Two Books for The New Year

The Siege of Mr Kahn’s Curry Shop – by Charlie Robinson

“How do you live a life when you don’t have a past? I need to know – for me.”

I was already familiar with Charlie Robinson’s storytelling, thoroughly enjoying his sense of humour and witty writing style on his blog. I already knew he was working on his first novel – two decades in the making, as he put it. Then, once I saw the cover, the title and the synopsis, I instantly wanted to read The Siege of Mr Kahn’s Curry Shop as I had a feeling it wouldn’t disappoint.

“This is life – sometimes we make a success of things and sometimes we don’t. More often than not, we don’t, but we carry on and we need to carry on without bearing a grudge.”

Well, I was right. I may have mentioned this before, I don’t particularly enjoy writing reviews. But I will occasionally share about fellow authors from our little WP community, writers whose work I appreciate.

“He felt afraid for the first time in his life and he guessed what it could be. He was afraid that now he had her, he could lose her.”

There is a sense of honesty and realism to Charlie Robinson’s writing which, together with all the twists and turns of the plot, makes you not want to put down the book. A person can be the hero and the villain at the same time, depending on the chosen perspective, young Billy Lynch will learn to accept. Complex characters gradually reveal layers to their personality and the circumstances behind their actions and development. Whether their image changes for the better or for the worse, none of them is one-dimensional or boring.

“She hadn’t experienced this before: the fights, the never-ending confrontations between Lard and himself, the racist and homophobic violence in town on Saturday nights. He hadn’t allowed her to see his struggle, trying to bring some decency to it all. He was expecting her to have the same philosophy as he had.”

In many ways, this is a coming of age story, and many readers (such as myself) might find it relatable, even if they reached their maturity in a different decade and/or place. It’s also a good reminder that many aspects of our society – which we now take for granted – were very-very different until not that long ago.

“Billy Lynch was responsible for every bad thing that had ever happened to him.”

As I don’t want to give away any interesting plot details of Billy Lynch’s adventure, I will only add that it’s worth giving this book a chance and I’ll leave you with the author’s synopsis.

Thank you for an interesting, entertaining read, Charlie. Keep on writing! One question, though… will there be a sequel? (Hoping for a positive answer… 🙂 )

 “We can let the past rule us, or we can look to the future.”

Author’s Synopsis

Bradford in 1974.
Billy Lynch wants a better life. He also wants the truth.
Why did his father leave fourteen years ago?
Where did he go?
Why is the local drug dealer supporting a National Front march?
Does the stunning Auntie Riya really have the answers, can Billy trust her?
Billy’s love for Mr Khan’s daughter, Alina is discovered by the local skinhead leader, Lard.
This sparks a chain of disastrous events and Billy is drawn back into a past he was trying to escape. The consequences of one kiss, mean nothing will ever be the same again.

 

Just Before Sunrise – by Carol Balawyder

I’ve said this before, and I will say it again – every book by Carol Balawyder that I’ve read was a treat. Just Before Sunrise, her most recent crime novel, was no exception. The fact that it took me so long to share about it reflects poorly on my time management skills, not on the book’s merits.

“When the person you love the most in the world dies, your heart breaks from loneliness. Nothing can take away that kind of lonely.”

Regardless of the genre she chooses, Carol Balawyder is a fine observer and analyst of human nature, creating deep, complex characters struggling with life’s adversities and difficult choices. Just Before Sunrise is no exception, the compelling flow of the novel enthralling the reader.

“What it often comes down to is that these women are afraid of having to face their loneliness. They prefer to put up with the hurt and betrayal than have to live alone.”

It’s not easy to write a gripping crime story when revealing early on “who dunnit”, but Carol manages it beautifully. It’s not only about murder. It’s about everyone involved directly and indirectly – a colourful, unexpected mix of characters – about what makes them who they are, their history, traumas, hopes and feelings. So if you enjoy a good crime story, Just Before Sunrise is a captivating novel worth considering.

Author’s Synopsis

Nadine, tired of running her call-girl agency has upgraded to gold digger as she finds the perfect rich widower to marry. Discovering that her wealthy widower is an abuser she seduces his stepson, Charlie, to plot her husband’s murder.

But things don’t go as planned and soon she is turning to her experience hiring young call-girls to find the perfect girl to save her from going to prison…

Homeless Maya is drifting on the streets, grieving the recent loss of her mother.
When she is offered the opportunity to prepare a lake-side house to be used as a half-way home for delinquent girls, she doesn’t think twice.

She soon falls for Charlie, the attractive boy next door, who has a seriously dark side. She is drawn into his murderous schemes, doing anything he asks her to, risking her own safety for the promise of a future with him. When she finds herself party to murder, and she realises he is more concerned with his older female accomplice than with her, she must learn to trust her instincts and use all of her courage to get out of their trap alive.

As a subplot there is the rocky romantic relationship between an older woman and a younger man who become involved in investigating the murder for which young Maya is accused of committing.

Just Before Sunrise is a story about loss and survival. About loneliness, betrayals and deadly desires.

A Strange Kind of Serenity

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I will never bake perfect looking gingerbread. But I can bake great tasting gingerbread and, in my book, that’s more than enough. In fact, that goes for all my baking – it’s something I love doing, I’m not at all bad at it, but my baking will always have a homemade look about it. I have neither the patience to strive for an army of identically looking gingerbread figurines, nor do I have the discipline to always stick to the recipe for all my baking. Since I do understand how it works, I have fun with it, I experiment and I enjoy the slightly different results I get. That very diversity and that imperfect homemade look are perhaps what makes the entire process just right… dare I say, my own kind of “perfect”?

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Continue reading “A Strange Kind of Serenity”

Christmas… Quirkiness?

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How are you, did you have a nice Christmas (in case that’s something you celebrate) or a nice December, in general? I certainly hope so…

How about your little corner of the world, is it festively decorated? All sparkly and lit, perhaps boasting a Christmas fair or two?

It’s certainly the case in my neck of the woods… Our town was in lockdown for the entire month of December last year, so there weren’t any Christmas lights or seasonal festivities and decorations. That made sense. This December however… isn’t making that much sense. As for common sense from our local authorities… well, that’s been MIA for so long now, why should it be any different this month? “Someone” clearly felt the need to make up for last year (in more ways than one), so Christmas was going to put on a show in our town this year, at any cost… And when I heard the obscene price they decided to pay for it… never mind, I’m doing my best not to get political.

I love a nicely decorated town on Christmas. In normal years, in December I tend to take a longer route home only to enjoy the lights; and even if I’m not a big fan of Christmas fairs, I might go and take a look, enjoy the atmosphere. And we could have had all that, at much lower a cost, the rest of the money being put to much better use…

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Given the context, I didn’t feel the usual joy at the sight of brightly lit up streets and parks. I didn’t even bother to visit the Christmas fair. Not until Christmas day, that is, when I finally gave in and went for a walk in the area to take a look. Sure, all the booths were closed and I didn’t get to see it in all its disturbing glory in the early afternoon, but what a sight it was nevertheless… What else can one do but laugh, at that point? It’s either that, or pack up one’s bags and run far, far away… Continue reading “Christmas… Quirkiness?”

1 Song ‘Till Christmas

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Well, my blogging friends, have you been nice this year or perhaps more on the naughty side? Not much time left to make up for our transgressions… or is there? Personally, I believe the most we can ask for is to have someone to accept, respect and love us for who we are, warts and all… someone who doesn’t give up on us even when we’re at our lowest, someone who endeavours to point us in the right direction when we’re wrong and has the patience to let us get there on our own… someone for whom we can do the same. I hope you have such a person… I hope you are such a person for somebody… because if that’s the case, then yes, there’s still time – not everything revolves around a holiday (season) and there’s more to Christmas than unrealistic expectations, countless presents and excess of all sorts. So in case you celebrate Christmas, may you have a happy one, filled with joy, love and appreciation!

Be kind and stay safe!

December Gifts

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A blogging anniversary notification from WP, that’s yet another sign that Christmas and the end of the year are near. Thank you for sharing sharing yet another year with me, for letting me be a part of your lives and for teaching me so much about appreciation and kindness, simply by opening up and telling your stories.

My small “thank you” gift to you is the same as every year since I started this blogging journey – electronic stocking stuffers, my ebooks.

If you want a copy of Parallel LivesGlass Slippers and Stilettos, Albatross or Frames, or  perhaps you’d like to offer them to someone who might enjoy them, use the following links:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1053416

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/822554

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/645454

Feel free to download/offer as many copies as you like!

Happy reading and Happy Holidays!

Underneath the Tinsel or Making My Own Christmas Traditions – Part Three

Note: I wrote and first published this lengthy 3-part post in December 2015. I was in Madrid – as so many other times that year – and contemplating December frenzy in Spain was (much like that entire year) a special experience I will never forget. So much has changed since then… in more ways than one, I have changed too… But my core values are the same and so are my Christmas related beliefs – because many things are still the same. So this is why I chose to repost it and hopefully you’ll enjoy it. Have a decent December, everyone!

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Part One – The Illusion

Part Two – The Reality

Part Three – My Own Christmas

I didn’t know it then, but that Christmas Eve would stay with me for as long as I would have memories to hold on to… not because it was fabulous, but because it was the first time I felt and understood what it was all about – what I needed it to be all about.

It was just the three of us listening to Christmas songs and staring at the flickering lights in the Christmas tree… my Christmas tree, as I felt the need to point out several times that year. We were 16 or 17 and it was the year that my grandmother had decreed that I was too old to have a tree. Well, if I was too old for a tree, then I was certainly old enough to do things however I saw fit when it came to Christmas in general. Faced with a minor family drama and a harsh blow to her loving grandmother image, she gave in and allowed the tree. That concession, however, would cost me all my Christmas gifts, I was warned. I didn’t mind, a few pairs of socks and another ugly scarf were definitely worth giving up.

It may not have been the most beautiful Christmas tree that I ever had growing up, but to this day it remains the one I treasured the most. We were all somewhat sad and ashamed sitting around that tree, my best friend, my boyfriend and I, that year… Yet we were also so very happy, so very content, finally so very peaceful. My best friend and I had gone shopping for the tree the day before and then he helped me get it home, spending hours in the December cold and snow, trying to find the greatest one I could afford. That was as fun and pleasant as it should have been, the way both of us had forgotten it could be. Continue reading “Underneath the Tinsel or Making My Own Christmas Traditions – Part Three”

Underneath the Tinsel or Making My Own Christmas Traditions – Part Two

Note: I wrote and first published this lengthy 3-part post in December 2015. I was in Madrid – as so many other times that year – and contemplating December frenzy in Spain was (much like that entire year) a special experience I will never forget. So much has changed since then… in more ways than one, I have changed too… But my core values are the same and so are my Christmas related beliefs – because many things are still the same. So this is why I chose to repost it and hopefully you’ll enjoy it. Have a decent December, everyone!

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Part One – The Illusion

Part Two – The Reality

The choir started singing all those beautiful carols we loved. That was the best part of it and I didn’t want her to miss any of it. I’d go get her, I told my grandmother. I was handed my coat and scarf, and in a low voice I was warned there would be trouble if I caught a cold, thus ruining everybody’s holidays. I snuck out as discretely as possible, but disgruntled looks from some of the older ladies could not be avoided.

There she was, on the bench in front of the church, just where I expected to find her, smoking a cigarette. Her face was cold, sad and pale, and her fingers trembled slightly as they moved the cigarette back and forth. We could hear the choir from the bench outside the church and that’s where we stayed and listened to the carols that year. Pieces were falling into place – even if I was still very young, even if I couldn’t quite explain it, I was starting to understand why my mother didn’t want to be there in the first place and why my grandfather kept his distance, refusing to take part in that charade every Christmas. Continue reading “Underneath the Tinsel or Making My Own Christmas Traditions – Part Two”

Underneath the Tinsel or Making My Own Christmas Traditions – Part One

Note: I wrote and first published this lengthy 3-part post in December 2015. I was in Madrid – as so many other times that year – and contemplating December frenzy in Spain was (much like that entire year) a special experience I will never forget. So much has changed since then… in more ways than one, I have changed too… But my core values are the same and so are my Christmas related beliefs – because many things are still the same. So this is why I chose to repost it and hopefully you’ll enjoy it. Have a decent December, everyone!

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Part One – The Illusion

The house was filled with that delicious smell of baked goodies. Vanilla and a variety of other aromas I was too young to know or recognize conspired with my grandmother in creating that warm, heavy, divine, mouth-watering smell that could mean only one thing: Christmas was only a few days away.

It was the final element in that trilogy of olfactory sensations that I have associated with the winter holidays from a very early age. The oranges were the first harbinger of the impending festivities and as I stood by the big fruit bowl, scratching at one of them with my little nails so I could carry its perfume with me, I knew there wasn’t long to go ‘till the much expected moment.

Then came the tree. My grandfather was never too involved in all the preparations, but getting the tree was always his job and I was his trusty sidekick. It was our little tradition: we would scour all the Christmas tree markets until we found the perfect one, I would choose it and he would carry it home. I don’t know about him, but that intoxicating fir tree smell would make me completely forget about the freezing cold wind, about the icy patches on which I really needed to watch my step and about the snow, which somehow managed to find its way into my boots each and every time. The serious, respectable, stern man became a child again, analysing fir trees, laughing more than I would see him laugh during the entire year and always indulging me, all the while knowing that the one I chose would inevitably be too tall. He’d be the one severely reprimanded as soon as we got home, but little did he care. Continue reading “Underneath the Tinsel or Making My Own Christmas Traditions – Part One”

15 Songs ‘Till Christmas and Secret Santa Horrors

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Perhaps the secret to a good Santa is not only to know what to give, but also when to just give up and move on… So while I love Christmas and gift giving, I don’t really like this particular Christmas tradition. Luckily for me, I was in high school last time I had to put up with Secret Santa…

I don’t like giving gifts to or receiving them from people I don’t like. There, I said it! As a child, I’ve had mixed experiences with the dreaded Secret Santa gift exchanges – from offering the perfect present to the boy I had a crush on and then slow dancing with him at the school Christmas party in middle school (what was that if not a dream come true?) to having to give a present to the smelliest boy in the class and nearly getting slapped for it in high school.

As an adult, though, I don’t really see a point to this… Continue reading “15 Songs ‘Till Christmas and Secret Santa Horrors”

18 Songs ‘Till Christmas and A Reminder to Be Human

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One story that will always stay with me is the way someone extraordinary, a person incredibly special to me, found out there was no Santa Clause when he was a child. His out of work parents couldn’t afford to buy their children any presents, so they simply told them the truth. It was the early ‘90s and a myriad of political, economic and social changes, as well as personal choices lead to that situation. But what difference do all those reasons make to a child?… In a different part of the same town, my family (or at least my grandparents) was undergoing its own decline, but our “bad” was nowhere near theirs and so many other families’. There was a Christmas tree in our home, beautiful gifts under it, and plenty of food for all of us – enough to spare, in fact…

Some 30 years later, many things are different in our little corner of the world. And yet, disturbingly many have remained the same. In November, about a month before Christmas, World Vision Romania’s heartbreaking statistics pointed out the sad truth yet again. In rural areas, 1 out of 2 families cannot afford to buy any gifts for their children; 1 parent out of 6 has less than the equivalent of 2€ to spend on children’s gifts, and 1 out of 3, less than 10€; 7 out of 10 parents would choose to offer necessary items like clothes, shoes or school supplies instead of something which would only provide joy to a child.

Outrage was, of course, the standard reaction. Doubt and disbelief followed – that can’t possibly be true, those number must be wrong (media outlets that hyped the news and created some confusion in the way they presented everything in order to make it sound more sensational didn’t help, of course). Then a different sort of outrage was unavoidable – outrage against a useless state, outrage against unfit parents or both. Then, as everything else, it faded away, and we – especially those of us inhabiting large urban areas, went on with our lives and our own compulsive Christmas shopping. After all, how can any of that be true, when shopping centres and stores of all sorts are filled with people and merchandise flies off the shelves this time of year?

I don’t know whether the numbers are right or not; but I believe they could be, and I know there’s lots of that going on in urban areas as well. I also know that there are unfit homes and families, and the state should and could do a lot more at least for the children living in that environment, if not for the adults as well. But how does it help a child to know that their misery is a corrupt state’s fault? And yes, a Christmas tree, a toy and/or a nice meal won’t change a child’s life; but is that to say they don’t even deserve to experience at least one moment of joy, of what life should be for all children?

Like I said, financially speaking things were not always great for my family when I was a child living with my grandparents. But there was always food on the table on Christmas, there was always a tree… And every year we stuck to our little tradition, my grandmother and I – we put together a bag of clothes, shoes, toys and school supplies that I no longer needed or had outgrown and took them to a certain family in my great-grandmother’s village. Was my grandmother doing it out of the goodness of her heart? Hell no, but that’s another story; and it made no difference to those children anyway.

That’s my whole point – if we can, we should do/donate a little something to help a needy child/family, regardless of why we do it. The numbers may not be the same everywhere, but there are people in need, no matter where we live. Is it guilt, generosity, desire to show off? Who cares, as long as that decent deed is done and an innocent soul can have at least one good day a year… because yes, one good day is better than no good day at all. And here’s the thing… even if we’re not exactly well-off, even if we do work incredibly hard for what we have, but are sitting in our cosy, perhaps nicely decorated homes, behind our computers/smartphones/tablets, our belies full and our bodies warm, then we surely can spare a little something for a starving freezing child…

Stay safe, everyone, be kind and share some of the joy!

20 Songs ‘Till Christmas

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I wanted to do a December Christmas song countdown ever since I started blogging. Ideally I would have paired the songs with holiday related memories, thoughts and opinions. Perhaps I would have added photos to reflect the festive – and sometimes not so festive – mood as well… But there was never enough time and/or determination.

Well, my blogging friends, this is probably the closest I’ll ever come to accomplishing that. I’ve already shared about my love-hate relationship with the holidays, as well as the reasons behind and it and how I managed to make peace with Christmas… and with myself, regarding Christmas. Hopefully I’ll manage to share some interesting memories and thoughts this year as well, but much like when it comes to the holidays in general, I tell myself, “no pressure”… But most importantly, no over the top expectations, from myself or from others. So there will be songs, there will be photos (most of them from previous years), and occasionally there will be stories as well. Continue reading “20 Songs ‘Till Christmas”

Same Old Story

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Every picture tells a story… even the subjectively bad, uninteresting, cliché or generally “blah” ones. Every picture is a moment in time, a snippet of personal history, the relevance of which might only become clear later on. There’s also that hidden layer, one involving unknown people and who knows how many unknown experiences… Continue reading “Same Old Story”

Fall Shades #18

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I’m not sure what the story of these giant thistles (or whatever they’re called) is, but I didn’t expect to find them there. It’s not the first autumn I visit that area, but I’ve never encountered them before. While not particularly friendly in their prickly ways, they were certainly impressive, adding a wild, rugged note to the scenery. Taller than the car, taller than me, these things made for good guardians and nobody else seemed to venture close to the woods that day. Much as I tried, my photos didn’t quite manage to properly capture their size – they looked far more impressive and interesting in real life.

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Continue reading “Fall Shades #18”