Black Sun Rising by C S Friedman

I have this thing for fancy covers. For a long time I have been attracted by the cover design and title of this book. Otherwise I have never heard the name C S Friedman mentioned on any fantasy lists nor recommended by any of my friends. After I started reading the book, I googled the name and was surprised to find she is a woman - the name somehow seemed like a male one to me. Probably that was the intent on the author's part as well. Somehow in genres other than romance, there still seems to be certain bias against woman writers that they try to overcome by putting their surnames with initials to hide their gender.

I somehow have a thing for quest based fantasy. For me, the thing that attracts me to fantasy is the wonder of discovering a new world. The best way to discover a new world is a travel and so quests are best. Here we have a sorceress whose memories have been stolen by demons. Her apprentice, a man without the talent and a priest go in search of the demon to recover her memory. They are joined in their quest by an ancient vampire and later by a wonder woman from an alien race, complete with a dangerous stead.

The world is quite an interesting one. The story is set in future in an alien word that humans have migrated to. The alien world has a life of its own that reacts to human thoughts and emotions. So through interaction with these beings called Fae, humans have learnt to perform magical feats. There is this usual theme of magic as a substitute for science. Most of the technology of the world is around manipulation of the Fae through mind tricks to produce the desired results, many of which beyond the realms of possibility of known science. Then there is an alien race called Rakh which has been evolving from its primeval state into a more intelligent species through interaction with humans over millennia. And last but not the least demons which are probably Fae elements brought to life through strong human imagination that have begun to have an independent existence of their own.

The book is 585 pages long and the entire story is about how the five travelers meet up, interact, travel through the land and how they find and defeat their antagonists to recover the memories of the sorceress Ciani. So one of the elements in quests is how the people work together to overcome various obstacles. Some are simple logistical ones like boatmen refusing to ferry them across or local tribes refusing them passage. Of course the tension will be lost if antagonists are not hot on their trail all the time. So we have regular brushes with the minions of the antagonists as well as some obscure glimpses into their diabolic scheming to keep the reader aware of the sinister presence of the antagonist. Last but not the least, we have conflicts within the group and mental demons of the characters. When you have a vampire and a priest in the same group, that is an obvious tension point which the author skillfully exploits. We have a woman put with three men - so obviously we have some romantic interest. There is jealousy but no love triangle as such. Then we have the priest's theological conflicts.The apprentice struggles with self esteem issues due to his lack of innate magic talent which eventually proves to be his undoing.

The narrative is  a third person point of view jumping from the mind of one character to another across the chapters enmeshed with descriptive omniscient third person. She sometimes even takes the point of view of insignificant characters to generally build mystery about the overall environment. The author displays strength of language in the descriptive portions. You know you can say things in an ordinary way or rich with metaphor. I somehow still have not fully got this show versus tell concept though. The way I see it, if you stick to character's perceptions, it will be show. But then character's perceptions won't be descriptive. Sample this - "Dusk. A swollen sallow sunset. Dust strewn across a barren landscape, naked hills swelling lifeless in the distance. Sharp cracks that split the air: rhythmic like a drum beat. Death." Now what do I make of this. The language is beautiful but is this a show or tell and what type of narrative is this. Or let us try a different one - "The port called Kale was as unlike Jaggonath as any place possibly could be.The city's plan was a veritable maze of narrow, twisting streets, flanked by houses that had been hurriedly built and for the most part, poorly maintained. Rich and poor were quartered side by side, laborers' hovels leaning against the thick stone walls of the rich man's estate - barbed iron spikes adorning the top , to discourage the curiosity of strangers - which was flanked in turn by the mildewed shells of workhouses,  the miserly confines of tenement flats, the iron clad husks of massive sheds. The streets themselves might once have been paved with stones, and occasionally a flat slab of shallite - deep green, or slate grey or midnight black - would peak out beneath the layers of mud and debris and animal droppings which seemed to coat everything in sight. The whole place smelled:  of damp, of dung, of decay. But there was commerce here, enough to support thousands. And where trade flourished , humankind invariably congregated."    

From here on, there may be spoilers. So reading with caution recommended.

By and large the plot seemed fine and suspension of disbelief came easily. However a couple of things jarred a bit.  In the prologue, we see the great prophet performing a heinous sacrifice for some greater goal. But centuries later, he no longer seems to have any greater goal except surviving which does not seem very consistent. Then there is a great mystery about the antagonist being built up and then towards the end, we don't even get to see her properly and she is quickly dispatched off. I found that a bit disappointing.  The biggest problem was how the all knowing vampire just came up with answers to their problems without the struggles of working through the problems. While the vampire had physical vulnerabilities, he seemed to be given a free reign in the intellectual domain.

The pacing was taut. But a few things felt unnecessary. For instance the character of the head of the local church is built up strongly only to be cast aside with no significant role in the story. Similarly there is lot of mystery built around the Rakh woman. But she enters the party quite tamely and doesn't play that significant a role. The intrigue around the identity of the Hunter, which the author builds up as a great mystery, is so predictable.

The title was another let down. In the end, it turns out that the title which seemed to be potent with possibilities, had no significance to the story at all.

By and large, an interesting book that can be read for the work building concept. I don't know if I will pick up the second book in the series to find the answers to the loose threads. Very often I have found science fiction and fantasy books run through book after book offering only cheap thrills, never unfogging the central mysteries of the world it is based on. I somehow suspect this series with turn out the same way.

Forbidden mysteries unraveled

As I took a quick round of the imperial gardens, I tried hard to make myself feel good. I now had my first original paintings and a handmade calligraphy by an artist. The girl had acted more like a saleswoman than an artist. But haven’t I heard so often about how important it is for artists to know how to sell their works? It was not her fault – it was the demand of the times.

My mind hardly took in all the ancient figurines and trees that had survived the age of the kings all the way into industrialization and digitization. I had forgotten to ask the name of the girl and the artist who had drawn the Southern Song painting. When I claim I have an original work by an artist, shouldn’t I at least know the name of the said artist? Maybe I should go back to them on my way back and get them to write their names for me in English. I would look an idiot displaying a supposedly original work of art to my friends and then saying I don’t know the name of the artist.

I kept absent-mindedly looking for that evasive gate that would lead me to the view of the Forbidden City while my mind was once again parsing through the last hour’s events. Should I have started bargaining from the very beginning? Maybe I would have saved 100 ¥. Also I had landed 2 very similar sketches. I probably should have taken the scene with the dragon boat instead. Maybe I can still go back and ask for an exchange.

Having given up my attempts to find that gate, I decided to go back the way I came in and find the girl again. But suddenly I found I could not find that gate either. I have this natural talent with remembering ways that can transform even office buildings into complex mazes. Then after roaming around aimlessly, I emerged out of what seemed closest to the gate I was looking for. It clearly was not the right one as there was no sign of the girl or the art gallery.

I decided to at least find the subway station from wherever I had emerged out and get back to that work mail that would be awaiting me. As I looked around, I passed a shop that seemed to be selling some exotic Chinese sweets. I had eaten nothing since morning. Maybe I could grab a quick sweet or something.

“How much do the sweets cost?”

“Some 2-3 ¥ per piece,” said the man

As I selected the sweets, he spoke up, “Do you like paintings?”

Was that a smirk I saw on his face or was I just imaging things?


“Do you like paintings?”

Now what?

“Yes. I will takes these 2 sweets.”

“That would be 5 ¥. How much did you pay for the paintings?”

I somehow did not feel like saying 650 ¥. I was already feeling like an idiot.

“Around 500 ¥ or so,” I said vaguely. “Do you have change for 100 ¥?” The expression on his face was unmistakable now.

“Give me,” he said and took my 100 ¥.”I also have some paintings back there. Would you like to have a look?”

Yes. There was an art gallery behind the sweet shop very similar to the one I had just been to. Art galleries seemed to be pursuing me everywhere.

“This note seems to be cut. Can you please give me another one?”

He gave me a different one and I followed him into the art gallery. And what was the first painting that greeted me? The very same unique seasons painting done by artist friend of earlier. Seemed like her fame had spread more than she had known.

A bit more of exploration also helped me discover those Southern Song dynasty paintings by her teacher as well. I did not want to see more nor had the courage to ask the price. I left quietly, ignoring the shop man’s protests and headed straight for the subway line.

A search on the net after I reached my room revealed this art gallery scam was a very popular one in many countries, especially popular near the Forbidden Palace area in China. The list also had a couple of more scams one of which in particular interested me. It spoke of being approached by a fellow tourist for a cup of tea. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The article spoke of the part I had missed as well. Apparently she would have taken me to a place of her choosing and disappeared after a couple of drinks and snacks, leaving me at the mercy of the tavern’s bouncers. I would have ended up coughing out a king’s ransom for the few morsels and gulps to save my life and limb. This art gallery scam at least seemed much more benign in comparison. I still had the paintings and the calligraphy at least and had enjoyed the hour selecting paintings.

Also later I found that Southern Song dynasty painting was indeed a Southern Song dynasty one. A supposedly famous one by an artist from those times – China’s Mona Lisa the article called it. I was reminded of the movie scenes where some local touts sell off the Taj Mahal to some American tourists. It did not seem all that ludicrous any more.

Spending into the Forbidden Zone

I smiled sheepishly at her. “I have cash. But I need for expenses. Can’t spend all of it here.” I somehow was not liking being pushed about so much. But still 4000 ₹ was not such a lot of money. Hadn’t I earned 25000 ₹ in that part time job last year? Didn’t I win 20000 ₹ in blogging contests last year? I deserved some indulgence. And technically I need not even consider it an indulgence – it could be considered a gift for my wife.

“Please write your name on this paper,” she said offering me a piece of paper. “Do you also want the calligraphy done for the names of your wife and children?”

Now as I mentioned I was not the one to let go of an opportunity for free stuff. So I wrote down the names of my wife and son as well.

“He is my teacher. He is the one who has painted that picture you bought,” she said, pointing to the man who was doing the calligraphy with a brush. The man uttered something to her in Chinese.

“The master says why not have calligraphy done on a scroll instead of doing on plain paper? It will look much more beautiful and you don’t even have to spend money on a frame if you get it done on a scroll. We can get the names of you, your wife and you soon all written in a single one next to each other.”

It did seem a good idea but I was not sure if they would give away one of those scrolls to me like that.

“The scroll is made of expensive material. It will cost 100 ¥. The calligraphy is of course free. You can pick from a choice of four colors.”

Oh, no. Not again. I had already spent 400 ¥ and now 100 ¥ more?

“No, plain paper will do. Just give me those.”

“See how beautiful these scrolls look. Anyways even if you take the plain paper, you have to spend on a frame. Instead take these. They look so much better.”

Hard selling the paintings was one thing – it seemed like excitement about finding patrons for the art. But I did not like the idea of being sold some material which was not a work of art. But then it would be nice to have our three names written in Chinese calligraphy on what looked like an authentic Chinese scroll.

“The master will also write a message for you? Which one do you want? General happiness or happy family? This will bring luck you know.”

Luck was something I needed badly having undergone failure after failure at work. It seems like a good omen. Already 4000 bucks was gone. Another 1000 and I would get a nice looking customized scroll. I was sure my wife would love it.

“Ok. Do the Happy Family.”

“Which color would you like? We have four colors – red, golden, silver and blue.”

Red seemed the appropriate color for China. But then calligraphy had nothing communist about it. They were more to do with royal times. Golden yellow seemed more appropriate. I had spent 5000 ₹ and 45 minutes of my time already. All I had initially intended was 5 minutes and no expense.

“Here you go. See – your name to the left, your son’s name to the right and your wife as the woman around who both your lives revolves at the center. That one there is the month and the year.”

The master meantime had left the scene. I turned around and my eyes fell on the sketch I had not picked. What was that doing out here? I did not have much longer to find out.

“My master said since you liked his work so much, to give it to you at whatever price you are willing to pay. You name a price and I will discuss my other teacher and give it to you.”

Earlier out of respect for artists, I had not tried bargaining. But these people had turned out to be the bargaining kinds giving out on the spot discounts and offers. I wondered if I should ask her to give it to me for 100 ¥. As per the old offer, I could have got it for 200 ¥. Maybe 150 ¥ would be the right price.

“You tell me what the lowest price you can offer.”

“Pay 160 ¥ and take it.”

“No. I think I won’t take it.”

“I would give it to you for 150 ¥. But 160 is a luckier number. We have sold most of the others in this set. This is one of the last pieces. Take it.”

Resigning myself to my fate, I took out 2 more 100 ¥ notes. But the girl was not done yet. My teacher says she has no change. Why don’t you take one of the paintings of the Great Wall? We will let you have one for 40 ¥. So here I was back to where it all began - The Great Wall.

“No,” I said decisively, resisting the temptation to ask if she would give me one of the season paintings for 40 ¥. “Give back my 100 ¥ Let me give you change.”

Finally I was out of the place  poorer by an hour and 560 ¥. But at least I told myself I have supported young artists - my good deed for the day.

Shopping for Paintings outside the Forbidden City

It was an intricately sketched piece depicting a scene at a market place in ancient China. The level of detail was just mind blowing. There were merchants trading wares, customers bargaining, children playing in the courtyards of their homes, laborers toiling, commoners commuting to whatever might have been their workplaces in those times, royals being carried around on their palanquins etc.

“This one is a depiction of the era of the Southern Song dynasty. Also have a look at these two as well. We had 10 of these. But they are in great demand. We have only 3 left now.”

The other two were equally good. She mentioned some other dynasty name for one of them that I could not catch clearly. But I am a total sucker for History and all this mention of ancient kingdoms had me salivating.

“This one here is a depiction of the annual dragon boat festival,” she added pointing to one of them.

My wife and I had decided to collect little figurines or painting replicas from wherever we undertook trips and make a collection of trip mementos. This one would serve as that. Only the ones we usually bought were from roadside souvenir shops and much cheaper. But still 3000 ₹ was not all that much. A meal here was costing 1000 ₹ and a coffee 250 ₹. Also if I do not respect an artist, who would?

“These are original works, aren’t they? Is this the only existing copy of this work?”

After all it was something to have an original piece of work. We could not afford works of the masters. But we could patronize these small time artists. I had this inescapable niggling feeling about this extravagance on my part that I was trying hard to rationalize.

“Ok. I will have this one,” I said finally making a choice between the two roadside scenes. The water scene I decided to give a miss due to the lesser number of elements in the scene. You know the Indian mentality – more the better.

“Take both – Yin and Yang. That will be a good balance.”

“I don’t have money,” I repeated like a broken record.

Suddenly her face took on a sad expression. “So you are not taking any of my paintings?”

Yeah, indeed. My first intention of buying had been to humor her. And now I was ditching her painting. How callous of me.

I don’t have money.” I was feeling like an idiot repeating myself over and over again.

“I will tell you what – I will let you have this for 100 ¥. I want my paintings to be seen in foreign countries. So I am willing to forgo some of my money.”

Now this was an offer one could not refuse. 50% discount! And I got to humor her as well. Also there would be some variety. The Southern Song dynasty picture was monochrome while this one was colorful. I looked through and picked one of autumn.

“You mentioned some free calligraphy.”

Having been made to part with so much of my hard earned wealth, I was going to ensure I got every penny’s worth.

“Yeah. Of course. Let us first finish this transaction and then let us see about it. By the way I noticed you had a hard time deciding between the two paintings. I have an offer for you. Take both of them and I will give you my painting free.”

It was a good offer – a further saving of 100 ¥. But I was getting a bad feeling about this. I had agreed to buy the painting for the sake of the girl and she was saying she would throw it in free. How could an artist agree to give her work free with something just like that? Maybe for the greater good of the school, I told myself.

“No. I have already spent a lot. Let me pay the bill and then let us get the calligraphy done.”

I took out my card to pay.

“There will be an extra charge of 20 ¥ on the card payment. I hope it is fine.”

No. I did not want to lose a penny more. So I pulled out my wad of 100 ¥ notes and began to count out four.

“Why? You have so much cash. Why did you say you have none? Take one more painting.”

An Art Exhibition at the Gates of the Forbidden City

I turned around. It was…..not her.

“The Forbidden City is closed. But you may pay two Yuan and see the garden,” said the ruddy faced plainer looking girl.

“Thank you very much. But is there some way I can at least see the Forbidden City from outside?”

I had actually gone all the way to Rome and come back after seeing the Colosseum from outside just because my friend who had come along did not want to cough up the 10 Euro fee to see it from inside. He had argued that seeing famous places was nothing but a tick in the box. So it did not matter if you saw it from inside or from outside – it was all the same. 

“Yeah. If you walk towards the South West Gate, you will be able to see it.”

“How long will it take to reach the South West Gate?”

It was getting late. I was wondering if my boss had sent across some work. I had better be starting back.

“It will take 15 minutes. Maybe 10 if you walk fast.”

“Do I have to walk through the garden or can the Forbidden City entrance be reached from outside as well?”

She pointed across the street. “You can go round that way but it would be longer.”

So that decided matters. The garden it was.

“By the way, I am an art student. Would you mind taking a minute off to have a look at the display of our art works before your proceed to the garden?”

Poor girl had so patiently answered all my questions. I definitely owed her at least this much.
I entered the little stall and she began to excitedly show me around the art gallery.

“Have you been to the Great wall?”

“Yeah. Went there today morning.”

“See these beautiful paintings of the great wall by my fellow students. Beautiful, aren’t they?”

They looked just ok. But they were too small and seemed to be printed on ordinary paper. They did not look all that great to me. But then these were students of art. I needed to encourage them. So I just nodded.

“See these. They are my paintings. They represent winter, spring, summer and autumn respectively. What do you think of them?”

These were pretty decent and I kind of like the concept of paintings representing seasons. The paper also looked better with embroidered borders.

“How much do they cost?”

I suddenly looked at my watch. Twenty minutes had just flown away. I was yet to see the garden and the entrance to the Forbidden City. I was supposed to have finished all that and should have been on the metro back to the hotel by now. But anyways how did it matter what I had seen and what I had not. I had enjoyed myself relishing all those beautiful paintings, hadn’t I? That was all that mattered.

“The prices vary. We have paintings from 100 Yuan on. The ones by the teachers are more expensive.”

“How much is this one?” I asked pointing at one of hers.

“That one will be 200 Yuan. Which one will you take?”

That was like 2000 Rs. I had not intended to spend anything that evening. But the poor girl had spent so much time explaining stuff to me. It would be a pity leaving without buying anything.

“But aren’t the four a set. If I take one, won’t the set be incomplete?”

“Yes. It will be. So why don’t you take all four of them?”

“I don’t have so much money.”

“No problem. You can pay by card if you don’t have cash.”

“I mean it is too expensive for me.”

“Then take one of the Great Wall ones. They are just hundred Yuan a piece. By the way as an incentive, if you buy any art work, my master will do a calligraphy for you free of charge.”

I wondered if I should ask her if she could give one of the season paintings for 100 Yuan. But then that felt so so wrong. How would I feel if someone asked me to give me a copy of my book at half price? As an aspiring artist myself I needed to respect a fellow artist. I again asked her to explain the four seasons. She explained in detail also pointing to the larger versions of the same paintings that were on the wall across.

I was about to pay for one of the season paintings when my eyes fell on a couple of paintings to the corner.

A Forbidden drink outside the Forbidden City

It was a Sunday afternoon. There had still been no mail from my boss. I was out on the streets. The sun was out in the sky. And there was a song in my heart. For the first time while on a project I had taken time out to come sight-seeing. And even the name Forbidden City held some kind of a forbidden charm.

“Where you from?” My reverie was interrupted by a singsong Chinese feminine voice.

I turned around to see a smartly dressed woman.

“I am from India?”

“India? That is a nice country. You come here for vacation?”

Sigh! How I wish I were. But not for the middle class the pleasures of foreign vacations.

“No. I am on work. Just had the weekend off. So came to see around.”

“That is nice. I too am here on vacation.”

Excuse me! You too? Who else is on vacation? Anyways sarcasm is not your best friend when you are sightseeing in a foreign country.

“But, aren’t you Chinese?”

“Yes – but from different city.”


“Shall we hire a guide and see around together?”

This was an interesting proposition. Isn’t that the solitary male traveler’s fantasy – finding an interesting female companion to see around with. Anyways I was old and married and all that. So that probably wouldn’t apply to me. Or should I say shouldn't? Still meeting and getting to know foreigners was something, wasn’t it? Conversing and getting to know various cultures, broadening your horizons and all the other good stuff– isn’t that what travel is all about? Hadn’t I always wished I could socialize with random strangers during travels as they show in movies? Here was an opportunity serve on a golden platter.

“We can.”

“I inquired with people. They said there is nothing to see till five. We have an hour to kill. Why don’t we have a drink?”

It was quite cold and I could do with a cup of hot chocolate. But I had just got here – I wanted to at least see something before I went indoors. In a place where sunshine is limited, it would be criminal to waste those precious hours of sunshine indoors.

“Isn’t there something we can see before five?”

“No. There is nothing. Let us come back at five. Come with me. Let us have a drink.”

She was pointing in the opposite direction. I am generally a very pliable and accommodating person. But at times I have these stubborn moments. Something told me I didn’t want to turn back.

“Isn’t there a place to drink that way?” I asked pointing ahead.

“No. There is nothing that way.”

What was I to do? Here was my irrational stubbornness arraigned against an opportunity to make friends with a local at a foreign country. Places, I could see pictures of even on the internet. Meeting people was the key and I was letting a golden opportunity slip by. Maybe this stubbornness was my mind’s way of resisting a new experience. Was this why I never tended to make so many friends? I needed to change and become more sociable. Haven’t people been telling me this from childhood?

“Hm… I think you should go ahead for the drink. I will move on.”

A disappointed expression came over her face as she turned around and walked on. She did not try to convince me to come with her. She had accepted my no with dignity. I was immediately filled with regret. But what was done was done. No crying over spilt milk.  Anyways I did not have much time, I convinced myself. I could not have afforded to spend some of my limited time inside a coffee shop or wherever she intended to take me.

I walked around Tiananmen Square clicking some selfies and some non selfies with my mobiles. What do you call the usual pictures taken with mobile anyway? I tried to figure the maps and made my way towards what looked like the entrance to the Forbidden City. I would not have time to explore inside. Probably I could just have a look at it from outside. 

As I entered the passage that I hoped would lead me to the Forbidden City, I hear a sing song voice. “Where you from?”

Knitted Tales - Review

Rubina Ramesh is usually very visible on social media as a marketeer and an entrepreneur promoting books. In the book "Knitted Tales", she takes off the hat of reviewer, entrepreneur and digital marketing strategist and instead dons the hat of a writer. After all despite all her other roles, at heart she is an author. This I think is important from the view of her other roles as well. I always believe one has to be really passionate and sincere about the product for one to be a good marketeer or an entrepreneur.

Without much further ado, let me get into the book. Let me go step by step - first the cover, the title and blurb. The cover image is quite intriguing and draws a reader's attention. The title is again quite an interesting one - knitted tales gives an impression of the stories being a labor of love which is what they are. The blurb gives intriguing tit bits from some of the stories making the reader curious and wanting to know more. So far so good. Coming to the stories themselves, they are a pretty good collection with a good variety. We have a couple of paranormal ones, a couple of mystic ones, a few tragic dramas, a few clever tales and a few innocent feel good drams thus covering a whole gamut of emotions. The overall language is good and the book is well edited. The stories are short and none of them meander needlessly. Overall the book makes quite an effortless read.

Now let me go over the stories one by one in the order of my preference starting with the ones I liked most towards the ones I liked least.

Cliff Notes - An interesting tale told from the point of view of cliff. A kind of mystic tale that winds down to a poignant end exposing the darker side of humanity.

Betrayal - A crime thriller of sorts that keeps the reader on the tenterhooks 

The Little Godmother - This story scores for the sheet innocence of it all.

No Regrets - A clever tale with an interesting twist in the end

Lolita - Playing upon the more popular novel with the same name, Rubina manages to weave together a poignant narrative.

The missing staircase - A surreal kind of a tale with a fitting end.

Daddy, hear me out - An evocative portrayal of a school girl's emotions regarding her career.

Suvarna Rakha - A cliched beaten tale embellished with mythic elements and certain element of surprise to make it an interesting read.

The Other Woman - A story that seems too good to be true with hardly any sign of conflict suddenly serves a whack out of nowhere towards the end.

Forgive me, For I have sinned - A convoluted kind of tale which might appeal to some.

Overall a book very much worth 120 Rs. of your hard earned money and 120 minutes of your time spent away from hard earning money. Do visit here to buy the book on Amazon.

Saved in Sri Lanka

I see books to be of two kinds – ones that make you think and others that give you instant experiences to lighten your mood. There are many that do both as well. But that is beside the point. The thing is we need some books just to lighten our moods. These are what are known as comfort reads. The comfort reads are characterized by predictable uni-dimensional story lines and genre tropes. But still as the name suggests, the ones who find it comforting enjoy the change the same type of story over and over in different settings through the eyes of different characters. Some genres tend to be such comfort reads – action thrillers and romance for instance. Neither genre has somehow held much appeal for me. I have my own comfort reads – mine are children’s stories and tales of exploration in fantasy lands. But then when my forays into social media brought me in touch with a host of romance writers, I knew the day was not far before I would be initiated into this genre. And yes it did when I participated in an online contest organized by one of my friends and ended up winning her book as prize. That is how I landed the book ‘Saved in Sri Lanka’ by Devika Fernando.

Having set some context, let us get to the story. Unlike me here, Devika does not waste any chapters setting the context and jumps straight to the story. We have Sepalika, a Lankan tour guide with a group of tourists on a tour around Lanka setting her eyes upon Daniel Byrne, an Irish tourist and love igniting in her heart on first sight. The whole story is told in third person from Sepalika’s point of view and takes us on a week long journey around Sri Lanka along with Daniel and Sepalika. As we discover the wonders of Sri Lanka along with interesting nuggets on the associated history from the fountain of knowledge on two legs as Daniel describes Sepalika, we also get to know some of her back story. We learn about her family, her dreams, her studies in England and her forced engagement to a local tycoon Mahesh. As the story progresses the romance between the two builds up more and more intensely that would have probably had the romance lovers drooling. For me though all that was more a distraction from the beauties of Sri Lanka. All the rich descriptions of the monuments along with their history, the wonders of nature, the local traditions, cuisines and the flora and fauna are the strong point of the book.

The language is clear and concise and takes you through the story effortlessly. There isn’t much of plot to speak of – there is a simple straightforward conflict and an equally straightforward resolution that won’t unnecessarily tax the reader’s brains. The characterization is limited to Daniel and Sepalika and the entire focus is maintained on them. Even there characters are not unduly complex with multiple shades of grey for the readers to decipher. They are simple people with simple desires. All these make it very good comfort fiction. Most of my favorite children’s fiction enjoy these characteristics too. That is why I feel if this story had been about four children solving a mystery as they go on a tour around Sri Lanka rather than a Sri Lankan tour guide and an Irish tourist falling in love, it would have been just my kind of book.

I will definitely pick up any book this author writes in any of my comfort genres if at all she writes one. As far as my understanding of romance genre goes, this is just their kind of book with all the nice candy floss emotions and detailed descriptions of physiques, clothing and accessories. So I would recommend it as a must read for all romance lovers for whatever a recommendation from a genre noob is worth. Others can still pick it up as a travel guide to Lanka.

You can pick up the book right here on Amazon.

No Safe Zone

When I try to think of an occasion when I was in a complete no safe zone, the one that comes to my mind immediately is on the day I bought my car. I had learnt driving not once but twice and had a valid license as well. But I had never driven alone. I was staying alone and so had no family members to accompany me either. I decided to take the plunge and take a drive to the subway for my lunch. Initially it was all fine - I just had to put my feet on the clutch, turn the key, bring on the first gear, slowly release the clutch, and wait for the car to move and then switch to second gear. Everything was going well as long as I was cruising along the by lanes with hardly any traffic. And then I hit the highway. Suddenly vehicles were coming at me from all directions. There was no one to give me any instructions – to turn right, turn left, speed up, slow down, change gears etc. I was all by myself amongst the crazy traffic. The large trucks and buses that would just crush me to pulp. I was totally terrified. But I managed to hold my nerves and slowly edge my way towards the subway restaurant. It was a huge sigh of relief when I finally managed to park the car outside the subway. But the very thought that I have to drive all the way back home completely took away my appetite. I hung on delaying the inevitable as long as I could, nibbling through the subway bit by bit. But finally the sandwich, the cookies and the coffee as well were done. It was time to get back to the no safe zone.

This post is published as part of the promotional campaign of the book No Safe Zone by Adite Banerjie, a very good friend of mine. She is an amazing author whose works have won acclaim internationally. You can buy her book here

Hogwarts Origins Chapter 9: The Need of the Times

The chamber was dimly lit, a lone smoldering candle in the middle of the table the sole source of light. Darker than the room was the expression on Cardinal Erasatz’s face as he stood up to address his fellow priests.

“The times are indeed dark, Brothers. All that we have feared have come to pass.”

He was greeted by a pall like silence.

“The evil Morgana and the demon spawn Mordred have declared us criminals. Can you imagine the audacity? That whelp Mordred has issued a royal decree declaring the church illegal and sent out the royal guard to arrest all the members of the clergy.”

“Really, Holy Father? Have things taken such a grave turn? This was unexpected even from the likes of them.”

“Nothing is impossible where agents of the devil are concerned. Our kingdom is now under the reign of the fallen angel himself and these are but regents of the Father of Lies.”

“So what do we do, his Holiness?”

“Not all is lost, Brothers. We have made our plans. The church shall stand firm against this abomination. As will the faithful.”

“May I intercede, Cardinal?”

“You have leave to speak, Brother Benford.”

The large man rose from his seat. “Aren’t we men of the Lord? Isn’t our realm the kingdom of heaven? Is it right for us to stain our hands in the evil realm of the earth?”

“Brother, Benford – I understand you. This is as painful to me as it is to you. How I wish I would spend my days in contemplation of our Lord’s glory. But then that is not to be. This is all a trial by Him to test our faith. We need to do what needs to be done however painful we may find it to be. “

They were interrupted by a knock on the door. It was a gentle knock but it reverberated in the silence of the chamber.

“Open the door, Brother Gregory. I believe it must be the Lord’s own Sword and his Holy Companions.”

A fierce man with flaming red hair entered followed by seven more. Brother Benford knew them all – they had all been Knights of the Round Table.

Godric bowed to the Cardinal. “Greetings, your holiness. We are at your command.”

“Tell us, Sir Godic how things go at the palace?”

“As you know Mordred now sits on the throne, his evil mother by his side. The Knights of the Round Table refused to countenance this travesty of the kingdom’s established order. So they have dissolved the Round Table and we have been declared enemies of the state. We were all individually approached by agents of Morgana with offerings of gold and power. Few of us defected to their side. But as you see the eight of us have stood firm and here we are before you. Many of the lesser knights are also disturbed by interdict and are eager to win back the favor of the church.”

The Cardinal nodded. “Any news of little Geraint?”

“It seems as a last act of magic, Merlin somehow managed to spirit him away?”

Brother Benford scowled at the mention of Merlin. The evil serpent. The one who was the root cause of all the evil that being wrought upon this kingdom.

“I think we should direct all our efforts towards locating Geraint. Once we find him, we shall march upon Camelot. Do you think we are well prepared?”

“We have the strength in numbers, his Grace. The Knights of the Round Table stand with us. As do most of the lesser knights. The commoners are also huddling in the fear of the Lord since the interdict has been declared. The church has to but call out to them and they shall come in hordes to stand with the church to receive His Almighty’s blessings. But…”

“Is there a problem, Sir Godric?”

“The wizards.”

“What about the wizards? The church has differences with Merlin. But surely he does not stand with this evil realm.”

“Merlin they say has gone into an unnatural trance. He sits like a statue shut inside his castle. They say he does not move nor speak. A living vegetable he has become they say.”

“So in the absence of leadership, all the wizards of the kingdom have gone over?”

“Yes, my Lord. We don’t know what manner of evil magic they can summon. We are not afraid to face anything. As you know we will gladly lay down our lives for our God and the true king - the representative of God on earth. But as a leader of men I can’t use lightly the lives of men who trust me. So I have to think about the dangers.”

“I fully understand and appreciate, Godric. Even God does not suffer fools lightly. God wants you to win glory in his name, not lay down your lives in defeat for him. We should plan how we shall counter the magic. Your sword has the power to deflect magic. So magic can’t hurt you.”

Godric’s stony face winced slightly at the mention of the sword. A heavy price indeed he had had to pay to gain it. Benford still was not sure if whatever happened was really the way of the God. But Cardinal Erasatz was his superior. He probably knew the mind of God better than him.

The Cardinal continued. “I was planning to provide similar weapons for our army. But the goblins still need time to forge the weapons. And the events have moved too fast and we did not have time to fully prepare. So we need to take temporary measures.”

“Yes, His Holiness. We need to do something to counter the magic of the wizards. Or our brave men will die in vain.”

“Repugnant though it is to me, I wonder if we need to forge a temporary alliance with some of the wizards.”

“That is Good thinking, Cardinal. But the wizards know of the church’s antipathy towards them. None would side with us. Maybe if Merlin had his powers…..”

“I know. Though we detest all forms of use of magic, King Arthur’s alliance with Merlin did serve its purpose. Maybe we also need to compromise with evil for the time being for the greater good.”

Brother Benford rose abruptly from his seat. ”Holy Cardinal. Do you suggest we consort with the acolytes of Satan? I have been going along with your unconventional approaches. But working with wizards goes against all our doctrines. I would rather give myself up to Morgana and rot to death in prison defending my faith.”

“Brother Benford! Brother Benford! How could you think this of your Cardinal? Would your Cardinal ever lead you away from the path of the Lord?”

“That is what I always believed, your holiness. But your suggestion of forging an unholy alliance of the sort Arthur had forged has me doubting you.”

“My dear Benford, you are right in the limited vision that has been revealed to you. But to me, the Great Lord has revealed greater portion of his plan. The way I see it, you cut a diamond with a diamond. You remove a thorn with a thorn. You need to use sin to root out sin and then discard it. The very human birth is a wage of sin. We can’t stay free of sin while we live in this world. As long as we keep the greater good in mind and do the will of God, the sin won’t taint us.”

Benford was not fully convinced. But the Cardinal did sound sincere.

“So my dear Godric – do we know of any wizards who would fight on the side of righteousness?”

“None of the wizards of our kingdom would go against Morgana unless they had a leader like Merlin.”

“Can one such as Merlin be found?”

“There are rumors of Merlin’s bastard son. He is known to be a powerful wizard and Morgana is said to have sent assassins to end his life. I am not sure if he still lives.”

“If Morgana wants him dead, he surely would be a good ally to have. It pains me to have any manner of dealings with wizards. But maybe that is God’s will. Maybe God’s grace will fall on him and cleanse him of his sins as well. We shall have time to deal with this wizard whichever way he goes after we have defended the kingdom from this evil sorceress and her whelp.”

Brother Benford could read a tinge of sorrow in Cardinal’s voice. He seemed to be doing this out of the necessity of the time only. He felt ashamed for having ever doubted him.

“So do you want us to find this wizard, his Holiness?”

“Yes. Find him and bring him to me! He will serve us well till the holy weapons are forged. Once we have the weapons, we shall have no need for magic.”

“We shall leave no stone unturned to find him, my Grace.”

“We also need to find Geraint. Send out your men to look for him as well. Unless we find Geraint, we shall have no cause. Bastard though he is and born of incest, Mordred will be the true heir to the kingdom if Geraint does not live. So it is essential to find him.”

“I shall, Cardinal.”

“Our enemies would also be looking for the two of them. But I know you are bravest and most resourceful men in the kingdom. And you have God’s blessings. You shall wade your way through the darkest hour and emerge victorious.”

The cardinal then bade all the others to raise and they chanted in unison. “Go forth, Holy knights of God and bring glory to the name of the Lord.”

The knights departed.

Click for other Chapters: Chapter 1  Chapter 2  Chapter 3  Chapter 4  Chapter 5  Chapter  6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8

The Magical Cave XIII: A stranger and an escape plan

The moment they heard the word "run", they all ran. They looked neither left not right. They just kept running. They had to put as much distance between themselves and Omnius. They did not want to spend the rest of their childhood serving a megalomaniac machine. They had run for close to half an hour when they finally stopped to catch their breath.

"Welcome to the Ominus' employee quarters." Rattus stood in front of them, a sly smile forming in the corner of his lips.


"Did you think the ones before you have never tried to escape? You thought Omnius did not know what was going on in your puny minds?"


"How did you end up exactly where exactly where you were trying to run away from?"

They just stood looking at him with their drooping faces.

He continued on. "In this place, all roads lead to Omnius. No matter which direction you run, you will always end up where Omnius wants you to be. Enough talking. Come! Let me show you to your bunks. You need to get up early tomorrow morning and start on your tasks. Twenty years service has been promised to Omnius and every minute of it shall be called to account."

They were lead to a large hall with rows of three tiered cots lined up from end to end. People of various ages, genders, nationalities lay asleep completely oblivious of the newcomers. They were lead to the end of the room where stood four empty cots. Rattus motioned them towards the bed.

In a few minutes they found themselves all alone.

"What do we do now?" Ajay was all a bunch of nerves.

"From what Rattus says, escape seems impossible." Ramya always had the penchant for stating the obvious.

"Maybe he is lying. We should try to break out again." Vinod as usual was the enterprising one.

"No. He was not lying."

They turned towards the new voice coming from the bed next to theirs. A skeleton of a man lay there. He had shabby matted hair and a long shaggy beard - a Jesus of sorts just before his crucification. An older one at that. As Jesus would have looked if he had been crucified twenty years later than he had been.

"Sorry if I startled you. Let me introduce myself - I am Pashumathy Madanapalli Vamsi Ramakrishna"

"Excuse me."

"My name -  I am Pashumathy Madanapalli Vamsi Ramakrishna"

"Do we have to call you that entire thing?" asked Navneeta.

"You can call be Krishna or Krish."

"So what were you saying?"

"That Rattus was right. There is no escape from here. I would know. I have been here for 42 years."

"42 years? That is really a long time. Didn't you get released after serving out twenty years? Didn't Omnius keep his promise to you?"

"Yes and no. "

"What does that mean?" asked Ramya. "How can the answer be both yes and no?"

"Well, my dear, that is how life is. There are no black and white answers. More so with Omnius. He is the master of the grey area."

"We don't understand what you are saying. Can you please elaborate?"

"It is a long story my dear girl. A long long story! I need to start right at the beginning from before I landed up in this accursed land."

"Yes, please do," said Ramya, who always like a good tale.

"You kids! You would stop to listen to stories when we are in such grave danger! I should have never ventured out with kids."

"Come on, Grumpy. We are trapped here with no clue how to escape. We have to gather all the information we can find. Maybe his story will give us some ideas on how to escape."

" Achooo! Achoooooo! I agree with Happy. Achoooo!"

Suddenly the room was filled with a pleasant smell like burning incense. It kind of seemed to clear their minds. "Smelly?"

"Were you with us all this while, Smelly?"

A large ginger cat began to materialize in front of their eyes.

Vinod suddenly spoke up. "I think Omnius and Rattus may not have seen Smelly. Maybe he can escape."

"But how will that help us? Or him? We will continue to be trapped here and he in our world."

"But he can get help, Ajay."

"Do you forget he cannot communicate with anyone?"

"He can communicate with Brock. Maybe Brock can dig us out the way he dug us out of the land of Odors."

"I don't know. Will he even understand?" Ajay still sounded doubtful.

"Why do you always have to be such a wet blanket, Ajay. We can at least try. I think it is a very good idea, Vinod."

Completely ignoring Ajay's angry glare, Ramya continued, "Navneeta - I think you can communicate best with Smelly. Why don't you try telling Smelly to return to our land and bring back Brock."

"Let me try." Navneeta turned towards  Smelly. "We are in trouble, Smelly." She tried to fill her mind with strong emotions of worry and fear.

Smelly purred and rubbed against her legs. "We need your help, Smelly. You are the only one who can help us." She stoked his fur gently and tried to fill her mind with feelings of pleading and helplessness.

"Bring Brock here." She tried to form an image of Brock inside the hall as she spoke.

The cat did not move. She tried to form the image of Brock more clearly. "Please bring Brock to us."

The cat nodded its head and slowly began to disappear, body first. The head hung in thin air for sometime and then completely disappeared.

The old man spoke up. "What was that thing with you?"

"Ours is a long story too. You tell your story and we will tell you ours while we wait for our friends Smelly and Brock."

The Magical Cave I: A Cave in the Hills  <<<<    The Magical Cave XII: Omnius  >>>> To be continued.......

The Magical Cave XII: Omnius

The roads were becoming narrower and dirtier. He was leading them rapidly through so many side lanes and gullies it was becoming difficult to keep track. They were now fully at his mercy. No way would they be able to return to the hole without his help.

Soon they were in a ramshackle hut that looked like it would collapse any moment.

"Where have you brought us?" asked Ramya.

He did not reply. He just pointed towards something that must have once been a door but now looked more like a termite nest. Ajay shifted his feet nervously. Where had this fellow brought them? In their disappointment at not getting the information they sought, they had followed this stranger and now they were hopelessly lost in the shadiest by lanes of this land. If this had been back on their land, they were good as dead. Or worse. But hopefully these magic worlds were kinder. Anyways they had come all this way. Now only way was to go through with it.

They gingerly stepped in. They were hardly prepared for the sight that greeted them. Computers! Computers! Computers everywhere! The place looked like a grave yard of discarded computers. There were models from various times. There was even something that looked like the one that used punching cards that they had studied about in history of computer science at school. There were wires running criss cross across the room connecting the various machines. The place was so cramped - there was hardly room to move their feet.

"What brings you to the humble abode of omnius?" They were startled to suddenly hear a mechanical humming voice out of nowhere. They looked around for the source of sound and their eyes fell on a large rectangular machine that stood in the middle of the room like a little tower with six rectangular lights glowing on top.

"We.. we..," Vinod stammered. Having seen so many strange lands, a talking computer was not something that should have surprised them. But there was this strange uncanny feeling about this whole thing.

"Omnius shall not be kept waiting. Please answer."

They looked around for their guide. But he was nowhere to be seen. "We.. we wanted information."

"What illegal information do you seek that official channels can't provide that you come seeking Omnius."

"We wanted to know how to get our friend Smelly back to the land of odors."

"That is an answer you seek - not information. Computers are not Gods or seers."

"You can't help us then?"

"Did I say so? I said computers are not Gods or Seers. But I am no computer. I am Omnius."

"Please tell us how we can get him back?"

"And what will I get if I do?"

"We have only thirty thousand credits with us."

"What need does a God have for useless mortal currency?"

"We can share information about our world?"

"Ha Ha Ha!" The computer seemed to vibrate violently. The four children huddled close together.

"You puny creatures presume to have information that Omnius does not have? I am Omnius, the omniscient and omnipotent. There is nothing I do not know."

"Then what do you want?"

"Gods want nothing. But only things puny humans can offer is their worship. For their own good. Wisdom has value only if truly earned. Will you be the devotees and promise to proffer unfaltering service?"

"We will," said Ramya hastily before the computer could finish.

"For the next twenty years. For twenty years, you shall be mine and shall run errands like old Rattus here."

The shady man who had lead them had returned.

"Your have new companions, Rattus. Take them with you and explain their duties to them."


"Omnius entertains no Ifs and Buts. Complete your service and return to me. You shall have your answer."

The man motioned them to follow him.

"What do we do now?" he whispered as they emerged out of hut.

"Let us run"

"But can we find our way?"

"Doesn't matter if we can't. We will get somewhere. Things can't get worse than they are."

That was true. Ajay could not imagine too many things worse than being stuck in a weird land, running errands for a megalomaniac machine."

"When I say go, run like crazy. But take care to stick together. If we are separated, we are doomed," whispered Vinod.

As soon as they had taken a few steps, "Go" yelled Vinod.

The Magical Cave I: A Cave in the Hills  <<<<    The Magical Cave XI: The Land of Knowledge  >>>> The Magical Cave XIII: A stranger and an escape plant

J K Rowling and the cursed child

The release of the new book ‘Harry Potter and the cursed child’ brought back my memories of my journey with Harry Potter. It also has a personal meaning for me. So I thought I would rant on the same.

The first Harry Potter book was released in 1997. At that time I was just entering my bachelors program in Engineering and I had not even heard of this series. It was 2001 by the time I first came to know of these books and by that time 4 books were already out. I acquired the books and read them all back to back over a two day marathon reading session. Having not yet fully been initiated into the world of fantasy fiction at that point of life, I was completely blown away. Over the next couple of years I had read the 4 books over and over multiple times - the only books I have read so many times since my childhood days.

It was quite a wait for ‘Order of the Phoenix’. My grandfather expired around the time it was getting released. So I missed buying it. However my team lead at work had bought it and he had finished reading within a day and he lent it to me. Then again it was a long wait for ‘The Half Blood Prince’. I actually managed to place a pre-order for this book at the local book store and hence had it in my possession on the very day of release. But then a sudden wave of generosity struck me and I ended up lending it to my little cousin to read first. She was not the maniacal reader kinds and she took her own sweet time to complete it and that left me a week behind the rest of the world.

The wait for the last book was so long that I had completely forgotten Harry Potter for good by the time it was released. Also I had become a complete fantasy buff in the years in between. So Harry Potter no longer held any special fascination for me as such. When the last booking was due for released I was in my final trimester of MBA - I find it interesting how the first book was released in my first year of college education and the last during my last year.  Someone within the campus managed to get a pirated soft copy of the book a day before the official release and it began circulating within the campus. Having always lagged the rest of the world, I could not resist the temptation to go one up on the last book. So I ended up opening the pdf file that landed in my mail box and sat through the night reading and managed to complete the book barely hours before its release. And that marked my end of the Harry Potter journey.

Everyone was gaga about the movies as well. Somehow I could not get myself to watch them – I just watched one of the movies – the first part of the ‘Deathly Hollows’. I can’t say I was very impressed. I have always wondered what J K Rowling would do after Harry Potter series. The series structure was such that it could not extend beyond 7 books. So what would she do after they were done I wondered. Wouldn’t her life fill with emptiness and frustration at not being able to re-create the magic of Harry Potter? In large part, my apprehensions have come true. I was not tempted to pick up ‘Casual Vacancy’. And from what I heard, it did not make the kind of waves Harry Potter did. That is why I guess she tried a different tactic - a different genre under a pseudonym. Maybe she was hoping she could start as a ‘nobody’ and once again create the magic all over again. But then that was not to be. In a connected world, she could not keep her identity secret. And as far as I could make out, her success as Robert Galbraith has been more on the back of her Harry Potter aura only than on independent merit. I for one was not at all tempted to pick up any of her non Harry Potter books. For me, it was always about Harry Potter and not about J K Rowling. So Rowling outside of Harry Potter meant nothing to me.

So somehow I feel she is now stuck with Harry Potter for good and has to live with him the rest of her life. How much ever she tries, people will probably still talk of Harry Potter only. She is by no means the first author to suffer this fate. Her illustrious predecessor from Britain Arthur Conan Doyle had to undergo the same. He was just not allowed to think beyond Sherlock Holmes. The author struggled desperately to put Holmes behind him and focus on Professor Challenger and Sir Nigel. So much so in a desperate attempt to get rid of Holmes, he had Moriarty fling him off the Reichenbach falls in a deathly embrace. But no! Even death could not free him from Homes’ vice like grip. He had to revive him and bring him back in ‘The Return of Sherlock Holmes’.

The sense of frustration is something I can relate to as well at a personal level at a much smaller scale. Eight years ago, when I started my blog, I wrote a series called ‘The Great Indian Bride Hunt’. This series acquired so much popularity that gave me momentum to seriously take up writing. But today, when people still praise that series so much even though I have written so much more ever since, I wonder if I am also stuck with ‘Great Indian Bride Hunt’ the way Rowling and Doyle are stuck with Potter and Holmes. And more sad it would be if that were the case for despite it being my most popular piece of writing, its popularity does not even match that of some of the country’s top bloggers far from reaching anywhere near the iconic heights of Harry Potter or Sherlock Holmes. Even if one were the discount the popularity aspect, still it would be nothing short of tragedy for a complete unromantic like me who does not even like series like ‘Friends’ and ‘How I met your mother’, to be best known for relationship related humor.

Anyways coming back to Rowling, the hype around ‘Harry Potter and the cursed child’ go on to reiterate how much Harry Potter has entrenched himself in public psyche and how next to impossible it will be for her to produce something that can exceed the popularity of Harry Potter. That is the curse she has to live with for the rest of her life – a Midas touch of sorts. Harry Potter - the cursed child in J K Rowling's life.

How to write Interesting Travel Fiction

I have known Ruchira Khanna  for a long period as a fellow member of the The Book Club group I am part of. While many of the members in the group focus on romance, she is one who experiments with multiple genres - Children's fiction, Philosophical fiction and now travel fiction. As she is launching her latest book 'Voyager into the Unknown', a travel fiction, I requested her for a guest post regarding this genre and she has been kind enough to oblige.

I asked her the question "How does an author balance between the story line, research, facts & information in a novel around travel without making the story boring or dry like reading Lonely Planet?" Read on for her response.

If I could answer your question in one line, “Read the book!” ☺

Travel and Story resonate such independence, yet these two get entwined when we go on a holiday. There is no travel without a story and vice versa.

Thus, as a writer the importance of research, getting the facts and information of that city becomes crucial since history is needed to attract the reader and create a foundation, a background before introducing characters to them.

Fortunately the Taj Mahal in my book did not need any introduction since it is a known landmark, however; the city, its population, the weather and various other landmarks needed a Google.
Once the above were check marked, the characters were introduced in that setting, and now and then the above facts were sprinkled in the storyline to avoid making it a history lecture. When the individuals started their interaction with each other, the city played a silent yet a translucent role. When an incident occurred, and the characters were recovering, the city’s attractions gave an insight into what, where, how the individual was interacting emotionally and physically thus, allowing the storyline to move along and not become stagnant or boring.

In a few words: The city is very much in the background supporting the characters and would push the story line further when these individuals would get burned down.

It’s like a parent giving the ‘right’ amount of push now and then to his toddler!

Check out my post spotlighting her book 'Voyagers into the Unknown' to know more about the author and her latest work.

Voyager - Spotlight


In the historic Indian town of Agra, you can find a very unusual tour company, which is owned by a charming young man named Raj. Although Raj's official job is to show off the historical landmarks of Agra, including the legendary Taj-Mahal, his true mission is to heal the souls of his broken "birds," as he affectionately refers to his tour participants. His business operates purely upon word-of-mouth referrals, ensuring that all of his tour members arrive in Agra with their hearts in their hands, ready for the spiritual growth and cleansing that Raj is known to provide. Healing the hearts of the spiritually damaged can be a difficult job, and in this particular tale, Raj finds himself faced with his most challenging tour group yet. First, there is Ira, a stunningly gorgeous but fragile young woman on the brink of suicide. Next, we meet Darci and Lennard, a couple on the verge of divorce. Then there is Carl, an irritable, antisocial workaholic who has burned all of his bridges. Lastly, we meet Asha, an elderly widow who still yearns for the company and comfort of her late husband. When disaster strikes the tour group, everything is thrown into jeopardy, including lives, relationships, and Raj's very reputation as a tour guide. Raj must find a way to lift the spirits of these five special travelers, even in the face of death and despair. Venture into the unknown and discover how Raj Touristry heals the brokenhearted, one soul at a time. 

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Encounters - Review

Sumana Khan was one of the first people I met when I started my writing journey around 6 years back and I probably owe it to her and the other folks I associated with back then for my not abandoning writing as a passing fancy and falling back to being a regular corporate coolie.  I have read, enjoyed and reviewed her first published novel 'Kaivalya', a paranormal thriller. So I had no hesitation in signing up when The Book Club offered up her second book 'Encounters' for review.

This time it is not a novel but a collection of stories with a paranormal connection. The book has her usual inimitable writing style that makes her stories an enjoyable read. I am usually not a big fan of regional flavors in writing and have almost always found it quite jarring. But Sumana manages to seamlessly blend a Kannada flavor into her writing that gives a local feel without ruining the flow of the narrative. Overall the language and narrative are excellent as are the descriptions of the people, places and cuisine, making the story a delightful read.

Coming to the stories themselves, let me start with 'Happiness Clinic', a version of which I had read back in 2010 when I had associated with the author. It is the tale of a frustrated old man who has spent all his life satisfying others. Now retired, he has lost his one source of validation in life - his job. The tale takes us on his journey through the dreary desert of despondency, the jungle of sorrow and river of disappointment to finally reach the meadows of peace and contentment. This was my favorite story in the book. I found the story significantly improved from the version I had read back then. Kudos to the author for taking efforts to refine the story further.

'Best friends forever' was the one I read next. This is a regular spooky tale of a girl who supposedly has visitations from the spirit of a long dead British child. The protagonist is a psychiatrist who attends to the girl. The psychiatrist realizes that this is no ordinary case and he has to go beyond the realms of mainstream psychiatry to crack this case. The story weaves seamlessly through the past and present bringing before us a myriad of interesting characters.

'First Love' is a strong story, placed strongly in the realm of urban fantasy. It is the tale of woman seeking to break through the bonds society places on women to achieve her professional dreams. The story also has a paranormal theme of tryst with a daemon lover, who supports her in her struggle against overpowering odds. Will she realize her dreams? And what about her daemon lover? Does he really exist or is he just a figment of her imagination. Read the story to find out.

'The storyteller' is an interesting tale of a town, its inhabitants, their trials and its tribulations. 'Reminiscence' is the story of love between an old man and his wife. Both are well narrated tales with twists in the end. While the narrations were interesting, the twist did not really have that wow feeling. Of course the twists were not predictable but I did not find sufficient build up in the main narrative for the twist to be a real knock out as such. Also I did not find much novelty in the nature of the twist - I found it to be a regular formulaic one. So I would say these two are the weakest stories in the collection purely from the paranormal and thrill perspective.

In addition to being entertaining, each of the stories address several social themes. Many of the stories having social themes neglect the entertainment and tend to get preachy or depressing. Sumana's stories on the other hand are interesting stories in themselves while the message is delivered effortlessly as the reader navigates through the story. While the stories have darkness which one may come to expect in paranormal stories as well as in stories related to social evils, all of the stories strike some kind of an optimistic note in the end.

Overall I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for quick reads that despite being light and entertaining, maintain a good level of language and narration and manage to pack a punch.

Links to where book can be found - Goodreads, Amazon, Flipkart, Cinnamon Teal

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