Henna for the Broken-Hearted by Sharell Cook

I am an occasional silent reader at Sharell Cook’s blog, and when I found out that she had written a book, it came onto my wish list. A few weeks ago, I managed to lay my hands on the book.

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How far would you go to change your life?

Sharell Cook is 30 years old and living a privileged life in Melbourne’s wealthy suburbs. She has it all: the childhood-sweetheart husband, the high-powered job and plenty of cash to splash.

And it’s not destined to last. Sharell finds herself in a broken marriage, and everything she had taken for granted seems to have changed. Impulsively, she decides to take a break and go to India to do some volunteer work for a few months. Living in Calcutta, a life which was totally different from the time she traveled in India with her ex-husband as a tourist, Sharell grapples with life in India, the frustrations and joys, the unexpected and the normal. She also meets her future husband in India. Reading her book, you start to believe in destiny taking you where you belong.

The book is her memoir of her time in India, the way it changed her, and the way she now leads the urban life of a white Indian housewife. Her journey from what she was, to what she becomes, as she lives in a different culture, which she accepts so open-heartedly. Her transformation, as she calls it. Some of things which even, us, Indians would balk at, she calmly accepts and lives with them. It was fresh take, devoid of the stereotypes one would expect, and without any undue glorification of India either. She writes it as it is, and that in itself is very refreshing.

I loved reading her experiences in India, as she travels through India, lives in various parts, lives a life which is different at the same time, similar to locals. Washing clothes by hand, living through water shortages, temperamental landlords, nosy neighbours, part and parcel of middle class living in India, and accepting it all in a very matter of fact way. I absolutely love her attitude.

What really stands out is the risks she takes, probably because all that she considered familiar had changed after the breakdown of her marriage. The risks she takes in coming back to India, living with the man she would later marry, and her willingness to make the most of her situation, to accept what life has in store for her. It’s not something what most of us would find easy to do. And her attitude towards the changes in her life. Her open-hearted acceptance of the confusion that India can be, and her willingness to be a part of it all.

She literally taker us on her journey, through India, with the wonderful companionship she shares with her husband, and their adventures of various kinds. Living in different parts of India, until they reach the place they end up settling down in – Mumbai. Her husband’s family comes across as such wonderful people, accepting her a part of their family, and doing what it took to get her comfortable. The wonderful bond that she shares with them comes out loud and clear in the book.

If I had to describe the book in a few words, it would – honest and captivating. She keeps the pages turning, you want to know more, and you actually feel sad when it ends. A book I would definitely recommend.

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Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River by Alice Albinia

I’ve come to really enjoy travelogues. Of all sorts. This was another Goodreads recommendation, based on the books I have read and rated. The description had me hooked.

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‘One of the largest rivers in the world, the Indus rises in the Tibetan mountains and flows west across northern India and south through Pakistan. It has been worshipped as a god, used as a tool of imperial expansion, and today is the cement of Pakistan’s fractious union. Alice Albinia follows the river upstream, through two thousand miles of geography and back to a time five thousand years ago when a string of sophisticated cities grew on its banks. “This turbulent history, entwined with a superlative travel narrative” (The Guardian) leads us from the ruins of elaborate metropolises, to the bitter divisions of today. Like Rory Stewart’s The Places In Between, Empires of the Indus is an engrossing personal journey and a deeply moving portrait of a river and its people.’ says the blurb, and I just had to get hold of it.

Albinia, a British journalist, fascinated by the River Indus, and the civilizations and religions that it spawned around it, travels up the river, from its delta in Sindh, to the place of its origin in Tibet. As she travels through Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Tibet, she also narrates history, and links it up to the present world and culture. The Sheedis in Pakistan, who could trace back their ancestors to Africa and to the first African disciple of Prophet Mohammed, the life, and hierarchy of Pakistani society after the Partition, the Aryans and India as it had been. The way of life in India a few centuries ago, when religions co-existed, peacefully. Fascinating tidbits and facts – both historical and contemporary ones. There is a lot more of Pakistan than India, in the book, but that is of course a given, since Indus is almost completely in Pakistan now, but she still manages to link the common history of the region with the mighty river flowing through it, really well. A wonderful mixture of history and culture with Indus as the ever-present protagonist. The river which is mighty, deep, mysterious, divine and a lifeline to those who live by it. For centuries, Indus was more than just a river. At one point in history, conquering the Indus was equivalent to conquering India. The books spans from the Vedic times to today’s world, touching upon Kargil, the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas amongst other important recent developments that impacted the subcontinent.

The author’s meticulous research is evident in the book. And her evident interest in her subject. Conversant in Urdu and Hindi, she is able to converse with the locals, and live like them, fasting during Ramzan, living in their houses during her travel, almost becoming one of them. The author’s enthusiasm, and zeal left me amazed. The journey that she undertook, couldn’t have been easy by any standards, through one of the world’s most volatile regions, potentially one of the most unsafe regions for a woman to travel alone, is one of the bravest things to do. A lot of travelogues have the authors being enraptured by the subject, in this case, she is utterly fascinated and yet objective, fascinated enough to have researched her subject thoroughly, and objective enough to analyze it all, so very well. I just did not want it to end. I wished she could go on and on, I wished I had learnt history reading books like these.

A totally recommended read for anyone who loves travelogues and history – such a marvelous combination, handled in such a wonderful manner! Another Goodreads recommendation, that I absolutely loved.

Wrong Means Right End by Varsha Dixit

Blogadda came up with this review just at the time that I was yearning for a book of this sort. After loads of heavy reading, this was fit the bill perfectly.

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Sneha is a hard-working single mom, living in Mumbai with her little son, Advey. Her best friend forever, Nandini, newly married and deliriously happy, is busy trying to arrange blind dates for Sneha. Sneha ends up the guinea pig for Nandini’s experiments in getting her hitched, at almost party that she throws.

Nandini is married to Aditya Sarin, an industrialist, and is currently working in his organisation to find out what works for her. Sneha is busy juggling her career and her son, supported by her help, Amla. Their friendship goes way back, and they have been together through all sorts of trouble. Both of them are very protective towards the other. Now, all that Nandini wants is for her friend to have the same sort of bliss that she shares with Aditya. Sneha’s ordered life goes up in the air when she comes across Nikhil, with whom she shares some unpleasant history. And he doesn’t come alone, he comes with Aditya’s ex-fiancee Gayatri, who, apparently, is still hung up on Aditya.

Before she knows it, Sneha is in the middle of all sorts of chaos. Nandini and Aditya’s marriage seems to be unraveling, Hers and Nandini’s friendship seems to be history, and the only person who can help her is Nikhil. Nikhil who can’t stand her, Nikhil, who, she will do anything to avoid. They need to forget their history and egos, if Nandini and Aditya’s marriage has to be saved. Of course it doesn’t help that Sneha ends up in places where she has no business being, only to add to the complications.

A light and fun read. Perfect if you want to leave your brains behind and read. A Mills and Boon sort of romance, with a few additional twists thrown in. And all that goes with tales of this sort, two people with incredible chemistry, but seem to rub each other the wrong way. Sneha and Nandini’s friendship was something I really enjoyed reading about. That added some freshness to the tale. The twists and turns were, well, predictable, but the book is quick-paced, so you don’t really get bored. The background tale of the antagonism between Sneha and Nikhil was rather tame as well, and in some ways a little disappointing. The descriptions were very stereotyped. I mean, can someone tell me what exactly hooded eyes are? Of course, all the men were gorgeous and super rich. The amount the characters curse, was, a bit of a put off, for me, but then, that’s just probably me.

The one place it was surprisingly not stereotyped was Sneha, with her independence, and her need for speed, was a welcome change from the usual stereotypes. So was Nandini’s expectations from her marriage. It gave the book, the much-needed depth. In fact, I wish the book had explored more of these, it would have been a little more interesting, in my opinion. As such the book has more of the chemistry between Sneha and Nikhil than anything else. Although, It might work well for a younger/different audience, I suppose.

A light, quick read, perfect for a light afternoon read or a holiday read, when all you want is something nice and light.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com . Participate now to get free books!

Night Road by Kristin Hannah

A book that was recommended by Goodreads. An author I had never heard of, but I guess, now on, I will be keeping an eye out for her books.


For Jude Farraday, a mother of twins, the last eighteen years of her life had been around her children. Mia and Zach, the twins were different personalities. Zach was the super confident boy with all the girls fawning over him. Mia was a shy teenager, who some girls made friends with just to be able to get close to Zach. They lived a seemingly perfect life, in a perfect community.

Lexi Baill, a former foster child moves into their community and ends up as Mia’s best friend. Jude takes Lexi under her wing and tries to make up for the unfortunate life that she had, in whatever little ways she could, without making Lexi feel like a charity case. For the first time in her life, Mia has a friend she can count on, someone who she trusts. Zach and Lexi end up falling in love, which initially upset Mia, but she manages to overcome it, and the three become close buddies.

It is senior year of high school, and the three of them, are in the process of applying for admissions into colleges. Jude starts to feel her control over the twins slipping, she starts to get worried about how close Zach and Lexi seem to be getting. The foreboding of danger that she had, turns into reality when one night, everything changes for the Faraday family and Lexi. A nightmare that they never would have imagined in their wildest dreams. One that shatters them and overnight, from a loving close-knit family, they become a shell of a family.

Jude is in put in a position of having to forgive someone who, in her mind, is the reason for her loss, her tragedy. Jude has to forgive, or live in bitterness. Her sadness and bitterness transforms her into someone totally different from what she had been. It was almost as if her capacity to love had been turned off. All the characters in the book are believable, real and people we start empathizing with.

A beautiful book, am absolute page turner. A book that explores the situation from all view points. From the teenagers(in different situations), from the mother’s when she is unable to let go, and when tragedy strikes. Of love that can be enduring, and lifelong. Of times when forgiving can get one the peace that one longs for. A book that pulls at your heart-strings, and makes you wish that you could just make it all perfect. The pain that the protagonists go through, and the hope that it ends with. An absolutely lovely book. A recommended read.

A Breath of Fresh Air by Amulya Malladi

My first book by this author. I picked it up based on recommendations on Goodreads. Now will probably be a good time to talk about how much I have come to love Goodreads. Especially the recommendation section. I’ve come across interesting books, and new authors. I think I log on to goodreads more than I do on to Facebook, and that is probably a good thing too.

On the night of December 3, 1984, Anjali waits for her Army officer husband to pick her up at Bhopal Railway Station. The delay in his picking her up changes her life forever, when the catastrophic gas leak poisons the city. She manages to survive but her marriage does not. That night in the poisonous city, changed her life in more ways than one, and as she later came to realize, in ways that would affect her lifelong.

Years later, remarried to Sandeep, and mother to Amar, a young boy who is severely affected by the ill-effects of the gas his mother inhaled, life is tough, but peaceful and she finds happiness with what she has. Until the day, Prakash, her ex-husband re-enters her life. Prakash, the husband who is the reason her son is so very ill, Prakash who married her for all the wrong reasons, does that Prakash still have a place in her heart?

Narrated by 4 charachters, it is a beautifully told story. Emotions, insecurities, expectations and even our cultural baggage which moderates the way people think and behave is brought out really well. A poignant tale, beautifully told. The title is especially relevant too- through out the story, even at the very end.

I really liked Anjali’s character who after her initial conformation to tradition, and expectations, decided to chart her own way, despite the resistance from her own family. Fighting the odds, she lives her life, in the best way she can, without the bitterness that might have come with the trials she faced. Her husband Sandeep is another character you start feeling for. A book that had me crying.

I would heavily recommend this book, and would be looking out for her other books.

Mayil Will Not be Quiet by Niveditha Subramanium and Sowmya Rajendran

I need to first thank RM for the book 🙂 She gifted it to Daughter, and then told me to read it first, because her mum said it might not be appropriate for a 6-year-old. Am I glad or what? I might have ended up not reading the book if Aunty hadn’t said that – and what a loss that would have been! RM, thank you 🙂 and thanks to RM’s mom 🙂

Mayil is a spirited, 12, going on 13-year-old girl. Full of life, opinions, witty, mischievous, she just cannot be quiet. Mayil dreams of being a writer when she grows up – Mayilwriter, and her dad gets her a diary to practice her writing in and to try and be quiet.

‘Mayil will not be quiet’ transports you into the life of a pre-teen, in today’s world, which while being similar in emotions and feelings that we had while growing up, also has today’s distractions and problems that a child might face. Mayil’s sibling rivalry with her brother Tamarai, her love-hate relationship with him, her mother and father’s parenting styles, teenage emotions, crushes, friendships and disappointments – what a read it was. Mayil is smart, sensible, sensitive while being naughty, trying to test her boundaries when she can, even though she knows she shouldn’t be doing it. In other words, a normal pre-teen/almost teen. She was smart without being patronizing and understanding – her jottings on her grandfather’s love for her grandmother are so touching, and the way she over hears parents discussing a serious issue, and tries to do her bit, without making them aware that she knew. I wished I could hug her then. It took me back to my childhood, and in a way prepared me for whats coming up for me.

All the characters are fantastically etched. While I loved Mayil’s character, I just adored her mum. Such a sensible, pragmatic lady, and such a role model for Mayil. I especially loved the way she parented Mayil. Sensible, gave her space and was around when she needed her. So many issues that were brought up and addressed in a wonderfully sensible way. There was no shying away from issues like gender discrimination or sex education. The book was completely devoid of gender stereotypes – loved it! Mayil, also packs in a powerful punch, and Thamarai likes dolls – and why not! The best part was that the book really does feel as if it were a diary written by a 12-13 yr old. It feels so natural, not a note out of sync.. The illustrations were super cute too.

If I have a problem with the book, its just that it ended too quickly. The book left me yearning to know what happened next 🙂 I can only hope that they come out with sequels, because, I for one, haven’t had my fill of Mayil! Probably one of the very best books I’ve read in recent times. One that both children(above the age of 10 perhaps), and grown-ups can enjoy in equal measure – that’s not easy to achieve, is it?

Just have to add -Mayil and Thamarai – such imaginative names! Can I say that I loved the book – just one more time? Can’t wait for daughter to grow up to read this book!

Return to India by Shoba Narayan

Shoba Narayan’s memoir of her family’s Return to India process, after living in the US for about 20 years. I knew I had to read to read it as soon as I came across it. To add to it, Smita, heavily recommended it on one of my posts. I just had to get hold of it.

Shoba charts her journey from the time she first started to dream about going to America. Her parents are horrified at the idea, and try everything to stop her. Fate, finally, had it’s way, and she made her way to America as a student, with stars in her eyes, all set to live the American dream.

America gave her opportunities that she had dreamed about. She had come to America to pursue a master’s degree in psychology, but ended up a full-fledged art major trying to do a master’s in sculpture, For Shoba, this was the essence of America’s opportunities.

As Shoba immersed herself in America, she also develops close friendships with her fellow Indian students as well as her American friends. Living her new life, the experiences of being a student on grant in America, studying subjects that excited her, finding funding and help in the most unexpected places, washing dishes to make some money, Shoba is content. Somewhere down the line, she gets married – a traditional, arranged marriage to Ram.

From her happy existence in America, her perspective on living in America starts changing after she became a mother. She slowly started thinking about the ‘India Question’, with more and more of her friends and people around her talking seriously about moving back to India. The country that she had fought to leave, was now, beckoning to her. The culture and society that she had once tried to avoid, was the one she started trying very hard to inculcate in her daughter. There are some hilarious episodes mentioned of how hard she tried to make her daughter ‘Indian’. She calls herself a ‘born again Hindu’, when she drags her family to the temple, she had never before visited, or tried to wear a sari the whole day, for a month, just to make it familiar to her daughter. In her own way, trying to bring India or being Indian, closer to her American born and bred daughter.

While she was passionate about moving back, her husband Ram, was more resistant to the idea. He was less bothered about the parenting worries that Shoba had. She was quite worried about how to parent her daughter, the American influences worrying her tremendously, while her husband believed that with the right values, their daughter would be fine anywhere. They had their discussions, their disagreements, and their concurrence on the ‘India Question’. Finally, after a few years, things fell into place and they did indeed move to India.

So, how did I find it? I really enjoyed her perspective on life in America(or abroad anywhere, for that matter). Her observations of how people behave, some reject India completely, while others become born again Indians. The way she herself changed after her daughter was born, is quite interesting to read. In some places cliched – just the way, we have heard of NRIs behaving, and in some places interesting.

When I started reading this, I couldn’t help wonder if I would find similarities in my situation with what she recounts, but I have to say, her situation, and her reasons for moving back were quite different, so I did not really relate to her story much. It was just reading her story than reading a story that I could totally relate to. Probably because we had not lived abroad for so long, nor had we ever planned to live abroad. Returning to India was a given for us, rather than a ‘question’. Also parenting worries of the sort she had, somehow, does not bother me. Influences of all sorts, would be there in any society, in my opinion. My daughter’s childhood cannot be exactly the same as mine, even if I went back to the town I grew up in, and did everything my parents did. But that is entirely my opinion.

An interesting read, in some places very cliched, but pacy and gripping all the same. The way her priorities changed over the years with changes in her circumstances is very interesting to read. I would recommend it to anybody who likes memoirs although I think I enjoyed her first book – Monsoon Diary more. Would I recommend it to someone who is relocating/planning to relocate to India? I don’t know. Mainly because I could not relate to it at all, but perhaps if you are in a similar situation as her’s you might relate and enjoy it much more. Other than that, as a memoir, it is an interesting read.

Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult

Just when I think, I’ve read all of her books, I come across one more that I haven’t! And there is nothing that beats that feeling! I just love her books.

Delia Hopkins is happy, living in rural New Hampshire, with her daughter and fiancee and her widowed father who brought her up all by himself. She works as a search and rescue professional, assisted by her bloodhound. She has all that she holds dear, close by her, her daughter, father Andrew, fiance, Eric and close friend, Fitz. Her happy, peaceful is suddenly shattered when police lands up at her door step. Turns out that she had been kidnapped – by her own father. Everything she believed in seems to be a farce.

All she could do was ask Eric to defend her father. As the story unfolds, it throws Delia into the deep end. Everything she believed in, is now questioned. The father who was a devoted father turns out to be a kidnapper who stole her away from her own mother. What went wrong? What made her father do this – Are questions that haunt Delia. To add to it all, the mother she believed was dead, was very much alive. The mother who had been separated from her daughter for 28 years. Now a mother herself, Delia is in a tough position, of trying to believe the best of her dad, while trying to realign herself to the new truths that she discovers.

Typical of Picoult’s writings, the book handles situations that are emotionally tough, and makes the reader wonder how they would have handled such a situation. A tale of human weaknesses and reactions and relationships. Picoult spins tales that question boundaries. How far can a parent go to protect their child? Can anything justify the step, Andrew took. The characters are well formed, and the story grips you. A typical Jodi Picoult. I would definitely recommend it to Picoult fans.

Chanakya’s Chant by Ashwin Sanghi

This book was always on my wishlist, but somehow did not get down to reading it, until I read The Krishna Key by the same author.

In 340 BC, a young man, Vishnugupta, vows to avenge his father’s death. He decides to call himself Chanakya – Chanak’s son from then on, and worked on his agenda of uniting Bharat and making it strong enough to withstand attacks from outside. He fulfils his vows by installing Changragupta Maurya on the throne of the Maurya Empire, using cunning, deceit, strategic planning and thinking ahead of his adversaries.

Centuries later, Gangadhar Mishra seems to be a kingmaker of epic fame, using tactics not dissimilar to those used by Chanakya. A small town boy, faced with financial difficulties after the death of his father, overcomes all the obstacles in his path to become the most important man in Indian politics. A kingmaker who holds all the strings, and manages to pull them perfectly to attain his goal. Uncannily similar to Chanakya, a few centuries ago.

It is a captivating story, pacy, entertaining, and revealing. The wheeling and dealing that go on behind the scenes, the games people play for power, the sacrifices, voluntary and involuntary, the cruelty, and the heartlessness with which people get to their goals. Power, the all important thing, nothing seems to be more important, lives, emotions,relationships everything seems to secondary. A story which seems to be an accurate portrayal of the political scene in modern India. What was even more fascinating was that it seems to have been true even during Chanakya’s time.

The book brought to life the political turmoil, and the personal agendas that helped establish the Mauryan Empire in India’s history, while drawing parallels in today’s political world. Far more interesting that the way we read all this in our history lessons, ages ago, I have to say.I loved the author’s storytelling style, in which he had both eras happening in simultaneously, in different threads, in every chapter.

The one thing I would have wished for, is that Chandni Gupta’s character had been better defined. While Gangasagar’s character in the book was well defined, I felt that Chandni’s was lacking. She felt a little hollow sometimes. Her motivations unclear. As if she were just a puppet with no mind of her own. Chanakya’s motivations seem to be quite clear, while Gangasagar, to me, just felt driven by power, nothing else. There was seemed nothing more important to him.

All in all, a very interesting read, and one that keeps your interest through out. And finally – what about the title – Chanakya’s chant? Well, you will have to read the book to find out. All I can say is that it is sure to be interesting. I also enjoyed it much more than The Krishna Key.

Breaking the Silence by Diane Chamberlain

Laura has just lost her dad. On his deathbed, he leaves her an intriguing message to ‘look after Sarah Tolley’, because she ‘has no family’.

Laura is puzzled by this. She has never heard of this woman. Little does she know that her father’s request was going to change her life.

Just as she is grappling to come to terms with her father’ death and his strange wish, her husband commits suicide and her 5 year old daughter, witness to her father’s suicide, stops talking. Completely. Laura, a renowned Astronomer, gives up her passion and career to help her daughter come out of her trauma. One of the things her daughter’s counsellor advises is to get in touch with her daughter’s birth dad, a person who she has met just once.

Despite her worries for her child, Laura is unable to forget Sarah Tolley. She visits Sarah in the old age facility that she lives in when she discovers that her dad had paid for Sarah to live there. Sarah is alone, nobody has ever visited her and is suffering from Alzheimer’s. She does not recognize Laura’s dad, nor does it seem likely that she and her dad might have ever met. Puzzled, Laura delves deeper into the mystery of Sarah Tolley and how her dad knows her.She comes across some shattering secrets that some people are trying very hard to keep hidden.

A wonderful book. One that refused to let me stop reading it. It keeps you hanging on, keeps you guessing and then some more. I would definitely recommend this book.