Book Reviews by a Pioneer: A Handful of Marbles by Patanjali Patnaik

We all have fond memories of our childhood, particularly the age when one is around 9-years old. I too was a 9 year old child a long time back. Those were the days when we did not even have television, nobody had heard of internet; and we were forced outdoor by our parents by the time it was 5 in the evening in summers, and 4 in winters. We also sometimes managed to sneak out during the afternoon when the elders were having their siesta. We played marbles or spun tops, flew kites, the big bad boy down the road was our role model, got into scrapes, were fond of hoarding comics, had our favourite teacher – the list is endless. But it was the most carefree period in my life – not worried about what the future held, or envious about the success of the boy next door, in having more marbles or any other pseudo currency in circulation at the time. It only goaded me to win back more of that currency.

This collection of 12 short stories, revolving around the escapades of precocious Pushkar, a 9-year old boy, living in a small town of India, came as deja vu. The setting could have been any city, big or small. Each child would have gone through something similar. Pushkar desperately wants to win marbles to achieve a target of 100 marbles, but then consciously loses a little more to a much younger child, as his conscience does not allow him to take undue advantage of a novice. He learns the art of making the most lethal manjha to win in kite flying, only to see the kites going up in smoke because of his notion of using another dangerous ingredient. He wants to hit back at the bad boys, giving them back the cuss words, but is unable to do so. He is ready to take punishment from the teacher that he has a crush on – she is her queen. And many more scrapes.

If you loved the child in you, and sometimes long for those days gone by, then this is the book for you.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Contrived Connections by Radhika

Each one of us carries secrets that we are unwilling to share even with those close to us. Yet, many times we are forced by circumstances to revisit these secrets. Is it destiny or is this what life is all about?

Sivakami, the protagonist of this novella, is a professional working in Chennai. She has made two friends within the confines of her professional circle – Sowmya and Sharan. One morning Sowmya breezes into the office after a few days of absence, and shyly informs her two friends about her engagement, with an invitation for them to join her wedding ceremonies in her native village.

The village is where Siva was brought up till her adolescence, when she was forced to relocate, away from the one person whom she loved. She is excited, and scared at the same time, at the prospect of facing the one person who mattered the most in her life.

She reaches the village with her colleague and friend, Sharan – unaware that the latter secretly loves her. She comes face to face with Anandhan, who still loves her, though he is now married.

But this is not the only secret that Siva has kept away from her friends. Her world had come crumbling down when she was told the truth about her paternity 15 years back. Would she be able to overcome the trauma of her earlier years? Will she be able to accept the love of her friend from her mature years?

I loved the story and the storytelling. It was as if I was watching a television series. A fast paced read.

Pioneer Book Lovers Club Write Contest 2021: Prompt for April 2022 and Rules for submission

Write a short story of 1500-3000 words (excluding the prompt) using the below prompt.

Every journey begins with a small step, but in my chaos……..

  1. The prompt can be used anywhere in your story, but it should not be split.
  2. The story can be of any genre of your choice.
  3. The storytelling is important, but please also take care of grammatical or spelling errors.
  4. Your story should be submitted in both pdf and word formats by 30th April 2022 at pblcwritecontest@gmail.com. Please caption the subject line as Write Contest.
  5. Two winners will be declared in case found suitable by the judges. The decision of the judges will be final. No queries will be entertained on the results.
  6. All future announcements and results can be seen on the Facebook group of Pioneer Book Lovers Club (https://www.facebook.com/groups/880032822610818/).
  7. The contest will run for one year till May 2022, with two winners declared every month if judged suitable.
  8. Winning entries at the end of the year will be compiled and have a chance to be published in a book of short stories.

Put on your writing cap and send us your short stories using the above prompt.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Tulip of Istanbul by Iskender Pala

I have travelled to Turkey multiple times for work. I have always tried to be in Istanbul during each of my visits, even if for a single day. I have loved the vivacity and the boisterous cheerfulness that the city presents – whether walking in the by lanes, or sipping a glass of wine sitting in a bistro overlooking the Bosphorus.

I always wondered about a period in Turkish history, that many of my hosts spoke about, and which was mentioned in passing in a few novels set in Europe – the Ottoman Empire. I could not resist the temptation of picking up this book when I read the blurb – the book was set in 1730, a time known as the Tulip Age.

The novel is the story of two young men. One is an illegitimate prince, who does not know about his paternity, and whose existence is known only to a few people. He finds himself in prison, falsely implicated for the murder of his young wife on his wedding night.

He escapes, and befriends another young man, who escapes from a lunatic asylum. The friend was forced into the asylum by the father of the one whom he loves.

As the two men come together to search for their beloved, the story moves into the revolt brewing in the population due to an era of economic and social collapse. The rich are corrupt, enjoying the luxuries of life, and growing exotic tulips. The common people, including small traders, are the wretched lot. There is a revolt, the Sultan is deposed, another Sultan installed. The two young men also meet their destinies.

The story provides historical and cultural details of the time. Life in the palaces and dervish lodges, and the intrigues and conspiracies hatched in coffee houses and hamams by the revolutionaries and criminals, are beautifully brought out in the novel. There is never a dull moment in the storytelling.

The book will appeal to readers for its storytelling.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Are Your Emotions Like Mine? by Chitwan Mittal and Shruti Hemani

I was initially not certain if this book would be of interest to many of the people who read my reviews. But then I realised that understanding and explaining emotions does not come easily to us – these are not something tangible. Yet, they form an integral part of our lives since birth, and are as important, if not more, than understanding physical well-being.

I come from a generation where understanding physical injury was easier than understanding emotions. Parents considered stomping as punishment to earth to make their child stop crying in case of a fall. If a child was sad, adults would vie with each other to make it laugh through making silly faces or tickling it. Every one of us may have similar tales to narrate.

Over the years, educators have realised the need to explain to the child various emotions that it may experience – happy, sad, angry, and a gamut of many others that it goes through every day, bewildered and possibly confused. This illustrated book describes these emotions pictorially. The book is aimed at 5-6 year old children who can read and identify their emotions through these pictures. The book is also a useful guide for parents and educators to help a child understand various emotions.

Emotions are abstract, and pictures may not do justice, or it may be difficult even for an adult, to explain to a child a few of the emotions shown in the book. But it does not matter – learning your emotions is probably a life-long affair. This book is the seed that would get planted in the child’s mind, to germinate at appropriate time. The book is priced at Rs 699/-, which could be a deterrent for reaching a wider audience.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Under the Mistletoe and other stories by Manali Desai

There is something about festivals which we look forward to. All festivals are a celebration of life; there is a cheerful spirit all around. These are times to meet family and friends, or make new friends, or look forward to meeting your soulmate. One such festival in the year is Christmas.

This book of short stories and poems by Manali is a celebration of the spirit of Christmas. You may feel lonely, but there is someone out there whom you are destined to meet. You may be destitute, yet even you can bring cheer to somebody less fortunate than you. There is a friend or a lover waiting for you somewhere, to bring sparkle in your eyes, to bring colour to your cheeks, and to bring a smile on your lips – and above all to kindle love in your heart.

I loved the stories and the verses.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Sleep Your Way to Success by Khurshed Batliwala and Dinesh Ghodke

It was the title that tempted me to read this non-fiction work when recommended in one of my book clubs. Having spent a good enough time in the government sector and then corporate world, and brought up on the staple of less sleep for more work mantra of many of our celebrities, I also believed that stress made me more productive, and sleep of 5-6 hours was enough.

This book on the importance of a daily diet of 8 hours of sleep turned all my misconceptions on their head. The book is not just a philosophical treatise on sleep – there are enough explanations of the chemicals released when you are sleeping – which is what got the rational scientist in me to – well let us just say to sleep, more. And I can already feel the difference.

There are other chapters on importance of accessories to have a good night’s sleep. Many of us have experienced first hand the importance of a good mattress, soft linen, comfortable linen – on many occasions I slept on the floor even in a 5 star hotel, only because the mattress was not comfortable. But even other accessories like a soft non-flickering light is equally important to make you sleep well.

Having slept well, you are now more productive. The authors then explain tools to improve your life. I loved the chapter on Pizza of Life, where you identify 8 important features in your life, rate them on a scale of 1-10 as per your understanding, and then write one page essays on how you will improve your top 4 in the bucket list. This becomes your resolution, till you are ready to move on to the next 4.

This is a book which is helping me evolve. I am sure it will help others too.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Masala and Murder by Patrick Lyons

I read another thriller this week. This one is set in Bollywood. Subhani Mehta, a young lead actress in the Hindi film industry, walks up a steep mountain in Australia with other crew members to shoot a dance sequence for an upcoming film. It is a long hot day and during the retake she gasps for breath and falls dead clutching the pendant around her neck. An autopsy is done, which rules out any foul play, the case is closed.

Samson Ryder, who had to quit Australian police force under a cloud, is now working as private detective. He is receiving death threats from a few young men who are into peddling drugs. In the middle of all this, he receives an unusual visitor – Subhani’s father – who wants him to investigate the case for final closure.

Sam travels to India and meets several celebrities from the film industry. A terror of someone or something had made Subhani wear the pendant, which was apparently a talisman of some sort. Everyone seems to be pointing at supernatural death due to a curse put on her, which a rational Sam cannot accept. Eventually, he successfully closes the case.

The story is fast paced, and I was left guessing the conclusion. The disappointment for me was the inconclusive supernatural angle. I enjoyed reading the book – there is even a touch of humour provided by Sam’s aunt in Mumbai, who acts as his assistant, but is an incorrigible gossip, which lands him in a few sticky situations.