Blogchatter EBook Carnival 2021 has some fabulous e-books for readers. I’ll be reviewing as many of them as I can. Here’s one of my favorite e-books to be published this year – Xanadu by Harshita Nanda.
Xanadu’s superb, edge-of-the-seat storytelling and empathetic portrayal of relationships, longing, and belonging proves that Harshita is a master of the craft.
I had read the story in bits and pieces when she was posting it as part of Blogchatter A2Z Challenge and each chapter ends such that it leaves you wanting more. I was always left with numerous thoughts and questions after each day. I lived through the lives of the characters, especially Anita and Bhoomi.
A strong theme of belongingness runs through the story. Every body is looking for a corner or a person to call their own — whether they find it or not is for you to discover. Each character is molded by life’s trials and tribulations. Their decisions carve out the path their future will take.
Xanadu is riveting, sensitive, and beautifully told — Harshita knows how to grab the reader’s attention and keep it firmly there. The plot feels both fast-paced and languid at the same time. What I mean is that plenty of things are happening in the story, yet the author has somehow managed to devote enough space and attention to each character and setting.
My favorite character is Anita. Her steadfastness and quiet resilience in the middle of loneliness, neglect, and poverty is inspiring. That she did not harbor any bitter thoughts towards those who wronged her is a clear sign of her excellent character and large heart. The harsh hand that Fate dealt her made me cry a little. How many of us can face adversity for decades and yet retain the core of our being–the purity of our soul that makes us “us?”
Xanadu is short enough to complete in one sitting, but it will leave you with enough food for thought to last you for days. It’s a beautiful story about relationships, love and longing, heartbreak and loss, and returning to one’s roots.
Only You is the first book I’ve read by Andaleeb and she’s opened up a whole new world for me. My TBR pile has just expanded to include all the rest of the Destination Wedding series books. Only You is Book #5 but can be read as a standalone story.
I’m especially interested in Naima and Uzair’s story because Andaleeb has dropped enough references to convince me that their story would be quite something–with family drama and people changing their minds at the last minute.
Andaleeb’s writing is open, unpretentious, and authentic. It feels like she’s writing the story of someone close to her.
She reveals tiny details bit by bit, gradually making the picture clearer for the reader. This device kept me hooked throughout the book.
I’m being deliberately obtuse here because I want you to enjoy the book with no preconceived notions. When I began to read the story, all I knew was that Only You was about Ghazal and Hamdaan’s love.
The clash between conservative thought and modern lifestyle was depicted well. Ghazal posts photos of her life on Instagram, but her parents won’t allow her to spend time with friends after work or during weekends. She’s working at a firm and earning her keep, but her family won’t allow her to choose her husband!
The incongruity of it all is funny, but it’s also sad because this is reality for many girls in India–Muslim or not.
As characters, Ghazal and Hamdaan are flawed enough to be real people. I found Ghazal to be a strange mix of rebellion and acquiescence. Maybe she’s just extremely good at choosing her battles. Hamdaan indulges in a pity party for way longer than necessary, in my opinion.
I loved the theme of two people, considered “damaged goods” by society, helping each other glue their broken pieces together.
It has always awed me how writers of romance manage to keep readers turning the pages, when they know that there will be a happily-ever-after at the end. We already know that there’s a wedding in there somewhere in Only You, but I was waiting with bated breath for that first kiss without even knowing if it would ever arrive.
The lovemaking scenes are superbly written. After all the stiff and formal ceremonies, it was a treat to the senses.
Ghazal’s brother and sister-in-law deserve special mention here as the only characters who mostly kept a cool head around the “scandals” that kept threatening to tear the family apart. Without their no-nonsense advice, Ghazal and Hamdaan may not have made it past all the prejudice and misunderstandings.
As if you can’t tell already, I thoroughly enjoyed Andaleeb’s version of boy-meets-girl, especially because most of the drama happens AFTER marriage, which complicates things because now there are families, egos and emotions involved.
In conclusion, Only You takes turns being bitter, angsty, sweet, heartwarming and spicy. It’s written with a refreshing focus on the girl’s state of mind and flux of emotions. And it celebrates the blossoming of love despite suffocating customs and rituals, prejudice and misunderstanding.
(I received a review copy from the author via Blogchatter with a request for an honest review.)
The Tantric Exorcist draws from the tale of Vikram and Betal to weave a detailed account of possession by a vetal and its exorcism by a powerful tantric practitioner.
The story is not quite terrifying, but I’d still advise you not to read it alone at night. Certain horror elements like cawing crows and grunting demons with yellow eyes who climb up walls and turn their heads at impossible angles are not the best of images to have in mind before you go to bed.
The blurb on the back cover says that the details are true to life. If that is so, then readers are served a primer on Hindu tantrism. We learn about right-hand tantrism and left-hand tantrism, chakras, the power of sounds, the uselessness of ego, the ways in which energy can be harvested for one’s purposes, and so on.
Vikram, a college student, is possessed by a vetal when he reads a few Sanskrit verses in an old manuscript incorrectly. His friend, Tony, approaches a Sanskrit lecturer Ranganathan for help. He, in turn, asks his guru Chaturvasi (a powerful tantric) to exorcise the demon.
What follows is a terrifying account of Chaturvasi’s battle with the vetal, which is stronger than usual vetals because it is being fed by another tantric. There’s a hidden story about this other tantric that you’ll discover by and by.
Chaturvasi must use both his powers and his intelligence in a three-way battle of wits with the vetal and the other tantric. In the process, some lives are sacrificed and some others are convinced of the power of tantra.
What I Liked
The strength of this book lies in its detailed descriptions of tantric practices, use of the vernacular and the occasional humor.
I flew threw the first one-third of the book when the possession takes place and Chaturvasi sizes up his enemy.
However, the pace begins to flag in the middle of the book when Chaturvasi’s meticulous preparations for the exorcism are described. The narrative also loses its humorous undertone and takes a very serious turn here.
The final one-third of the book is essentially a war of will and strength–and it’s a fascinating read.
My takeaway from this book (apart from learning a huge amount about tantric practices) is that no matter how powerful you are, you must not get complacent, you must be patient and ever-learning and you must be prepared for every eventuality.
What Did Not Work For Me
I feel readers may tire during the middle of the book because it gets dense, somewhat obscure and is essentially a glorification of tantra. I had to put the book down at this point, clear my head and come back to it later.
Perhaps some of the detail could have been cut out here but it would probably sound rushed and incongruous with the tone of the rest of the story. I also felt that Chaturvasi occasionally contradicts his words by his actions i.e. he acts selfishly where it suits him.
Whether you believe in tantrism or not, this book is an interesting story about a fight between good and evil.
(I received a copy of the book from Juggernaut for a midnight readalong hosted by Sid’s Reviews.)
Welcome to the blog tour for Return Addresses by Michael A. McLellan!
This book is getting loads of 5 star reviews! Find out why. Read on for an excerpt and a chance to win a $20 Amazon gift card!
Rating: 5 out of 5.
How have I not heard about Michael McLellan before?!
Return Addresses is a brilliant book, although it was not an easy read AT ALL. I’m not used to reading such gritty, real novels but it was an absolute pleasure to read this one.
I read it in one sitting (helps that it is a short-ish book) because I didn’t want to stop until I found out what happens to the 14-year-old orphan, Sean.
The novel lays bare the broken foster system in America and how it actually prevents what it is meant to do — find loving homes for orphans. There were so many adults in the story, but nobody seemed to be able to help Sean the way he needed it.
There are themes of abuse, racism, alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual abuse, and violence. As I said earlier, it isn’t easy to read and I had to pause a few times because I just couldn’t go any further. That a child had to go through all this is unthinkable!
Nevertheless, I forced myself to keep reading because I was fascinated by where Sean was going and how he was finding reserves of energy within himself that he did not know he possessed. I couldn’t predict what was going to happen next or who Sean was going to meet.
It is a testimony to the excellence of the author’s storytelling that I did not give up reading despite the subject matter being so uncomfortable.
I’d certainly say that this book should come with trigger warnings for people who don’t know what sort of books Michael Mclellan writes.
You must definitely read this book, even if you’re used to reading softer novels, because it is THAT good!
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Mountain Press
Publication date: April 13, 2020
“This ain’t your world. You don’t have any friends out here. Not real ones. No one out here cares about nothin’ but where their next drink or fix is comin’ from. That, or they were born too messed up in the head to even understand what friendship is. Remember that. You can’t trust anybody. You can’t rely on no one but yourself.”
Fourteen-year-old Sean Pennington never thought he’d find himself riding on an open train car in the middle of the night. He never thought he’d find himself alone. He never thought he’d be running for his life.
In the spring of 2015 Sean Pennington’s world of comfort and privilege is shattered and he becomes a ward of the state. Thrust into a broken foster care system, he discovers the harsh realities of orphanhood.
Lonely, confused, and tormented by his peers, he runs away, intending to locate his only living relative; a grandfather he’s never met, who his only connection with is a return address on a crumpled envelope.
Enter Andrea, a modern day hobo Sean meets at a California homeless encampment. Andrea travels the country by rail, stowing away on shipping container cars with other transients calling themselves traveling kids. Though battling her own demons, road-savvy Andrea promises to help Sean on his quest, but can she protect him from the unpredictable and often violent world she lives in?
Michael’s love of books began with Beverly Cleary’s The Mouse and the Motorcycle when he was seven-years-old. Later influenced by the works of John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Stephen King, James Baldwin, and Cormac McCarthy, Michael developed his style of storytelling. A self-proclaimed blue-collar writer, he draws on his experiences and observations to bring relevant and compelling topics to life.
Michael lives in Northern California and when he’s not writing, he can usually be found wandering around the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges.
His body of work includes the 2014 novel After and Again, the 2015 novel American Flowers, and the 2017 novel, In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree, as well as various shorts and essays.
“This world’s going to eat you alive if you don’t harden your shit up,” he said angrily. “I know you’re used to your white privilege and all the comfortable little entitlements that go with it, but you aren’t entitled anymore. You aren’t entitled to shit. The only reason I stepped in just now is because Van did, and the little man’s got more heart than sense. It wasn’t because I felt sorry for you, lying on the floor crying because you got tossed around a little. Looking at your face right now all I see is a lot more of that coming. You let yourself be disrespected once, you’ll just keep doing it.” Eric paused, then he leveled a finger at Sean and poked him once in the chest with it.
“School’s in, white boy, so listen up. You’re in a different world now. Our world. The one where nothing ever works out. You’ll get fostered out of here soon. You might even get lucky enough to get fostered with a decent family, but it’ll never be your family. You’ll only be a paycheck to them, or an ego-stroke disguised as altruism. I thought I was part of a family. They said I was. But I was stupid to believe it. The moment they hit a bump in the road, they moved away and left me here. No more college prep classes, no more bedroom, no more cell phone. Just another orphan nigger in a group home, getting ready to age out.
How old are you? Fourteen? Fifteen? You’re never going to get adopted. White or not, you’re too old. So here’s your future: You’re going to spend the next couple years in foster homes. One, two…maybe six or eight different ones. Probably you’ll be here or another place like it in-between. It doesn’t matter much because whatever happens, as soon you turn eighteen, you’re aged out. They show you to the door and all they give you is the address of the welfare department where you can get two hundred dollars worth of EBT and a voucher for a shitty ghetto motel. After that it’s the homeless shelter. So why don’t you get your fucking nose out of the air and wipe the snot off of it while you’re at it. You aren’t better than the rest of us. Some of these niggas are messed up in the head, but you would be too if you lived through some of the shit they have. Now why don’t you go tell Van thanks for him risking his narrow ass for you? Next time maybe you’ll stand up for yourself and you won’t need a nine-year-old to come to your rescue.”
Over the last two months, I discovered the magic of Debeshi Gooptu’s short stories. She writes in a simple and polished manner, with detailed descriptions that bring the scenes alive. It makes me wish I could express myself so well.
I want to share mini-reviews of four of her short stories. It is difficult to write reviews of short stories because writing too much gives the plot away (I made that mistake!). I’ll only say what I liked about each story and leave you to find out more. All four stories are available on Kindle Unlimited.
The Pickpocket [https://amzn.to/2HTMsT1]
Rating: 4 out of 5.
As is evident from the title, the story is about a pickpocket doing what he does best. But then the story takes an unexpected turn for the better. I can’t honestly say I liked the twist because I was expecting something much more dramatic. It felt a bit anticlimactic to me. Nevertheless, let this not deter you from reading this sweet, endearing story about the finer emotions in life.
The Red Thread [https://amzn.to/2TextZ5]
Rating: 4 out of 5.
In the current political climate of India, I’d say this story touches a chord. Heartbreaking, sorrowful love story. I wish people had more empathy for their fellow human beings! This is not an easy read, but it is altogether realistic.
Prince Charming [https://amzn.to/2TchFpX]
Rating: 5 out of 5.
I read this book last month, but the story still gives me goosebumps. The possibilities laid out in the tale are horrific. Not saying any more–just that I loved this story. Paced just right, I got an impending sense of doom, which culminated in a horrific truth.
The Candle Stand [https://amzn.to/2HThN8r]
Rating: 5 out of 5.
This is her most recently published story. Sensitive, accurate portrayal of bereavement and the tender love of a father. Is there life after death? Read to find out!