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!

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 : Review


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.


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

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. 

(The Groom Series #1)
Sundari Venkatraman


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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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! 

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This is my #Post1 /#Week1 for the #MyFriendAlexa campaign.