Snowflake Obsidian by Sage Steadman: Book Review

Title: Snowflake Obsidian: Memoir of a Cutter

Author: Sage Steadman

Genre: Memoir

Snowflake Obsidian is a very honest book, ‘beautiful and sincere’, as the main protagonists are. It is the story of Willow, her seemingly picture perfect life with her relationship and identity issues forming a backdrop. My ‘word’ for this book is ‘Redemption’ which is what I felt when I closed the book, having read it in a few breathtaking swoops.

The Book Blurb

Willow’s your basic potty-mouth Mormon hippie with anger issues. Despite her parents fighting, her life is seemingly perfect. She has lots of friends, little responsibility and a stunning collection of sequined pillows. But everything changes when she and her best friend fall for the same guy. River is sexy, mysterious, and likes to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But there is something more behind his troubled jade eyes that draws Willow in. Relationships are tested and Willow ends up friendless and alone as she navigates the rough waters of a fiery first love. Soon, the illusions of her perfect world crumble and Willow must reexamine the beliefs that once built her rocky foundation. This quirky coming of age story follows Willow and River’s unlikely romance as they battle their own inner demons and struggle to find themselves and their place in the adult world.

Review

Willow describes herself as a Mormon Hippie who has a wonderful life. She has a good social circle, with a loyal gang of friends who seem to be hanging out with each other forever. Heck, they even have regular sleepovers, drifting in and out of each other’s houses without much hesitation. Parents or any kind of adults are strangely absent through these interactions. Even when these teenagers/adults face aggravated conditions like sexual assault, drug use or mental health issues the adults are in the background, sympathetic but not really playing an active role in their children’s lives.

The protagonists are on their own mostly, with their doubts, insecurities and identity issues, looking for guidance and support through their friends. And yet, this is the chronicling of a different kind of struggle where the protagonist, Willow, reaches the end, not just ‘whole’ but positively glowing.

Snowflake Obsidian touches on the difficult topics of drug use, depression and self harming behaviour like cutting oneself and dies do with a great amount of sensituvity. I had expected to feel repulsed by the cutting but I felt a lot of sympathy towards the main characters. Therapy is mentioned in some detail and the entire process of healing through thinking, understanding, analysing and getting there takes some time and false starts but they get there, the protagonists do.

In the middle of all the teenage angst, multiple relationships and manipulative people, is a light of rare sensitivity and beauty, through art, through genuine expression and the voicing of deep felt emotions.

I was intrigued by the name of the book and when the stone, Snowflake Obsidian takes an important place in the book, I had to look it up. It is a rock, used for healing purposes to help balance body, mind and spirit. Willow keeps this rock with her all the time when she is in the depressive phase of her life and trying to find balance in her emotions.

Even though the language is unpretentious and casual in places, the narration is never rambling. The pacing is also good, with short and long chapters, which move the story forward fast.

In midst of all the teenage-and-beyond troubles, there is real beauty of expression and language.

“I … realised that loving was easier to do than not loving, and not loving only led to suffering.”

The redemption of the book is not just about messy relationships and getting back to a place of love. It is also about self acceptance and openess.

There is also a quirky sense of humour, an ability to laugh at oneself.

“Every thought I had came with its own editorial on the subject. As if I had my own gossip column running in my head, complete with wild assumptions, scarring opinions, diluted facts and unwavering criticism.”

And then, there is the peanut analogy that kept getting funnier with each unpeeling layer.

Verdict

Don’t miss this gem of a book. Snowflake Obsidian is a real book with real issues and it shows the way to light and peace.

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My Haunted Bed & Breakfast by Phyllis Moore: Book Review

Title: My Haunted Bed & Breakfast

Author: Phyllis Moore

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Destiny Series

My Haunted Bed & Breakfast is a delightful novella of hauntings and ghosts and magic that bring in more fun than chills.

Eleanor Rune is a woman running from memories, wanting to bury her past and get on with her life. Trying to get over the sorrow of the death of her partner, she comes across a damaged house that she feels she can convert into a B & B and earn a living. What she does not know is that the house is haunted; it has three friendly ghosts who turn her sorrowful and purposeless life into a roller coaster of fun: earning money, finding a husband and the biggest of all: magic in her life.

Review

The best part of the book is the fun factor. The MC is able to accept the ghosts without much trouble. Even her guests at the B & B have more fun with the capers of the ghosts than feeling afraid because they feel that these are just special effects.

There are many other incidents of ghosts and magic that just bring a lot of childish fun and joy in people’s lives. So, the reader settles down to enjoy the good side of the magic.

The three ghosts and the haunted house guide the MC to unlikely places and people who are to become an important part of her life.

I liked the characters very much; they are well etched out, intriguing and engaging. Sarafine as the eccentric woman is the most lovable. The twins, Eleanor’s children, have very strong characterisation. The ghosts are well rounded too. I only wished that the husband Codere was etched out better.

The story is very interesting, engaging and at no point does the pace of the story slows down. Phyllis has a way of getting straight to the point, without much awkwardness and really that is a very strong point of this novella. It could have been a simple book about the ghosts at the haunted house, however, the author manages to bring a large chunk of the MC’s lifetime to this book, setting the story for further books in the series and for a deeper story and conflict.

Verdict

An entertaining novella about haunted houses and magic that brings more joy than scare.

Download the book from Amazon.

Dare to Dream by Huma Masood: Book Review

Title: Dare to Dream

Author: Huma Masood

Genre: Self help, Inspirational, Motivational

Dare to Dream is a concise handbook that guides you through the big and small decisions to an effective and fulfilling life. The book helps you chart out your vision and goals and gives tips on managing the stumbling blocks that you encounter along the way.

Review

Dare to Dream is divided into two parts. The first part focuses on where we want to go and what we want to achieve in life. To clarify our understanding of our aspirations and our future self, the author advocates the creation of a Vision Board.

The second part focuses on the action we need to take to move towards our desired self and the life of our dreams. It talks about the importance of right attitude as a preparation to reach for our dreams. It moves on to talking about simple changes a person can make that can cultivate growth, bringing about a compound change in lives.

There are quite a few parts in the book that resonated with me. There is a detailed discussion on the importance of a Vision Board and the instructions on how to go about creating one.

The section on Procrastination and the real reasons we procrastinate is very useful.

The book lays out very clearly how to uncomplicate and simplify our living. It involves decluttering not just the physical but our mental space as well.

I liked the portion on Positive ways to say no and how it is useful to an individual.

The section on Simple changes that cultivate growth is very useful, considering that it is very doable for anyone.

There are many parts in the book that each reader would relate to, depending on her need.

It is a rather wide sweeping book, covering a lot of unconventional material. There are tips on finances, on taking care of health, the importance of routines and habits and of getting a clear vision for your future. It is a mix of little tips and large changes backed with commonsense and a sound understanding of the principles of leading an effective life.

What works well

Examples bring clarity and interest to the subject. Also, the book is peppered with personal anecdotes which brings relatability to the content.

There are some real gems of advice in the book. I found myself highlighting text in the book that I wanted to return to.

About the Author

Huma Masood is a full-time stock market trader. She graduated from AMU and then did MBA in Finance / Marketing. She spent many years in Kuwait, where she completed her school education and worked in top MR consulting firms, before finally
settling in India.

Verdict

Dare to Dream is a handbook to being a better version of you. Work on the tips to be more focussed in getting what you want in life.

Download the book from here.

Insta Gita by Nupur Maskara: Book Review

Title: Insta Gita

Author: Nupur Maskara

Genre: Self help, Poetry, Religion, Theology

Insta Gita is a transcreation of the Bhagavad Gita, a poetic version of the verses in the scripture with the author’s added poetry, giving reactions from Arjuna’s perspective.

Review

The Bhagvad Gita has 700 verses in Sanskrit. While this Hindu scripture has acceptance across religions in India and is referred to as a guide to living right and with purpose, the original requires an in depth study.

Nupur’s Insta Gita distills the essence of the 18 chapters of the Gita in easy English language verses, summarising the important points, followed by author’s own little poems which are presented as reactions from Arjuna’s viewpoint.

The Gita is set as dialogue between the Pandava Prince, Arjuna and his charioteer, God Incarnate Lord Krishna as they stand in the battle field, ready to fight Arjuna’s extended family, the Kauravas.

At the moment of the commencement of the battle, Arjuna is beset with doubts. It is then that Krishna speaks to him of his duty, also elaborating upon many other philosophical concepts. This philosophical treatise becomes the text of the Gita.

For the layperson, it is difficult to wrap around one’s head around the philosophy that is propounded in this ancient text. And it is here that Insta Gita comes to the rescue of a reader like me, who has never read the original scripture but only come across a few of the learnings.

The book is divided into 18 chapters, each chapter talking of one part of the philosophy. The text captures the essence of the original and keeps it relatable and interesting.

The chapter names are not cryptic at all. I particularly liked the chapter names, God Zilla and Living La Vida Calma. In fact, the entire book is a friendly exposition of the deeper principles. I also found the usage of words like FYI, methinks, The Three Musketeers, K for Krishna as little steps that demystify the text and make it feel accessible.

The highlighted text in each chapter makes it easier to assimilate the important points in each chapter.

As a pointer to the practical usage of this knowledge in a person’s daily life, Nupur ends each chapter with a little poem of hers. She addresses Lord Krishna as K., which immediately makes the reader feel that the verses are accessible to anyone. She speaks from Arjuna’s perspective, of how he tries to use this philosophy in his life, training his body and mind.

Arjuna pauses midway
Between war and peace
His mind splits in two
Whichever way I choose
I know I’ll rue
But first to mine own self
I must be true

What works well

The format and the design of the book is very attractive. The heavy, prohibitive Sanskrit verses are transcreated in a form that is easy to follow.

The coloured pages, the summarising of the salient points and the little endearing images give the book a very contemporary feel.

The book ends with a colourful, easy to understand infographic on the Bhagavad Gita and how to use it in everyday life.

About the Author

Nupur Maskara likes writing short stuff that packs a punch. Expectedly, she began her career in advertising and is now in content writing. Her friends have branded her frequent blonde moments as Nupurisms. Read more of her work at her blog.

Verdict

Insta Gita packs a punch of wisdom in these bite sized verses that summarise the Gita’s main teachings.

Read it as a refresher and an immediate reference text.

Get the Kindle edition from Amazon.

Murder in the Palace and Other Stories by Priya Bajpai: Book Review

Title: Murder in the Palace and Other Stories

Author: Priya U Bajpai

Genre: Short Stories

Murder in the Palace and Other Stories is a delightful collection of stories where world building and exquisite language go hand in hand.

Review

The book has twelve stories, short, sweet and tangy. Starting from a contemporary detective story, the book moves on to other genres that explore time travel, sci fi, romance, feminism among others with a wide variety of settings. There is a story for everyone here.

The book starts with the eponymous story, Murder in the Palace and the most striking detail of the story is the detective herself. It seems a complex whodunit but the answers are found surprisingly fast and through deduction. I liked the way the story gets straight to the point from the first paragraph itself and yet there is no glossing over the backstory.

Geisha is expectedly set in Japan. It is such a lovely and poignant story. I was transported to a world of beauty, grace, elegance and love that is expressed in subtle ways.

Horrific Holocaust is set in Germany and brings into focus the Holocaust through teenage angst.

I’m II is science fiction that is chilling and is a little too real for comfort. The narrative is captivating.

The Mysterious Globe is almost magical, but it teases and seems unfinished.

I liked the Killer very much. It has an interesting twist in the tale and was so different from the stories I had read till that point.

Mia of Maya is wondrous. The narrator here is from the Mayan civilization and it is not the mere life but the wiping out of an entire people that the story addresses.

Dazzled and Banon’s Conundrum are also very striking stories, with completely unexpected endings.

Neil’s Shoe closes this collection and I was left with an other-worldly feeling, not just from this story but from the heady mix that I had just finished.

What works well

Priya has a very literary writing style and a way with world building that is very elaborate and yet succinct. All through the book, I was constantly struck by how versatile she is, through the choice of the storylines.

Each story is a different world and an experience in itself. I did not read the stories in one go. I picked them at random, savouring them.

The cover art of the book is gorgeous and is a definite plus for the book.

About the Author

Priya U Bajpai is a short story author and poet. She has also been published in mainstream newspapers. This literature scholar is a versatile story-teller. She is adept at writing fast-paced and layered tales across genres. This extremely modest writer lets her craft do the talking.

Verdict

This eclectic mix of stories show case a wide range of settings and emotions. Pick this collection if you like vivid descriptions and a literary writing style.

Download the book here. It is free for a limited period.

Deal of Death by Sonia Chatterjee: Book Review

Title: Deal of Death

Author: Sonia Chatterjee

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime, Detective

Deal of Death is an exciting mystery with a an intricate plot and an unconventional detective solving this whodunit.

Review

Raya Ray resigns from her hi flying marketing job when she encounters a personal tragedy. Moving cities and changing occupations, she starts her own detective agency. Battling the ennui of mundane cases of cheating spouses and missing pets, she decides to step out of Kolkata to help her housemaid’s sister who lives in faraway Munshiganj.

For Raya, it starts as a case to trace a missing newborn from a hospital but leads to being a labyrinth of lies and deceit that goes back generations. Evil thrives in this seemingly simple town and by the time Raya is close to solving the case, she discovers that things are not as they seem and people are not who they pretend to be.

What works well

This is exciting detective fiction, fast paced and well plotted with a refreshingly different setting and a well etched out protagonist.

Raya Ray, the corporate hi flier turned detective, battling her grief, concerned with body issues, helpful, trusting, deducing, relying on observation and instinct, is the well sketched protagonist that gets the reader attention and loyalty.

The setting is the quaint Munshiganj on the banks of the river Annapurna and a twin ghat of Diwanganj. It looks like a peaceful, sleepy town but there is plenty of royal intrigue woven into the town’s history. There is also the curious temple and the mosque flanking the sides of the Nawab’s tomb. The photos included in the book bring alive the place for the reader.

The plot is intricate. Like any mystery, there is a crime and there are unexpected perpetrators, yet the backstory and how events came to pass is novel.

This is an impressive debut book and the author, Sonia Chatterjee finished writing it in a record six days.

On the other hand

The protagonist is well etched out but sometimes she is plain lucky. She gets a lot of information too easily and too fast. Also, Raya seems to know too many things without a real knowledge of the events themselves.

The plot is well built but the execution seems rushed. Towards the end there is a lot of information, which also keeps shifting because of the different povs.

There are too many characters towards the end of the book. It would help if these characters are introduced early on.

Some things need to be figured out clearly in the plot. The events and incidents are sometimes not believable.

A few characters are sketchy. Adding physical characteristics would help a little bit of context and relatability.

Chapter length does not seen uniform, which is a little jarring. Some chapters are very short, just a few paragraphs and they seem hurriedly done just to give information to the reader. The formatting needs to be looked into. Some chapters don’t even start from a different page. The chapter names too seem a little random. There are days 1-4 and then we move on to day 8.

Some scenes would flow better if there is more of description and ‘showing’ the reader rather than ‘telling’.

Also, giving meanings of words, like jhalmuri, tonga in brackets affects the flow of the story. It would help if they are put as footnotes.

About the Author

An ex-banker and a self- confessed bibliophile, Sonia inherited her love of the written word from her Professor father. As a tribute to her late mother and a gift to her son on his second birthday, Sonia started blogging from September 2017. Married to a Doctor, Sonia is crazy about four things in life – books, food, travel and her uber-cute toddler. She currently works hard to realize her dream of becoming a best-selling author while secretly wishing harder for twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Her work can be found at soniasmusings.com. She blogs about food, travel, movies, parenting, personal journeys and social issues.

Verdict

A fast paced detective story with an endearing MC and an intriguing setting. This debut book hits the right notes in the crime fiction.

Download the book here.

Peiskos by Reema D’souza: Book Review

Title: Peiskos

Author: Reema D’souza

Genre: Non fiction

The book Peiskos is a collection of unusual and beautiful words with little stories woven around each word. These stories bring out the beauty of each experience that the word evokes.

Review

There are so many words that bundle together fleeting emotions to make up an experience that is difficult to express in just one word. The words in the book hold a wealth of meaning, they present a bunch of emotions that stir in a person when he encounters a thing or a situation.

The title of the book is one such word. Peiskos means the feeling one has sitting in front of a fireplace enjoying the warmth. It is not the mere warmth but also a feeling of contentment that one gets.

There are 26 such lovely words in the book. It is not enough to give their meaning in one word, phrase or sentence. So Reema has gone ahead and written little tales that bring out the meanings and the emotions so well.

What works well

It is a very diverse collection of words that showcases emotions like love, wistfulness, confusion, exhilaration so that the reader gets a well rounded reading experience.

The origins of the words are given too. There are words that have origins as diverse as Latin, Greek, Spanish, Japanese, French, Filipino, Welsh, German and Scottish. I was pleasantly surprised to find a few words from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. It just shows how fluid our languages are, in taking words of different provenance and making them our own.

There were a few that found resonance with me. Gigil is the irrestible urge to hug someone because you love them. Jouska is a hypothetical conversation that you play out compulsively in your head. Latibule is a place of safety and comfort and reminded me of childhood hiding places. Hiraeth, Opis, Retrovailles were other words that intrigued me.

On the other hand

The stories that accompany the words feel a little vague. Some are like a ramble of a person. Sometimes the gender of the person is not clear and sometimes the difficulty in situations is only hinted at. More detail in these stories would definitely help for them to stick in the reader’s mind. It would also have helped if there were different voices for the stories or at least a different setting.

About the Author

Reema D’souza is an Indian blogger and poet. An engineer by day, but when the sun sets to make way for the night, she writes. Writing poetry and fiction give her the much needed escape from reality. Most of
her writing is inspired by nature and life experiences.
While she’s not writing, she prefers to read. Music is another of her interests.

Verdict

If you like collecting words that are not part of an average person’s vocabulary and are drawn to complex emotions, then this book is for you.

Read it for nostalgia and exquisite emotions.

Download the book here.