Friday, October 26, 2018

#623 : The Song Peddler of Pont Neuf by Laura Lebow

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A well researched and well written historical fiction is always a pleasure to read. This book came highly recommended by my internet pal Emma. Having followed her for years now, I knew I had made the right choice of picking up this book. Set in old age France, the book is such a delight for "Francophiles" and mystery lovers like me.

The protagonist, Paul Gastebois is an inquirer - a profession which is almost unheard of in the times of French Revolution. Apart from being an inquirer, he works for the police department, tailing foreign diplomats and tracking their activities to ensure that there is no international incident. An old man named Montingy visits him to ask him to find his missing friend Gaspard who is a song peddler. As Paul embarks on a journey to tack down Gaspard, he stumbles upon a major plot which could discredit a powerful member of the French police.

What began as a straightforward and simple mystery turned quickly turned into an intricately woven web of events which led to a different ending all together. It is evident that the writer has put in a lot of time researching French politics and aristocracy which was crucial to her plot being quite air tight and interesting till the end. As a matter of fact, I had to carry out my mundane jobs with such difficulty for the plot kept running in my head wanting me to stop whatever I was doing and continue reading the book. In spite of heaving relying on politics and history for the plot line, the pacing never slacked at all. 

In short, this book turned out to be one of the best reads of this year. 

Please do buy the book here on Amazon & know more about it on Goodreads


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Thursday, September 20, 2018

#622 : Blame it on Paris by Lise McClendon (Bennette Sisters #7) : Review


Looks like I've gone on a spree,devouring books set in France. At the very mention of the word "Paris" I picked up the book without even reading the summary. Thankfully, that's a decision I didn't come to regret. 

Francine Bennett, the fourth of the five super talent Bennette sister goes through an insanely rough patch in the office thanks to office politics and a very  harmful accusation by a colleague. She is petrified by the prospect of taking mandatory leave until the issue is sorted out, all because the iron clad procedures which she herself drafted. To her luck, she is contacted by a friend of Reese Pugh who is having a tough time in Paris jail without  a friendly lawyer. The charges are serious, giving Francine an opportunity to visit Paris in the time she gets off. She ends up navigating the barriers and blockades of the French judicial system along with her sister who lives in France and has a French boy friend. 

Croissants, Cherry Bloom, Espresso - the story is just peppered with all thing typical to Paris. Not that I'm complaining though! The story is well paced out and has the right kind of twists and turns in place to keep it an engaging read. In spite of not having read the previous books in the series I was able to get into that grove and understand the flow. However, there were a couple of threads in the story that didn't make sense as they referred to incidents from previous books - it wasn't really harmful to the flow of the story in general for me. 

The characterization is just perfect. Given that the writer might have introduced all the characters in her previous books, she has to take enough care to not overdo as it might become repetitive for people who have followed the series. She also has to ensure that the new readers won't really feel out of depth because they've not read the other books. The writer has done a splendid job balancing the characterization. 

Do read more about the book and you can buy it here!
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Monday, September 17, 2018

#621 : Madrid - Spain Diaries


Having talked about the food and the people, it's time to focus on the places I got to explore in the very little time that I stayed in Madrid. Work was quite hectic and left us with just some time in the weekends to explore. Since I was put up in a hotel which was a 2 minute walk from the San Cristobal Industrial station, I found it quite easy to explore. In spite of having a car, I preferred to take the train as it was less of hassle and quite a cheaper option too. 

Pro tip here - Finding a parking space in most places in the Madrid city can be daunting. Parking in the wrong slot or not displaying the parking ticket can attract a heavy fine. One of my colleague ended up paying EUR 90 twice for parking in the wrong spot.  More over, if you are used to left hand driving, navigating around with a map can be tricky as Spain follows right hand driving - this means round about and exits which are easy to miss and hard to follow if your navigation skills are poor. Not being withing speed limits and drunk driving are pretty heavy offence too. Ditch the car, take a cab or the metro or the subway trains. 

Fact File : 

Madrid (My Spanish colleague insisted on pronouncing it as madhreedh) is roughly 604 km sq in size and has a population of 6.5 million. It is the capital of Spain and is a literal melting pot of people and culture. It's the ninth most densely populated city in Europe. It is home to beautiful churches and elegant boulevards, expansive, manicured parks such as the Buen Retiro. It’s renowned for its rich repositories of European art, including the Prado Museum’s works by Goya, Velázquez and other Spanish masters. The heart of old Hapsburg Madrid is the portico-lined Plaza Mayor, and nearby is the baroque Royal Palace and Armory, displaying historic weaponry.

Places to visit in Madrid : 

La Puerta del Sol - It's the central spot of Madrid. It's the place to be to experience Madrid and shop for anything - Clothes, Food, Fashion, Souvenirs - you name it, it's there. Well connected by trains, you can't possibly miss this place. Beware of your belongings during weekends and festival times as the crowd can be a bit overwhelming. The local cops do a through job of managing the crowd and helping the tourists. Lookout for local performers who do a great job, nothing like witnessing a lovely dance/music performance live. 

Sol Square, Before Christmas

San Miguel Mercado - Must visit place for a food. It's a short and pleasant walk from Sol square. Live music, tapas food (Spanish finger food) and great wine - This place is a dream for a foodie. It's a stunning 20th century building  glass walled building constructed in 1916.

San Miguel on a Sunday

Barrio de La Latina - La Latina has two sides to it - The nigh life side and the flea market side. A detailed post about this place coming up later some time. 

Plaza Mayor - Beautiful square with intense architecture by Juan de Villanueva. The square is home to a thriving antique flea market on weekend. Coins, stamps, old dairies, antiques - you get everything for dirt cheap prices. 

Círculo de Bellas Artes -  This is basically a museum with a rooftop restaurant with breath taking views. I'm not really inclined to art so I skipped the museum and hit the rooftop. You can literally see all of Madrid. There was a photography exhibit on the restaurant when we visited. Good food, breathtaking views - it's slightly crowded though on weekends.

Buen Retiro Park - This is the place to be if you want to escape the daily din. Spread over 350 acres of lush greenery the park is home to a beautiful lake and manicured gardens. 

Royal Palace of Madrid - A beautiful place to be if you are into history. I skipped this and visited the other palace in Aranjuez. The space outside the Palace is really picturesque and is a great place for pictures. This place is almost always crowded and has a lot of street performers doing various things. 

Palacio de Cristal - Remember the beautiful glass palace in the famous Rajinikant movie - Sivaji - that's this place - glory in glass and metal! 


Las Ventas - I didn't get to watch bull fighting as I returned before summer. Mind you, Spanish bull fighting is not for the faint heart. Unlike the Indian version - Jallikattu - the bulls here are killed. Las Vantas is the bull fighting ring in Madrid. 

Museo Nacional Del Prado- I'm not a museum person, but the Prado museum is quite famous and is a place must visit if you love art. 

Almost all the mentioned places are quite well connected via the Spanish Metro/train system. 

Lookout for more posts in the series about shopping and various other places to visit. Read the first post in the series here.

PS. It's my first season with the fantastic blogger campaign #MyFriendAlexa. This post is a part of it! #WriteAway

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Monday, September 10, 2018

#620 : The French Escape By Suzie Tullett

                                                   

This is one of those books whose cover has "pick me up" written all over it and thus I went ahead to pick it up. Thankfully I didn't regret my decision to pick it up without reading the summary. The story, the writing, the setting and the characters - all were so enjoyable. 


The protagonist - Flick aka Felicity is trying to rebuild her life after her husband deserts her on the day of her wedding. Brenda, her mother, tries to help Flick out by dragging her to France to restore and live in a Chateau. The chateau is in a small town and naturally, they end up making friends with the whole town. Enter Nate, the mysterious neighbor who has is own share of problems. 



The story has all the right ingredients in the right proportions to make you go all warm and fuzzy. The pacing and the hooking events were are done to perfection that I hardly noticed the time when I read the book. The characters have the right shades to them. One qualm I have though is with Brenda's character. Her character was all "mother" and less of "Brenda" the person. 

In short, the book was a warm and entertaining read. 

                                           



Author Bio:

Suzie Tullett is an author of contemporary humorous fiction and romantic comedy. She has a Masters Degree in Television & Radio Scriptwriting and worked as a scriptwriter before becoming a full-time novelist. Her novels include Going Underground, Little White Lies and Butterflies, which was short-listed for The Guardian's Not the Booker Prize, The Trouble with Words and The French Escape.

Her motto is to 'live, laugh, love' and when she's not busy creating her own literary masterpieces, she usually has her head in someone else's.

Suzie lives in a tiny hamlet in the middle of the French countryside, along with her husband and two Greek rescue dogs.

Links:

https://suzietullett.com/
https://twitter.com/SuzieTullett
https://www.facebook.com/SuzieTullettAuthor/

PS. It's my first season with the fantastic blogger campaign #MyFriendAlexa. This post is a part of it! #WriteAway
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Sunday, September 9, 2018

#619 : Groomnapped by Sundari Venkatraman : Review

                                                  

Groomnapped - What an intriguing title. The protagonist  Ameya - Millionaire, falls in love with Surekha, the eldest daughter of a carpenter. Surekha's family cannot really afford the wedding or the dowry with their measly income. Ameya has no other choice but to resort to extreme means to marry the love of his life. 

The story is quite fast paced and well thought of. However, it just scrapes the outer layer of a very serious issue. Such a story line offers a wide scope to play with some serious emotions, nevertheless, the writer has chosen to keep it a simple read without bringing in the heavy emotional baggage that this story line has to offer.  

To cope up with being a simple story, the writer has ensured to keep the characterization simple and straightforward without adding layers and complexity. 

This book is a perfect read if you are in a reading slump or have just completed reading an emotionally heavy book. 




GROOMNAPPED
(The Groom Series #1)
by
Sundari Venkatraman



BLURB

The lovely and feisty Surekha is the eldest of three daughters of a carpenter from the wrong side of the tracks. She teaches science and maths in the Bihar Public School. 

Ameya is the only son of a millionaire farmer-cum-builder and over and above that, he’s educated too. 

They meet and fall in love quite easily, the drawback being the dowry system prevalent in Bihar. With Ameya’s parents expecting a huge dowry and Surekha’s parents having a tough time eking a living out of their humble income, it seems like the match between the two lovers is one made in hell. 

Ameya isn’t one to take things lying on his back. But when the parents who adore him otherwise are so set against the marriage, will he be able to make Surekha his? 

Grab your copy @


About the author


Sundari Venkatraman is an indie author who has 31 titles (27 books & 4 collections) to her name, all Top 100 Bestsellers on Amazon India, Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada and Amazon Australia in both romance as well as Asian Drama categories. Her latest hot romances have all been on #1 Bestseller slot in Amazon India for over a month.

Even as a kid, Sundari absolutely loved the ‘lived happily ever after’ syndrome as she grew up reading all the fairy tales she could lay her hands on, Phantom comics, Mandrake comics and the like. It was always about good triumphing over evil and a happy end. 

Soon, into her teens, Sundari switched her attention from fairy tales to Mills & Boon. While she loved reading both of these, she kept visualising what would have happened if there were similar situations happening in India; to a local hero and heroine. Her imagination took flight and she always lived in a rosy cocoon of romance over the years. 

Then came the writing – a true bolt out of the blue! And Sundari Venkatraman has never looked back.

Click here to check out all the titles by the author...

You can stalk her @
      
        

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We Promote So That You Can Write 


PS. It's my first season with the fantastic blogger campaign #MyFriendAlexa. This post is a part of it! #WriteAway
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Saturday, September 1, 2018

#618 : Paella - Spain Diaries - The Spanish Food

It's been a while since I got back from Spain and I now intend to finish off the Spanish series which I started back when I was in Spain. I stayed in Madrid for about 120 days before heading back home. One question that I got asked was, as to how I managed food. Every other person pitied me. However,  I never really  felt bad or difficult or worse, starved. It's just that one has to adapt and I realised that I was rather good at adapting.

Food is always a problem for  a Vegetarian. Though the world is becoming more accommodating and inclusive to different food habits, there is still a long road ahead. Being an Indian, it's virtually impossible to handle eating bland food. I realised, the spices we used were literally our lifeline. Imagine eating rice with tomato puree sans pepper or coriander seeds or turmeric. However, that was my lunch for a while. Vegetable Salad, Spinach in Bechamel sauce, Pasta with Tomato Sauce, Veg Hamburgers - that's all I had for lunch apart from a variety of watery soups served with sourdough bread. All of them were so bland that adding heaps and heaps of pepper to any of them really didn't make a difference. Beggars can't be choosers. In a land of meat lovers, I couldn't possibly pick and choose. 

The Spanish love their meat. Every other major super market has varieties of meat stacked neatly that even the meat eaters who travelled with me from India were a bit perplexed as to what to buy. Jamón ibérico (Cured Ham) or just Jamón (Pork), chorizo and salchichón are a few local favourites. They also do love their sea food. The most loved dish being Paella which is something similar to Sea Food Briyani which is served here in India sans the spices of course. 


In spite of the lack of a variety in vegetarian cuisine, I had a whale of a time trying out different dishes. Special note of thanks to my colleague from Spain who ensured that I knew what to eat when I went exploring. Here is a little guide on surviving Spanish food if you are a vegetarian like me, 


1. Bocadillo/Tortilla Patata - The classic Spanish omelette eaten squeezed between bread. I don't eat eggs as well, but if you do, this might be just perfect as they are known to be quite stomach filling. The speciality being that the eggs are mixed with mashed potatoes. 


2. Gazpacho - I tried this when I went to Cordoba (Andalusia). It's basically cold tomato soup which is typical of Spain. Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Garlic, Green peppers, Onions and Vinegar are mashed and served cold as an appetiser - this ended up being my main course though! This ranked third in my list of most flavorful foods I ate in Spain.  Salmorejo is a similar variation of Gazpacho combining pureed bread, tomatoes, garlic and vinegar – also served cold – with ham or egg slices on top. I took special care to specify not adding Egg or Ham as they always do. 


3. Pisto or Spanish ratatouille - I savoured this dish first on my trip to Aranjuez which is a small town south of Madrid. This dish turned out to be a literal life saver. I'd blindly ask for this every time I ate out as almost all restaurants served Pisto. Pisto is basically a blend of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, onions, garlic, and of course, olive oil. The La Mancha district is known to serve the best Pisto. Just like Gazpacho, this dish is served with a piece of toasted bread and egg on top of it. Yet again, I skipped the egg. This ranked second in my list of most flavourful food I ate in Spain.


4. Patatas Bravas - This was the true savoir. It is a classic potato fry coated in tangy tomato sauce. That sauce was the spiciest dish I ever tasted in Spain. After days of eating bland food, when we chanced upon this, it was like being in food heaven! The number one dish in my list of most flavourful food from Spain.


5. Bean Stews and Salads - Bean stews (or soups) were my staple lunch for a while. The chefs in my work place canteen made such good stews, at times specially for me. It was really heartwarming to see them put in efforts to ensure that the single vegetarian person is fed properly. Some of the best stews I tasted were Fabada Asturiana (White Beans, the pork-less version), Chickpea stew and Red bean stew. 


6. Churros and Porras - One can't possibly not eat Churros when in Spain. Yet again, my Spanish colleague deserves all the credit for showing me the best joints to gorge on yum Churros. Churros is basically an elongated form of donut which is eaten best dunked in hot chocolate. If I could, I'd rather have Churros for breakfast daily. It's just way too sinful to be eaten regularly. A little joint in Madrid serves the best Churros. It's called Chocolatería San Ginés. It's open 24 hours and is crowded to boot all the time. Apparently, you party all the night and eat Churros here in the morning before heading back home to sleep. This is one must visit cafeteria in Madrid. Another place which is a must visit in Madrid for good Tapas (or food) is Mercado San Miguel and the La Latina area. That place is worth a separate post. 



Churros from San Gines

Apart from the above mentioned dishes, I loved drinking Spanish Sangria (the non alcholic version),Mosto (Grape juice sans alcohol) and hot chocolate (Cola Cao). Again, I ought to thank the same Spanish colleague who got me bottles of Mosto and Sangria! Muchas Gracias! 


One point which I almost forgot to mention - the portion sizes vs price. The Spanish sense of portion is confusing. For an Indian who is used to large portion sizes, the Spanish portion size will not be enough and would be over-priced! Think of pay EUR 8 for a small cup of Pisto which would possibly be your lunch. With conversion rates sky rocketing, it's a millimetre short of being a gaping hole on your pocket. 


Above all, to survive being a vegetarian, you just need to learn the Spanish words for meat, fish and 'NO'. 


Sin Carne, Sin Pescado, Sin Pollo, Sin Huevo - will literally help you anywhere in Spain!  


PS. If you are non-vegetarian, you really don't need my help. Unless of course if you don't eat pork and beef. 


PPS. You can read the rest of series here! 


PPPS. I am taking my Alexa rank to the next level with Blogchatter
This is my #Post1 /#Week1 for the #MyFriendAlexa campaign.

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Monday, August 27, 2018

#617 : Cĥxp pîng! Bangkok Trails


Do read the first two parts in the series here - Part 1 Part 2 

After that relaxing stay in Krabi we boarded a flight to Bangkok. We picked the Thai Lion flight which landed by afternoon in the Don Muang airport. This is point in the trip when we experienced our first major difficulty. Bangkok is rather infamous for it's horrendous traffic jams. We were scheduled for a cruise dinner which was to start by 8PM. Our pick up was scheduled at 5PM and we hadn't reached our hotel only. We learnt about the pickup time from our local contact just as we landed. There was some kind of a mismatch between the final vouchers PickYourTrail sent and the timings on the website that we booked. After frantic calls using the pathetic internet connection we had, we managed to check in and start out by 6PM and make it on time too. 

The Chao Phraya cruise was the first activity in Bangkok that we choose. The prospect of cruising peacefully enjoying an international meal and admiring the landscape of Bangkok was enticing. However, it turned out to be quite the opposite. The ship was filled with just Indians, with blaring Hindi/Punjabi music being played and Indian food being served. By the time we got back to the hotel, I had a severe headache. I was pretty convinced that the our agency had probably booked us specifically onto to some kind of an Indian special cruise. I have nothing against Hindi Music or Indian food, but at that place and that setting, I wanted to experience something global. The view was the only thing which put me out of my misery that day. 

Day two in Bangkok dawned, after a sumptuous breakfast in our hotel, we headed for the Buddha tour. We managed to visit the famous Buddhist temples in the city. Yet again, not the kind of the experience I was looking forward to. The whole tour seemed slightly commercialized. I was looking to experience Buddhism, but we ended up roaming around the temples like tourists. The temples however were truly beautiful. Simply wished we could understand the culture better. It was a half day trip and we went back to the hotel.
 
We stayed in the famous Sukhumvit area. It was quite a busy place with crowd pulling massage parlors and restaurants. One restaurant worth the mention was a Lebanese one - Nadimos. Unfortunately, the Thai cuisine doesn't have much to offer for vegetarians. Lebanese food came to our rescue!


We decided to visit the famous Rod Fai night market. That trip was one hell of an adventure. It wasn't a part of the package, which meant we had to find our own way to reach the place. Without Google maps and a proper internet connection, we knew that was big risk. The valet in the hotel where we stayed managed to flag down a cab and convince him to use the meter. We reached the place safely and managed to find our way into the market which was safely tucked out view thanks to a mall. Filled with cheap cosmetics, dresses, accessories and street food, that market was the pure Thailand experience for us. The place was a local hang out spot and didn't really pull in the tourist crowd. A couple of guys from my home town who were there in Bangkok for their jobs were the only 'tourist' sort we met. It was such fun to try to communicate and shop for things in that market. Language was a big barrier but it didn't hamper the overall experience. Food was the only thing we really struggled with. With literal non existent vegetarian options, we had to settle for desserts like Pancakes to fill our stomach. 

Our trip back to the hotel was the highlight of the trip. Getting a cab back to the hotel was fast turning into a nightmare until one guy stopped and agreed to take us back while with meter rates. There was girl who was seated in the front seat. Having heard stories about flesh trade and prostitution, my imagination went wild very quickly. We didn't know the language nor did we know our way around, we simply were easy targets to be cheated on. However, that driver and the girl put in so much efforts to make us feel warm and secure as they sensed our fears. In spite of not knowing English, she communicated so well with us using google voice and translate. Technology really came to our help that day. Faith in humanity = restored. 

We woke feeling all warm and fuzzy from our previous night's experience and looked forward for a relaxing day at the zoo. Little did we know that we were in for a rude surprise.  Bangkok Zoo turned out to be a bad idea. Filled with unruly horde of tourists, all from India, it was such a bad experience to move around and get seats in the various shows. I realized that we Indians, lack that discipline to stand in a line and move around as a large group. I vowed never to visit a place which would be possibly flocked by fellow Indians. 

After that hectic time in the zoo, we decided to go shopping to relax. Nothing more relaxing than indulging in some retail therapy! The people in PickYourTrail recommended that we hit the Prutnam Market and the Platinum mall. We shopped for clothes, accessories and cosmetics - all of which were available in dirt cheap rates. Here is a small list of things which are worth indulging in. 

1. Earrings - You can't possibly chance upon better quality and designs anywhere else in the world! 
2. Handmade soap - That smell and that shape! It got me as excited as a 5 year old. 
3. Cosmetics - There is this 99% Aloe-Vera lip balm and strawberry lip scrub which is working wonders to my lips. If you have oily skin like mine, the Srichand
4. Clothes - Dirt chip and are of good quality. 

After that fab shopping session we decided to unwind and experience the world famous Thai Massage. The hotel that we stayed in had an attached massage parlor. We picked Aromatherapy massage. The masseurs were well trained and professional. 

Next day dawned, it was time to leave. We took the Thai airways flight back home. Though the trip wasn't really what one would call perfect, the time off worked magic for us. 

PS. I've not uploaded pictures for personal reasons. If you want to peek into my album, give me a shout out, will share it privately! 

PPS. I know this is such a delayed post. My day job had me clamped to the desk. 



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Thursday, August 16, 2018

#616 : Bombay Heights by Adite Banerjie: Review

                                               


The title makes it obvious that at least one of the protagonists are not from Bombay and are in the city to seek a livelihood. Moreover, the cover also indicates a romantic liaison.  You don't really need to be Sherlock Holmes to guess this. That was exactly the story line. Protagonists Sanjana and Ashwin have an accidental meeting thanks to Aswin's cute little dog. They end up working together. Then there is the ex-lover and a large family to tackle as they can't help but fall for each other. 

Having read this writer's works earlier, I knew what to expect in terms of language and story flow. The characterisation, just like that in her previous books, is done progressively. The characters start out to be almost immature just adults and move out to become mature proper adults. However, I wished there was a bit more grey to the ex-lover - Chetan's character. In fact, I wished other characters were also a bit more flawed. Most of the characters were way too perfect for my taste. 

The pacing was great thanks to that cute pet, the funky roommate and a large family. In fact, this might as well be a real life story of two people. The story by itself was that realistic. In spite of being fast paced, I felt the lack of a punch that I expected from this story. I'm a fan of happy endings, but not all loose ends need to be tied up. That's my second peeve point with the story as such. 

The cover could have been designed better. I felt it gave too much away about the story. 

In short, the book was an entertaining read. 

Do buy the book here. 

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Friday, August 10, 2018

#615 : Killer Moves by Varsha Dixit : Review


                                                   


Having read almost all of this writer's previous works which were hardcore romance, I was quite curious and eager to read a thriller from her. Aisha's mundane screen-writing life turns topsy turvy when her niece Kiara goes to goa with a rumored killer-photographer for a photoshoot. Kiara's life is threatened and Aisha is forced to empty her closet of secrets to save her life and her life too in the end. 

Most writers often take for granted the importance of solid characterisation while writing a thriller. It is important to build that layer by layer image to derive motive and means which is very vital to keep the readers hooked to a thriller. Given that the writer is experienced in writing romance which highly relies on characterisation, doing the characterisation for this book would have been a piece of cake. All the characters were just perfect and had enough shades to them. All of the characters - be it the primary ones like Aisha, Kiara, Kabir or the secondary ones like Parth had enough value and time on the story. The other highlight was the no fluff approach in the characterisation. Each character had just the shade enough for this book with minor loose ends which hints at a sequel. 

The plot was good, with one slight loophole - I don't wish to elaborate on this as I can't do so without giving away spoilers. It plotting was fast paced and had enough twist points till the end. However, somewhere towards the end when Aisha comes back to Mumbai, I felt the writer literally rushed the story a bit. That part could have been slower. The supernatural twist completely caught me off guard. I really didn't see that coming! Given the story involved grotesque murders, the writer has done a good job of describing the emotions, but again, I felt the romance part of the story was a little bit forced. The chemistry wasn't just somehow right. 

Overall, the book was one hell of a thriller! Killer moves in deed! 
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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

#614 : 40ft Off the Ground by Shobana Mahadevan : Review



40ft off the ground is the story of a bunch of engineering students and their lives in college. The main protagonists, Sreya and Vishal meet in a bus as they both head to the first day in the same college. Eventually they get to know each other well, fall in love and the rest is their journey through lows and highs.. Of course, there are a bunch of other people - Aadhi, Anand, Priya, Kavya who become friends, fall in and out of love and move on in life. 

Story wise, this is a mildly elaborate account of a college going kid's life. If you have crossed that phase of life, it will take you on a sombre trip down the memory lane. That's just about it though. The story lacks the hook to keep the readers attached to it. The story track between Sreya and Vishal was very predictable. Sreya's reasoning for not accepting Vishal seemed very superficial and lacked the emotional punch that was required for such a background story that Sreya had. Kavya's story was the only part that was actually surprising. The story also seemed very similar to the story line of a bunch of movies - Cheran's Autograph and Highway are a couple of them that I can remember right now. 

The writing, overall was good. The writer seems to know her way around the language well. However, the lack of in depth emotions and superficial characterisation combined with a punchless story made it a rather poor read. A story needs to be shown and not told. This is exactly where the writer slipped. With the kind of the language skill that the writer has, I felt she could have done better. It was like reading a Chetan Bagat's  book albeit a better written one. The similarity stops just with the kind of the story line he writes. The language made the biggest difference! This book is best suited for Young Adult and teenagers. Also well suited for people who have just taken to the habit of reading. 

Note : The writer provided me a digital copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. You can buy your copy here.  
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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

#613 : Being a Blogger

                             
Ages ago, blogging used to be something precisely what the cartoon describes.  It was the boom of the internet and IT. People began blogging left and right, sharing things which found audience literally in the opposite part of the world. Orkut was a rage back then, but it didn't have the right means to publicize a person or a webpage as much as Facebook or Twitter does today. I personally loved following many blogs back then, most of which are inactive or simply gone today.It made me realize something - Long gone are days when people blogged purely for passion. 

With the advent of SEO - Search Engine Optimization and Digital marketing, the true essence of blogging has been diluted. There used to be a time when a simple write up about my day garnered me 3000 hits, now it has come down to a measly 100 hits in spite of writing about far more interesting topics. I had just posted about my experience in Thailand which would possibly have gotten more a 100 views a couple of years ago as it is quite rich in content has a couple of pictures, but today, that article has just gotten over 39 views in a time span of 12 hours. I've shared it on all social media platforms where I have an average of 300 followers. The numbers simply don't add up. Just as I was pondering about all this, Shrinidhi, a fellow blogger, blogged about 9 disturbing trends a blogger needs to be worried about. Do read it here. 

In his blog post, a couple of points caught my eye. Here is my take on this issue

1. It's not all about metrics - A community I am a part of on Facebook has all "serious" bloggers. Many members of that community offer guest posts majorly only to people who have a decent DA score. What is DA score? I had no idea until I dug around and did some research. Then there is the Moz Score, the Alexa rank and what not. Google Analytics has a beautiful suite of tools which can help you drill down data right from which browsers your audience is using, to the OS that they are on and of course, the most basic metric of which location they blog to.

Does it matter? It ideally should not. However, at the end of the day, it comes back to the big question - Why blog? It is okay to blog for monetary reasons, but that does not give the free rein to mock and create problems for other bloggers who do it purely for passion. Peppering an article with 'top trending' keywords and forcing Google to pick up the article might work, but it doesn't make sense at all. As Shrinidhi mentioned, this eventually leads to poor quality of articles which harms the community of genuine bloggers.

The only way to escape from crutches of metrics is to act as a  community. Commenting and sharing genuine blog posts, inviting people to guest blog without actually looking at their blog's metrics would certainly help. 

2. It's not all about vlogs, pictures, questions and quips - For an average reader, it takes about 7 minutes to read a 1000 word article while it takes around 3 hours to write it. It's the era of Videos and pictures. Then there is this big issue of peppering the article with keywords. The combined effect of these two has literally resulted in lost readership. People don't seem to have the patience to read a 1000 word article. A blog post without a picture is literally of no use today. I agree that videos and picture enrich the experience, but the lack of it should not be the reason for a text blog to be thought of any lesser. 

Twitter, Facebook and Quora together are the prime reason for people getting accustomed to pictures, videos and short answers. Most answers on Quora are like instant soup. They fill the stomach but aren't nutritious in long run. The real art of research is lost. People look for instant gratification and instant answers.  Of course, Quora also has a community of people who work hard to ensure that the answers are sensible, correct and are not just a bunch of links pointing to various websites. 

Moreover, as Shrinidhi pointed out, Google, the biggest search engine seems to be adapted itself to handle the large inflow of blogs which are stuffed with keywords. It has reduced the importance of text blogs in general to make way to media rich and key word rich blogs. 

3. It's not all about positive reviews and marketing always - One piece of advice that I have been given over the years is to find a niche in the blogging-sphere. Why should I? I love to read books, so I write about them. I love to eat, so I write about cooking. Why should I not write about what interests me. Why should I be mocked for doing what I love to do - that is, to write. 

An excellent book group recently shut it's promotional activities. They were into promoting books by the means of blog hops, book blitzes and reviews. Why have they shut? The person who ran the group reasoned out that the bloggers felt pressurized and were no more ready to review books. There are writers who demand stellar 5 star reviews to drive sales. They insist that the blogger write only good things about their book. Is it a fair expectation? It's not just the book-blogger world which faces this issue, food bloggers and product bloggers have a similar set of problems. It is okay to promote to a brand based on it's merit, but it's not okay to be demanded to be promoted over the sake of it. It is a question of ethics over quick money. 

Here is what I'm planning to do immaterial of my readership, hits, likes, shares (Oh whatever!)

I'm going to write my head out - about whatever I like, but as always, I will take care not to hurt the sentiments of  other human being. Free speech is over-rated and subjective. 

I'm going to be as active as  possible in commenting and sharing genuine content by passionate bloggers. 

Somethings are not always about a bunch of metrics and money. For me blogging is one such thing, support if you can, or please show yourself out of my cyber space. 

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Monday, July 23, 2018

#612 : S̄wy : The Beaches of Krabi!

For some background on this - do read the first post in the series here.

The word 'S̄wy' translates to beautiful in Thai. It is the perfect word to describe Krabi. Dreaming of experiencing lush greenery, rocky terrain and dreamy beaches without wanting to go bankrupt? Krabi might just fit the bill perfectly. We picked this place over Phuket as it wasn't as much as crowded as Phuket. 

The month of June marks the beginning of monsoon in Thailand. Thankfully for us, there were just mild showers and the sea wasn't really rough but it was slightly choppy though. So if you are planning a trip from June to September, it would be wise to check the weather. Torrential rains are not a rarity in Thailand and hence it would not really be a pleasant experience.

We picked the 1:10 AM Thai airways flight from Chennai which landed in Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport at 6.10AM in the morning. Thailand has visa on arrival options for Indians. Do check the visa requirements beforehand as they do involve carrying certain amount of local currency (Thai Bhat). Our travel agents - PickYourTrail recommended that we obtain our visas before hand. They guided us quite well with the documents that were needed to get the visa. One pro tip here - it is recommended to maintain a stable balance of minimum INR 40,000 at least for a month or so before you apply. We were warned that visa do get rejected if the transfers in and out of the account were erratic.

Our flight to Krabi was operated by Thai Smile airways and departed from Bangkok by 1:25PM and landed in Krabi by 2:45 PM. We decide not to do any activity in the evening and just explore the near by area. We choose to stay at a modern and artistic place - a resort near the famous Ao Nang beach in Krabi - Red Ginger Chic resort. We booked a superior room but were upgraded for free to a duplex suit which literally was so dreamy and comfortable. We spent the evening relaxing in the resort, soaking in the atmosphere and ended our day with a perfect candle light dinner. The food was way too good and there were surprisingly enough vegetarian options! 

That greenery was worth waiting 6 hours at the airport!
Next day - On our itinerary was Phi Phi island. Given it was Ramzan on that day and Krabi had a sizeable population of Muslims, our tour started a bit late. We got picked up by 10 AM and the returned back by 5 PM. From the meeting point, we boraded on a speed boat and visited various spots including Monkey Islands, Phi Phi Don Island, Phi Phi Ley island, Viking caves. 

All of them were typically dreamy beaches, blueish beautiful water with mountains nearby. We ended the day with a snorkelling activity. Lunch was included in the package. 

Some pointers in general about the trip to Phi Phi island. 

  1. The beaches are so good and might be the best place to take a dip if you don't know swimming. 
  2. There is an entrance fee of THB 400 per person. 
  3. Taking the speedboat might not be a good idea if you have backbone problems and motion sickness. 
  4. If the sea is all choppy be prepared for a rough ride on the speedboat. It was initially such fun as the boat went up and down, but after a while, you literally develop a headache with all that chopping feel of the rough sea. 
  5. Snorkelling is a bad idea if you don't know swimming, because the currents are quite strong and it would be quite a task to stay afloat. The guide might know swimming but is probably no expert in teaching your to snorkel or to stay afloat. 
  6. Towels, Sunscreen, swimwear, Waterproof bags, Bags to carry wet clothes - Absolute essentials.
Look at that water?! Isn't it too good!

We spent the evening exploring Krabi, it's night market and food scene. For a vegetarian, there were enough options available, but most of them were not local to Thailand. Fruits, Indian and Italian plus pancakes from roadside shops were the real saviours! Do make it a point to eat the Dragon fruit which is abundantly available there. They are so yum and make for a good snack. 

We woke up late the next day and explored the beach nearby before heading to the airport for our next destination - Bangkok. We decided to skip shopping in Krabi as Bangkok is a better destination to shop.

Some general pointers about the trip to Krabi

  1. There are two airports in Bangkok - Don Muang (DMK) and Suvarnabhumi. Low cost carriers such as Air Asia use the DMK airport which is really crowded. Suvarnabhumi airport was quite large when compared to DMK airport. So take care if you opt in for low cost carrier.
  2.  Thai Smile airlines - They messed up with our food from Bangkok to Krabi. It was such a bad experience - We had opted for vegetarian which wasn't updated in their system and we ended up having just a bottle of water instead. It was lunch time and we were quite hungry. 
  3. The 6 hour transit was just boring thought we just lazed around in the airport and munched on snacks. Remember to avoid such long transit times, we felt that we should have done our research better.
  4. One day in Krabi is not enough to explore the whole place. Since we really wanted to visit Bangkok, we opted just for a day, but no regrets as we felt very relaxed by the time we landed in Bangkok.
  5. Food ought to try for a Vegetarian - Dried candied Banana, Tom Yum (Ask for the vegetarian version, it has such a different flavour), Road side pancakes - These are different from traditional pancakes.  
In short, Krabi was such a relaxing place with dreamy beaches and lush greenery!

PS. Not posting my pictures for personal reasons! Lookout for more about Thailand in my next post too. 
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