity of friendship and the power of forgiveness, this is the right book for you.

 

 ‘Annie’s Story, Blessed With A Gift’ by Deborah A. Bowman is a brilliant tale of Annie, who survives despite all the odds and is raised by her grandmother, a healer whose herbal remedies were sought after by the people of Lynn, Massachusetts. The story moves at a steady pace and centers around Annie but it also highlights religious persecution and the incredibly horrid truths of life in America in the mid 17thcentury, when life was extremely hard for women who were declared witches if they had miscarriages or couldn’t lactate. Men sat in judgment and indicted them in swift trials. Some were burnt without any trial.

A powerful foreword captures your attention and gives you an idea of how oppressive life could have been for the special children (born with defects) of those times. Bowman reveals that she “became Annie” when she was attending the Advanced Hypnotherapist Course and experienced “age regression!” She could visualize the story at that moment.

Characterization has been superbly handled by the author, with vivid descriptions of local beliefs, miraculous healing powers of Annie and disabilities of Thomas. Love and kindness pervades all around Annie in the form of Godmother Hannah, loving and understanding friends Jane and Dancing Feather. If you like historical fiction that drifts between cruelty and compassion, this is a perfect book to pick up.

 

‘Before We Were Yours’ by Lisa Wingate is a poignant tale of social injustice and apathy retold with immeasurable emotion that would wrench your heart away. When I stumbled across this book on my device that picks up all kindle books my daughter downloads, I thought it must be one of the romantic novels. I didn’t know it is about such shocking truths that people had helplessly watched and lived through. As the story unfolded, I went back to read about the book and discovered why this story is so distressing. I was appalled at the loathsome lies, the outrageous conspiracies and the cold-hearted treatment of kids that went inside Tennessee Children’s Home Society, the so-called welfare organization that surreptitiously snatched away little children from their biological parents to sell them to the rich and the mighty! I was totally unaware of this historical fact.

Lisa tells an engaging story of two girls– Rill and Avery, in two time periods. Both move simultaneously to merge into each other. While Rill is helplessly watching all the cruelties thrust upon her and her siblings, Avery is trying to unearth the truth behind her grandmother’s past, which seems to be connected with Rill, who is known as May now. The author shifts into the shoes of a 13-year-old Rill, a river girl and modern day Avery, the daughter of a prominent senator with perfect ease. Wingate handles the characterization so intensely that you would grieve with the children, wishing to hug them and knock down the devilish matron who didn’t even give them enough to eat.

You have to read this riveting story to understand how a single person could wreak havoc with so many families and the lives of innocent children just to earn money. How she could manage to dupe the authorities is a question worth asking! While the story drags on with unnecessary details from the life of Avery at places but this is a brilliant book that I would recommend to everyone for the sake of knowing how greed of money could create such monstrous characters like Georgia Tann. You can Google her name to discover more!

I approached ‘The Sorcerer’s Garden’ by D. Wallace Peach with a sense of trepidation, knowing well that I was wading into deep waters where I might flounder for breath as dark fantasies scare me. Each time I have tried to read this genre, I have dropped the book halfway. I resisted the urge this time mainly because of the magnificent language Peach uses and the story does return to the real aspects of life. At places I felt very much like Madlyn.. “determined to get to the bottom of the creepy book or quit the Loftons.”I tried to search the deeper idea, the real one behind this fantasy.

This book is a subtle comment on modern life though Peach banks on an imaginative world to convey it. It is a brilliant portrayal of shrieks that never get heard. When Madlyn who has been fired by Dustin’s company is employed by his grandmother at home, that gives you the first cue that she is no ordinary character. In no time she hogs the limelight and even gives ethical advice to Dustin against his partner who manipulates the sales for financial gains. It is a battle against “high principles and virtue” as pointed out by Alexandra. It is an attack on Warson and his cronies “for their callous betrayal of dreams.” It is just a nightmare of Madlyn to deal with conspiracy theorists, bigots, racists, polluters and our own fears!

It is not just a breezy or adventurous story that can be read within a day or two. The flow of the book is slow due to the focus on the creation of lilting prose, which seems to be the forte of Peach besides the serious theme that she handles dexterously.

 

 ‘The Story Teller Speaks’ by Annika Perry brilliantly illustrates how short stories can capture your heart, transport you to the scene of action and submerge you in the emotional journey of the characters. Her stories are a little above your expectations…a lot has to be discerned, which she leaves unsaid and therein lies their magic. Only few can create it.

The symbolism of Chillies in my Handbag is chilling, the agony that the words hide slowly spills out as Perry writes in the style of dual timeline, lending a touch of realism to the story, keeping a firm grip on the reader’s attention, actually hinting at profound matters of domestic strife. Carl’s loss too unravels itself gently as you keep wondering where is he heading in snow and who is constantly whispering “keep safe” in his ear. It is the style and the exquisite language that raises this book above an average storybook.

My heart missed a beat when Jake and Ellie got lost in the shroud of mist and snow and it sank with each shout for them. Such is the effect of Annika’s style of writing! It is difficult to pick up a favorite one from this collection of stories because all of them strike some chord somewhere as they are based on varied themes, each one connects us with the complexities of life, giving a subtle message that we are mere puppets or mute spectators in many situations that we wish to control.

‘Poetic Rituals’ by Ritu Bhathal is an amalgamation of free verse, haiku and tanka. First section is packed with the emotions of a new mother; pride and affection flow freely through her verse but a realistic touch of worry, of angst and frustration add more charm to her poems. Every mother would ‘like to flee’ at some point when she feels that her kids are ‘devils in disguise!’ ‘Twelve Days Of Holidays’ is cute rendition of how mothers handle their little monsters during the holidays.

Ritu’s poetry matures as the book proceeds into the third segment, dwelling on love, life and its realities… trying to answer some pertinent questions like… “Head or heart, to whom do I bow?” Section four would bring a smile on your lips as you read

‘Brow-terpillars’ and ‘Oh My Bag,’ reminding you of similar groans that the poet shares about packing and trying to fit in all those things in one bag and later realize we didn’t even use. It is amazing how she could write a poem about chores like ironing, dieting, connecting a printer to Mac!

When I started reading ‘Where We Belong’ by Emily Giffin, I had no idea what this book is about. I avoid reading too many reviews before picking up a book as I feel they spoil the fun and could create a bias. After finishing ‘Where We Belong’ I noticed that this book had such varied reviews…from one star to five stars! I am appalled at the language some of the readers have used for this book. I understand that everyone has one’s own opinion about a book and some genres don’t resonate with all. I usually drop a book if it happens to be a genre I don’t like.

Emily talks about emotions and relationships and she has handled them in a brilliant manner. In the modern world, which is driven by sensational books, murder mysteries, science fiction, fantasy and unrealistic characters, the author has successfully portrayed real characters, issues of real life and how to face the challenges of life. Escapism is not the answer, suggests the erudite author. There comes a time to resolve all those problems that we unintentionally create for our own dear ones.

I recommend this book for all those who care for real people and their love, for those who value relationships and know their significance, for those who get carried away at a young age and fail to perceive the consequences. Teenagers could emerge wiser after reading this saga of love and regret. I have rarely finished a novel in two days and that speaks about its flow and readability.

The Prince and the Passion by Emilee Hines is a powerful tale that would grip your attention from page one and hold it till the end. You would find drawn into the narrative and become almost one with the struggles of Talia, sharing her emotional journey through the treacherous terrains. The admiration for Talia, the protagonist grows as Hines unveils her beauty and determination to uphold her pride despite her status. She stands out as a shining example of unflinching woman who could handle all men, sometimes with her courage and at other times with her elegance and poise.

The story flows effortlessly and the description is so vivid that I felt transported to Kiev and later Byzantium, where Andrei’s passion gets the better of him. The details of the journey across the river are most effective, arousing awe as well as empathy for those who were at the mercy of their masters. Religion steps in to guide the skeptical souls, arouse benevolence, dilute hatred and hunger for power. Probably that is how pagan faith was discarded to embrace Christianity. If you are looking for a fast-paced action story, this is the book to be read.

 

Gabby and the Quads by Tina Frisco is an engaging little tale of love and care for the new arrivals in a home full of affection for the older child. Gabby receives her four siblings lovingly and is ready to help as she is made to feel all-important by her parents.

This is a perfect book to be read to children to mentally prepare them before the arrival of a newborn and feel responsible towards the little one. What a wonderful way to instill values of loving, caring and sharing at an impressionable age! The illustrations enhance the value of the story, which is told in simple language to establish a cute connection between the reader and the listener.

Disclaimer: I got the book in free book promotion.

 

‘Twelve Tales Of Christmas’ by Cathleen Townsend infuse a spirit of togetherness and warmth, so natural to the festive season of Christmas. Each story centers around an emotion that you can associate with, that exemplifies human goodness and that ushers in most loving memories. The spontaneous flow of thoughts, the mingling of long and short stories and the variety that they offer are appreciable. While ‘The Gift’ poignantly brings out the loneliness of Alisha, ‘Eggnog and Cookies’ lighten up the mood with tricky ideas but ‘Department Store Santa’ highlights the innate virtues of cooperation, love and gratitude that echo around us even in the wake of adversities.

While I enjoyed reading all the twelve tales my favorites are ‘The Angel in the Tree’ and ‘Holiday for Death.’ The former stands out for its unique blend of fantasy and reality while the latter tugs at the strings of your heart, reminding you of your own mother, grandmother or grandfather. The characters are portrayed so well that they reach out to you through their emotions, words and kind gestures for each other.

 

 ‘The Letter’ by Kathryn Hughes is a heart-warming as well as heart-breaking story, told with immense kindness that shines through out the whole narrative. In the beginning it may appear to be another book on domestic abuse but it rises above that due to ‘the letter,’ which connects various incidents and binds them together coherently. Tina’s own sordid life didn’t deter her to lose hope in delivering that letter to its rightful receiver.

 A simple, straight-forward style, with no boring details or suspense, which many authors employ to impress the readers and keep them hooked, this novel flows most spontaneously, eliminating superfluous elements and focusing on the plot. The story moves faster than expected and therefore becomes gripping. There is not a single page where you would feel like skipping a sentence.

The characters are well crafted, realistic and true to life. Rick – self-centered, violent and jealous, Dr. Skinner – the controlling, vindictive bully stand in sharp contrast to Graham and Jackie highlighting how we come across both kinds of people in our lives. I enjoyed reading this emotionally charged book. It is much more than just a romantic love story, with subtle messages of goodness and optimistic attitude.

 ‘Words We Carry’ by D.G. Kaye is a brilliant memoir about building self-worth, learning to love yourself, understanding your inner voice and coming to terms with whatever life offers. We have to face negative experiences at various stages of life, some in the form of negative people we meet and others in the form of words that at hurled at us by bullies. Those words keep hurting even when we grow up unless we address them to put them in their perspective. Kaye shares her own struggle with those words and how she rooted them out of her psyche.

Insecurities and fears are an imperative part of growing up. Often we try to deny them, brush them under the carpet and put up a brave front. Hidden fears manifest themselves by eating into our self-esteem. Kaye talks about them candidly and shares how she confronted them to drop the unnecessary baggage that was saddled on her by her own mother, whose beauty intimidated her as a child and a teenager. Self-analysis and determination to shake off her inadequacies, developing a positive attitude and learning to appreciate her capabilities strengthened her resolve to reach a benchmark that she had set for herself.

It was her best friend Zan, who pulled her out of the emotional traumas and acquainted her with her real beauty, her benevolence and her confidence. This book would never lose its relevance and is appropriate even for adolescents who encounter all those issues that Kaye discusses in a conversational style. The section on relationships is extremely enlightening. Citing her personal examples, D.G. discusses how certain people could be toxic and why they should be shunned. Her insights are inspiring, her obsession with shoes hilarious and her resilience worth emulating.

 ‘Dad #1, Dad #2: A Queerspawn View from the Closet’ brilliantly records the struggle of Natalie Perry who was just twelve years old – the most impressionable age – when her loving family fell apart as her dad came out of the closet to accept his true self. She was too young to understand the term ‘gay’ and come to terms with it.

The heart-breaking story of discrimination and lack of empathy, the strife within her to reveal the truth to her friends and co-workers, the narrow-mindedness of some of her religious minded colleagues who tried to convince her that it is a sin to be a gay… has been told in the most sincere manner, with raw emotions of the author glaring at those who tried to make her responsible for the kind of family she came from. She has given voice to the emotions of gay community and most poignantly revealed the little battles that she had to face at various phases of her life.

This is a story that enlightens, a story that should be read by everybody to understand that gay parents can also be as loving and caring as the straight ones, they too have the same heart and the emotions as any other who sit in judgment over who is the sinner. It is the parochial society that inflicts deep wounds on children by trying to impose age-old beliefs.

‘What’s In A Name’ by Sally Cronin is a collection of twenty short stories, each story inspired from real life and emotions that every individual has to live through. Whether it is the bond between a mother and a daughter or the faith that kept Celia away from her sister for twenty years to tread the path she had chosen for herself, to honor the name of her grandmother, Sally’s characters seem realistic and warmhearted. Diana’s pain would percolate deep down into every nerve and sinew of readers whereas Jane’s unplanned surprise for her sons would stump!

Sally’s stories have an inimitable style, are really short and engrossing. Most of the stories flow like a cascading stream down the mountain and if you are a little distracted, the words bounce by like the twirling water. Breathing positivity and love, Eric and Grace, two of my favorite characters would tug at the strings of your heart. This book revived my love for short stories.

 ‘The Fall Of Lilith’ by Vashti Quiroz Vega has been listed as ‘dark fantasy but I didn’t find it dark as my focus was more on God, the omniscient, the forgiving and the kind but He doesn’t seem to show any kindness towards His “perfect” Angels and banishes them from Floraison because some of them revolted against His arbitrary and oppressive laws. The oath of celibacy and obedience are the two pledges, which the Angels have made but attraction – the natural instinct that they have been endowed with, is too much to brush aside!

Lilith, the rebel, the influencer who could enchant and seduce whosoever she wants takes the lead and raises her own army to defy the Almighty and wrest control out of His hands. A powerful and incredible move but she is confident enough to win! The consequences are unbelievable and the suffering ineffable. Severe punishments are inflicted upon those who dared to question God’s power. Beelzebub suffered the most as he was gagged and chained and got a watery prison in a river for obvious reasons.

The book celebrates the power of female dominance in the form of Lilith. She is individualistic, headstrong, overambitious and deceitful who could stoop to every level to wreak vengeance and accomplish her motives. Fired by the desire for divine power, she aspires to create her own wonders. Undeterred by the punishment she had to face for entering the forbidden garden in which she was tortured for three days, she continues on the chosen path. Not only is she instrumental in stirring the passions of males around her but also succeeds in leading many of them astray, assuring them that they possessed the potential to vanquish God and His loyal celestial beings. I have always liked strong female protagonists but this one I hate! There lies the success of the author!

Vashti conveys some subtle messages too …we may detest rules but they “create stability, discipline, and promote safety.” Goodness and evil are two inevitable aspects of life, which cannot be eliminated because they were created by some sinister forces that refuse to appreciate virtues.

 

The Heart Stone Chronicles: The Swamp Fairy by Colleen M Chesebro is the story of a young teenager Abigale who carries a big responsibility on her shoulders, as she has to carry forward the legacy of her mother, believed to be a descendent of Native Americans. The land she has inherited from her mother is precious for reasons she doesn’t want to share even with her paternal aunt. She shines through the struggle to keep the land at all costs despite the sinister designs of Rafe Cobb and refuses to buckle under the pressure from her friends and aunt.

A carefully crafted character, Abby exemplifies the values to live by. Her magical bonding and connection with the animals and birds symbolize a profound message that the writer wishes to convey to mankind that we have to live in harmony with each other to understand why we have been placed here. What I found amazing in this story is how fantasy and reality merge to convey a subtle message of conserving nature and all the flora and fauna in their natural surroundings. It is at this point that this book rises above just ‘the swamp fairy’ tale into a story of human interest, screaming to be heard and pondered.

 

‘Does True Love Exist’ by Vishnu articulates how finding a person of your choice and developing a healthy relationship is possible. Taking a cue from his personal experiences, Vishnu’s sagacious advice is to love yourself before you decide about the love of your life. Look within; reflect on your own behavioral patterns and then decide what is right for you. If you walk into a relationship without knowing your own values, without deciphering what is more important for you; without setting your life directions and jump to a conclusion just because you have been waiting too long, it can be cataclysmic for you.

This book focuses on positive vibes, which can be picked up when you meet a new person. Some of the ideas may seem idealistic but you can adapt them according to your requirements. Vishnu quotes from personal examples to clarify that it doesn’t help to get carried away by ‘beauty or brains.’ Often we tend to ignore the little red flags in the behavior of a person because we know nobody is perfect. While nobody would choose a cheater or a liar consciously, don’t fall into a trap of deceptive personalities. Be yourself and never let that belief waver. True love would follow you!

A must read for all those who value relationships.

Dog Bone Soup by Bette A. Stevens is not just the story of Shawn and his struggle to get a decent life, it is a famiy saga of adventures, sacrifices, togetherness and resilience. It is inspiring as well as poignant, a rare combination to create. Henrietta emerges to be a wonderful mother, giving all the care and attention to her kids though she had zero moral support from her self-centered and alcolohic husband, more interested in watching T.V. than looking after his own children.

The story is set in the 50’s when mocassins could be freely used to discipline children! Despite the challenges of poverty and meagre food, nobody has any complaints except Mr.Daniel. Life was hard and Shawn being the eldest in the family suffers the most yet he stands like a rock when he is old enough to handle his father’s violence.

A streak of thin light shimmers through out the story, assuring the reader that struggles bring the best out of us. The hope never dies, as kind people keep trickling in to provide work and life-time lessons to Shawn and Willie. Characterisation has been handled very well and one person who stands out is Mrs Ashley, an old lady with the heart of gold, a book lover who fed the poor boys, read stories to them and even taught them how to use a typewriter when they accompanied their uncle to help in cutting the trees.

This book is relevant for the present generation for two reasons – one it acquaints them with history and the way people strived to wriggle out of domestic violence, lack of father’s love and tough situations. Two, how comfortable life is today for children with no fears of moccasins!

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

I don’t remember what made me pick up this ‘truly’ boring book, probably some good reviews? I can’t believe it took me more than two months to complete it, in fits and starts. I dropped it two times to read another book and then another.

It has got no plot, just hovers around frivolous chat, jumping from one location to another just to reveal one tiny secret, which is so predictable! Most of the characters are weak-minded except Oliver who has been portrayed to be too good and Harry, the old man next door who longs to have some love and peace. Painfully plodding through the pages, I kept telling myself, I wouldn’t write a review for this delusional trap for the readers as it introduces itself as an “electrifying” new book whereas it is absolutely cold!! A time waster!

No More Mulberries by Mary Smith presents a gentle and positive perspective of life, which women have to bear in extremely conservative parochial Afghan society where women don’t have any rights, are married even before they attain puberty, can’t travel without their husbands and have to follow repressive age-old traditions.

Margaret willingly walks into this society for the man she loves despite the initial disapproval of Jawad’s father. She even changes her religion to blend into the Muslim culture and changes her name to Miriam. Most of such marriages have a bleak future but destiny has something else in store! Jawad is killed and Miriam finds herself at crossroads with a little son Farid. She could have gone back to Scotland and start life afresh but she chooses to remarry an Afghan doctor who promises to take her to Zardgul, where all her loving memories and her former husband was buried.

The plot oscillates between reality and fiction and Miriam emerges to be a strong woman who refuses to give up her values and freedom to work. Most of the story is told through her and Iqbal, the man she married, she is not sure for what reasons, is torn between cultural compulsions and the love for his wife, has a lot of shadows of the past to deal with.

This novel must be read by all the young women who wear rosy glasses through which love seems to be an eternal bliss. Marriage is a serious commitment and when a woman chooses to marry into a closed cultural society, she has to bear the brunt alone. The theme has been handled brilliantly by the author who seems to have observed the culture and people of Afghanistan from close quarters.

Natalie Ducey’s ‘The Heart’s Journey Home’ captures various emotions of love, detachment, yearning and healing. An undertone of immature and young love that wavers and reassures itself, a streak of shining hope runs through all the poems despite those dark moments of separation.

Love poetry can be quite challenging and becomes repetitive but each poem in this book is different, evoking familiar memories! All the hues of love unfold slowly conjuring images of joy, laughter and fulfillment. Letting go the ‘first love’ is heartbreaking and ‘lingers in the memories.’

Though poetry can be interpreted in various ways but the protagonist of these poems seems to convey a profound message, which must be discerned only by the reader.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is brilliant, disturbing, distressing yet realistic. Women have been treated like maids, reproductive machines and personal properties for ages. They still live in the shadow of men and are completely controlled by them in many parts of this world. Female feticide is the grim reality of 21st century and speaks volumes about the oppression and servitude that is perpetrated on women. Today’s ‘Aunts’ are the traditional mother-in-laws who find pleasure in making maids out of their daughter-in-laws.

Those who feel this tale is dystopian and fictional should go and see the horrid realities in the villages and small towns of Asia and Middle East. Girls are raped for revenge and killed for honor of the family. If it can continue to happen in one part of the world, it can occur anywhere and this book should be a reminder that women are the most vulnerable in the wake of any such crisis, as mentioned by the author in this novel.

I agree this novel lacks flow but classics are like that and they are never easy to read and comprehend. I like the way it ends, leaving a thin streak of hope for the fighters and the optimists. I wonder how anyone could give just one star to such a powerful piece of Literature! I have just finished it but would like to read it again.

Revenge by Stevie

I approached this book with a little trepidation as I usually pick up a book at the recommendation of friends but I must say I was not disappointed. It was a breezy reading yet a discerning reader could pick many subtle messages.

Alistair is a weak-minded, confused and self-centered man, only guided by so-called love, which is bound to wear off because it rests on a wobbly channel. When the triggers for leaving a marriage are frivolous and self-motivated, you carry a lot of baggage, which is difficult to unload and sort out!

Family relationships reign supreme and are much deeper than one realizes. Love, emotions and responsibilities are intertwined. Anybody who is insensitive or tries to take them for granted learns the harsh realities of life in the wake of tumultuous circumstances.

P.S. I Forgive You by D.G.Kaye

Why forgive? Isn’t it extremely hard to do so? This question reverberates around me even after reading the most poignant account of D.G. Kaye who had nobody to turn to for love, care and affection.

When a child’s mother is selfish and self-centered, when she blames and threatens her own daughter, when emotional abuse almost breaks the spirit of a girl who tries her best to please her mother, forgiveness is a far cry.

Forgiveness is the most intransigent emotion, the most hurting feeling, rekindling the sensation of being victimized; highlighting the supremacy and the arrogance of our perpetrator yet Kaye emerges resilient, responsible, benevolent and at peace after she decides to let go all the grief that had eaten into the best hours of her life.

‘P.S. I Forgive You’ is the story of every child who is deprived of a loving childhood due to insensitive parenting. It could inspire a thousand mothers to be emotionally present, to be more understanding and loving and pay attention to the little concerns of their children.

My heart missed a beat when I read how Kaye is torn between guilt and duty to go and see her dying mother and decides to go to her father’s grave “to speak to my dad about current goings on in my life and update him on family matters,” she confides.

“I feel lifeless, I miss you, mama. I miss everything I didn’t have from you. Still I am sorry. I forgive you.”…That sums up the distressing memories of the author whose grief and guilt merge into each other at the death of her mother.

The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin
I don’t know why I picked up this book, probably the name allured me and while browsing one of the recommended books of Charles Martin, I stumbled upon this and bought it. Initially I kept telling myself, what a waste of money, as I didn’t like it. I even thought of dropping it but I am glad I didn’t as it did get more gripping after 100 pages.

It is quite hard to focus your story on just two characters and make it readable when you have to face the most challenging situation of an air crash but Martin doesn’t disappoint. I have read an account of a real life airplane crash and the way a lone survivor found her way out of a jungle. So the story seemed quite credible to me but it is repetitive at places and the flashes of Ben’s personal life seem to fade insignificantly in the wake of life threatening situations.
I am glad I pulled through this book as half way through it I changed my opinion, which rarely happens. There came a stage when I couldn’t put it down! I finished 25% of this book in one sitting, eager to know the outcome! It is not just a survival story, not just a romantic novel but much more than that, subtly hinting at the finer nuances of life, which seem less important when we have all the blessings on a platter but don’t acknowledge them.