My Blogging Journey and Celebrating 100 Posts!

Celebrating 100 posts and reflecting on the years gone by.

This is my 100th post.

I don’t know what people write in their 100th post because I sure as heck don’t know. I didn’t think a day such as this one had any possibility of becoming a reality but here we are.

I started my blog when I was in my first year of college. But let’s go back a little further. I started reading a lot more in the 11th standard, and would read in between classes, and on my way to school even though I was always drawn to reading, devouring all the books from the library, and buying books from the Scholastic book fair. But during my late teens, there was this need to read books at all times. I would be lost in the written word, finding solace and excitement and thrill. Naturally, my choices in books were questionable but gradually my reading taste changed and has continued to do so. While in school, I had developed a deep fascination for writing. I also started writing a lot of poems( which were a cringefest) but also short stories. So when I went to college, starting a blog seemed like the right thing to do.

I figured out the logistics (googled it) and created a blog named, ‘The Literary Cat“.

For the longest time, I would write under this blog name and changed it to ‘Books and Teaa’ only recently. I started off with book reviews, short stories, and then slowly went on to writing how-tos, and listicles. However, I was involved in a number of extra-curricular activities in college and my blog wasn’t the highlight at this point in time in my life. Throughout my under-graduation, my posts were sporadic, and all over the place. I didn’t start a blog to make something out of it or to become a full-time blogger—It was created because the thoughts in my head needed a home.

Fast forward to 2016, and I had just finished my post-graduation diploma and was pursuing a Masters degree. At this point in time, two things happened.

  • I was searching for a job, and pursuing an online masters. I had time to spare.
  • I stumbled upon Bookstagram.

Here’s where things started to turn around and by that, I don’t mean I started earning money through blogging. This was never my goal. I always wanted to be known as a writer and someone who likes reading books.

Blogging has been that corner of my life which I can pick up wherever I left. I always write whenever I have an idea that can no longer be contained in my head. Here’s when the words flow smoothly, my mind running at the speed of light spewing idea after idea, and the stories writing themselves.  It’s rewarding and satisfying but at the same time A LOT of work. I still don’t understand how WordPress works and there are so many things I can improve on my site. I would like to be more active, put in more effort, and be consistent. There have also been times where I didn’t want to think I have a blog. To be honest, I still wonder why people read what I write.

If I show you the stats, it’s going to reflect poorly on me, and probably expose me as a ‘fake’ person who only claims to love writing. But wanting to do something and actually doing it are two separate things. I still haven’t figured it all out, I still can’t think of blog post ideas, and I know I will not be able to stay as consistent as I would like to be. But that’s how life is sometimes. I like to think of my blog as a safe space devoid of any obligations. I cannot force myself to do things and I don’t want to make blogging a chore, a checklist I can tick off. And neither should you.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned after all these years of blogging, it’s this:

The results are going to be slow. The views on your posts won’t be too high initially, you’ll have to promote your posts relentlessly, and even then you’ll have days where you won’t see any traffic on your blog. It’s going to get frustrating and you would want to give up. But this is exactly when you shouldn’t. The fact that you’re still sitting at your desk, typing away regardless of whether or not anyone is reading the posts is when you’ll know you’re doing this for yourself. And that’s when it won’t matter. 

 

 

 

 

Do you want to start a Bookstagram? Here’s a step-by-step guide with useful tips from my all-time favorite bookstagrammers.

Complete guide to starting your own bookstagram.

Bookstagram is an online community of passionate readers who click aesthetically pleasing pictures on Instagram. You might remember that time when food blogging was the only form of social media done on IG. Long gone are those days. With fashion and beauty blogging rising in trend, Bookstagram is equally gaining the attention it deserves.

Needless to say, posting a book review on IG is easier and faster as compared to traditional forms of blogging (WordPress, medium, Blogspot etc). Not only do you get to play with your creativity, but it also helps you gain traction if you’re a budding photographer or writer.

I stumbled across Bookstagram one fine day and was blown away by this corner of the internet. Before this, I used to (and still do) blog on WordPress but coming to terms with BG was like opening a Pandora’s box. It’s been more than 2 years since I joined this lovely and accepting community, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Books and Teaa

Here’s a shot of my account.

If you’ve been playing around with the idea of starting a bookstagram, you’re in the right place. Here’s how you can create one and be consistent:

  • Picking a username: Once you have created an account, the journey begins. Choosing a name for your account is harder than picking baby names, not that I have any experience in this arena, but I’m giving you a heads up. Just a suggestion, go for a name that would be pleasing to the eye and easy to remember.
  • Bio: It’s crucial for you to introduce yourself. People want to know your name, where you’re from, and whether or not you’re a potential serial killer. If you visit other profiles, you’ll see a lot of bloggers have put up the number of books they’ve read or their current read. You can do whatever floats your boat but remember to make it interesting.
  • Device: Let’s make things clear once and for all. You DO NOT need a high functioning camera or need to be a photography wizard to start a bookstagram. Any smartphone with a camera is all you need. I started off BG with a normal phone camera, and after a few tries understood what works best for me. However, if photography is your niche, then please go ahead and invest in a DSLR. But your creativity and review is the only thing that’s going to help you create an impact.
  • Props: Here’s where the fun starts. Creating an aesthetic for your picture is the best way to unleash your inner artist. Take a white bed sheet or a white chart paper, place a few books, and maybe a cup of tea, and there you go. You have a picture. You can also use your bookshelf or nice graffiti wall or your sofa as the background. The idea here is to play around with whatever is around you. We don’t do anything too extravagant and fancy, because we believe in making magic out of simple things. Leaves, candles, dead flowers, and even borrowed human arm can make for an excellent prop. Don’t expect to get it right at the first go. If I show you the pictures I clicked when I started out, you’d want to throw up. But heyyy, that’s how you learn, don’t you?
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I decided to become a prop because my two brain cells believed it was a good idea.
  • Lighting: Pictures come out the best when taken under natural lighting. When the sun’s shining like the brightest star, you should turn into a ninja and go on a picture clicking spree. Keep a stock of pictures that would last you a week so that you can stay consistent and ahead of the game.

 

  • Participate in readathons and reading challenges: Readathons and challenges help you explore your reading taste, and find people who like the same books as you. Not only do you get to read more, but you also push yourself out of your comfort zone. It helps you increase your engagement on your posts, and get more brownie points.

 

  • Hashtags: Do I even need to explain this? We live in an era of hashtags and it’s not surprising that one needs to be at the top of the hashtag game to get the most out of a post. Your hashtags should be relevant to what you have posted. If you’ve posted a book review the hashtags could be #bookreview #reviewing. Hashtags are essential in gaining more traction. You can use several other hashtags that are related to your niche, in this case, books. A few examples are: #bibliophile #bookshelf #currentread #bookdragon. IG allows us to use up to 30 hashtags, so put your thinking caps on and be as creative as you can.
  • Tags: It’s always polite to tag the publisher whose book you’re reading. It adds context and helps you get exposure in case the publisher decides to repost your picture on their feed. You can also tag feature accounts to garner likes and engagement.
  • Originality: Taking inspiration from a particular account you admire is one thing but blatantly copying their style is plagiarism. Nothing good comes out of shamelessly calling someone else’s work your own. Challenge yourself to come up with innovative ideas. A little dedication goes a long way and in no time you’ll create pictures you didn’t expect you could.
  • Consistency: If you’re ready to commit a considerable amount of your time into clicking pictures, writing reviews and posting on a regular basis alongside working or studying, then welcome aboard. You will see slow but longlasting results only if you’re consistent. Schedule your posts on the weekends so that you have ample stock to use during the weekday.
  • Interaction: Start following people whose pictures you really like or are inspired by. It’s super-important to engage with your followers and TALK to them about books. Leave a thoughtful comment on their posts, and spread the love for your favorite books. Advice: Don’t be creepy. No one likes creepy.

A few add-ons:

  1. It’s NOT important to have a theme. The whole idea is to explore your creativity and expand your horizon. If you can work around a theme, excellent. If you’re finding it hard to maintain a theme, then abandon it. Life’s too short to waste time on things you don’t enjoy.
  2. IG stories are a great way to maintain interaction with your followers. Even if you’re not posting regularly on the feed, you can always just put up a few stories talking about your recent purchase to that lovely coffee shop to a general life-update.
  3. Your captions should be crisp. They should not be a thesis essay. Ensure that they are interesting or funny. The idea is to make people stop and listen to what you have to say.
  4. Breaks are important. I recently took a 15-day break because we’re millennials and burnout is inevitable. Clicking pictures or reading felt like a chore, and I didn’t want to hate the very thing I’m passionate about. So, I went on a hiatus and came back fresh as a daisy. Don’t feel guilty for not reading or posting as much. Remember, blogging isn’t a game and one shoe doesn’t fit all. Find what works for you and stick to it.
  5. Remember to enjoy the process. It’s not about followers or likes but about sharing the love of reading with everyone. If your sole purpose is to be Instagram famous then you’ll get bored of it very soon.

 

I spoke to some of my favorite bookstagrammers who have been inspirational to me in ways more than one, and I am always in awe of how dedicated and kind they are. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Aritri Chatterjee (@liquidsunset):

BG has always been a very welcoming community and that is one of the things that pushed me to continue despite being a newcomer here.
The key to starting a BG account is to be excited about discussing books. Beautiful pictures and funny captions definitely count but if your love for books doesn’t come from within then promoting those books will be a difficult deal.
When you are new, try to interact with people on their stories and posts because people here wouldn’t already know you and communicating with them will help them know what kind of a person you are. Also, try and be consistent in your posts and interaction so that the people who follow your account have something to look forward to. Most importantly enjoy the process and if you ever feel like it is becoming a burden then take a step back and allow yourself to be ready again for BG.

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Aritri was the VERY FIRST person I spoke to when I joined BG, and we’ve connected over books since. Love how her feed is a perfect blend of her life and books she’s reading. Also, the curator of #femmemarchfest. I love a powerful woman. 

You can follow Aritri here: theliquidsunset

  • Aayushi (@_penandpapers):

When I joined BG, I saw many people with 20k+ accounts having gorgeous flat lays and I tried to be like them, which never happened. So, I came up with my own unique style of my feed. You don’t have to play the theme game if you think you’re not good at it, post random pictures. There are many BG accounts that I love who don’t do themes. Just don’t be a sheep. You need to understand that there will be times when your posts won’t get expected engagement (but you are sure that your post is great), don’t panic and don’t delete that post. Start working on the next one. Stop worrying about getting followers. You’re here to talk about books and not increasing followers. One day they’ll eventually increase. As I say, Grow a bookshelf or a garden instead! Always click pictures in good lighting and write catchy captions.

Every day I get this same DM: How to receive free books? First, they’re not free. If a publisher sends us a book, we have to review it. It’s barter system here. Secondly, don’t worry about that. You’ll get ARCs and proofs when a publisher notices you or you can just drop them a formal DM or email. Lastly, never stop reading and binge buying books!

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Aayushi is the queen of flatlays, and if you look carefully, you’ll see how she has a theme and has kept it casual. She’s been highly influential in making me pick up classics and her recommendations are always on point. 

You can follow Aayushi here: _penandpapers

  • Padmaja (@thebookishtales):

When I was starting out, I had no idea of asking for review copies, how to click good pictures and writing reviews. You have to create your own niche and make your account unique. Interaction is the key. People on BG are very supportive and friendly. The more you interact, the more people will notice you and your account. Click pictures with good lighting. I would advise clicking pictures in natural light. You can use more or fewer props, but lighting is important. Work hard on your blog. Think of creative blog posts and write posts which start discussions. Focus on quality instead of quantity.

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Padmaja’s feed always gives me a warm fuzzy feeling because she has the ability to incorporate the mundane and make it look beautiful. If there’s ever a problem, I run to Padmaja. We have way too many favorites, and are always making a dent in each other’s pockets with endless book recommendations.

You can follow Padmaja here: thebookishtales

  • Ruqaiya (@ruqkish):

Every bookstagrammers account is a labor of insane hard work and passion. It’s not easy but I’ll say that it’s worth it. Well, to grow your account you do need props, and you do need a lot of books but you don’t need that to start. I started when I had 20 books on my shelf and literally, the only props I had was a white chart paper and a cup of coffee. I won’t lie, I hated my pictures for a long time but I didn’t give up. I kept posting and reading and reviewing until I found my own style and got comfortable with it. One thing I’ve learned with my experience is that you have to be yourself unapologetically, it’s your page, you are entitled to post anything you like. Don’t try and please people with your reviews or pictures, it gets suffocating after a while. And as far as getting review copies are concerned, don’t go around asking every publisher especially if you’ve just started out. The best way to get noticed is to read a lot, review a lot, post great pictures and never forget to tag the author and publisher. Well, that’s how I started. It worked for me, so I am certain it’ll work for you too.

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Ruqaiya’s feed is all kinds of goals. Hers is a perfect example of how to maintain a theme and capture your attention. Bonus: Her captions.  Easily one of the best people to talk to and interact with. Smart, funny and oh-so-relatable. 

You can follow Ruqaiya here: ruqkish

  • Nupur Lakhe (@nupur_flipaleaf):

Although I am not much older in this Bookstagram community, I did figure it out and made my way through it.
Because we are talking about tips to start Bookstagram, I would like to mention first and foremost that Bookstagram requires time. Not only is it just about clicking pictures and posting content but it is also about interaction. The things that I learned in my stint of last one year were : do not write anything that you don’t believe in, be it a review or talking about a book casually, pictures and content go hand in hand; pretty pictures will not let you compensate for a dab content and lastly, it’s your feed, your gram! Do it just like you want to. The important thing is to stay humble and grounded.

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Nupur’s pictures make me want to live inside them. Her props and their placements are quite clever and aesthetic. I almost always grab a cup of Tea after looking at her pictures. I love how Nupur plays with words, and it’s always a pleasure having a writer buddy. 

You can follow Nupur here: nupur_flipaleaf

 

 

Now that we’ve let all our secrets out, it’s time for you to step up and join in. May 2019 be the year you jump onto the Bookstagram bandwagon because we’re eagerly waiting for you! 🙂

 

If you have any more questions or a topic you’d like me to talk about, feel free to comment down below. I’d be waiting!

What it’s like working in a publishing house: My Internship experience

Is working in a publishing house worth it?

I got a call from Orient Blackswan 3 months before my internship date and was offered a general internship which meant I would be working under all departments. I have been a reader and book blogger since quite a few years now, and have been wanting to get into the publishing field. Getting a call for an internship was definitely one of the highlights of my year, and as I waited for November to arrive, there were several thoughts running through my mind. See, when you’re finally getting to do something you’re passionate about, there’s always two outcomes; you either realize  this is what you’re meant to do or you’re hit by a  gut wrenching feeling that your dream wasn’t really yours to begin with. I can safely say it was the former for me.

On my first day, I was handed a schedule which gave me an idea of the number of days I’d be working in each department. I think that kind of set the tone for me because it helped me mentally prepare myself.  Now, I’m going to give you a detailed account of what I did in each department, and what I learnt from it. This is going to be a long post, so grab a cup of tea, relax and keep reading.  (The department’s are mentioned in no particular order so whichever dept appeals to you the most just head on to it).

  • ADMINISTRATION:
  • DURATION: 1 DAY

When you’re about to start an internship you’ve been dreaming about, the nerves run high. Naturally, I was shitting bricks but at the same time had the energy of 50 toddlers combined (don’t ask me how I know this). My first day was spent understanding the workings of the Administration dept. They’re responsible for ensuring the smooth functioning of the organization whilst tending to individual needs. To be honest, I didn’t do much on this particular day except lounge around and read books. You thought I wouldn’t exploit the fact that I was surrounded by books 24/7?

  • EDITORIAL
  • DURATION: 11 DAYS

Being a book editor has been a lifelong dream, and I had been dying (okay, exaggeration) to work under the Editorial department. It was everything I had imagined and a little bit more. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by extremely talented, kind and energetic people who made the entire experience worthwhile. I spent most of my days laughing with the editorial team (who by the way are amazing, haven’t I already mentioned it?), while at the same time learning a lot about the process of editing. I remember leaving the office at the stipulated time with the editorial team still working relentlessly. They would often work over time and still clock in the next day without being late.

When it comes to publishing houses who publish academic books such OBS,  the editorial department is divided into schools, Higher Academics (HS) and Social Sciences (Fiction and non-fiction books for colleges and general reading).

Schools: While working under the ELT department, I was introduced to novel concepts in the field of publishing. From deciding the content of the children’s text books to putting text-appropriate illustrations, and making smart-books, there are a lot of factors that need to be considered. I think I started questioning my ability as a writer and reader, when I had to write summaries of poems for standard 6. It was a nightmare. I mean, I am not the kind who likes poems leave alone understand them and write a detailed explanation of why the clouds were black and not blue. But I really had no choice but to pen down everything I could decipher.

Since technology is being introduced in education, and in the classroom setup, school books are now accompanied by presentations on various topics. The idea here was to make picture galleries for each topic to enable better understanding for the students. I made a number of presentations, which was so damn hard because you have to get into the details of each chapter and find an illustration that’s not only appropriate but is also copy-righted. I think towards the end, I almost lost my mind. But it was something I had not anticipated, and it definitely gave an insight into the editing department.

Social Sciences (HA):  On my first day with the social sciences department, I was handed an Editor’s manual along with Chicago Manual of Style and Judith Butcher’s Copy-editing Manual by my mentor. I was to read through the manuals, understand and comprehend how a manuscript is proofread, how it is copy-edited and the various stages of editing. Being able to study the techniques and processes involved in editing was a surreal moment. I was lucky to have a mentor whose insights about the publishing industry were invaluable to me. Not only did she constantly encourage me to improve myself, she also cleared a number of concepts I was confused about.
I was given a number of typed-pages to proofread and copy-edit. I also learnt how referencing is done in a book and how they differ if it’s a novel, journal or a magazine. During the second day in this department, I was asked to write a blurb for the book, “Field of Sports”. To say I was thrilled would be an understatement. After reading the book thoroughly and understanding what the book was offering, I wrote the blurb which was approved by my mentor. I also spilled a cup of coffee very elegantly on my work table, thereby displaying my competency in clumsiness and inability in settling into the adult life.

Not just this, AND THIS IS MY FAVORITE PART,  I had the opportunity of proofreading a manuscript, ‘Agnipariksha’ which is now a published book. When I was asked to proofread it, I could hear music playing in the background while a cool, soft breeze was flowing through my hair, and in that moment I knew I had found true love. It was really romantic.

P.S: If you’re interested you can read the review of Agnipariksha here: Agnipariksha by Hamid Kureshi: Translated by Rita Kothari

  • STOCKS & SERVICING:
  • DURATION: 1 DAY

Okay, so here I got to visit the warehouse, and it’s everything dreams are made of. Now stocks and servicing can get a little tricky so try to stay with me.

This department keeps a detailed account of the number of books that come in and are sent out for delivery.  I was explained how the books are maintained in the warehouse. Keeping a track of thousands of books is not easy. Therefore, every order that comes in is put into the system. An invoice is prepared against an order and all the details are stored in the office computer. A copy of the same is sent to the customer. After the orders are received, the books are prepared to be sent to the destined location. They have to be packed and wrapped carefully lest they’re destroyed in transit. The mode of transport depends on the kind of order. If it’s a bulk order, then the books are delivered through Lorry or Railways.
When the consignment is released, the physical stock is checked as per IBSTI. If the stock has been returned, they are tallied against their ISBN number, price tag, titles and the number of copies being returned. The unsold books are sent for pulping in order to make room for new stock. During book launches, events, workshops or seminars, the books are provided by this department after signing the requisition form.
I KNOW, RIGHT? Half of the things went tangent over my head, too. But it’s okay. While I was there, and when I wasn’t staring at all the books, I asked a LOT of questions and most of them were very stupid but heyyy that’s how we learn, don’t we?

  • PRODUCTION
  • DURATION: 2 DAYS

The production department, as I learnt, entails a lot of responsibilities. My mentor was extremely kind to give an in-depth overview of how production in a publishing house takes place. This department is responsible for the design, layout, printing, and for e-book coding of the finished book. It was interesting to learn the various paper-sizes and their names, the multiple book sizes now used in the publishing industry and how there has been a huge transition in the method of printing. The production department has to print books that are not only cost-effective but also high in quality.
I learnt how to choose the correct paper size of a book, along with understanding how to measure the book size.

Not going to lie, I was unaware of the technical aspects when it came to publishing a book. I never bothered finding out HOW a book is published, and it was extremely informative.

  • MARKETING
  • DURATION: 1 DAY

Starting with the marketing strategies for individual books, my mentor explained how the books were promoted in the general market, in this case schools. Marketing touches all aspects of publishing and book selling. This department develops creative marketing campaigns which include conducting workshops, seminars, book launches and bookstore displays.
My task was to create a list of the number of activities in math books (class 5, 6, 7 and 8) and create a power point presentation on how best to market and promote the upcoming Magnolia English Reader Series. During this time, I learnt how important it was for the marketing team to be creative, think ahead of time and be ready to come with new ideas to market their books.

  • SALES:
  • DURATION: 7 DAYS

Sales department sucked all the energy out of me because it is HARD-WORK. It is the responsibility of the sales department to get the book in the hands of booksellers, other retailers and mainly the target customers. From there, the book goes on to be sold to the customer.
I learnt the various stages of sales; pitching to target customers, distribution of the books and Recovery of sales and meeting the yearly target. For this the sales team has to do a lot of field work and remain in close contact with potential customers (here, colleges, and schools).
I visited approximately 9 schools, and the idea was to pitch all the new releases to the principal. It was exhausting, and involved a lot of travelling and waiting. But again, I would have never imagined the amount of effort it goes into spreading word of mouth about books.

 

 

After I had successfully worked under all departments, I was required to make a report on my experience and the work I did each day. I didn’t want to leave but as they say all good things come to an end. I said my goodbyes and left with a huge smile on my face because I was a happy little bunny who got to live her dream even though it was for short while.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my short span of working in the professional field, it’s that you HAVE to do what you like to do even if it’s not in your full capacity. I understand the restraints life brings but even if you spend an hour of your day doing what you’re passionate about, the chances of you being closer to your dream will increase, and in a world where happiness is so scarce who wouldn’t want to grab that tiny amount of immense joy and hold onto it, right?

 

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

A profound yet witty story about loneliness, and how people choose to cope with it.

Winner of the Costa Book Award 2018,  and a longlist nominee for Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, is Honeyman’s debut novel that has struck many a hearts with its honest writing and a character so real, that one wonders what took the author so long to pen down a novel so brilliant in its entirety.

Eleanor is in her 30s, living a life that consists of just her and maybe a pot plant at home she often talks to. She has been working as a finance clerk in a graphic design company for 9 years now, with no friends or colleagues to pass time with. Her only solace is crossword puzzles and weekends spent with a bottle of vodka and Tesco pizzas. If monotony had a name, it would be Eleanor. She is socially awkward, and doesn’t understand ‘small talk’ or other niceties. Always the subject of jokes by her colleagues, Eleanor is often regarded as the ‘weirdo’.

“A philosophical question: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? And who’s wholly alone occasionally talks to a pot plant, is she certifiable? “

Eleanor develops a huge crush on a pop singer she sees in a concert, and decides that he’s the one for her. The singer is far from what Eleanor imagines him to be, and is a terrible singer with no respect for others whatsoever. She then goes to many lengths to change her appearance, so that their chance meeting could be memorable. Eleanor starts obsessing over the singer like a high-school teenager, and follows him around on social media. Her concept of what’s real and imaginary is blurred.

One fine day, she helps an old man who fell down in the middle of the road. She along with Raymond, the IT guy in her office, take it upon themselves to rescue the old man. This particular act of kindness opens doors for her, leading her to several other connections, and possibly towards a life Eleanor had always imagined. She has to break down the walls she’s constructed around her, and for the first time in forever, feel and experience things from a different perspective.

Although Eleanor is a loner, she speaks with her mother on the phone on Wednesday nights. Her ‘mummy’ lives somewhere far, and is a terrible mother who projects all her anger and rage at her daughter. Eleanor has spent her childhood in foster homes, and has always missed having a family. Eleanor doesn’t know where her mummy is but all she knows is that it’s a ‘bad place’.

The question then arises; why is Eleanor so lonely? The past is unravelled slowly with each chapter, and you’re able to understand the reason behind this isolation. Eleanor has had a troubled past, where she had been abused both mentally and physically throughout her life. While in university, she was in an abusive relationship with a man, who would punch and rape her. Her low self-esteem and social anxiety pinpoint to years of emotional trauma and lack of love. She lives with a scar on her face, after having survived a third degree burn in her childhood. This invited bullying in school, and everywhere she went.  Eleanor has learnt how to survive. Living, however, is still alien to her

Mummy has always told me that I am ugly, freakish, vile. She’s done so from my earliest years, even before I acquired my scars.’

Never before has loneliness been narrated in such a heartbreaking way. Humans have various coping mechanisms when it comes to dealing with loneliness. Eleanor, on the other hand, tells herself she’s completely fine. She embodies all of us, who are hiding under the garb of ‘work’ or ‘meetings’ or ‘parties’ to avoid being left alone with nothing but our thoughts; hoping that one day, the burden we’re carrying deep inside would be lifted and we could feel free again.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a roller coaster ride of emotions, and laughter, and subtle jibes at the bleak lives some humans live. It is as much about loneliness as it is about hope and the chance to love.

There are scars on my heart, just as thick, as disfiguring as those on my face. I know they’re there. I hope some undamaged tissue remains, a patch through which love can come in and flow out. I hope.”


Author: Gail Honeyman

Publisher: HarperCollins India

Pages: 383

Rating: 4.8/5

Format: Paperback

Blurb:

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

ARC Review: The Historian & The Hunter by Zeenat Mahal

Two ordinary girls, Shirin and Laila, live a life that’s quite extra-ordinary. They hunt monsters no one knows exist.

Meet Shirin: strong, courageous and determined. Meet Laila: smart, sensible, and a scholar. They’re identical twins. One is the hunter. The other is a historian. They’re part of the Majlis-e-shameer, the Secret Council, and together they protect the city of Lahore by fighting evil and slaying monsters.

The Historian and the Hunter by Zeenat Mahal is an urban fantasy novel about two young girls, Shirin and Laila, who have sworn to protect their city from age-old monsters, and anything that can be a potential threat to the lives of the people. They lost their parents when they were young, and have been brought up by Madam Ara, who has been looking after the girls. Living in the Red-light District Area, both Shirin and Laila, live not-so-normal lives.

In the beginning of the novel, we find Shirin, who is the Hunter of the Secret Council, fight and kill a nau-guzza(monster) that emerged after 50 years. She is accompanied by Emir, who is not just her companion but more like a mentor. Laila, on the other hand, is the Historian who unearths several hidden mysteries, and guides and helps her sister to deal with the monsters. She’s a recluse, often finding solace in the written word. The world around her doesn’t make much sense but when she’s surrounded by books, she feels powerful and strong. Whereas Shirin is more physical and outdoorsy and extremely protective of her sister, Laila finds comfort in a book.

Shirin and Laila, soon find themselves amidst chaos as monsters keep attacking their city, and they realize that the council has been compromised. At the same time, the existence of a werewolf starts haunting Laila, and she makes it her mission to discover the truth.

The novel surprised me in ways more than one. To start with, I was completely blown away by the concept of a fantasy novel based in Lahore. The setting of the book made me want to dive deeper into the story. The characters in the book are unique in their own way. Both Shirin and Laila, are strong and empowering. They don’t back down nor compromise on their values. They’re direct and not afraid of demanding for what’s rightfully theirs.

The author has crafted the novel intricately, making the readers be at the edge of their seats throughout. The light banter among the characters makes one laugh and flip through the pages easily.  I personally feel it’s really hard to pull off conversations between characters without making them forced. But here, the author made the camaraderie and jibes look effortless. I really love the author’s writing style. The descriptions are beautiful and they make you want to visit the city of Lahore. That’s what good writing does; it makes you abandon the life you have and embrace the one in the book.

I am incapable of appreciating novels that have romance in them but Zeenat Mahal’s book made me think otherwise. I might have also developed a slight crush on one of the fictional characters and I have no regrets.

If you’re into fantasy novels, The Historian and the Hunter by Zeenat Mahal is right up your alley. Even if this isn’t your genre, I would urge you to give it a read. You won’t be disappointed.

There is no evil worse than a human heart that is corrupt.

The book is available for pre-order. Click on the link to get a copy: Amazon

 




 

Author: Zeenat Mahal

Pages: 272

Rating: 4.6/5

Format: ebook

Source: ARC by the author

Blurb:

Laila and Shirin are ordinary girls living in the old city of Lahore just like millions of others…except they live in the Red-light District area, and they’re identical twins. Also they hunt monsters no-one knows exist…Okay so, maybe not quite like millions of other girls…

 

Get to know the Author:

Zeenat Mahal is the #1 bestselling romance author of She Loves Me He Loves Me Not, Haveli, and The Contract. She has an MFA in creative writing from Kingston University London. She writes and teaches creative writing in Lahore. she likes to stay in touch with her readers via instagram, facebook and twitter.

 

 

In Conversation with Faiqa Mansab: Author of This House of Clay and Water

I recently had the opportunity to ask, Faiqa Mansab, one of my favourite authors a bunch of literary questions and her answers are everything a book lover would want to hear!

When I read This House of Clay and Water a few months back, I knew I had stumbled upon a story that would stay with me for a long time. I devoured the book within a day, and struggled to come up with a review that would do justice to the book. It was a book that made me realize why I love reading, and why the written words will never fail to leave me breathless. When you read a book that speaks strongly to you, you can’t help but get inside the head of the author who wrote it, and therefore, I had the honor of interviewing Faiqa Mansab, author of This House of Clay and Water. Absolutely honest, insightful and full of literary wisdom, the author tells us what it’s like to be a writer and much more!

 

INTERVIEW:

Thank you so much for taking out time to answer my questions and gracing my blog with your presence.

Thank you for having me. I really enjoy interacting with readers and bloggers like you make it possible.

  • I’m sure you’ve been asked this a lot but did you always want to be a writer?

I enjoy answering it every time because each time I think about it, the memory becomes clearer, or perhaps my own attitude towards what it was that led me here, clarifies. See, there was a time when I felt I wanted to be a writer because I wanted to give readers the kind of joy and comfort I received from books, but there is also that feeling that perhaps a writer doesn’t decide but discovers that she is a storyteller, because when not writing, when not spinning stories, they’re not very happy people. Reading is my first love and writing is my second love and one without the other seems impossible to me.

  • What was your inspiration behind your latest novel, ‘This House of Clay and Water’?

It’s a story that had been brewing within my consciousness for the longest time, even before I went for my MFA in London, where I finished it. I think Lahore is always my inspiration. The character I’m writing about may be another. The very idea of writing, is a huge inspiration. It’s such a quiet process, lonely even, and yet it’s a powerful declaration. Language is an inspiration. Words are actions, I believe. I enjoy the process of wordsmithing and it inspires me daily.

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  • What was your favorite chapter or part to write?

I enjoyed writing all the characters very much. They’re all so different from each other. Their voices, circumstance, choices are so different and they managed to surprise me. However, that chapter about Zoya and Idrees was very painful and difficult to write for me.

  • What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

It was reading books. I could forget everything, all kind of hurts, loneliness, disappointments, when I was immersed in a book. I realized how important books were to me at an early age. I grew up on books more than anything else. Books were my compass and my North Star; my steadfast companions and my solace. The words written in books so long ago could comfort me and that was so liberating. I understood early that language is indeed power and a storyteller wields that power.

  • What does literary success look like to you?

Like it’s still a long way off. I want a lot from life.

  • How hard is it to establish and maintain a career in fiction writing?

Quite hard. You have to have total commitment, and be willing to work hard, have discipline and to throw away months and months’ worth of work for the sake of art. Your art should come first. Fiction is harder to write and sell than non-fiction. Fiction is truth told as if it isn’t. That’s a tough one to pull. Publishing isn’t such a walk in the park either. It’s a business and just because you’ve written a good story doesn’t mean it will sell. No one owes you anything. A writer shouldn’t feel that because they’ve been slaving away in the store-room writing for months, publishers will be lining up to sign them on. A good story doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it will be published. It’s a tough business.

  • Have you read anything that made you feel differently about fiction?

The kind of fiction I read only makes me want to be a better writer. The language in Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient is just beautiful. Patricia McKillip writes magically, no pun intended. I love fiction, reading and writing it, and I read everything.

  • What’s your ideal writing space?

I’ll tell you something I’ve never told anyone. I was quite young when I read the story of the discovery of the Rosetta Stone from Egypt and how the hieroglyphs were a code that was needed to decipher everything that had been discovered before. Without the Rosetta Stone so much of the Egyptian civilization would have been lost to us. The story reminded me of all the books I’d ever read that had helped me discover a little bit more about me.

The very first time I went to the British Museum in 2001, I bought a little paper weight of a Rosetta Stone. It stays on my desk as a sort of reminder. I want to write books that are like the Rosetta Stone for someone somewhere. A code to some kind of discovery—of self, a bit of life, some element of humanity.

  • What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai. Not as many people know about it as should. It’s a wonderful, lever novel. I highly recommend it.

  • Tea or Coffee?

Coffee. Always.

  • If you could, what would you tell your younger self?

Have courage, you’re going to need it.

  • Lastly, are you currently writing any book? If yes, what’s the genre going to be?

I write fiction. I don’t think of the genre. I just write the stories I must because a certain character at a certain time compels me to write their story. I’m always writing something or the other. Sometimes I have to abandon a story after 50k, like my current WIP because I lose interest in that particular story, usually because I’ve taken too long to capture the first draft. When you’ve written a first draft then you can tinker with the story as you like, but if the first draft is incomplete, I feel one often outgrows the characters.

 

 


About the author:

Faiqa  Mansab earned an MFA in Creative Writing with Distinction from Kingston University in London in 2014. She has been published in various academic journals and newspapers including an excerpt of her new novel in The Missing Slate. She has been a teacher and school administrator for ten years and conducts creative writing workshops at universities. This House of Clay and Water is her debut novel published by Penguin India. 

 

You can read my review of This House of Clay and Water here: This House Of Clay And Water by Faiqa Mansab: A tale of forbidden love, freedom and the need to belong.

 

 

The Tree With A Thousand Apples by Sanchit Gupta: A story of war, bloodshed & fight for Justice.

A story of tormented Kashmir, of love, loss and terror.

If you could name heaven on earth, what would you choose? For Bilal, Deewan and Safeena, it was their Home, their safe heaven; Kashmir. A place where the skies looked like they’ve been constructed by a painter, where the mountains and rivers danced in their own rhythm and where trees have the gift to bore a thousand apples. Little did the three friends know that their innocent and fairytale life would be snatched away in the blink of an eye? Welcome to Kashmir, Srinagar, which is now a battleground, a place where ‘azadi’ has cost the lives of many and where peace is a distant dream.

The Tree with a Thousand Apples by Sanchit Gupta is a blood-curling testament about the lives of people living in war-torn Kashmir. It’s a chilling account of Bilal, Deewan and Safeena, who lose their family, turn into people they had sworn they would never turn into and who face adversity at the heart of it all.

Before the insurgency, Deewan Bhatt, Bilal Ahnagar and Safeena Malik were living a very normal life as friendly neighbors and friends. But the night of the insurgency changed everything. Deewan had to flee his home since he was a Kashmiri Pandit while Bilal and Safeena spent their lives living in terror and death. Bilal becomes a product of his circumstances and does what most youth of Kashmir did; pick up the weapon and fight for ‘Azadi’. Safeena, on the other hand, suffered terrible losses, became a nurse but eventually did the unthinkable. They meet again, after 20 years. Their lives have been turned upside down. Will they give in or will they fight for what’s rightfully theirs?

The novel is a socio-political thriller, covering the lives of the three friends as well as the transition of Kashmir from 1990-2013. It’s a coming of age story which talks not only about the political setup but also about the breaking apart of communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims, the clashing of ideologies, the broken children and the need for unity. A Tree With A Thousand Apples is a sad tale about humanity. The price children, youth and adults pay when harmony refuses to co-exist.

Throughout the novel, there is a deep sense to belong somewhere, anywhere. There’s an isolation of sorts one that runs deep down your soul and there’s nothing you can do about it. Helplessness and anger at the top of it all. It’s a cry for peace; a cry to be together. The Author has woven magic with his unique and beautiful description of Kashmir. No other writing could have done justice to the magnificence that was once Kashmir. I loved the narrative technique, the writing is simple yet enthralling and the novel overall makes for a great,fast paced read.

The novel has been written in a time where hues of cry and justice are reverberated everywhere, where anger rides a human mind and the ability to live together is lost. If there’s one novel you should read, it has to be A Tree With A Thousand Apples.

 


Author: Sanchit Gupta

Publisher: Niyogi Books

Pages: 279

Rating: 4.2/5

Format: Hardcover

Blurb:

If the criminal was once a saint and the saint was once a criminal, then who is a criminal and who is a saint?

Inspired by true events, this riveting narrative traces the lives of Safeena Malik, Deewan Bhat and Bilal Ahanagar, three childhood friends who grow up in an atmosphere of peace and amity in Srinagar, Kashmir, until the night of 20 January 1990 changes it all.

While Deewan is forced to flee from his home, Safeena’s mother becomes ‘collateral damage’ and Bilal has to embrace a wretched life of poverty and fear. The place they called paradise becomes a battleground and their friendship struggles when fate forces them to choose sides against their will.

Twenty years later destiny brings them to a crossroads again, when they no longer know what is right and what is wrong. While both compassion and injustice have the power to transform lives, will the three friends now choose to become sinful criminals or pacifist saints?The Tree with a Thousand Apples is a universal story of cultures, belongingness, revenge and atonement. The stylized layered format, fast-paced narration and suspenseful storytelling makes for a powerful, gripping read

Reading Update.

A quick wrap up on what I’ve read and what I plan to read.

I AM BACK.

I have been avoiding writing blog posts and at first I was genuinly busy but then I didn’t feel like writing. I mean, I don’t even have a legit excuse for being below average at blogging and I have no remorse. But heyyyy, I am here now so let’s catch up?

My reading has been like Kolkata’s weather. Warm & sunny followed by incessant rain, thunder & lightning. It has ranged from reading 8 books in a month to barely managing one book. I was also the lucky recipient to uninvited reading slumps which as you might have figured hampered my reading. Since I’ve missed out on posting monthly wrap-ups, I’m going to briefly tell you what I’ve read and what I am currently reading.

May:

  • Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai: I loved this book. It was part of my MA syllabus and I was so glad I got to read it.
  • Baaz by Anuja Chauhan: You can read my review to know what I think about this one. Review: BAAZ

June: 

July:

  • Glitter and Gloss by Vibha Batra: Glitter and Gloss by Vibha Batra
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin by Mark Twain
  • The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  • The Ice Twins by S.K.Tremayne

August: 

  • A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashmi: Easily one of my favourite books of the year.
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
  • What Kitty Did by Trisha Bora: What Kitty Did by Trisha Bora
  • A Torch Against The Night by Sabaa Tahir
  • Three Psychos by Yash Pawaskar

 

I am currently reading Mr.Mercedes by Stephen King which is my first novel by the author. I understand I am late to the King bandwagon but it’s better late than never, right? I will write a review once I am done reading it. I am hoping to start with IT by King since the movie releases this friday and I want to read the book and prepare myself before watching the movie. It’s unlikely that I’ll watch the movie in theatres since the book is a 1000 pages long! I don’t even remember the last time I read such a thick book. It’s going to be a task, a difficult one. Other than that, I have no set TBR pile since I never follow it. I have a problem with sticking to rules even if I set them myself. I do, however, like challenges which brings me to my Goodreads challenge. It gives me great pleasure to announce I’ve read 34 out of 50 books so far with 4 months still left. I think I am pretty much on track and I MIGHT finish reading all 50 books before the year ends but let’s not get too ambitious.  I also got done with MA exams and I’m awaiting results. It feels oddly weird not having to worry about exams or anything yet feels so incomplete. Being a student sucks but it also has its own charm.

That’s all from my side. Here’s to hoping you hear from me soon.

Also, what are you currently reading?

Three Psychos by Yash Pawaskar

Three Psychos narrates three different stories from three different point of views. Each bizzare and unique.

When I read the blurb for this particular book, the stories seemed bizzare and completely out of the box. Three Psychos seemed too complicated and I wondered if the author would be able to engage its readers. A few pages in and I was quite impressed.

Three Psychos by Yash Pawaskar narrates three chilling stories, each unique and twisted on its own. The human mind has the habit of playing scenarios that are often a series of illusions. The protagonists in each story are living in their own bubble, often away from reality. Psychology is the study of human behaviour but how can one study such extreme behaviours? Is there one methodology or technique? That’s where we hit a dead end. Because believe it or not, humans are unpredictable and a tad bit crazy. And in the case of Three Psychos, completely crazy. I felt a series of emotions ranging from utter hate for the protagonists to empathy to denial.

The narrative technique of the writer is commendable as he was able to blend fantasy, psychological thriller and romance under one umbrella. Such qualities in a story is difficult and challenging. The writing style is easy flowing with the author giving philosophical and profound insights about life and death. Here’s one such quote:

Death teaches a lot about life. I don’t understand why people are afraid of death. It is just another part of life, albeit the last part of life as far as we know. It is just like any other phase of life: you are born, you grow up, go to school, go to college, get a job, get married, have kids and..die. We are scared when we approach all these stages, and overcome the fear when someone who has faced it tells us that it is all right, that they have experienced it too and that you can sail through it.

However, no one has shared their after-death experience. Thus, the fear of unknown is what scares people. Who knows? Maybe it is not that bad, maybe it’s all sunshine and rainbows.

A naked man stuck in a white box, a hospitalized patient who talks to aliens and is apparently on a mission and a teenage boy who is on a killing spree make up for the three psychos in Yash Pawaskar’s novel. You will be hooked right from the beginning and will only stop when you have all the answers. If psychological thriller is your genre, then Three Psychos would be a great pick.

You can buy the book from here: Amazon


Author: Yash Pawaskar

Publisher: Dimple Publication

Rating: 3.8/5

Format: Paperback

Pages: 157

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Blurb:

Three Thrilling Stories, One Gripping Novel. In the first tale, a naked man is trapped inside a white box. His only company: ‘DE22912’. How long can he survive? The second story, ‘Patient Number 9’, is about a hospitalized patient who must save Earth from an alien attack by blue pig-like creatures. The countdown has just begun. In the third narrative, an angry sixteen-year-old gets hold of a loaded revolver and is determined to make use of all ‘Six Bullets’. And no, it’s not a toy. The three psychos are part of a connected universe, set in a novel with innovative storytelling, witty narration and an entertaining mix of thrill, humour and drama.

What Kitty Did by Trisha Bora

A clever, witty and delightful take on what it’s like being an adult.

I started reading What Kitty Did after hearing only praises about the genius that Trisha Bora baked. Upon reading a few chapters, I knew why. The novel is cleverly written, it has an element of suspense and drama without being serious. It’s packed with wit and sarcasm and occasional puns that make it a delightful read. For a debut novel, Trisha Bora was successful at bringing a fresh take on the life of a 20-something year old..

Meet Kitty aka Ketaki Roy, a millennial, who is freshly out of college with an English Literature degree, trying to make a real cut in this fast-paced, utterly uncompromising world. Working in a fashion magazine named Poise, our protagonist struggles to live up to the demands of her work. Kitty comes off as irresponsible and rather below average at her job and making terrible situations when it comes to the matter of the heart. She struggles to manage a decent job, her relationships whilst drinking at the drop of a hat and partying. Despite her outrageous lifestyle, Kitty comes off as highly relatable. There’s something about her that attracts the readers’ attention.

No one tells you how things actually work out. No one writes a children’s book warning kids about how shit life can be.

Assigned to work on a piece about the late celebrity, Roxanne, Kitty unintentionally dives straight into what could be called a potential murder. Not realizing what she’s gotten herself into, Kitty decides to take up the challenge and find out who murdered the famous actress. Here starts the real fun. From trespassing to late auto-rides, to practically putting herself in the mouth of danger, Kitty battles it all. The novel becomes a page-turner when Kitty starts unfolding the mystery leading to the murder.

The references in the novel are any Literature student’s dream. If you’re someone who has a passion for the written word, you’d understand the analogies. There’s a lot of shade being thrown at Lit students and being one myself, I couldn’t stop laughing at the harsh reality. Take for instance,

Journalism has ensured I will never ever live in such places. If only I had Tiger Mother-ed my brain and done an MBA or some such….Not only does English Lit offer pathetic career choices, it also ensures total cock-blocking to wondrous real estate.

Kitty ‘s sense of humor is self-deprecating, she tries to hide behind a mask of sarcasm and wit and tries to escape situations much like the rest of us. Always relying on her best friends, the protagonist sees through life’s trials and tribulations, stumbling but eventually rising up again. What Kitty Did is refreshing as it takes on a whole new perspective about what it’s like stepping into “Adulthood”.

 


Author: Trisha Bora

Publisher: HarperCollins India

Rating: 3.9/5

Pages: 305

Format: Paperback

 

Blurb:

Kitty Roy has more troubles than she can count on her fingers. Her love life is wonky, her paycheck is shit. She has badly behaved hair and struggles with a sugar addiction. To top it off, her pushy mother has set her up with a gorgeous but stuck-up guy who is sending her mixed signals.

When a diplomat’s celebrity wife, Roxy Merchant, falls dead during dinner at their posh central Delhi bungalow, Kitty’s boss gives her a chance to write a profile piece and the hint of a promotion. As she works on her article, Kitty realizes there’s more to Roxy Merchant’s death. She’s on to something big, and it can, perhaps, change her current life forever. But Kitty also has a knack for bungling things up majorly.

Set in the winter of her discontent, What Kitty Did is an irresistible caper zipping through the streets of Delhi.