Monsoon Traveling near Pune – Panchgani and Lonavla

The rain transforms her into a bride

Dressed in a sparkling green ghagra choli

With the white clouds, her chunari,

I say, don’t be coy, please don’t hide

Let me embrace you, and make you mine..

– The hills, my monsoon bride, written by Prachi

I feel grateful to be able to enjoy the rain, the cold wind and play hide and seek with the clouds over two weekends, in the company of friends and family. Thank you Universe, for nature – one of the best things about life.

Panchgani in June

In June, we went on a weekend trip with another family to Panchgani, in Maharashtra. I’ve been here many times, but just like Goa, this place always is gorgeous, especially during the rains. We left on a Friday after breakfast, and the drive took us 2.5 hours. We made a small pit stop at the McDonalds on the way for pee break and to pick up some fries for the kids, and still managed to reach Mapro, right in time for lunch. A trip to Panchgani or Mahabaleshwar is always incomplete without the pizza and the cheese sandwich meal at Mapro ๐Ÿ˜‰

It’s a lot of fun to go on trips with a family who also has a kid the same age as your own. Both the girls managed to entertain themselves, completely lost in the rains, hills and roads, making up stories and taking selfies with their pretend cameras ๐Ÿ˜€

The next two days went by in a blur. There was a silver lining to the pandemic related lockdown in the sense that all tourist places were closed, which resulted in almost zero traffic and hardly any people/tourists anywhere. We were able to roam around without any worry, and explore unknown hills, roads and jungles. We would only come back to our airbnb for lunch and later for the evening drinks and dinner, because hill stations shut down at 6 pm, irrespective of pandemic. But the routine of waking up early, sleeping early, without the distraction of a television or mobile (because there was hardly any network or wifi there), getting to walk all day long in the rains and then eating freshly cooked home made food, was absolutely therapeutic!

Lonavla in July

If we can, we usually try to get out of the city during my husband’s birthday. Last year we hadn’t been able to go anywhere, but this year, we could plan another weekend getaway in Lonavla. Again, booked a beautiful airbnb which was designed with a mix of antique and modern, near Amby Valley, and travelled there with another set of friends and their dog. Lonavla is pretty close to Pune, so it took us just an hour and a half to reach our airbnb. The drive was simply gorgeous, especially as we went higher up the hill towards Amby valley, with the clouds completely engulfing the road, which made for near zero visibility, but was absolutely breathtaking.

Again, we reached right on time for lunch and were treated to steaming hot home cooked rice, daal, chicken curry and salad. The best part about airbnbs in India (at least the ones we book) is that you have someone to cook for you! After a lunch where we nearly stuffed ourselves to death and explored the poetry inspiring duplex house, we decided to go out for a walk. Sadly, our walk was marred by an incident where another pet dog, who found the door unlocked, ran after my friend’s dog and attacked her. It was utterly heartbreaking to see her hurt and bleed, and that did dampen everyone’s spirits. However, a quick visit to the vet and a lot of love later, their dog was slightly better and we decided to call it a day, since it was starting to get dark.

Again, just like in Panchgani, we spent our time in the hills, walking, exploring some off beaten paths, discovering unexpected waterfalls, finding crystals – which my daughter kept calling ‘treasure’. If only..I wouldn’t have had to work anymore ๐Ÿ˜€

We would wake up around 7 am and then have a lazy breakfast. Go out exploring the hills nearby and come back for lunch. Go out again, get wet in the rains and the tiny waterfalls and come back by 6 pm. Take a hot bath and settle in for the evening with music, drinks, and great company. Dinner at home again and bed by 10 pm…I had not felt so relaxed in ages, I thought. Again, there was no network in this house so it was a complete digital detox for me. I absolutely revelled in it. Can’t wait to be out in the nature again soon ๐Ÿ™‚

Some travel tips from a traveling parent in India ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Try and book larger properties with a garden and a cook, if possible. Its easier to keep the kids engaged, especially if there is no wifi
  • If traveling during monsoons, carry rainwear, lots of spare clothes for the kid, rain boots/wellies, and mosquito repellent spray
  • Munchies or lollipops for the children – for those untimely hunger pangs when you’re in the mountains – but please don’t litter. Carry your garbage home
  • Always more fun to travel with another family with kids, especially if you have a single child like us ๐Ÿ™‚
  • Colouring books and storybooks, for the evening entertainment

What do you like to do on a vacation – especially if you’re travelling with kids? Do you like short weekend getaways from time to time, or prefer longer vacations?

#10MINADAY Challenge – Day 12: An Ideal Day

Photo by julie aagaard on Pexels.com

If someone had asked me this question maybe just ten years ago – “What would your ideal day be like?, I would have had a very detailed and specific answer ready.

But now, I feel that the word ‘ideal’ is an illusion. More of a fantastical notion than the word ‘fantasy’. So if you ask me now, about my ideal day, I’d say, it doesn’t exist. I know, I probably sound like a depressed pessimist. But I’d like to think of myself as a positive realist. What I can talk about is, a day which was good. Which has happened in the past and probably has the chance to occur in the future as well. A day that is better than the usual, normal, mundane, hectic days.

A day that is better than the others is when I get to be myself. When I have more time for myself and to spend with my family, without having to worry about the one million home and office chores that need my urgent attention. I would be by the beach, listening to the waves glide softly, watching the sunset. I’m a sunset kind of a person. My mornings are usually late and I can probably count on my fingers the number of sunrises I’ve seen in the 38 years of my existence.

There would be music somewhere – its not important what the source of the music would be. I’ll have a book with me, and a pen and a notepad. I’ll have a drink, preferably a beer if its hot and afternoon, or a mojito which isn’t too sweet. Beaches aren’t made for whiskey, but if I was surrounded by the cold mountains and the starry night sky for company instead, then I’d like to have a bonfire burning somewhere and music along with my whiskey, book, pen and paper.

I know this sounds like I’m happiest when I’m alone, with my vices and my passions. But that’s not the truth. I would want my best friends around, and my daughter too. But my day would also have me being able to spend time in my own company, probably at the end of the day. I’d have an adventure with my daughter in the morning, go for long walks and laugh at silly things. And later, once she has gone to bed, I’d spend the night just thinking, talking, dancing, reading, writing, and being. I’m blessed to have a few friends with whom I don’t need to talk and entertain constantly. We can be thoughtful together. But distances make it difficult for us to spend time together. So whenever that day comes that they’re around me, those automatically become my ‘better’ days.

My better days are the ones that make me feel at peace with myself and loved. My better days are the ones that make me feel grateful to be alive on this planet. My better days are the ones that make me feel inconsequential in the grand mystery of the Universe.

What would your ideal day look like? Tell me about it in the comments ๐Ÿ™‚

Life Diaries and Reading Wrap Up โ€“ June 2021

We’re half way through 2021 already!!! Time flies..I wish the pandemic disappeared like time too though. Haven’t we had enough of this stupid virus already? As if the original virus wasn’t deadly enough, we now have beta and delta versions and country specific mutations of the virus wreaking havoc in our lives.

I know I’m blessed because despite it all, I had a lovely month in June – with friends, books, exercise, getting to soak in the nature and discovering some really good music and shows. Still, I know many aren’t as privileged as me and for their sake, I pray this virus goes away and disappears. I think this will be a constant prayer to the Universe, until the pandemic ends.

My June 2021 Habit Tracker ๐Ÿ™‚

So, here’s the sweet and simple wrap up of all the stuff I did in June and how I fared with respect to my personal goals ๐Ÿ™‚

Reading:

I read five books in June and this was a bit of a mixed bag this time. I had high hopes for some of them and was disappointed, whereas there were some books that really impressed and inspired me ๐Ÿ™‚

  • These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong (โญ๏ธโญ๏ธโญ๏ธโญ๏ธ) – A YA Fantasy with a Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1926 Shanghai. This is the author’s debut novel and the first of the duology and I was thoroughly entertained till the end reading this book. One of my favorite reads this month ๐Ÿ™‚
  • Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin (โญ๏ธโญ๏ธโญ๏ธโญ๏ธ) – A romance inspired by You’ve Got Mail, featuring Muslim diaspora characters and lots of delicious food. Need I say more?
  • The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai (โญ๏ธโญ๏ธโญ๏ธ) – Another romance (gosh, I’ve gone overboard with the romance this month it looks like lol), very in-with-the-times romance and with a great cast and dialogues. However, there was too much smut for my comfort, and that’s something that takes the joy out of my love for romances lately ๐Ÿ™‚
  • How To Be A Writer by Ruskin Bond (โญ๏ธโญ๏ธโญ๏ธโญ๏ธโญ๏ธ) – I absolutely adored this book. Simple and useful advice by a very loved writer. And with some funky illustrations too. Will make a superb gift for young writers and old
  • Memory of Light by Ruth Vanita (โญ๏ธโญ๏ธโญ๏ธ) – The great disappointment of this month. I had such high hopes from this book and this was the BOTM pick for two readalongs to celebrate Pride. The book had so much promise, because the writer writes so well, her words full of rich imagery. However, most of us readers felt that the book lacked soul and was probably too short to explore the themes we would’ve liked to read more about. Nevertheless, at least we have a fiction based in historic India, which talks about a sapphic love story between two courtesans.

Writing

My writing suffered in June. As usual I started with a bang and with more seriousness, and tried my hand at the Ray Bradbury revision challenge and also tried to make a writing routine. However, after about 10 days into the month, as always, my writing took a back seat as life, work and other socialising along with illnesses took over. Hopefully, I will be better in July ๐Ÿ™‚

I also tried my hand at writing another poem on topics that are very close to my heart, called Longing ๐Ÿ™‚

Socials, Life, Travel and Other Updates:

  • When it is monsoons in Maharashtra, the state completely transforms. The green is greener than usual, there is a cold bite to the air, which believe it or not is colder than what it is here in winters lol! There is a constant drizzle and the air smells petrichor – one of my favorite smells in the world. I was blessed to be able to go out on a few drives and then on a weekend getaway with friends to Panchgani. I’ll write a short travelogue on the Panchgani getaway soon ๐Ÿ™‚
  • Apparently June was also Internal Yoga Day. I don’t do Yoga, but sometimes I do Suryanamaskars to stretch after a long day of sitting or before a run. My sister in law asked us to share a picture with our favorite Yoga pose and I posted mine with a book ๐Ÿ˜‰ LOL
  • I ran and walked a lot more in June than in May and I felt good looking at my stats on Strava ๐Ÿ™‚ In May I had clocked in 55Kms and in June I clocked in 68 Kms! So proud of myself, because I did a few 5K runs ๐Ÿ™‚ I hope I can trump June’s distance in July ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • I also got my first shot of the vaccine this month and my after effects were pretty terrible. I had fever and body ache for nearly four days! Then again I fell ill with cold and a bit of body ache after a few days. Work wasn’t helpful since the last week of June was crazy, but hopefully July will be better both health and work wise ๐Ÿ™‚

Music I discovered and loved in June:

  • I am still in love with AURORA and I just cant get enough of her song – Little boy in the grass
  • Another discovery was Twenty One Pilot‘s new album – almost all the songs are simply amazing, the punk rock with a bit of rap that I love. But my favourites are The Outside and Redecorate ๐Ÿ™‚
  • And finally, Kristian Kostov’s – A beautiful mess – both the original and the china edit. The violin piece in the songs completely have my heart

Show(s) That I Discovered and Loved in June

So, in May, I had clubbed the music and show in a single category but I decided to split this out in June, because I had to give special mentions to two screen adaptation that I watched and absolutely loved.

  • Word of Honor on Netflix (Chinese Wuxia Drama, screen adaptation of the novel ‘The Wanderers’ by Priest) – Where and how do I even begin to profess my love, admiration and obsession with this show and its leading characters and cast – Zhou Zishu played by Zhang Zhehan and Wen Kexing played by Gong Jun! If you want to know even an inkling of what I felt about this show, check out my friend Sahi’s post here, where she sums it up pretty well ๐Ÿ™‚ Just like The Untamed last year, I think this year’s saving grace and television/screen highlight is going to be ‘Word of Honor’ for me. Just like Sahi mentions in her post, this show is a brilliant example of art transcending language and the beauty of friendship. The escapist feeling that these shows have and their ethereal music.. not to mention the crackling chemistry of these good looking actorsโ€ฆ gosh.. these shows (The Untamed and WoH) have been one of the things that have kept me happy and sane and escape the sadness and helplessness brought about from this pandemic. And fangirling about the shows and the actors with my friend Sahi, has simply been one of the best things in the month of June, and definitely on going ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • Motherless Brooklyn (Movie adaptation of book by the same name on Amazon Prime) – This is a movie that I watched with my husband earlier in the month and Edward Norton was truly stupendous in the movie. It doesn’t hurt that he has directed and produced the movie, but his acting was superb! The plot is quite straightforward once you get to about half of the movie, but its the dialogue delivery and Edward Norton’s acting that had me rating this movie very high on my list of shows/movies I’ve watched ๐Ÿ™‚

And that’s all Folks! I think all things considered, I had a pretty good month in June. I’d love to hear about your June – what were your highlights and lowlights? Have you read any of these books or what is a song you discovered and liked? What are your goals in July? Are you as obsessed with C-dramas or K-dramas as I am? Tell me all about it in the comments section ๐Ÿ™‚

Longing

Photo by Gabriela Palai on Pexels.com

Oh, what is this longing?

To be rich, to have kids

To be single, but also want to mingle

To be desired, to be loved

To have my heart touched, but my body untouched?

This longing that began

When I was a child

From toys to boys and books about crooks

That I still cant seem to shake off my mind?

To be inebriated, until I’m indebted

To those magic potions and pills

To get my mind jaded, so that my longings are faded…

Why am I so obsessed

With being thin, have those abs?

But also eat, aren’t those carbs just fab?

Trying to change every facet of my being

To please every other being..

I long to be a feminist and not a conformist

But this darned longing to be loved by all

Suffocates me, my heart now pall

Oh, what is this longing?

To make fantasies real?

Shouldn’t I know

That the reality of life

Is to make fantasies lose their zeal?

A book I read once said,

Let go of your longings, your desires

They are just Moh and Maya

To be truly free, remove those yearning coloured lenses

Because that’s the only way, to Nirvana

But what is Nirvana?

If not the absence of longing?

Is it not the absence of everything

Of all my feelings

Happiness, love, heartbreak

Anger, desire, greed

Kindness, Empathy, Sympathy

And so I question this

over and over

Should I keep my longings?

Or turn into nothing

Should I live human?

Or turn into oblivion?

Composed by Starry Eyed Enigma ๐Ÿ™‚ If you enjoyed this poem or if it spoke to you, I would love it if you could share, like and comment ๐Ÿ™‚ Lots of love ๐Ÿ™‚

Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalauddin – Blog Tour | Review + Giveaway

Synopsis

From the author of Ayesha at Last comes a sparkling new rom-com for fans of โ€œYouโ€™ve Got Mail,โ€ set in two competing halal restaurants

Sales are slow at Three Sisters Biryani Poutine, the only halal restaurant in the close-knit Golden Crescent neighbourhood. Hana waitresses there part time, but what she really wants is to tell stories on the radio. If she can just outshine her fellow intern at the city radio station, she may have a chance at landing a job. In the meantime, Hana pours her thoughts and dreams into a podcast, where she forms a lively relationship with one of her listeners. But soon sheโ€™ll need all the support she can get: a new competing restaurant, a more upscale halal place, is about to open in the Golden Crescent, threatening Three Sisters.

When her mysterious aunt and her teenage cousin arrive from India for a surprise visit, they draw Hana into a long-buried family secret. A hate-motivated attack on their neighbourhood complicates the situation further, as does Hanaโ€™s growing attraction for Aydin, the young owner of the rival restaurantโ€”who might not be a complete stranger after all.

As life on the Golden Crescent unravels, Hana must learn to use her voice, draw on the strength of her community and decide what her future should be.

Check out the book from the links below:ย ย 

GoodreadsAmazonBook DepositoryBarnes & NobleIndieBound Indigo Alibris

My Thoughts on the book

“My father says that trying to stop hate is like trying to stop the tides,” Rashid said. “The best thing you can do is take advantage of it. Don’t stop the tide from flowing. Build a hydroelectric dam and make electricity instead, enough to power ten thousand houses. That’s how you stop hate.”

Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin

Two endearing rom-com books that also talk about important subjects like Islamophobia and finding your identity in a foreign country, has made Uma Jalaluddin a go-to author for me.

If you’re thinking of skipping reading this book because it says ‘rom-com’ or a ‘you’ve got mail’ remake, then I urge you to reconsider. Although the story is inspired from the concept of you’ve got mail, for me, the story was far more than your usual romantic comedy. While our protagonist Hana Khan navigates her own struggles with identity and her feelings for her online friend and her real life nemesis, we also get to know about the stories of other characters in the book and how each one rebelled against some convention to experience freedom in the real sense of the word. The freedom to choose.

Obviously, we have Hana and Aydin at the centre of the story, but my favorite characters were actually the playful yet intelligent Rashid and the feisty and sarcastic Kawkab Khala. There are a whole gamut of supporting characters that I felt endeared to, and I had a lot of respect for Hana’s mother too, as she reminded me of my own hardworking and unwavering yet vulnerable mom ๐Ÿ™‚

The story and the incidents in the book make you realise about the blatant Islamophobia as well as the subtle prejudices that people of colour or of different religions face in a foreign country. I am no novice to the fact that there is such discrimination in my own country. In the outright violence that Hana faces when she goes to watch a game with her family to the subtle preconceived notions that she has to deal with, with her white boss, I felt a form of kinship with Hana and outrage on her behalf. But I love the fact that the author humanises and demystifies Islam by giving us a peak into the lives of a Muslim woman born in a country like Canada. At the end of the day, they’re no different from us. I also appreciated the fact that from this story, Uzma talks about facing hate with love and not giving in to fear. A lovely message to readers.

The pacing of the story is good and an easy read. The romance isn’t steamy and very clean, which is something that I personally prefer. For me however, more than the romance, I enjoyed reading about the friendships that Hana has and makes along the way and learning about the stories of her family.

I enjoyed the book and will be looking forward to Uzma Jalaluddin’s next book with bated breath ๐Ÿ™‚

**Thank you toย Colored Pages Toursย for selecting me to be a part of this tour and thank you to Corvus/Atlantic Books for providing me with a physical copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions in this review are my own. **

Blog Tour Schedule

Click on the image below to view reviews and the blog tour schedule for the book ๐Ÿ™‚

GIVEAWAY

For this tour there is a giveaway of three (3) copies of Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin. ENTER HERE for your chance to win!

  • Open Internationally
  • Ends on 17th June 2021 (11:59pm EST)
  • The winner will be announced on Colored Pagesโ€™s Instagram. (This giveaway is not affiliated/endorsed by Instagram).

About the Author

I am the author of AYESHA AT LAST (2018), a retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in a Toronto Muslim community. My second novel HANA KHAN CARRIES ON (2021) is inspired by the movie ‘You’ve Got Mail’ and set in rival halal restaurants. I also write a funny parenting column for The Toronto Star, and have written for The Atlantic. I live in Toronto with my husband and two sons. Find out more at www.uzmajalaluddin.com and thanks for visiting!

Author Links

Website: https://uzmajalaluddin.com/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/UzmaWrites 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/uzmajalaluddin/ 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UzmaJalaluddinAuthor/ 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17116611.Uzma_Jalaluddin 

Life Diaries and Reading Wrap Up – May 2021

I wanted to stop writing these wrap up posts. I was doing a pretty good job of it so far when I don’t know, for some reason, I decided, ‘hey, lets do one of those life and reading wrap up posts again!’.

Funny thing is, that I decided to stop doing those wrap up posts this year, because I wasn’t doing anything new, this being the lockdown and pandemic and all. And I’m still not doing anything new, just trying to keep up with the old habits. But here goes the wrap up post nevertheless ๐Ÿคท๐Ÿฝโ€โ™€๏ธ

May 2021 Planner

If I have to look at my life in the last two years, I’d say its quite neatly blocked into these areas : Work (aka my 9-5 job, which does not warrant much mention), family (aka being a mom, since that’s the predominant family role lately), reading, writing, exercising and debauchery (which includes unhealthy food, alcohol over the weekends, watching random YouTube videos or Netflix and enjoying music – aka entertainment). But for the purpose of this wrap up, I shall split this post into simple bullet points. Easy peasy eh?

Reading:

I read five brilliant books in May ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (โญ๏ธโญ๏ธโญ๏ธโญ๏ธโญ๏ธ) – A non fiction book with superb advice on writing
  • The Stationary Shop by Marjan Kamali (โญ๏ธโญ๏ธโญ๏ธ) – A love story set in Iran and UK, spanning seven decades!
  • My Grandmother sends her Regards and Apologies by Fredrik Backman (โญ๏ธโญ๏ธโญ๏ธโญ๏ธโญ๏ธ) – A book in translation that was my absolute favorite this month ๐Ÿ™‚
  • Rea and the Blood of the Nectar by Payal Doshi (โญ๏ธโญ๏ธโญ๏ธโœจ) – Middle grade own voice fantasy featuring India and an Indian protagonist
  • Conversations on Love by Natasha Lunn (โญ๏ธโญ๏ธโญ๏ธโญ๏ธ) – Collection of conversations with famous writers on love (all forms of it)

Writing

As always, I participated in the Story A Day in May, which started off well but shimmered off during the last ten days of the month. So I plan to finish the rest of the prompts in June, and revise all the stories from May using the Bradbury Challenge suggested by my writer friend Tammy. More on that later though. In addition to writing short stories, I also posted a couple of blogs in May, and journaled quite a bit. Overall, I felt I put in a better effort in May, but still far away from my ideal writing schedule and habits.

Socials, Life and Other Updates:

  • My five year old surprised me with this adorable card for Mother’s Day! ๐Ÿฅฐ
  • My peers and I hosted an Instagram Live session to roast books as part of the Mental Health Awareness month theme for the Belongg Library Network – Pune & Mumbai Chapter volunteer endeavour ๐Ÿ™‚
  • I finally received my much awaited ‘Dear Reader’ book box after almost a year of waiting and every product in it was worth it!!
  • I managed to exercise (run, walk, do yoga, or abs, or dance) most of the days of the month. I ran/walked for 16 days in May and the stats look so much better than Feb’s ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m feeling good about my exercise routine these days
  • Bugs!! My daughter is obsessed with the bugs and beetles and ants that grace our balcony, thanks to all our plants and the constant rains ๐Ÿ™‚

Shows and Music that I loved/discovered in May:

  • I’ve been loving AURORA as an artist all of this month! Absolutely fan grilling over her songs! ๐Ÿ˜
  • Then there’s the usual electronic/funk/disco music that I usually get drawn to. Troye Sivan is a recurring favorite and never disappoints.
  • In TV/Shows – I’ve been slowly savouring Schitt’s Creek and loving it. It’s similar to Modern Family and Friends for me – so funny, clean and heartwarming. Almost like medicine in these difficult times ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m on the last season now. In addition to that, my husband and I were quite hooked and impressed with these detective shows – Mare of East town (exceptional acting by Kate Winslet) and Criminals UK (excellent screenplay, scripting and concept. Amazed at the performances – watch out for the Kit Harrington episode in S2 especially)

So, that was my month gone. How was yours? Have you read any of these books, or watched any of these shows? Which artist did you discover or re-discover in May? Tell me all about your month in the comments section ๐Ÿ™‚

Rea And the Blood Of the Nectar – Book Tour | Review

About the Book:

It all begins on thenight Rea turns twelve. After a big fight with her twin brother Rohan on their birthday, Rea’s life in the small village of Darjeeling, India, gets turned on its head. Itโ€™s four in the morning and Rohan is nowhere to be found.It hasnโ€™t even been a day and Amma acts like Rohan’s gone forever. Her grandmother, too, is behaving strangely. Unwilling to give up on her brother, Rea and her friend Leela meet Mishti Daadi, a wrinkly old fortune-teller whose powers of divination set them off on a thrilling and secret quest. In the shade of night, they portal into an otherworldly realm and travel to Astranthia, a land full of magic and whimsy. There with the help of Xeranther, an Astranthian barrow boy, and Flula, a pari, Rea battles serpent-lilies and blood-sucking banshees, encounters a butterfly-faced woman and blue lizard-men, and learns that Rohan has been captured. Rea also discovers that she is a princess with magic. Only she has no idea how to use it.Struggling with the truth her Amma has kept hidden from her, Rea must solve clues that lead to Rohan, find a way to rescue him and save Astranthia from a potentially deadly fate. But the clock is ticking. Can she rescue Rohan, save Astranthia, and live to see it all?

Book Review

I was ecstatic to read this own voice middle grade fantasy, set in, *drumroll please* our very own Darjeeling, in India!! The blurb above gives you a pretty good idea about the story of the book, but it was a pleasant surprise to read about a twelve year old who uses Indian colloquialisms, wears Indian clothes, celebrates Indian festivals, plays Indian sports and eats Indian food. My stomach was literally growling with hunger at all the mentions of the Diwali and street food delicacies such as pakoras, laddoos and thukpas. Delicious!!

Rea’s adventure starts from the streets of Darjeeling but most of the book is situated in the fantastical world of Astranthia. As with a good plot and adventure story, Rea’s quest to find and rescue her twin brother keeps you absolutely hooked, with ample twists and turns and scary creatures. The story is fresh and familiar at the same time.

I really enjoyed the riddles and the challenges Rea has to solve and the way she forms friendships with some very likeable characters such as Leela from India and Xeranther and Flula from Astranthia. Queen Razya as the antagonist was quite a treat and not one of your typical black and white villain. I like a villain who is difficult to hate.

It was also interesting to note that this story wasn’t your typical chosen one story. Yes, there are some elements of it, but the story also addresses many other issues such as sibling rivalry, allowing friendships into your life, considering other’s needs before your own, a bit of political tension, the subtle favouritism of the male child. I wondered how twelve year olds across the world will relate to this when they read the book ๐Ÿ™‚

All in all, a wholesome, entertaining own voices story from Payal Doshi, in the first of the Astranthia series. I am really keen to see where the story will head next ๐Ÿ™‚

A huge thank you to Lonely Pages Book Tours, the author Payal Doshi and the Publishers for sharing a review copy of the book and allowing me to participate in this blog tour. All opinions are my own.

About The Author

Payal Doshi has a Masters in CreativeWriting (Fiction) from The New School, New York. Having lived in the UK and US, she noticed a lack of Indian protagonists in global childrenโ€™s fiction and one day wrote the opening paragraph to what would become her first childrenโ€™s novel. She was born and raised in Mumbai, India, and currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband and three-year-old daughter. When she isnโ€™t writing or spending time with her family, you can find her nose deep in a book with a cup of coffee or daydreaming of fantasy realms to send her characters off into. She loves the smell of old, yellowed books. Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, the first book in TheChronicles of Astranthiaseries is her debut middle grade novel. For more information, visit her website, www.payaldoshiauthor.com, or follow her on Instagram @payaldoshiauthor and on Twitter @payaldwrites.

Author Links:

EMAIL โ€“payaldoshiauthor@outlook.com

WEBSITE -https://www.payaldoshiauthor.com/

INSTAGRAM -https://www.instagram.com/payaldoshiauthor/

TWITTER -https://twitter.com/payaldwrites

GOODREADS -https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/52352481-rea-and-the-blood-of-the-nectar

Blog Tour Schedule

You can check out what the other book bloggers thought about this book from the blog tour schedule below ๐Ÿ™‚

My Reading Life : Reality and Bookstagram

I was an avid reader as a child. Then I had this whole Mills and Boons phase when I was in college. And then there was this huge decade long gap when my reading was restricted to work emails and text messages.

Fast forward to 2016 when I became a mom and had a lot of ‘sitting time’. And when Facebook was on the rise for me too. I re-discovered my joy of reading, which now, five years later has turned into a very healthy obsession, I would say. However, now I also have a very active online reading life, which is also called ‘Bookstagram’.

I posted the picture above this morning on my Instagram/Bookstagram account with a question – what do you see when you look at this picture? Do you see a reader who was caught unawares on the shutterbug, or do you see a poser? ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’d like to read your thoughts in the comment sections on that too.

Interestingly, most of my reader friends were able to guess the reality behind this picture. Looks like we’re all in the same boat ๐Ÿ˜€ So, here are a few things that are not quite as they seem to be as per my social media bookstagram account ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ˜€

First and foremost, if you ever see a picture of me reading a book on social media, then yes, you’re right – I have either had that picture taken using my phone’s timer option, or asked my five year old to click a dozen pictures before I get to one that looks decent enough to be posted, or I have cornered my husband into taking one in order to show his support for his wife’s reading endeavour, or I have caught an unsuspecting stranger to take a picture of me with the book as the prop. The last one usually never happens, but one can dream right?

If you think my ‘To-Read’ list and ‘Books-I’m-Supposed-To-Have-Read-This-Month-As-Per-Plan’ are all under control from my Bookstagram feed and that is making you hyperventilate about your own hot mess of a reading life, then let me break the truth for you here and make you feel better. I am a hot mess of a reader myself. I’m constantly changing my TBR at any given point in time and trying to read books in parallel and eventually end up reading nothing as per plan. But I guess that’s fun in a way?

My Bookstagram book mail posts scream that I support Independent stores and only buy books from them. Which is true, thank goodness, 90% of the times. But sometimes, I confess, I have given in and bought books from Amazon because I couldn’t wait or because a well meaning friend have given me an Amazon Gift Card (shrugs!). I know, I have sinned..

I maintain my book log in almost five different places – I have a notebook where I note down initial thoughts, then I update my reviews and currently reading status on Goodreads and Storygraph, then I add a video of random ramblings about the book I read on Instagram stories and finally I post a pretty picture of the book with my review. And yet, when I’m on a group discussion with my other bookish or non bookish friends and they ask me what I read recently or a book recommendation on a certain subject, I’m tongue tied. It is much later in the night, that the answers come rushing to me like the Randha Falls in Maharashtra. Sighhh..

My book hoarding habit is fuelled by Bookstagram. I see all those beautiful, aesthetic pictures by bookstagrammers and then the independent book sellers post pictures of beautiful covers of upcoming releases from my favorite authors or new authors to check out and I’m sold. Take my money, book capitalism!!

I have a few more confessions to make, but I’m not going to let all my secrets out of Pandora’s box now am I? Hehehe..How about you? Any bookish confessions you’d like to make in the comments about the truth about your Bookstagram/Online Reading Life? Go ahead, I won’t judge ๐Ÿ˜‰

Stay At Home Series – Episode 11 : From Beach Bum to Book Bum

Two years back, I would have said I was a beach bum. Not in the absolute sense of the term, but yes, at least twice a year you would find me either traveling near a water body or talking about traveling to a water body. Then towards the end of 2019, right when I was having a wonderful vacation with my family in the Andaman Islands south of India, a scary, villainous virus was tunnelling its way from China to the rest of the World. Oh how oblivious I was then. Silly me, what did I know.

Fast forward 2021, almost a year and a half later, and we find ourselves locked in. Trying to stay safe inside our homes. Not traveling, not meeting people. Battling this virus with a ferocity.

If I thought I was a book bum two years back, I hadn’t seen this coming. Just like the whooshing sound of the waves crashing in front of me, soothed me then, escaping into the world of books have been saving me in these last two years. We’ll talk about what is saving us during the pandemics in another post.

For now, here are the ways I realised I’ve become a book bum from a beach bum. If any of these apply to you as well, welcome to the book bum club and give me a virtual high five! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Image Credit: Giphy
  • When people were hoarding groceries and toilet paper and funky PJs, I was hoarding books. I’m not kidding, ask my mom. She was aghast one day when she opened my cupboard (yes we have cupboards here in India, no walk in closets for us :P), and found two shelves filled with books that I’d bought and only half a shelf devoted to my clothes. if clothes had feelings, they probably would’ve been planning a coupe to overthrow the ‘reign of the books’ ๐Ÿ˜€
  • When others were posting delectable pictures and videos of all the home-masterchef dishes they were cooking and baking up, I was spamming my social media feed with delectable pictures of books that I’d read and books that I’d bought and books that I planned to read. My non reader friends were truly bored. But my perseverance and passion paid off, because the bookstagram community seemed to be full of people like me – who preferred devouring books ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • When my friends and family were dealing with the stress and trauma brought on by the virus by binge watching shows on Netflix, I was dealing with the same by binge reading book series.
  • When my friends were joining Watsapp, Telegram, and Discord groups that provided updates on the pandemic situation globally, I was on multiple reading challenge groups – The Poppy War challenge, Asian Reading Challenge, Indian Lit Reading Challenge…etc etc
  • Sometimes I stand in front of my bookshelf, and stare longingly and lovingly at my books and plan for the future – which of these books will travel with me next? Which book will be lucky enough to be featured in the next exotic location bookstagram picture?
  • On my lockdown birthday last year, I bought myself a bunch of books. And all of my friends and relatives bought me a bunch of books. I felt absolutely grateful for friends and family who understood me and loved me so much! ๐Ÿ˜€ I’m hoping some of them will read this post and will take that as a cue for this year’s lockdown birthday present idea too ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • When my friends and family and the world was and is continuing to reel with the tragedy of losing someone dear to the pandemic, or struggling with keeping abreast because of the lockdown and loss of employment and education, and when I have no idea how to comfort them, I send them pictures of quotes from the books I’m reading, that have comforted me. Some said, those lines comforted them too. Like Boyzone sang, “Its only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away...” (Please don’t unfollow me for quoting Boyzone now :D)

I’m sure I have missed a few other reasons and signs about me turning into a book bum during the pandemic. Maybe you guys can fill those in the comments section? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Book Talk Series – A Lot of Finales

I couldn’t make myself write a single post in April. There were many times when I wanted to write about hope, about being positive, about heartbreak, and struggle and frustration and anger. But every time I decided to open my laptop to do so, I couldn’t make my fingers type.

I don’t believe in God, yet, praying is the only thing I can do at this stage. I don’t have the skills to help people recover. And this virus is such that not stepping out to help people is a better way to help, so we can curb the spread of the virus. Absolutely frustrating. Maybe the Universe will stop punishing us soon?

I did read my usual quota of books and read the finales of three series ๐Ÿ™‚ Books have been, and still continue to be a constant source of support since the last year. Felt good to conclude some of these. So here is a wrap up of the books I read and concluding thoughts.

Only a child-like mind can overpower a child villain with super powers. Don’t you think? One of my favorite reads this month, you can’t go wrong with the Discworld books if you want to have a laugh in the face of probable apocalypse.

The finale of this epic trilogy, a must read for anyone who loves history and fantasy, was shattering but oh so satisfying. At the end of the series, there were a million questions on my mind. But the most important one was, how far will you be willing to go, to lead? What is justifiable when there is no certainty about the future and you just have a vision to go on?

A short story that I absolutely loved! A detective story with a female detective set in steampunk Cairo, where Angels, Ifrits, and robots all are embroiled in this murder mystery. I was so entertained reading this short story, that the one question I kept thinking of when I finished was, what would it take to be able to write stories like P. Djeli Clark? LOL ๐Ÿ˜‰

Oh well, the cat and mouse game continues. I was shocked when I read about the death of a favorite character, but that character is immediately replaced by two others, so that the cat and mouse chase continues. Entertaining as ever with really good illustrations, but the treatment of Misa Misa is still continuing to annoy me. So the questions still remain, why was this hugely famous Manga series so sexist?

Another series finale. This one is the last book of the Cursebreakers trilogy. I liked this much better than the second book, but overall, I think the series fizzled out after the first book for me. However, the best part of the trilogy was this feminist re-telling of beauty and beast and reading about relationships that are based on friendship, respect and trust more than just simple attraction, lust and ownership. I kept wondering though, that why is it that it is hard to write interesting romances that are realistic?

This was a much hyped book which was high on my expectation list of being a 5-starrer. However, I think because of the lack of continuity between the first part and the second part, along with the verbosity of the text, I found it hard to enjoy this book. That said, the author does try to tackle a gamut of issues that women struggle with, even in developed countries like Japan. After reading this I wondered, has the progressive society only ended up creating more challenges for women? Will our challenges never end?

And finally, the last read of April, and also the finale of the ‘Brown Sisters’ romance trilogy series. Oohh..I loved it! I loved all the three books in the series and such great romances! Highly recommended if you’re looking for a laugh riot of a romance featuring characters and supporting characters struggling with different able-ism issues. In the finale, Eve and Jacob, both are on the autistic spectrum, but its amazing how the author hasn’t made them look awkward or cliched in any way. I wondered however, why are even the real romances fairy tale like? Because I haven’t come across a single Red, Zaphir or Jacob in real life…Have you? ๐Ÿ™‚

So, those were the books I read in April. How about you? Have you read any of the books above? Do drop me a note on how you’re coping or if you just want to chat about nothing in general. I know how I’m feeling right now, so I will be happy to tell you, you are not alone in your feelings of doom, and depression, and frustration and helplessness, all wrapped up with a little bit of hope and a lot of prayers.