Two Book Reviews

I received a copy of Vijayalakshmi Harish’s book ‘Strangely Familiar Tales’ through the Blogchatter Book Review Programme. I know of Vijayalakshmi Harish’s writing through the Womensweb platform where I, too, have been a contributor.

This short e-book consists of three short stories and comes with a content warning by the author. The first story ‘A fishy affair’ has characters who are bisexual, from minority communities and deals with computer hacking and murder. The second story ‘Bitter Fruit’ is about marital rape, murder and evil. The third story ‘A definition of evil’ is about yakshis, lesbianism, covenants and evil. After each story, the author writes about what inspired her to write the story and also suggests books that we can read. Her book draws on mythology she has read. The storytelling is engaging.

The book is available for free here

I’ve also been reading ‘To be or not to be a writer’ by Sweetycat Press in which my essay is one of 67 essays that answer questions such as “What did you think being a writer would be like when you began and how has it actually been? What are your personal tales of success, highs and lows? Name your muses or influences. Who is your literary role model? What is your advice for any beginning writer? Is it a lesson you learned yourself or from someone else? The book also consists of 21 flash fiction pieces and 20 poems. These are by writers all over the world.

The book is available on Amazon. Here’s the Amazon USA link , and here’s the Amazon India link. It is available for free on Kindle Unlimited. If you read it, please leave a review.

A Beautiful Mind

I became a member of the Creative Soul Club by Blogchatter recently, and they had posted which movie to watch for the meet. It was ‘A Beautiful Mind’ – a movie about John Nash, a mathematician who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1994. John Nash had paranoid schizophrenia. The movie is based on a book of the same name by Sylvia Nasar.

John Nash was very sensitive and had people problems. The friendship between him and his roommate was special. Only later is something crucial revealed about this friendship.

There is a scene in the movie when John Nash and his friends are at a bar and looking to hit on women. That triggers Nash to challenge economist Adam Smith’s theory, which was that the best results come from every person in the group doing what’s best for himself/herself. John Nash says the best results come from every person in the group doing what’s best for himself/herself AND the group, thereby making a breakthrough in governing dynamics.

He was always the “weird” one but a genius, and his work meant everything to him. His relationship with his wife was wonderful in the beginning, which is why she fell in love with him, but later on when he started having his delusions, her role as a caregiver was often frustrating for her. She was a source of strength and support for him. After he was medicated to treat his schizophrenia, he felt dull and found it challenging to work as brilliantly as he had earlier.

He asks his wife “What do people do”? She tells him that there are activities available and to just add meaning to his life. “Try leaving the house. Talk to people. Try taking out the garbage,” she says. When he tells her that he was talking to a man who was collecting the garbage at night, his wife thinks he is having another delusion even though he was speaking the truth.

Sometimes, he skips his medication because he feels it make his brain dull. But this leads to near-disastrous results. He tries hard to fight his delusions and uses the rational part of his brain to distinguish between what’s real and what’s not. His psychiatrist tells him “Without treatment, John, the fantasies may take over entirely.”

The scene where his wife says “ You want to know what’s real?” – “This is real,” pointing to her heart and his, was moving. She also tells him “I need to believe that something extraordinary is  possible.“ He goes back to work after approaching a former rival for work. The process is hard because Nash creates scenes when he sees his delusions. But he learns to ignore them and slowly but surely, his work is recognized by the Nobel committee. A representative from the committee approaches him and Nash uses humor to admit that he, indeed, has paranoid schizophrenia.

This movie depicts what it is like for a person with paranoid schizophrenia, but apparently in the book on which this was based, Nash does not have visual hallucinations. They introduced the visual aspect to make it suitable and more impactful for the screen.

Russel Crowe and Jennifer Connelly play the couple and they have turned in a brilliant performance. The movie was nominated for several awards and has won Oscars.

I recommend this movie to caregivers of people with mental health issues who will be able to relate to the important role they play in inspiring and motivating their relatives with mental illness.

My Current Read – ‘The Anatomy of Scars’

Hello, everyone! Reading has always been such an important part of my life. It made my childhood magical and again improved my life when I turned 40. Last year was a bit insane with the pandemic, and I read 55 books. Otherwise, I was reading 25 books a year on an average. So this year, to balance it out, I plan to read 12 books. I’m excited to participate in the TBR Challenge by Blogchatter.

My first book this year was Matthew Pollard’s “The Introvert’s Edge to Networking: Work the Room. Leverage Social Media. Develop Powerful Connections. I have reviewed it here.

I’m also excited to announce that I’m now a part of The Himalayan Book Club. My current read is the ARC of the Anatomy of Scars by Arjun Raj Gaind.

Here’s a short summary of the book –  The book opens in the year 1984 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated. A young boy Himmat visits his grandparents in Amritsar, and he experiences first-hand the troubles that afflict Punjab. In 2014, Himmat lives in London and is still haunted by the events of the past that he was witness to in his childhood. He is unable to form lasting relationships with people, and he is wracked with guilt, wrestling with alcoholism and substance abuse. When he returns to India due to his grandfather’s illness, he begins his journey of healing and deals with what Operation Blue star left behind. The book is based on real events and talks about the impact of the assassination of the former Prime Minister on Punjab and India today.

The book will be released on 26th January 2021.  The Kindle edition is up for pre-order at INR 99 and it will be free on Kindle Unlimited.

The Introvert’s Edge to Networking

‘The Introvert’s Edge to Networking: Work the room. Leverage social media. Develop powerful connections.’ is a must-read book for all introverts who need to realize that introversion is their superpower and not a liability. Introverted people actually have an advantage since they are more thoughtful and make more meaningful interactions with people. Sadly, many introverts think that sales jobs are for extroverts since they have a natural way with people. Introverts find it hard to push themselves forward and occupy the spotlight.

In this book, Matthew Pollard deconstructs how to do networking if you are an introvert. By giving specific examples like ” you need to define who you are, not your functional skill” and by telling us how to construct a story around ourselves( of course genuine and truthful) that we can use to explain the value we bring to the table.

It’s all about what we say and how we say it. For example, Matthew plays out the scenario where he introduced himself as a “sales coach” and how it bombed. The next time, he said “I’m a cross between a sales trainer and a marketing coach for small business owners,” which was better than before but not quite there. That’s when he positioned himself as ‘The rapid growth guy.’ The book is full of useful examples, nuggets, and insights that one can put into practice to get results the next time they need to network.

Matthew also talks about the concept of a unified message and tells us how it can help us and how to craft one for ourselves. He guides us every step of the way and shows us the light.

I highly recommend this book for all working introverts, not just the ones in sales. It will give you tips on how to get ahead in life.

Note – I received a copy of the book from HarperCollins Leadership. All opinions are honest and my own.

Raising capable children

I read ‘Raising Capable Children’ by Sakshi Varma because I know of her as a blogger. I wanted to know what she had to say about parenting. Even in the title, she emphasises values, attitudes and skills. It was a joy to see how she referred to the importance of magic in one’s childhood and the need for children to believe in happy endings. The author says she read a lot of Enid Blytons as a child and she picked up a few values from the books. She emphasises the importance of touch and hugs to ensure that children grow up to have a strong sense of self-esteem and security. She also recommends believing in guardian angels. I see how that is important since children( and adults too) need something to believe in! She talks about how to instill a sense of observation in children, raise them to be honest and upright with integrity, and encourage them to make decisions.

Very importantly, this parenting book talks about raising children who are empathetic, self-aware and kind. The author goes on to say that success means different things to different people and that there is no one-size-fits all formula for everyone. She gives a few tips on how to help cultivate a sense of humour in children, while seeing to it that their jokes do not offend or hurt others. She discourages constant comparison to other kids or families and encourages parents to spend quality time with their children. She touches upon how money management skills can be inculcated in very small children. She urges parents not to thrust their unfulfilled dreams on their children and instead let them choose their path. With these basic principles and values, she outlines in each chapter how to bring up children with a few examples from her own life. The book is also peppered with quotes and makes for engaging reading even for people who aren’t parents, such as me who only deal with other people’s children😊

The Midnight Library and Other Reads

‘The Midnight Library’ by Matt Haig was my first fiction read this year. And what a read it turned out to be. The story is about a suicidal girl who walks into “the midnight library” and gets to live the lives she could have lived. By getting a chance to live these lives, her perspective on life changes and she realizes that life is a gift. I won’t spoil it for you by revealing the entire plot, but will just endorse this book and give it five stars. I urge you to read it. Anyone who has ever felt low, had a lot of regrets or felt life wasn’t worth living should read this life-affirming story.

I read ‘Reasons to stay alive’ by Matt Haig last year. It was recommended to me by a friend who’s a life coach. In ‘Reasons to stay alive,’ the author talks about his experience with depression and how he copes with it.

My next read is going to be ‘The Dalai Lama’s Cat’ by David Michie. This book has been sitting on my shelf unread since 2010 when I bought it! I’m not sure why I put off reading the book for 11 years when I love cats and I should have jumped right into it. Speaking of cats, another book I read a few years back featuring a cat was ‘ A streetcat named Bob: How one man and his cat found hope on the streets.’ Based on a true story, it’s about how a cat helped a man who used to be a drug addict and busked for a living get back on his feet. I recently watched the movie on Amazon Prime.  It is not for family viewing however, since it involves drug use, etc. Another book on cats I must get to soon is ‘Hate that cat’ by Sharon Creech that I bought late last year. Here’s my Instagram post on ‘Hate that cat.’

Do you like pets and read books on animals? Have you read James Herriot and Gerald Durrell? My favourite book of Gerald Durrell is ‘Rosy is my relative,’ which I read decades ago as a child. Which are some of your favourite reads featuring animals?

Stepping into 2021

As I’d planned, my first book of the new year is ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron. The book is designed to be a course to artistic recovery over 12 weeks with exercises at the end of each chapter. Today was my first day of writing the morning pages. I spoke about this in an earlier post on this blog. I also started maintaining a praise note book, something that I’d been planning to do for a long time. I collected all the snippets of praise I’d received over the years ( in writing) and wrote them down in my praise notebook. It will serve as a handy ‘pick-me-up’ on the days I need one.

I came across this neat video by writer Archana Sarat about goal setting for 2021, with specific reference to writing goals. I’d shared a link on goal setting in an earlier post on this blog. After watching Archana’s video, I learned about push goals and pull goals. Push goals are goals that one needs to push oneself to achieve. Pull goals are those that we are drawn to.

Looking back on last year, I realise that I’d unconsciously had a mix of push and pull goals although I hadn’t realised that’s what they were called. For example, last year when the lockdown started, I took part in the A2Z blogging challenge, which meant writing one blog post a day for 26 days on my chosen theme of hobbies. This turned out to be a push goal, ‘coz it was difficult to churn out post after post day after day when the whole world was undergoing an unprecedented pandemic and I had to wash vessels every day since we’d asked the maid to go on leave. Somehow, I managed to finish the challenge. And here’s the blog that encapsulates my A2Z Challenge in 2020. Writing a drabble for an anthology was a pull goal ‘coz I was drawn to it. I didn’t have to push myself to do it. It was an inspired act.

I’d also like to mention the movie ‘Stuck in Love’ that I watched on Amazon Prime since it’s about writers. I enjoyed the bits about how the brother reads Stephen King, the dad is an acclaimed writer, the daughter has a debut book out, the dad quotes Raymond Carver etc. It has inspired me to read ‘What we talk about when we talk about love,’ by Raymond Carver which has been on my TBR for a while now. Maybe I will read it this year. The movie has also inspired me to read ‘IT’ by Stephen King, which has been on my TBR for a while as well. I wouldn’t recommend this movie for family viewing though since it deals with infidelity, drug use, a bit of nudity etc.

Anyway, I’ll sign off here for now. Do let me know in the comments how your new year is shaping up and what your first read of 2021 has been.

My Top 5 Reads of 2020 and a List of the 55 Books I Read this Year

I read 55 books this year. My top 5 reads were 1. The Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides 2. Normal People – Sally Rooney 3. Ringa Ringa Roses – Neil D’ Silva 4. Memory – Pragya Bhagat and 5. When Push Comes to Shove – Ushasi Sen Basu.

I read The Silent Patient in a few hours one evening. I couldn’t put it down. The fact that I had nightmares that night doesn’t stop me from putting it on my Top 5.

I was really engaged with ‘Normal People’. I liked the writing style and the story flowed effortlessly for me as a reader.

Ringa Ringa Roses is one of my first few horror reads and I read it during the day. It kept me turning the pages and a bonus is that I did not get nightmares.

Memory by Pragya Bhagat is a collection of poetry. I enjoyed the feminist themes the book covered and the poems as well.

When Push Comes to Shove was a detective single. It was a quick satisfying read. I enjoyed it a lot.

The other books I read this year ( in no particular order) include the following books. I’ve hyperlinked some of them to the reviews I’d written of them:

  1. How to write and sell great short stories – Linda M. James
  2. Introducing Media Studies – A Graphic Guide
  3. No Apologies – Women’s Web
  4. Don’t go away, we’ll be right back – Indu Balachandran
  5. The plot whisperer – Secrets of story structure any writer can master – Martha Alderson
  6. How to write a poem – A beginner’s guide – Sean O’Neill
  7. All the light we cannot see – Anthony Doerr
  8. Normal People – Sally Rooney
  9. Adi Shankara – Anant Pai
  10. Introducing Hinduism – A Graphic Guide – Vinay Lal
  11. How to write a novel – A beginner’s guide – Sean O Neill
  12. The high priestess never marries – Sharanya Manivannan
  13. The Bet- Anton Chekhov
  14. Virgin Seductress- J.M Jeffries
  15. Love in the time of quarantine – Siddharth Gigoo
  16. Ringa Ringa Roses – Neil D Silva
  17. Bitch Goddess for Dummies – Maya Sharma Sriram
  18. More than a memory – Pragya Bhagat
  19. Anxiety– Overcome it and live without fear- Sonali Gupta
  20. House of light – Mary Oliver
  21. Red Bird- Mary Oliver
  22. HBB Micro-Fiction Anthology – Selected Top Entries – Anamika Mishra
  23. Offer him all things – Charred, burned and cindered- Kala Krishnan Ramesh
  24. Staying Strong – 365 days a year – Demi Lovato
  25. An ode to the self- Darshana Suresh
  26. Hinduism – A very short introduction- Kim Knott
  27. The prophet- Kahlil Gibran
  28. Thank God, it’s Caturday – Various authors
  29. My NDTV days- Sanjay Pinto
  30. Status Single – Sreemoyee Piu Kundu
  31. Introducing Sartre – A graphic Guide – Philip Thody
  32. One day in October – Sudesna Ghosh
  33. Aapnu Gujarat – Sweta Papaiyawala
  34. APJ Abdul Kalam – Tripti Nainwal
  35. One night in November – Sudesna Ghosh
  36. One evening in December – Sudesna Ghosh
  37. How to be a writer- Ruskin Bond
  38. I, The Writer- Various writers
  39. When Push comes to Shove – Ushasi Sen Basu
  40. Coping with Suffering – Tomichan Matheikal
  41. Dots and Streaks – Ellora Mishra
  42. The Soul Charmer – Richa Saxena
  43. The Great Indian Anthology Express Edition Volume 2- Various Authors
  44. Steal like an artist – 10 things nobody told you about being creative – Austin Kleon
  45. The Gurukul Chronicles – Radhika Meghanathan
  46. Romancing the beat – Story structure for romance novels( How to write kissing books – book 1) – Gwen Hayes
  47. HBB Micro Fiction anthology – Selected Entries – Horror
  48. Yesterday’s Ghosts – Nikhil Pradhan
  49. Kintsugi – Anukrti Upadhyay
  50. The Collected Schizophrenias– Esme Weijun Wang
  51. City of Screams – Various Writers
  52. Magical Women – Various authors
  53. The travel gods must be crazy – Sudha Mahalingam
  54. Hiraeth – Partition stories from 1947 – Dr. Shivani Salil
  55. Resilience – Stories of Muslim Women – Shubha Menon

How many of these books have you read/enjoyed? What are your reading goals for 2021?

My Book Review of ‘Yesterday’s Ghosts’ By Nikhil Pradhan

On Halloween, I’d taken part in a Twitter chat with Blogchatter and was sent this review copy of ‘Yesterday’s Ghosts’ by Nikhil Pradhan when I’d expressed interest in reviewing it.

The book has been brought out by Harper Black, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers. It is categorized as fiction/thriller.

The title ‘Yesterday’s Ghosts’ really caught my eye ‘coz I’m a sucker for anything to do with themes of fragmented memories, PTSD, making sense of the past, etc.

The book is about a band of men who are now in their fifties and sixties who share a secret from their time spent together thirty years ago when they were part of ‘The Black Team’. It is about military intelligence and secret agents.

I liked the format in which the story is told. The story is revealed through a Q&A (dialogue) format between the characters. Instead of simply using third-person narrative or first-person narrative ( which are both done to death), the author has experimented with this way of telling the story, which at first glance looks like a screenplay. Of course, the entire book is not in Q & A format. Some of it is indeed third-person narrative ‘coz an entire book of Q & A might have been tedious. I felt it was well-balanced and worked for me. I feel that in this format, there is more scope for use of dialogue, which can help with “Show, don’t tell.”

The characters were well-etched and interesting.

I liked one bit on page 23, where the author says “ He had a friend once, a copywriter in an advertising firm, who used to go on and on about ‘insights’, about how once you knew, no, understood what people were going through, you could sell them anything- from a needle to a refrigerator’. As someone who has worked in advertising, I can say that this is bang on! Since the author, too, has worked in advertising, in fact, in the same advertising agency as I have( although we didn’t know each other there), it is clear he is drawing from experience.

On the whole, an interesting read.

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