Monday, December 31, 2018

First Lines 2018

My 2018 Blog Archive is quite scant.  I posted a mere 12 times in 2018, including this post.  I've enjoyed reading about books on other book blogs, but writing about the books that I've read has taken a backseat this year. Regardless of my lack of posts, I wanted to continue the tradition and wrap up my year in blogging with a First Lines summary post of the past year.  This meme is hosted at the end of each year by Melwyk from The Indextrious Reader, a well-written book blog that will entice you to add more books to your reading list.  The basic idea of First Lines is "to take the first line of each month's first post over the past year and see what it tells you about your blogging year".  I've participated in this meme since 2009, after seeing it on Kate's Book Blog, an incredible book blog that I discovered in my early days of blogging.  Without further ado or explanation, here are my First Lines, with some photos from my posts. (If the first line is very short, I've added an additional line.)  To read more of a post, simply click on the month.

Canvas Press, Inc., a company that specializes in creating custom canvas prints for homes and offices, offered me a canvas print in exchange for a review on my blog.

I didn't post.😔

Emerson and Thoreau! I studied their work in school, did you?

How will you celebrate?  April is National Poetry Month, a time to explore and experience the world of poetry.

Published in 2017, Sass, Smarts, and Stilettos: How Italian Women Make the Ordinary, Extraordinary by Gabriella Contestabile is a book that focuses on Italian women.

As a book blogger, I've participated in many online tours with Poetic Book Tours.


I didn't post.😔

Several months ago, I learned about the novel  Brahmahatya by Rajiv Mittal, published in 2017, on Tracy's wonderful book blog, Pen and Paper.

Do you remember making paper covers to protect your school books?

Many of my readers are also listeners, who greatly enjoy audiobooks.

Last month, I won the book The Tourist Trail on Serena's blog, Savvy Verse & Wit.

December (this post!)
My 2018 Blog Archive is quite scant.

As illustrated here, I started 2018 with a beautiful print from Canvas Press, featured exclusive guest posts and a few book reviews, and showcased a book related craft, during the rest of the year.  What's not shown here is that I continue to post book giveaways on my blog, to win books, to receive complimentary books from authors, agents, and publishers, and to relish my "private" reading (without posting). Although I did not post frequently, I genuinely enjoyed the posting that I did do over the past year, and the lovely comments that followed.  If you'd like to create a year-in-review summary of your own, please visit The Indextrious Reader's special end of the year meme, First Lines.

As always, your comments are welcomed. Thank you for reading, and happy New Year! 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Evolution of a Small Press: A Guest Post by Midge Raymond

Last month, I won the book The Tourist Trail on Serena's blog, Savvy Verse & Wit.  After Midge Raymond, a co-founder and editor of Ashland Creek Press, a vegan-owned boutique publisher in Ashland, Oregon, mailed the book to me, I invited her to write a guest post about Ashland Creek Press (ACP).  One of my daughters is vegan, and I wanted to learn more about ACP in a general sense, too.  I think my readers will truly enjoy this exclusive guest post! 


This spring, Ashland Creek Press will celebrate its 8th birthday.  John Yunker and I founded ACP in the spring of 2011 when, in the years following the financial crisis, we were seeing many good books go out of print--and some books not finding homes at all.  One of those books was John’s novel The Tourist Trail, which was represented by a literary agent who was told by publishers time and again that they didn’t know where the book would “fit in the marketplace".  This was because there wasn’t--and in fact still isn’t--a designated place for environmental and animal-themed literature in the world of Big Five publishers.

There are, of course, environmental books published by the Big Five houses--many of Barbara Kingsolver’s wonderful books, for example, and my own novel, My Last Continent, published by Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.  But in early 2011, there weren’t any publishers we could find that focused on environmental works.  So, we decided to start one.

We began by publishing John’s novel, and then put out a call for submissions for environmental and multicultural manuscripts. Within two years, we published a young adult trilogy (The Lithia Trilogy), an eco-mystery, a short story collection, and three literary novels focused on other cultures, the environment, and endangered species.  Ashland Creek Press books have received rave media reviews as well as national and international prizes--and these are books that may not have been published if ACP didn’t exist. We are thrilled to have had the privilege of bringing them into the world.

In the years since then, we continue to publish one to three books a year, and we’ve also moved beyond books to offer other resources for both readers and writers in this genre.  In 2013, we created EcoLit Books, an online forum featuring book reviews on any books with environmental themes, as well as listing opportunities for environmental writers, from classes to literary magazines. In 2014, we decided there should be a prize for environmental writing, and the Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature was born. We also publish several anthologies--the Among Animals series is short fiction focused on animals; Writing for Animals is a collection of articles aimed to help authors write about animals thoughtfully and compassionately.  And we also decided to create something else we wanted but couldn’t find in the world: vintage typewriter notecards and T-shirts for writers.

Theo (1999-2017): ACP General Manager

As animal lovers, of course, we do not discriminate when hiring, which is why our first--and last--General Manager was feline. As you can see in these photos, Theo was passionate about books and helping run the press; he was always in the middle of things. When he passed away at the age of 18, we found him impossible to replace, and the position of General Manager remains open in his memory. We did, however, hire (i.e., adopt) three new rescue cats: Teddy, Harlan, and Gideon. Their roles are as yet undefined; so far they prefer playing and hanging out, and they are often seen napping on the job.

Theo in the office

Theo helping with editing

The Boys! Teddy, Harlan, and Gideon
As we continue on into our 9th year, our mission remains the same: to publish good stories--whether a novel about a zookeeper’s love for an endangered Komodo dragon, or a nonfiction narrative about the rarest bears on earth, who live just outside of Rome.  While we are glad that ACP’s titles resonate with environmentally aware readers, as well as professors of literature and animal studies, our books are for any and every reader.

And we’d love for you to learn more by sampling our books!  Or, perhaps you’d like to check out our notecards or a T-shirt instead.  Whatever you prefer, we’re offering Suko’s Notebook readers 20% off your next purchase.  Simply enter the coupon code SUKO20 when you visit our EcoLit Books online store (coupon code good until the end of 2018).


Thank you for this delightful guest post, Midge, and for offering my readers a special discount code!  It was interesting to learn about how Ashland Creek Press came to be, and about how it has developed over the years.  It looks as if Theo relished his position as general manager.  I haven't read The Tourist Trail yet, but I hope to soon.

Thanks for reading! Your comments are welcomed.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Why I Listen to Audiobooks

Many of my readers are also listeners, who greatly enjoy audiobooks.  Although I do like to listen to audiobooks as well, I don't listen to as many as some of my readers and fellow book bloggers.  When I do listen to them, I mostly listen to brief segments in my car during my short commutes around town.  My guest today, Melissa Chan, owner of  Literary Book Gifts, is an avid listener, and she eloquently describes why she listens to audiobooks in this exclusive guest post. 


Why I Listen to Audiobooks: A Guest Post by Melissa Chan

It is no secret. I love listening to audiobooks. If you see me with headphones on, I'm probably not listening to music, but in some faraway land listening to a story.  From a very young age I discovered a love for audiobooks and have not stopped since.  From Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, to Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar,  I've experienced some of my favorite novels not by reading or watching them on the screen, but through sound, streaming through my headphones directly into my ears.

There are many benefits to listening, over reading paperbacks, hardcovers, or eBooks.  For one I sometimes do chores such as cooking or gardening.  And I've often fallen asleep to the calming tones of my favorite narrator.  I'll have to rewind a few chapters sometimes, but there really is no other way to read in the dark.  On summer days, I bike through parks, safely of course, all the while in the middle of a story.  I even have fond memories of listening to books during family road trips.  While driving through windy canyon roads in and out of national parks, we were also on adventures with Bilbo Baggins, as J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit came through the dashboard speakers of the minivan.

Audio recordings of books have come a long way since then.  From difficult to manage cassettes, to unfortunately scratched CDs, the preferred listening method of books is now as digital files directly on one's smartphone.  I finally decided to to upgrade my beloved click and spin wheel iPod to a smartphone for the library apps that let you use your library card to check out and stream audiobooks.  Technology has come a long way.

I love audiobooks for not only the story, but often the narrator. A bad narrator can make an amazing novel unreadable, but an amazing narrator can't make a bad novel any better.  Not every narrator is fit for every story.  And I appreciate and value the work of all voice narrators.  I believe, like many mediums, that voice narration is an art.  One of my favorite narrators is Christopher Hurt, who has read to me so many of my favorite books including Walker Percy's The Moviegoer.

Is audio book listening the same as reading?  I certainly have had my fair share of criticisms on the subject.  I don't believe one is superior to the other.  However, I would like to make a note that the sharing of stories, whether over the campfire or the dinner table existed long before the written word. I think it really all comes down to the quality of what you are listening to.

But the main reason I listen to audiobooks is because I love doing so.  

Since I love audiobooks so much, I did not want audiobook readers to be without a unique design for themselves. The headphone design (shown below) is vintage but also retro in style.  It is perfect for anyone who enjoys audiobooks, and it is for that reason that it is one of my favorite designs in the collection.

Tote bag
Women's and Men's T-shirts

Do you listen to audiobooks? Share your favorites below!


Melissa, thank you for your wonderful guest post, which has inspired me to choose a new audiobook for my car rides.  I love the tote bag. It would be an adorable way to carry around audiobooks and related equipment--or really anything else!  The T-shirt is cute, and is available in several colors, for women and men.  Melissa is offering my readers a generous 20% discount on all items from Literary Book Gifts with the promo code: SUKOSNOTEBOOK20.  On a different note, I think that it would be fun to narrate audiobooks.  I'm sure audiobook narration is a lot of work (right, Mr. Hurt?), but it also seems like it would be enjoyable to act out a book for others to listen to (thinks the dormant voice actor in me). 

Many thanks for reading! Please leave a comment and share your thoughts about audiobooks.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Saturday Snapshot - Book Covers

Do you remember making paper covers to protect your school books?  One weekend afternoon earlier this summer, I had fun fashioning book covers for some of my older, well-worn books.  I used lovely paper I had on hand in the closet, including some vibrant animal prints from the World Wildlife Fund. The turtle patterned paper covers a book about red-eared sliders, while the owl patterned paper covers a dictionary in need of some TLC.  It was an enjoyable way to spend some time.  (Click on photos to make them larger.)


Many thanks to West Metro Mommy for hosting Saturday Snapshot!

Saturday, August 4, 2018


Several months ago, I learned about the novel  Brahmahatya by Rajiv Mittal, published in 2017, on Tracy's wonderful book blog, Pen and Paper.  Her post quickly led to my interest in reading this book, and a result, the author sent me a copy of his book.  In March, I featured a guest post about writing by author Rajiv Mittal.  It took me longer than anticipated to read this story, but I finished it recently. Without further adieu, here are some of my thoughts about this book, Brahmahtya, which the author calls a shraddhanajali (homage) to his father.

"As soon as he stepped outside of the hospital confines, his senses were assaulted from all directions: the sights, sounds, smells and feel of India."
~ Brahmahtya, Rajiv Mittal 

Set mainly in India, Brahmahtya is a story about Ravi Narasimhan, a forty-year-old bachelor who lives and works in Dubai. He cares deeply about his elderly father, Srinivasan Narasimhan, and calls him twice a week to check up on him. Even though their conversations are kept short by his father, Ravi knows that his father looks forward to these regular calls.  One day, Ravi receives a call from India and learns that his father has fallen.  Ravi flies to India to visit his father in the hospital. It looks as if his father will soon recover, so Ravi arranges for attendants to help his father after he leaves the hospital, and returns to Dubai.  However, Ravi receives a call from India on his first day back to the office. His father has had a stroke.

Ravi returns to India and tries desperately to get his father admitted to Govindarajan Memorial Residency, or GMR, because it was recommended to him by Dr. Hariharan at the hospital as a place that provides elderly people with dignity and care, and also because it's near to a hospital if residents need any sort of medical treatment.  Ravi meets with Bhavna Ramesh, Operations-In-Charge, who is competent and attractive. She realizes that Ravi's father, who everyone calls Naru Sir, had been her schoolteacher, and she's eager to see him again. Bhavna tells Ravi that Dr. Krishnamachari Iyengar, a Brahmin doctor at GMR called Dr. Chari, does not possess the qualities of a Brahmin, but that he's rigid and lacks compassion.  Bhavna tries to help Ravi by providing instructions about how his father should arrive at GMR.  Unfortunately, things do not go well in that regard, and Dr. Chari refuses to admit Naru Sir to GMR, though Ravi pleads with him to do so.  So Naru Sir is instead placed in a depressing old age home called Blessings, which Ravi hopes will be a temporary measure.  Sadly, Naru Sir dies.  When Ravi eventually goes back to his office in Dubai, he's surprised to see a letter of acceptance from GMR for his late father.  I will not reveal much more about the plot because I want to avoid spoilers. 

I'm still thinking about this book, and expect to remember it for  a long time (although I will likely reread it, soon).  It's a skillfully written story about the relationship between Ravi and his father, which makes you think about how we should care for the elderly.  Due to health issues, my own father spent the last few years of his life at a home for the aged on the east coast. Brahmahatya is an intensely emotional story in which characters experience and express a variety of emotions: guilt, grief, hate, peace, hope, and love.  The details in the story are rich, and present many of the unique smells (sandalwood), sounds (tinkling of a prayer bell) and tastes (South-Indian filter coffee) of India.  (Some are much less pleasant.) The  characters, Ravi, Naru Sir, Bhavna, Laxmi, Dr. Chari, Sridhar, and others, are brought to life by the author's vivid word portraits.  As a reader I was especially sympathetic toward Ravi and Bhavna, the main characters.  I was invested in the story and wanted to know how things would turn out for the characters I cared most about (will there be a sequel?). Bhavna raises her twelve-year-old daughter, Laxmi, who has cerebral palsy, by herself, as her husband could not bear having a disabled, "imperfect" child. 

Brahmahtya is touching and heartbreaking at times.  The book includes ancient Hindu scriptures and stories in the story, as characters grapple with various challenges.  Like Tracy from Pen and Paper, I'm also not familiar with these scriptures, but they add an authentic and religious or spiritual  dimension to the story; I don't think my lack of familiarity detracted too much from my understanding of the story.  Brahmahtya held my attention at all times, and I relished reading it.  Many thanks to Rajiv Mittal for sending me a complimentary copy of this touching and memorable novel.

Thanks for reading! Your comments are welcomed.

Monday, June 25, 2018

PR for Poets

As a book blogger, I've participated in many online tours with Poetic Book Tours.  It's been a joy for me to read, think about, and write about poetry.  In the past, I've shied away from reading poetry, as I thought it would be too difficult to decipher.  Fortunately, modern poetry is a lot more accessible! Additionally, I've relished two collections of poetry by Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Robot Scientist's Daughter (2015) and Field Guide to the End of the World (2016), so I jumped at the chance to read this new guidebook, even though I'm not a poet who hopes to publish a book of poems, and then take on the daunting task of marketing it.

Published in 2018, PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing by poet Jeannine Hall Gailey is packed with information and tips that will help poets market their work.  Gone are the days of reclusive poets clad in somber clothing, who never socialize and wait passively for their work to be discovered.  In this new age there are numerous ways that poets can reach and connect with readers, and successfully promote their own work.  Although Gailey says that "poetry book promotion is a marathon, not a sprint", there's a wealth of valuable information in this book that will facilitate the process.

This guidebook is well-organized, and the chapter titles in the Table of Contents will help poets find and employ the information they seek quickly.  Discussion about using social media occurs throughout this book, and it even has its own chapter, Chapter 12: Social Media and Blogs.  I enjoyed reading Gailey "take" on social media platforms, and how to use them effectively.

"Participating in some variety of social media will allow you to connect with readers you might not reach in other ways.  It also allows you to connect with readers in other parts of the country and around the world, something that was previously impossible without travel."
~ Jeannine Hall Gailey, PR for Poets

Gailey herself has a charming blog, comprised of personal posts and photos.  Over the past several years, I've definitely noticed more authors on social media sites such as blogs and Facebook (I've become online friends with many), as well as on other platforms.  It almost seems like a necessity or requirement for authors today.  The world of books, including poetry books, has become more social, due to social media. (It feels kind of strange to call authors and others in the book world by their last names in my blog posts, as things are so much less formal now.)  Of course, you don't want to spend too much time online, but Gailey recommends using more than one social media platform to reach potential readers and generate interest in your book(s).  She provides useful information about the various social media outlets available, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads and LibraryThing, Instagram, Tumblr, and websites and blogs.

PR for Poets includes advice from poetry publishers, and from those who work in poetry marketing.  It features a couple of interviews with publishers, as well as a terrific, informative interview with poet and blogger Serena M. Agusto-Cox, the owner of Poetic Book Tours, an online virtual book tour marketing firm for authors of poetry, as well as some fiction and non-fiction.  Agusto-Cox says that "online book tours are less costly and time consuming for the authors--definite benefits for authors who also have full time work--online tours allow them to reach a wider audience, and through tailored packages, they can reach target groups".  She also says that  "poets can reach poetry readers--those who already read poetry--while at the same time, expose new readers to poetry".

One of the main points of the book is that poets should not be too shy about promoting their books, on social media and in other ways.  Gailey tells poets to celebrate the release of their books, in a lighthearted fashion, with readings and parties and swag.  After all the hard work, it's time to play, and share your work with others.  Work hard, play hard!  In other words, after all of the long, difficult, solitary hours of writing and editing, freely enjoy the social aspects of book marketing.  Gailey says to call your book launch a party, because it should be a festive and fun event for all.  The poet offers many other excellent suggestions as well, based on her own experiences, including giving away swag to readers, such as postcards and bookmarks.  It's a pleasure to get nice swag, and I received the postcards pictured below from her, along with her books; they are "keepers".

Chapters in PR for Poets are aptly titled, short and pithy, and full of helpful ideas, insights, and tips garnered over the years by Gailey.  Chapter 32: PR Calendar will help poets organize their calendars in regards to book launches (parties!).  The last chapter of the book, Chapter 33: Go and Do Some PR, provides a handy, concise summary of the ideas in the book, and additional resources are listed at the end of the book.  If I were a poet, I'd definitely follow the ideas in this thoughtful guidebook! 

PR for Poets is a wonderful book filled with a plethora of practical advice.  Having read Gailey's exquisite poetry, I'm not surprised at the amount of care she put into this book. Her attention to detail shows that she genuinely wants to help her readers, and she talks about her own experiences in an honest and appealing way.  This helpful and talented poet generously shares her knowledge and experience to help others promote their work.  PR for Poets is an essential guidebook for poets.  It was a pleasure to read.


Many thanks to Serena from Poetic Book Tours for inviting me to participate in this tour, and for sending me a complimentary copy of this book.  For more reviews and guest posts, please visit the other stops on Poetic Book Tours' tour for PR for Poets.

I'm also linking this post to Savvy Verse and Wit's PoeTRY Something New 2018.  I learned a great deal about this new-to-me topic, the marketing aspect of poetry, and how poets now need to actively market their work.

As always, thanks for reading!  Your comments are welcomed and appreciated.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Sass, Smarts and Stilettos

"We don't accept the ordinary. We dig in and do what we've always done. We get creative, and we transform it."
~ Sass, Smarts, and Stilettos, Gabriella Contestabile

Published in 2017, Sass, Smarts, and Stilettos: How Italian Women Make the Ordinary, Extraordinary by Gabriella Contestabile is a book that focuses on Italian women. The author was born in Italy, and raised in Ottawa and NYC. In 1953, when she was four years old, her family traveled on the Andrea Doria, "a floating museum of art, technology, and timeless Italian good taste" from the port of Genova to North America, because her father has been transferred from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome to the Italian embassy in Ottawa.  Three years later, the Andrea Doria sank after being hit by the SS Stockholm near Nantucket, and this floating museum of Italian art and history was lost forever. This loss contributed to the author's decision to live fully and to savor life's joyful but fleeting moments. In 1959, she emigrated with her family to New York, when her father was transferred from the Italian Embassy in Ottawa to the Italian Consulate in New York City, and begin a new life in Astoria, Queens.

Written in a warm and friendly manner, this book is a personal story that's quite entertaining and informative. Sass, Smarts, and Stilettos is filled with practical tips and wisdom. As the title promises, it discusses what makes Italians, and especially Italian women, extraordinary. There are many anecdotes and glorious details in this inspiring book that reveal the secrets of Italian women. The basic idea is that Italian women make the ordinary extraordinary due to their innate appreciation for beauty and their deep connection with art.  They use the passion, focus, and purpose that are part of their cultural identity.

Sass, Smarts, and Stilettos is a short, charming book that may well entice you to visit Italy.  (I haven't been to Italy yet, but coincidentally, one of my sister-in-laws traveled to Italy last month, and my son is going next month.) The cover by Katerina Miras is lovely.  There are thirty-two chapters in this book, plus a helpful Italian Glossary in the back.  Each chapter is titled and begins with a quotation (or two) that relates to the subject matter. Chapter titles describe the contents in a tempting and down-to-earth manner, and reveal the author's ideas and philosophy. These titles say a lot.  Here are some examples: Chapter Two - The Extraordinary in the Ordinary, Chapter Nine - Food, the Talisman of Happiness, Chapter Eleven - Joy in Simple Things,  Chapter Eighteen - Style is Ageless,  Chapter Twenty-Four - Your Life is Your Biggest Work of Art, Chapter Twenty-Nine - Secrets of an Italian Woman's Skin. They're fun to read (and may be read out of order, I think, especially during a second reading).  I should also mention a chapter that features numerous fashion, style tips, and some guide books, Chapter Twenty-Seven - She Who Spends More, Spends Less. The important idea of this chapter is to choose wisely. Choose homemade, healthy food, and well-made clothing and furnishings.  Compre meno, compra meglio--buy less, buy better.  This means buying less things, but buying the best things, and appreciating and taking care of them.  This is something that Italians are good at. Quality is of the utmost importance.

Mamma mia, did this book resonate with me!  This is how I was brought up, too, to appreciate quality, rather than quantity.  I'm part Italian so this makes sense. This book talks a lot about clothing.  My mother, who was half Italian, had a wonderful fashion sense. She was a sharp dresser, and her clothing was gorgeous.  When I was in high school, I used to borrow her beautiful work blouses and wear them with jeans (I wanted to look elegant but cool). Today, my work wardrobe is simple and (hopefully) classic. I bring various tailoring projects to the dry cleaning shop nearby, and have been pleased with the results. The food in this book will make you crave savory (or sweet) Italian food.  My Italian grandfather appreciated fine food and drink, and during my childhood he would bring my family freshly-baked, crusty bread, and special cheese from Italian markets in NYC (I've mentioned this before in a previous post). I still think about how delicious these treats were. This book brought back delightful memories, and I learned many things about Italy.

Sass, Smarts, and Stilettos is a beautiful memoir, a travel guide with style and substance, and a wonderful reference book, for all things Italiano, or perhaps Italiana, given the focus of this book. I enjoyed reading it very much.

Gabriella Contestabile

Connect with the Author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ LinkedIn


Many thanks to Laura from Italy Book Tours for inviting me to be a part of this tour and for sending me a copy of this book free of charge.  For more reviews of this book, giveaways, and other features, please visit Italy Book Tours' other stops for Sass, Smarts, and Stilettos.

Thanks for reading! Your comments are appreciated.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Louisiana Catch

Readers of this blog know that I'm a huge fan of award-winning poet and novelist Sweta Srivastava Vikram. I've read and reviewed many of her books, including Saris and a Single Malt (2016), Wet Silence: Poems about Hindu Widows (2015), No Ocean Here (2013) Perfectly Untraditional (2011), and others.  I was overjoyed to receive an advanced reading copy of her newest novel, published in 2018, Louisiana Catch, from Modern History Press.

As I started to read Louisiana Catch, I was immediately drawn into the fascinating world of Ahana Chopra, a wealthy, thirty-three year-old New Delhi woman.  Recently divorced from her college sweetheart, Dev Khana, her outwardly charming but emotionally and sexually abusive ex-husband, she's trying to rebuild her life after her marriage ends. Yoga and running help her to feel better and more optimistic, to an extent.  Because of the culture she lives in, she doesn't share the painful aspects of her marriage with others, created by a bullying husband who forced her to have sex, who in fact raped her.  To make matters worse,  her mother dies suddenly, and Ahana is completely devastated and heartbroken.

Although her loss is tremendous and it's hard for her to get through each day, Ahana immerses herself in her work as a women's rights advocate, and even takes on the responsibility of spearheading the upcoming international women's conference in New Orleans, called No Excuse, which is turning into a major event.

"I still wonder how the universe caught two men from Louisiana and sent them into my life around the same time."
~ Louisiana Catch, Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Ahana soon meets two men related to her online activities, Rohan Brady, a handsome colleague who helps her to develop an online presence, and Jay Dubois, who's in her online support group, and is grieving the loss of his own mother.  Ahana and Jay share their grief, bond over lines from The Catcher in the Rye, and become online friends, although they haven't met in person yet.  As time passes, though, Ahana is not sure who she can trust, or if she can even trust her own feelings and instincts.

What a riveting story!  Every page of this novel held my attention. Written in the first person from the point of view of Ahana, the protagonist, the book reveals her thoughts, and she shares with readers the private things that she doesn't share with her family or friends (because they are too painful to reveal). As a wealthy Indian woman, Ahana's blessed with material comforts, but she's not emotionally comfortable.  The author is a very skilled writer, and Ahana, Naina, Lakshmi, and the other characters in this book come to life. Vikram tackles difficult and complex matters, such as the sudden death of Ahana's mother, Mumma, online relationships and "catfishing", and an especially taboo topic, marital rape.  In this book, we learn about Ahana's marriage, and the physical and emotional abuse she quietly endured for years (too many women suffer in this same manner). 

Gradually, with some help from friends and family, Ahana discovers and demonstrates her own remarkable strength and resilience in this touching story of success.  Despite abuse, loss, and various cultural obstacles, the telling of Ahana's story will provide help and healing to herself and other women.  This book is exceptionally compelling, and it's remarkably timely, too.  I read Louisiana Catch at the onset of the #MeToo movement, in October of 2017.  The author is also a certified yoga teacher and the CEO-Founder of NimmiLife, and teaches yoga and mindfulness to female survivors of rape and domestic violence.  I'm thrilled that this book is garnering a lot of attention now, on Amazon and elsewhere.  It's an important and powerful book.

Here are a couple of lovely, joyful photos from the author's Louisiana Catch Book Launch at Lululemon.  


Many thanks to Victor from Modern History Press for sending me an advance reading copy of  Louisiana Catch free of charge, and to Serena from Poetic Book Tours for inviting me to participate in this tour.  I'm honored to have read another incredible book by this talented and prolific author.  For other reviews and features, please visit Poetic Book Tours' tour for Louisiana Catch.

Thank you for reading! Your comments are appreciated.

Monday, April 16, 2018

How to Love the Empty Air

How will you celebrate?  April is National Poetry Month, a time to explore and experience the world of poetry.  In honor of National Poetry Month, I read a new collection of poetry by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz, the poet's seventh, How to Love the Empty Air, published in 2018.

This book is an intimate, autobiographical collection of poems that depict the author's successes in her work and relationships, as well as the great loss that she experiences when her mother--her "narrator"--dies suddenly.  In these poems, we learn about the poet's life, about her writing career and move to Texas, and about her relationships, especially her relationship with her mother.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I was pleasantly surprised by this book, because it's contemporary--it includes email and texts--it's down-to-earth, and also, most importantly, it illustrates the poet's beautiful, close relationship with her mother, who has died. Each of these poems is like a short story (or more accurately, a mini story) packed with creativity, thought, and feeling.  Although Aptowicz is deeply grieving the loss of her mother, she's able to find some comfort, which she shares with her readers, by remembering and honoring her mother in this collection, in a way that's both personal and universal.  The titles of poems, such as for the opening poem, My Mother Does Not Give Advice, and Moving Means that You Have to Touch Everything You Own Once (never thought of it that way!), and the final poem, Sleeping in Late with My Mother (which ends the collection in a funny and positive, remarkable manner), set the stage for the unique humor found in this collection.  Her mother's voice comes through clearly in these poems, sometimes quite literally, "That's not the picture I want you to see/Use the other one/You know that one, from our weekend together?"  (from the poem, Portraits of My Mother, Far Away from Texas).  The poet and her mother share a special sense of humor. These poems are funny, they are touching, and very "relatable".  I don't know how Aptowicz manages to create poems out of emails, texts, and references to emojis, but she does!  On a personal, related note, having lost my own mother in 2011, I cherish the letters and emails I have from her, and reread them when I crave connection to her.  My mother's words, like Aptowicz's mother's words, contain her humor and her support, and so remain helpful, and present. 

If I were a high school English teacher, I'd choose to read and discuss How to Love the Empty Air with my students, because I think my students would then fall in love with poetry.  But many people, of all ages, are reluctant to read poetry. They worry perhaps that they will not understand it, that it'll be written in formal, difficult-to-decipher language, replete with odd metaphors and similes, bygones from another era. These poems are easy to read and yet full of depth and meaning. I really can't say enough about them!  If you're at all intimidated by the idea of poetry, pick up this book. You might change your mind completely.

Many thanks to Serena from Poetic Book Tours for inviting me to participate in this tour, and for providing a complimentary copy of this brilliant book.  To read other reviews of this collection, please visit Poetic Book Tours' tour for How to Love the Empty Air.
Thank you very much for reading! Your comments are appreciated.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Why Do I Write?: A Guest Post by Rajiv Mittal

Last month, I read a terrific, concise review on Tracy's book blog, Pen and Paper, about a novel with "simple yet powerful language" that's "incredibly rich in human emotions", Brahmahatya by Rajiv Mittal, published in 2017.  Like Tracy, I'm not familiar with Hindu scripture or mythology (I studied Hinduism only briefly in high school), but the book sounds fascinating to me.  Author Rajiv Mittal graciously sent me a copy of his novel, which I hope to read and review before too long.  The author also wrote an exclusive guest post for this blog.  Like me, I think you'll find it strong and compelling.


Why Do I Write?
A Guest Post by Rajiv Mittal

You asked me if I would like to write a guest post.

The first thought that came to my mind is, ‘Why do I write?’

So why do I write?

First of all, a random rant …

Because there are six billion humans in this planet. I cannot handle that number. A novel is a universe which usually contains a manageable population and the main ones are generally interesting.

If I switch on the TV or surf the internet, I read about how mankind is destroying the planet. And the more dramatic of such portrayals show heart-rending photographs of children in great distress. Where on earth are the parents of these children? What made them produce children if they could not offer them lives better than their own? When I write, I feel happy that I am not under pressure to feel outraged at everyone other than the real criminals.

And they are?

‘Produce more children for our vote banks,’ continue to exhort our political people. ‘Consume more,’ continue to exhort our corporate people. The real world now seems to be held to ransom by people with maniacal eyes hysterically expostulating the beauty of their religions. It seems most of these people have spent a great deal of time and effort trying to look ugly. They have succeeded spectacularly. I don’t want to see them, hear them or argue with them. I smell decay and their touch is not healing. What do they do to earn a living? What were their grades in school and college? What qualifies them to be the prophets? Just ugliness, it seems.

What makes for a good story? I am told it is the following:

Theme. A theme is something important the story tries to tell us—something that might help us in our own lives. ...

Plot. Plot is most often about a conflict or struggle that the main character goes through. ...

Story Structure. ...

Characters. ...

Setting. ...

Style and Tone.

The real life story is the worship of fecund reproductive organs and its ending worries me, it is not something that interests me.  Books are the triumphant outcome of the uncontrolled mind.

That is why I prefer to write. I am in control of my universe.


How Brahmahatya happened:

I would visit my father in his retirement home during his final days. Seeing all the residents, I would wonder – what are their stories? And are they all really who they say they are. Also, spending time at a retirement home made me question a lot of things about life. And the story evolved.

Strange to say, but once I started writing it, the book took on a life of its own. It sounds clich̩d but it is a fact. It was almost as if the book got its own aatma (soul) and I became another character in its life journey Рthe character of the author.

A personal experience related to the book: 

There was time to spare and the tuktuk was chugging past the Theosophical Society en-route to Phoenix Mall in Chennai. I had a suspicion it had no business being there but the tuktuk driver was canny and I was clueless. On an impulse, I asked him to stop near the gate and paid him off.

I had last gone inside the Society gate with my dad. He had wanted to show me some banyan tree - one of the largest in Asia. I was seven years old and I was very happy to be alone with him even though it was only to see some stupid tree. I remember I had then been very scared of it (it was a huge presence with strange limbs). I wanted to see it again now, no... I wanted to relive the memories. I recall (now as an adult) that it was massive, majestic in its silence and even the forces of nature (the waning twilight rays, the gentle sea-breeze and the noisy birds) had fluttered nervously around it, as if seeking permission.

My steps quickened as I reached it. The signboard said, ‘The Great Banyan Tree.’ I looked around, puzzled. A lone security guard walked up to me and said, ‘Sir, the tree fell down in a cyclone many years ago.’ I stared at the vast green space in the center where it had stood, quite uncomprehendingly. I felt very angry. This was very wrong. The tree had no right to die. It was meant to be eternal.

I again looked at the emptiness where the tree had lived. The younger trees, its descendants, stand proud and tall, seeming to preserve and protect the bare space.

When I walked away, I again felt the presence of my dad, very frail in his final days but very strong in my memories.

Some words that echo the philosophy of the book:

        •   Whomsoever you encounter is the right one.
        •   Whatever happened is the only thing that could have happened.
        •   Each moment in which something begins is the right moment.
        •   What is over is over.

                      Author – Unknown

The quiet, unhindered steady chant that treads through the book:

Brahmanda bhramite kona bhagyavan jiva. According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe…”

 I hope Brahmahatya will form part of your life journey, however small. Thathasthu. (It will be so).


"Books are the triumphant outcome of the uncontrolled mind"!  I relish the idea of making order and art out of disorder and chaos.  Your personal story about the Great Banyan tree is very powerful and touching.  Thank you, Rajiv, for sharing your thoughts about writing, and more, in this outstanding guest post.  I am truly looking forward to reading your book.

Your comments are welcomed, as usual. Thanks for reading!

Some of the books featured here were given to me free of charge by authors, publishers, and agents. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.


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