Thursday, April 21, 2016

Five Ways to discuss fiction - Guest post by Amy Neftzger

Guest Post 1

5 Ways to Discuss Fiction With Your Children

Fiction books are a lot of fun, but stories are also a great way to explore issues with your children. If you read the same books, you can talk about the different characters. Of course, being the reader instead of the protagonist gives you perspective that the characters inside the story don’t have - but you can use that to your advantage to discuss choices and consequences. Some questions that you can use to facilitate discussions with your children. Here are a few possible topics to discuss:

1. Ask about the choices the characters made at different points within the plot.
Question to ask: Do you think that (insert characters name here) made a wise choice when s/he chose to (insert action the character took in a specific situation). For example: “Do you think that Alice made a wise choice when she drank from the bottle that said “Drink me”?

2. Discuss changes the characters made throughout the book.
Question to ask: Was (insert characters name) different at the end of the story? Or was s/he still the same? Why or why not? For example: Was Alice different after she had gone down the rabbit hole and went on her adventure?

3. Talk about the things the characters learned.
Question to ask: What do you think (insert character’s name) learned in this book? Do you think that s/he will handle things differently in the future? Example: What do you think Alice learned through her adventures in wonderland?

4. Discuss their fears.
Question to ask: What was the scariest thing in the book? Would you be afraid of that if you were in the same situation? Why/ why not?

5. Ask what part of the story they would like to live.
Question to ask: If you could live through any part of that story, what would you choose? Why? What would be so fun or interesting about it? How would life be different if we could take anything out of a book and make it real?

Fiction helps people to understand one another. If we read with our children, we can connect in ways that aren’t possible outside of books.




The War of Words by Amy Neftzger : A Review



BOOK TITLE: The War of Words

AUTHOR: Amy Neftzger

GENRE: Fiction / YA

NUMBER OF PAGES: 330

FORMAT: Digital

HOW I GOT THIS BOOK: I thank Laura Fabiani of iRead Book Tours for this review copy

SUMMARY:

Sometimes there's no better way to understand reality than through fantasy, and the best way to find truth may be in a book - if you can find the right one.

Battles against darkness, a quest for truth, and a search for the book that no one can read are all part of the fantasy adventure in The War of Words. As an evil sorcerer wages war by using mysterious shadows and seeks to gain control by confusing the residents as to what's real and what isn't, the fate of the kingdom rests in the hands of Kelsey and Nicholas.

As the youngest officer in the king's army, Kelsey fights the evil sorcerer s shadows on the battlefield as she explores the kingdom searching for the key to winning the war. Nicholas, a young sorcerer in training who is mastering his craft, discovers how the right words can change the course of the future.

Explore an enchanted maze, uncover the power of words, and learn about friendship in this whimsical tale.

FIRST IMPRESSION:

The Summary was enough to pique my curiosity. It has been some time since I read a quality fan fiction and this seemed like it would fit the bill. The first two lines attracted me enough to sound like one of those quotes that people saved and read over and over again. Books and friends are always a winning combination. 

REVIEW:

Kelsey is a young soldier who fights in the army. She fights 'the sorcerer' and reports to her general. But then she sees some oddities - some things that foretell a shift from her reality - her truth. From then she realises that things are not what they seem. Her quest for truth, with an odd assortment of aids and foes takes her through interesting and often revealing wonderous things. The evil sorcerer who wants power and to overthrow the king, does so by devious means. The good protagonist and her oddball team of friends understand the intention of the villain and fight him to end the war.

The author has taken all the main elements of the fantasy genre, and has built up a wonderful story around it. No review would do actual justice to what the story is about. Talking about it vaguely makes the story seem generic, and being too detailed ruins the fun of the story. War of words. Armies, generals, evil sorcerers, fantasy, non human characters - this book was a riot from start to finish. The book combined magic and reality so beautifully that it put the message across without actually seeming like it was a story. The author gets special points for doing it in a fun and humorous way. The writing style is something that made me read some parts of the book more than once. I loved how the characters spoke, reacted and thought - in the way the author has penned them.

I had no idea that the story was part of a series and some moments did confuse me. But the book works well as a standalone, clearly written for an age group lesser than me. I really have to thank the author for writing a book of spells, illusions, adventures, words, and everything a teen must read. This remains one of my favorite books.

I loved the language, the writing style. It has never been easy to construct a make believe world so realistically. Thanks to Amy for writing a beautiful book, and I will surely read the other books in the series.

VERDICT:

I am glad I got this as a review copy! Not to be disregarded as 'yet another fantasy novel'.

RATING: 4.5/5

I received the copy in exchange for an honest review!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR



Amy Neftzger is the author of fiction books for both adults and children. She has also been published in business and academic journals, as well as literary publications.

A few of her favorite things include traveling, books, movies, art, the Oxford comma, and gargoyles.

EDITIONS AVAILABLE: kindle hardcover paperback

PRICE $4.02 for kindle, $29.99 for Hardcover, $19.39 for Paperback

BOOK LINKS: Amazon

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Honest Season by Kota Neelima : A Review


BOOK TITLE: The Honest Season

ISBN/ASIN: B019EWKBDU

AUTHOR: Kota Neelima

GENRE: Political Thriller

NUMBER OF PAGES: 310

FORMAT: Digital / Kindle

SERIES / STANDALONE: Standalone

HOW I GOT THIS BOOK: I thank WritersMelon for this review copy

SUMMARY:

2 political rivals fighting for power

1 journalist caught in the battle

6 tapes secretly recorded in Parliament

1 government with a lot to hide


Sikander Bansi, an unlikely political heir in Delhi, secretly records politicians in Parliament as they haggle to become cabinet ministers, bag defence contracts, dodge criminal charges and collect corporate largesse. Among them is a rising leader of the People’s Party, Nalan Malik, whose success has come through unscrupulous means.


When Sikander suddenly disappears, Mira Mouli, a newspaper journalist with an unusual gift for knowing people’s thoughts, receives the controversial Parliament tapes along with clues to find him. She is attracted to Sikander’s principles and is wary of Nalan’s deceit. But her powers of knowing tell her a different story, one that she can unravel only at the cost of her life. From the bestselling author of Shoes of the Dead, this is a disturbing political fiction that reveals why Parliament functions behind gates closed to the public.


FIRST IMPRESSION:

The Honest Season is a book that held my attention from the word go. The summary seemed succinct, clear and simple enough to enthrall the reader in me. I had not tried political thrillers for a long time and the good meaningful ones are hard to come by. So it was with equal parts of expectation and doubts that I picked this book up.

The cover revealed nothing special, but it seemed muted and sensible, to suit the sombre mood of the story. The last line of the summary made me want to delve into the book as soon as I got the chance on the digital copy. I finished it in two sittings, over the course of a single day (today. I got the book yesterday).

REVIEW:

It take a lot of courage and proper sense to write a political thriller. And even more sense to carry it off convincingly.

The Honest Season is a book that would make for a sensational movie. That is not the first reaction I have about books, and I am not a huge fan of books being turned into movies. To be honest I despise them, being of the opinion that they ruin the original story. But this book, if made into a book with the proper directions, this would be exciting from start to finish. Most of the length of the book is in its descriptive narrative, something I feel could have been edited out for casual readers, but they would make a good base for a thrilling movie.

The story is about the parliament in Delhi and a MP doing a expose on his fellow MPs and other bureaucrats with a series of recorded conversations. Sikander Bansi is a dashing young MP with a very low profile who seems superficial at first glance. He serves his term for a little more than four years, collecting evidence and collating stories. And he goes into disappearance and releases the tapes one by one to the press, specifically to one newspaper that employs 'know journalists' - people who have special abilities to perceive the subtle layers of complexities in the human mind. He chooses Mira Mouli, a particularly talented journalist who can discern people's unspoken thoughts by merely speaking to them once.

In a thrilling journey where he sends controversial content as recordings to her, each ending with a very personal, deeply affecting clue that is directed towards Mira which he claims would lead her to him. Mira struggles against the demons of her past, finding more of herself in Sikander's words and the way he seemed to easily read her thoughts. Meanwhile, Nalan Malik, an exposed MP, doggedly follows Mira, something that she finds frightening, disconcerting and strangely comforting at times. She could read the concern in his eyes but is sure he is lying. Big heads fall, and the country's political fray is threatened out of its comfortable existence. What happens next? To what extent would Mira go to uncover the truth? These and some other questions form the premise of the rest of the story.

What works for the story is its narration style. I was really affected by the way the author spoke about public apathy over public property and how Newspapers were losing their relevance in the advent of media and technology. It was in her words that she weaves the magic. Sikander's first note chilled me in the way it was worded, and the clue that was directed towards Mira. I felt the connection with the author more than once while reading the book. It is amazing how much of a thrill just a few words could bring. I felt a tangible jolt when I read about the farmer Gopi, and the way he mingled with the crowd and was everything that a poor migrating farmer in urban India reflected it. The incident with the red beaded shoes and every part of the whole memory affected me deeply, and that was again because of how it was written.

The words are the story's USP, the narration not slackening until the second half. What I found lacking in the story was tighter editing. Though the wordy events really increased my interest towards it, my reading speed reduced greatly in the second half because the expose was done and dusted and the reaction part of it seemed longer than the preparation leading to it. There were times when I was torn between wanting to read more of the beautiful writing and wanting to get to the end of the story quickly to make sense of it. The politically correct sardonic climax did little to satiate my thirst for a novel conclusion. But as I completed it in a single day, I realised that the story had drawn me in completely and I had fallen, hook line and sinker.

Mira's skepticism regarding politics, love and everything related to life made her an interesting protagonist, one that I would be vary of but still read with interest. I loved how she responded to situations and found the meaning to the clues in her own way, resilient and strong, just how I would like a female protagonist to be. The romantic interest in the second half seemed melancholic and at times forced, though it clearly explained a lot of things in the story. Overall, a thrilling ride, and though I had a self made deadline to finish it, that was not the reason I read it in a day. The book held enough to interest me and I would take away a lot of things from this book to be stored in the recesses of my memory.

Here are few gems I found and would remember for some time to come.

On corrupt government officials and the public reaction

The officer had been unafraid as he had walked back into his building, as if he knew the public wouldn’t bother if he stole from them; they never did. Yes, people would not let him get away if he had touched their homes, their furniture, their vehicles or their parking slots. But their roads, their bridges, their trains? These could be stolen from them anytime. Just like their drinking water.

On the advent of telivision and breaking news making newspapers almost obsolete

that 800 words of the most thought-provoking newspaper story were equal to roughly a thirty-second ‘wrap’ on television.

Come die with me any way you want, but not alone.

Rain was a portable memory now, not an experience anymore.

Delhi itself was restless, as if had it not been tethered to the power centre, it would have wandered away along any one of the national highways that crossed it.

You shouldn’t say such things, makes me want to prove you wrong.

Always remember: in a riot, the cruelest side wins.’

It took time to realize it was her gift that separated her from the rest, the power to see the invariable truth all the time, without choice, without relief. It robbed her of her mirages, the necessary falsehoods required for happiness. And ironically, none of her special powers could tell her anything about the parents who had abandoned her or the reason for their decision.

What’s the difference between blood and rain? One flows over the skin, the other under it.

That’s the way he hates, Mr Vasudev, without a chance for reconciliation.’

He chose his fictions, whereas she was assigned her truths.

She watched the cement of the building indifferently receive the rain and channel it to the waiting drains.

A man who could see into the future of his rivals and manipulate their present was blind to his own heart. That was his only mistake.’

what I don’t have in mementoes, I make up in memories.

And like an honourable person with a clear conscience, Delhi was very good at forgetting.

She felt strangely insufficient without him, as if he was functionally important for her to get through a day.

‘Knowing you made my life worth living, worth waking up for,’

I’m vulnerable only when I choose to be, lonely when I want to be.’

‘Although I packed diligently, there may be things that I leave behind. Put them in a dusty corner somewhere, so you won’t stumble upon them everyday. And throw them out of your heart,’ she met his devastated eyes with satisfaction, ‘when you make space for someone else again.’

He carried his pain like a secret letter in his heart, folded between past and future, hidden in every sliver of time.

‘Love is for birds and garden benches,’ she whispered. ‘You think of it beautifully, with colours I have never known before, like looking through a magical glass at a new world. But it also shatters to pieces when I want it to be true.’ ‘Then try looking at it through my eyes,’ he suggested.

From the author's note:

If the words ring true and the incidents trigger a sense of déjà vu, please attribute them to my realistic imagination. I do not write to blame, I write to change. And I hope this is the season for it. It always is.

Special Mention : Placing the epilogue after the author's note - I am not even sure I should mention this in my review, but I almost missed the important part!

WHAT I LIKED:

  • The story and the cleanly done expose
  • Mira as a character. And Salat.
  • I would read more and more works of the author, just for the way she sways me with her words.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER:

  • The book needs tighter editing, considering the genre it belongs to.
  • The second half after the expose seemed to drag a bit, with more and more underlying elements and explanations slowing the pace
  • The politically correct ending dampened my excitement.
VERDICT:

A poetic political thriller.

RATING: 4.5/5

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kota Neelima has been a journalist for over twenty years, covering politics in New Delhi, India. She is Senior Research Fellow, South Asia Studies at The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced international Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC. Her recent academic research in India on perception seeks to develop a structure based on rural and urban voter choices .Her previous books include the bestselling Shoes of the Dead and Death of a Moneylender, among others. Also a well-known painter, Neelima’s works are a part of several collections in India and abroad, including the Museum of Sacred Art, Belgium.

EDITIONS AVAILABLE: Paperback, Digital

PRICE Rs. 198.55 for Kindle, Rs. 206 for Paperback

BOOK LINKS: Amazon

Saturday, April 16, 2016

How are her titles chosen? Sundari Venkatraman answers!

RMHow do you choose your titles?

SV:Hi Dhivya,

Thank you for giving me an opportunity to write a post on your blog for #AAFA promotions.

Regarding titles of my books...

The first 2-3 weren’t too difficult as The Malhotra Bride and Meghna just popped into my mind. I didn’t think twice as they were unique and had no competition on Google search.

The third book was The Runaway Bridegroom. I zeroed in on the title and went hunting on Google. I was thrilled to note that while many brides have run away in multiple romances, never had a bridegroom left his woman at the altar. Was I lucky! :D

So, a search for this title also throws up only my book. Over a period, this became an important point when I choose the title – the uniqueness.

Matches Made in Heaven is fairly common and I wish I had thought more before going with that as it’s a common phrase and oft-used. But then, I suppose one can’t win them all.

The Madras Affair – I was thrilled to zone in on this one, suggested by my publisher. I actually jumped at it. Madras is very close to my heart as I spent the first half of my life there. The title is oh-so-perfect for the book.

An Autograph for Anjali is the result of a lot of thinking. I prefer to use proper nouns as they tend to be unique for one thing. I also prefer to use a title that’s essentially Indian. For that too, using the name of a protagonist is of great help.


These are the criteria for how I land up with the titles that I have so far. 

Note: Readers' Muse thanks the author for her thoughtful and candid answer to such a nosy question :D

An Autograph for Anjali by Sundari Venkatraman : A Review


BOOK TITLE: An Autograph For Anjali

ISBN/ASIN: B01CM794TG

AUTHOR: Sundari Venkatraman

GENRE: Contemporary Romance/ Thriller

NUMBER OF PAGES: 303

FORMAT: Kindle

SERIES / STANDALONE: Standalone

HOW I GOT THIS BOOK: I thank the author for this copy.

SUMMARY:

Jayant Mathur is found murdered in his bed, shot at point-blank range with his own revolver. Though she’s extremely disturbed by his death, Jayant’s wife Anjali is way more upset about something else. Who stands to gain by killing the multi-millionaire businessman?

Parth Bhardwaj is a friend and neighbour of the Mathurs. Parth is an author who goes by a pseudonym. He appears more than a friend to Anjali; while he’s also on good terms with her son Arjun who lives and studies in the UK. What role does he play in Anjali’s life? Jayant’s relatives are curious to know.

Jayant’s brother-in-law Rana is convinced that Parth and Anjali are the murderers. But Inspector Phadke has his own doubts about this theory. In comes Samrat, the private detective who appears as quiet as a mouse. Will he be able to find the murderer?

Will Anjali find happiness and peace?

FIRST IMPRESSION:

For an author who has penned many romance novels, so much so that she has become synonymous with powerful romances dealing with uncertain but strong willed women, Sundari's writings have always, always captured my imagination. The first book I read from her carousel, The Madras Affair, was one of my all time favorites. So I knew what to expect from this novel, and I finished it in one sitting. After all, the book is a fairly new entry in my collection. It arrived only yesterday. 

REVIEW:

When I was offered this book for review, I grabbed the chance. I had read one previous work of the author, and half of another, before I got a chance to read her latest. Since her works stood well as standalones, I picked this up without hesitation and read it in one sitting.

Jayant Mathur is found dead in his own bedroom. A maid servant finds his corpse and alerts everyone. His wife of twenty years, Anjali Mathur, finds little emotion within her at his death, except pity. Parth Bhardwaj, famous author and their neighbour, appears on scene and helps the bereaved family finish the formal investigative procedures and the deceased's last rites. Arjun Mathur, the only scion to incredibly wealthy Jayant Mathur, is studying in the UK and returns home on hearing the news. Jayant's parents, sisters and their spouses enter the house to find Anjali sans any tears and the mysterious Parth helping out more than a normal friend would.

Doubts surface, aspersions are cast and before long, everyone comes under the police radar. Slightly miffed that his brother in law's immense wealth would go to a shrewy woman who did not even care to shed a phony tear, Rana tries his best to cast the tide of doubt towards her, deliberately pointing to the obvious closeness between the helpful Parth and the stony Anjali. A creative tale about Anjali's supposed affair turns tables and police are baffled. The story sets this wonderful premise and jumps six months back, giving more than enough background. When it came back to the present, the would be murder is solved and the case is closed.

What surprised me in the story is the beginning. Having expected a romance with thriller element, it was slightly shocking to see that the book opened with a crime scene. I did wonder for a few minutes about where exactly the romance angle would creep up. The obvious answer came within the first few pages and from then on, the story follows a casual whodunit plot. Starting with Anjali's indifferent behaviour to Rana's deliberate misinformation to Parth's seething anger, the book had a lot of suspects to work with, each with their own strong enough motive.

Jayant, for a character who was dead, invoked a strange sense of indignation in the woman in me, and I almost agreed with the treatment meted out to him by Anjali. Arjun, the son, was the one who captured my attention and made me wistful as to why good hearted people exist mostly in novels and stories. It is often parents who selflessly think about their children, but Arjun attracted the reader in me from his first appearance. The suspense of the killer's identity paralleled the suspense of the unexpected closeness of Arjun, Anjali and Parth.

But halfway through, I did forget that Jayant was actually a dead man and I was reading a flashback. The chapters involved too many scenes and details that slackened the pace of the romantic thriller and I did guess the 'murderer' by the time I was reading a part of the flashback, taking my time after that to only pile up evidence supporting my theory. Maybe I read too many books of the thriller genre, or maybe my mind automatically zoned towards the right vs wrong conundrum because of the author's descriptive writing that gave away more than it concealed. Anjali and Arjun evoked the strongest reaction in me, and I could write the whole review praising these characters and the depth with which they have been penned.

But focusing on the other aspects, the book needed tighter editing in its second half, the place where readers are prone to skim parts to get to the juicy areas where the real action happens. Keeping this part air tight would have made me more involved with the book. Other than the identity of the killer and the entertaining suspense, this book works well for fans of both genres, be it romance or thriller, though it does lean more towards the former.

WHAT I LIKED:

  • The book kept up the pace in the initial few chapters, building the suspense well
  • Arjun as a character was unrealistically great, someone I would remember for some time to come
  • Where the 'autograph for Anjali' came by, is one of the best plot elements
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER:

  • The killer's identity could have been a bit more layered suspense
  • The book slacked a bit in the middle, picking up pace only after the 'trip'.
  • The murderer's guilt was a bit overplayed, the emotions seemingly raw.
VERDICT:

A thriller that starts with a murder and delves into a flashback, resurfacing as a romance.

RATING: 4/5

EDITIONS AVAILABLE: Paperback, Kindle

PRICERs. 325 for Paperback, Free on Kindle Unlimited

BOOK LINKS: Amazon