Book Reviews by a Pioneer: #IndiaPositiveCitizen by Savitha Rao

Genre: Non-fiction
My rating: 3.5/5

#IndiaPositiveCitizen is not just a hashtag or a movement – it is a way of life. It is that which each one of us can imbibe in our daily lives, something which is for us, for our future generations. We know these acts; we also follow them at times – consciously or sub-consciously. The need is for each one of us to be an active player in one action, once a week, every week.

The author has compiled 52 simple stories from real-life of such actions by simple people like you and I. It is the simplicity of these actions that is inspiring. Cook one additional meal once a week for a member of the underprivileged community, segregate your waste, fix all leaking pipes in your house, donate your unused clothes, paint a community wall in vibrant colours, do not litter, carry a reusable bag with you, compost your wet waste, clean a road with the help of other members of the community, follow-up with civic authorities to repair a road or fix street lights – there are many more ideas.

This is not fiction. People have done it. So can we – be #IndiaPositiveCitizen.

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Dr Ranjani Rao in conversation with Sanjay Chandra

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Dr. Ranjani Rao is a trained scientist and a self-taught writer. She is the author of three books. Her award-winning personal essays and op-eds have appeared in several digital and print publications and anthologies.

Originally from Mumbai, India, Ranjani spent several years in the USA and now lives in Singapore with her family.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: The Ambassador and the Private Eye by Krishnan Srinivasan

Genre: Detective Short Stories

Rating: 3.75/5

Koel Deb lost her left arm shattered by a stray bullet during police operation. She was fitted with a bionic steel hand and assigned to desk duty. Her calling was field work. She quit police job and started her private investigation agency. She has a sharp memory and rides her Harley motorcycle. She is the private eye.

Michael Marco retired as a diplomat for his native country, Somalia, and lives in a hotel in Kolkata, waiting to return back to his native land, on completion of legal and paper formalities for his charitable foundation. He is no detective, but has an analytical mind.

The two form an unlikely pair to solve a variety of criminal cases.

The book contains 12 short stories, though the last one is slightly longer – more like a mini novella, each devoted to a case solved by the two. A coded message received by a newspaper from somewhere on the Western front, which could be scoop for them; theft of diamonds and slot machines from a film studio with a dead body in the warehouse; a person handling finances of terrorists is murdered; a plane crashes due to explosion mid-air and Koel is shot at when she goes to investigate; a young woman working in a coffee shop, whom Koel befriends, is thrown out of her apartment window; a middle-aged man seeks closure of a death in college 15 years earlier during a college re-union; murder of a handyman in the basement of an old-age home in Kolkata; a leading lady is pushed in the river during an overnight cruise; payment of ransom money to abductors of the daughter of a leading businessman; a middle-aged woman goes missing from her hotel room without any trace and is subsequently found clobbered to death in a cramped closet in the same hotel; a young woman engages Koel to prove the innocence of her fiancé arrested in the shootout and death of the chemist’s wife; and the final story about the return of the wayward stepson 24 years after he disappeared, still unreformed – the parents wonder if he is really the son that they had lost.

Koel is retained to investigate these cases. She observes accurately what she sees, but is unable to conclude. She goes back to Marco with all details. The diplomat with his incisive analysis, solves the cases, sitting in the coffee shop of his hotel. This is where the stories disappointed me – I wanted Koel to be our Holmes with Marco playing Watson. A few of the crimes seem too frivolous to merit murder. But then, people have been known to commit murder for reasons that may appear trivial to us.

The stories are well written, the narrative leading up to the climax. A one time fast paced read.

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Pioneer Book Lovers Club Write Contest 2021: Prompt for October and Rules

#shortstorychallenge #writecontest #EventsContestsDeals #writingcompetition #writingprompts

Write and send us your short story of 1500-3000 words (excluding the prompt) using a prompt that we will release each month.

The prompt for October is given below:

“After all, tomorrow is another day.”

  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. The story should have been written by you and not published elsewhere.
  5. The story should be written in English.
  6. Your story should be submitted in both pdf and word formats by 31st October 2021 at The subject line should be captioned ‘Pioneer Book Lovers Club Write Contest 2021’.
  7. Two winners will be declared by 15th November 2021.
  8. The contest will run for one year till May 2022, with two winners declared every month.
  9. Winning entries at the end of the year will be compiled and have a chance to be published in a book of short stories.
  10. Results will be declared on

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

We will also be arranging interactive sessions with authors, starting with the first session on Sunday 24th October with Dr Ranjani Rao, author of Rewriting My Happily Ever After.

Join our Facebook group to be a part of these interesting sessions at

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Book Reviews by a Pioneer: A Red-necked Green Bird by Ambai translated from Tamil by GJV Prasad

Genre: Short Stories

Rating: 4.5/5

The author says in the beginning that windows have continued to play a major role in her life – they are openings to see the outer world from within – each window presents a different view. The other constant in each story is music, which evokes diverse emotions in different situations. Windows and music are a metaphor for human relationships dictated by situations.

An ageing woman is reminded of her father who died of throat cancer in the way a crow keeps coming to her kitchen window to be fed delicacies and listen to music that her father liked. Another ageing woman has lost her husband and contemplates suicide due to the indifferent attitude of her son living in USA – she is past her expiry date. A man leaves his family one day, renouncing the material world, without caring for the upheaval in the lives of his wife and born-deaf daughter. A man must turn into a woman for one night to understand the daily trauma that women go through in the 21st century. A woman loses her near and dear ones to the killings in 1984 in the name of religion. A woman is pelted with stones by people because of her conversion to another religion to earn money for her family. A woman scientist makes love to a cyborg from 11th dimension.

There are 13 stories, each talking about what women have endured since time immemorial in a patriarchal society. But these are not weak women – woman, in fact, is the stronger of the two. The stories talk to you in simple language, about a complex subject – relationship.

The stories have been translated from Tamil by GJV Prasad. Tamil words have been retained in passages, followed by English translation. But they do not detract from the story – they enhance the flavour.


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Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Putting #IndiaFirst India Positive Citizen Perspectives by Savitha Rao

Genre: Non-fiction

My rating: ***

India is a country of 1.3+ billion people. Nothing can stop us from being an even greater nation if each one of us performs one positive action, once a week, every week. This is the central theme in this compilation of essays by diverse people coming from different backgrounds, who have shared their own contributions towards this goal of working towards a great India.

The writers have come from all walks of life – businesspersons, social workers, differently abled, defence services, farmers, and so many more. Many of them grew up in humble surrounding, but managed to rise and do well professionally. They have a desire and are performing positive actions for the country.

A few of the writers have written more about their achievements in their chosen profession. This does not detract from their positive action for the country, rather it motivates you. You too can do it.

Education for all is almost a constant refrain in all the articles, but not bookish learning. It must be an employable education. One article talks about specific crafts related education for the youth from families of craftsmen. Another writer, born blind, says that if you have to work hard, then you must aim higher. He goes on to give the analogy that a stone breaker in a quarry works the hardest, yet she cannot alleviate her poverty by that hard work.

However, one essay seems to be politically motivated. The writer has devoted more lines stating that all the current ills in the country are only due to past decisions by one political leader. This lowers the anthology to a politically motivated, rather than a motivational, publication.

Two other issues which hindered the flow of writing for me. A few writers have given elaborate technical details of their profession. I was tempted to flip through such passages.

The second was the detailed introduction of the writer before his/her essay. This also hinders the flow. All introductions could have been compiled at the end of the book.

Except for these minor glitches, the book will motivate you to perform one positive action for the country, once a week, every week.

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Book Reviews by a Pioneer: The Begum and the Dastan by Tarana Husain Khan

Genre: Historical Fiction

My rating: ****

A principality in North India, a headstrong young married woman, a debauched Nawab. These are the settings and principal characters of this historical fiction, inspired by real incidents.

Feroza, married and two months pregnant, is a pampered child. She is visiting her father’s home in Sherpur and forces him to reluctantly permit her to visit the annual fair sawani, organised at Nawab Sham’s palace, celebrating onset of monsoon rains.

The beautiful young woman catches the roving eyes of the nawab and is confined to his zenana. Divorced overnight by her husband, disowned by parents, her unborn foetus aborted, she is forced into an unwilling marriage to the Nawab. She reconciles to her fate and has a daughter from Shams. Feroza has no say as the child is given away to the first wife of the Nawab.

Over years, Shams takes more wives and concubines. But his love-hate relationship with Feroza continues. He wants to continue to control his women, including his children. The daughter runs away with her husband after her mother’s early death, to escape her father, but ends up being controlled, this time in the court of her Badi Amma’s brother.

Almost a century later, in 2016, story of Feroza is narrated by Dadi to Ameera, her granddaughter. They are descendants of Feroza and Shams. Sherpur is modernising – but Ameera wonders if it is modernisation. She can’t walk unescorted to and from the school bus stop – only a few hundred meters from her home, her father is unable to pay her school fees though he pampers his son. Nawabs have also gone but have been replaced by another power centre – the politicians. Has the life of women and common persons really changed?

The author has narrated a haunting tale of the lives of women and common people under despotic rulers in early 20th century, interweaving fiction with facts. The story lives with you long after you have read it.

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Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Shadows Never Lie by Deepti Menon

Genre: Short Stories

My rating: ****

Human mind is a fertile field. It is up to us to either plant seeds of optimism, or dense woods where no sunlight can penetrate – dark shadows underneath. Shadows often bring with them a fear of the unknown. It is this unknown, hidden in the shadows, that is the central theme in this book.

These are not stories of supernatural. These are of lives, which might have been yours or mine. The shadows in the story make the characters see phantoms where none exist, or make them commit crime – to protect themselves and their loved ones, or even commit crimes of passion, or hear tormented screams.

This book by Deepti is an anthology of 10 short stories exploring these shadows in human mind. One story set in the backdrop of a terrorist massacre in Kashmir left me shaken. Another story made me look over my shoulder for invisible attackers. Yet another story, that I happened to read in the night, made me afraid of the shadows in the room.

That was the beauty of writing of the author. She is a master of the art of psychological thriller stories.

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