Review: Em and the Big Hoom || Jerry Pinto

Author: Jerry Pinto
Genre: Contemporary/Literary fiction
No. of Pages: 240
Publisher/Imprint: Aleph book company
Published on: February 12, 2013
My Rating : ★★★★★/5 (5)
Format in which I read: Paperback

Set in Bombay during the last decades of the twentieth century, Em and The Big Hoom tells the compelling story of the Mendeses mother, father, daughter and son. Between Em, the beedi – smoking, hyperactive mother, driven frequently to hospital by her mania and failed suicide attempts, and The Big Hoom, the rock-solid, dependable father, trying to hold things together as best he can, they are an extraordinary family.

Filled with endearing and eccentric characters, and marked by sparkling dialogue and restrained emotion, this is one of the most powerful and moving novels to be published in India in a long time. 

Review

If I had to describe this book in the barest sense, I’d say this is an account of the life of a family where the lady of the household is severely mentally ill, presented through lush writing, which is a delight to read; but then I wouldn’t be doing justice to the book by saying just that because Em and the Big Hoom was so much more.

Narrated through the eyes of the son who remains unnamed, this account comprises, not just of his own memories and experiences with Imelda aka Em but we also get glimpses of Em and Augustine – The Big Hoom’s life before they were married and before she was afflicted by her illness (which is not pinpointed but rather hinted at to be a cocktail of post-partum depression/manic depression/Bipolar disorder and/or schizophrenia). Letting the reader in on Em’s past was a brilliant touch, because the Em we get to see in the present is depressed, suicidal, manic, witty in a caustic, corrosive way, mean, and just plain nasty. She swears in front her children, she says the damndest things, things you wouldn’t expect to hear from a middle-aged, Roman Catholic mother of two. You don’t know which part of it is her and which part is her illness. I thought the fact that we see the narrator also struggling to differentiate his mother from her illness at several instances was important.


“Victories evanesce quickly enough. Failure hangs around you like a cloak and everyone is kind and pretends not to see it.
Not Em.”

In fact, this entire book is his pursuit to unravel the mystery that is Em. He tries to talk to her about her past, scrambles to find any writings he could find from that time: her annotations in old books, her diary entries, her letters to various people including Augustine aka The Big Hoom…He never stops searching for the woman whom she was before the illness struck and also the triggers that could have possibly caused her illness to strike. Then again, mental illness is not such a cut and dry thing, is it? It does not manifest itself suddenly like….I don’t know, the common cold. The narrator would learn that the hard way.


“I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to deal with the world. It seemed too big and demanding and there wasn’t a fixed syllabus.”

Em and Augustine may be the titular characters but the narrative also offers a peek into how an average middle class Roman Catholic family lived in Bombay in the late-20th century. There were glimpses of how the typical Goan RC society operated at that time, which was entirely new to me; I found that part of it refreshing. I think in almost all the books I’ve read with mental illness at its core, the story was narrated through the affected person themselves. Never have I ever read an outside perspective on how it is to live with someone who is affected, and how damaging it can be when the said person is your own mother. Although the narrator spends much time trying to explore Em’s past and connect the dots to her present, we also get to see his own insecurities, rage, grief, and anxieties. Not just that, we also get snatches of his sister Susan, and the father The Big Hoom’s personalities. Despite the limited scope of the first-person POV and the small size of the book, I felt like the characters we were presented with were well-rounded. Kudos to Jerry Pinto for pulling that off.


“There was something capricious about God. How could one expect perfect submission from those who are imperfect? How could one create desire and then expect everyone to pull the plug on it? And if God were capricious, then God was imperfect. If God were imperfect, God was not God.”

The writing itself deserves a special mention: I can’t remember the last time I highlighted so many lines in a book! It was lush, lyrical, beautiful, real, and just absolute delight of a prose. It kept me turning the pages, ravenous for more. The narrator is one of most relatable and real characters I’ve read in the recent times. Notably, I also found some of Em’s ravings….I mean, opinions highly relatable. I’ll let you be the judge of what to make of that. 😀


“I didn’t go to bookshops to buy. That’s a little bourgeois. I went because they were civilized places. It made me happy there were people who sat down and wrote and wrote and wrote and there were other people who devoted their lives to making those words into books. It was lovely. Like standing in the middle of civilization.”

A word of caution, this book contains some mildly graphic details of Em’s suicide attempts.

As of now, I’m unable to think of anything that I didn’t like about the book, so I’m giving it 5 stars. If you’ve read this and felt differently about it, I’d love to discuss! 🙂

~Mathangi.

My Year in Books: 2018 edition

Another year gone by so fast it could have overtaken the Flash! (and the award for the worst blog opening line ever goes to….me *facepalm* )

No matter how fast or slow years go, I do my thing at the same speed. 😀 As if to prove that, I was able to read only 51 books in 2018. When I look back at them, I’ve read many books that I’ve always wanted to and found some favorites. I surely think I could have read more had I reduced my time on social media. Something to work on in 2019, eh? Continuing the tradition from 2017, I’m adding my reading highlights for 2018 too!


TOTALS
I read 13,591 pages across 51 books

 SHORTEST BOOK
12 pages
Marvel’s Jessica Jones
by Brian Michael Bendis
My Rating: 3 Stars.
This little comic will help you get a head start into the world of Jessica Jones but does little else. I’d suggest you read this and watch the TV series to get a better idea as to who Jessica is and what she does.

LONGEST BOOK
539 pages
Journey Under the Midnight Sun
by Keigo Higashino
My Rating: 4 Stars.
I loved this book! See my full review here

My most popular read turned out to be Mockingjay – well, I’m glad I finished it this year because I had DNF’d this book in 2017 and I really didn’t want to leave the series unfinished. After all, I had loved the first two books!

I finally read The Hate U Give this year! I didn’t enjoy it as much as others have, but I’m glad I finally read it.
Looks like my average rating for 2018 is the same as 2017. 😐 I don’t know why it never goes beyond 3.6, at this rate my goodreads average rating will never improve.

There you have it. That was my highlights. I’ll add the full list below, it’s not very long. 🙂

I hope you had a really good reading year too! Happy New Year 2019! 🙂

~ Mathangi.

Review: Newcomer || Keigo Higashino

Author: Keigo Higashino
Genre: Detective fiction/Mystery
No. of Pages: 320
Publisher/Imprint: Minotaur Books
Published on: November 20, 2018
My Rating : ★★★★.5/5 (4.5)
Format in which I read: Kindle - Netgalley copy
synopsis

Detective Kyoichiro Kaga of the Tokyo Police Department has just been transferred to a new precinct in the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo. Newly arrived, but with a great deal of experience, Kaga is promptly assigned to the team investigating the murder of a woman. But the more he investigates, the greater number of potential suspects emerges. It isn’t long before it seems nearly all the people living and working in the business district of Nihonbashi have a motive for murder. To prevent the murderer from eluding justice, Kaga must unravel all the secrets surrounding a complicated life. Buried somewhere in the woman’s past, in her family history, and the last few days of her life is the clue that will lead to the murderer.

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Here’s the thing, I like mysteries.I like books with complex, confusing mysteries that challenge your brain and I like books with cold-blooded psychopaths too, but what I love are books that touch both your heart and brain. That’s where Keigo Higashino shines. Not only does he give you the technical, sometimes even scientific details of the crimes, but he also gives you a peek, a perspective into the psyche of the killer. The best part is, his perpetrators are not serial killers with nefarious schemes and bizarre reasons but are normal, everyday people like you and me. Most of the time, the murders are not even pre-meditated. You either end up feeling bad for the killer or learn something about the victim that gives a whole new outlook to the crime.I suppose that explains why I hunted down every single translated book of his available and devoured them without ado. 😀 The first book I read (and loved) was Malice, which was, incidentally, also a Kyoichiro Kaga mystery.

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So, last year when I saw that Newcomer was coming out in 2018, I literally jumped for joy. And when Netgalley approved my review request? I swear, a part of my soul left my body and reached heaven…

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Coming back to the book, Newcomer is written in typical Higashino style, focusing on the characters rather than the crime itself. I understand a lot of Asian crime literature has a reputation for being dark but Higashino’s crime fiction breaks that stereotype refreshingly.
He takes us to the heart of the story and the characters involved without indulging in the grisly details of the crime itself. He makes sure we get closure, of course, but along the way, we learn also something about human nature.

Newcomer is divided into 9 chapters, each one dedicated to a set of characters who are seemingly unconnected to the crime, but they all live in and around the area where the murder takes place. The book follows Kaga, who’s been recently transferred to Nihonbashi, while he goes around the area, investigating these people and uncovers little details about their everyday routine, their afflictions, their way of life, etc. His investigation method is almost Sherlockian in nature and I loved how even insignificant details started making sense when pieced together.I compare Kaga to Holmes but unlike Conan Doyle, Higashino loves his character and it shows; because in my opinion, Newcomer is more about Kaga than the crime itself. Not just about his detective prowess, but his compassionate approach to crime solving and how he looks at the big picture – at all the people involved, instead of just considering the crime as a puzzle to be solved or mere police duty.

Why do I think that? because the murder itself was quite a simple one. It isn’t hard to guess who the killer or what the motive might be if one followed the crumbs the author has dropped throughout the book. That isn’t the case in many of Higashino’s mysteries: he likes to keep us guessing until the end, either about the motive or how the crime was done. I didn’t sense much of that in this book. Hey, I’m not complaining because I loved every minute of it!

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There wasn’t much I didn’t like about the book, except for the use of archaic idioms like ‘bygones be bygones’ that popped up every now and then. Really, no one talks like that anymore! I swear I got flashbacks to my middle school English classes every time I saw one of those. I guess this is more of a note to the translator than the author – and maybe I’m being nit-picky here, but I feel little things like this are very avoidable and looking into it will definitely improve the readability and flow of the book as a whole. Other than that, the book was crisp and paced well enough to keep me turning the pages.One other thing that bothered me was the way Kaga disclosed details of the crime to the people he investigates. It is justified in the book but even then I don’t think that’s acceptable somehow?!

That brings me to this: WHY was Kaga demoted to a smaller precinct? because last I remember from Malice, he was kicking ass in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police department, had a sharp side-kick with whom he could discuss the case-related details. There’s an off-handed mention about a case that got him demoted but I’m bursting out of my skin to know all the details!!

Sigh, this is what happens when there are like 10 books in a series and only two get translated and those two are not even consecutive books! Am I gonna have to learn Japanese just to know what happened? 😦 So. Many. Questions. This book has left me yearning for more Kaga mysteries or just about any new Higashino book. Wouldn’t be amiss to say Kaga has cemented himself as one of my favourite fictional detectives. 🙂

My verdict? Newcomer is a must read if you like mysteries with smart, suave detectives, without much graphic crime sequences.

The book fairies at St. Martin’s Press have all my thanks and love for allowing me to read this book via Netgalley. :’)blog divider 3

~ Mathangi.

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Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Author: Balli Kaur Jaswal
Genre: Contemporary fiction
No. of Pages: 304
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published on: June 13, 2017
My Rating: ★★★★ / 5

A lively, sexy, and thought-provoking East-meets-West story about community, friendship, and women’s lives at all ages—a spicy and alluring mix of Together Tea and Calendar Girls.

Every woman has a secret life . . .

Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a “creative writing” course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community.

Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind.

As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s “moral police.” But when the widows’ gossip offers shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.

What is the image you get in your head when you see a widow, regardless of their age? (specifically in the Indian society) Motherly? Mature?

Have you spared a moment think about how there’s more to them than the title they’ve been branded with? I have to confess, I hadn’t thought about this deeply until I read this book.

Is it fair to boil down someone’s worth in the society based on whether or not their husband is alive?

Why do we erase a woman’s thoughts, desires, opinions and make them pretty much an outcast in the society just because their husband is dead?

Are we still congratulating ourselves on not making women perform Sati and letting them live? That was 200 years ago. Shouldn’t we be doing better now?

These are some of the thoughts I had after reading Erotic Stories by Punjabi Widows written by Balli Kaur Jaswal.

This book follows the Punjabi community, particularly, the Punjabi women, settled in Southall, London. It discusses serious topics such as child marriage, arranged marriage, life within a conservative community, also taboo topics such as female sexuality, and domestic violence. What I liked it how the author has masterfully entwined the taboo topics into her story in a way it feels utterly natural and never once forced. The narration is absorbing and the story takes an unexpected dark turn with a little mystery around one of the families. I will say no more for fear of spoiling.

Picture of a Kindle with the book cover displayed on it, with a dark blue dupatta and a pair of earrings placed around the Kindle.


Despite the teasing title, I went into the book knowing it wasn’t all erotic stories but my expectations were pretty low, so the book surprised me by being so much more than I expected. But wait, it’s not all serious all the time! The title is not a false promise by any measure, this book does include a few tasteful, short desi erotic stories so you wouldn’t be disappointed if that’s what you expected😁 Although, you could skip those if you’re not comfortable, as they don’t really add much to the plot.


This wasn’t a perfect 5 star read for me because the MC, who is also the POV character throughout the book, annoyed me for some reason. She came across as someone who is judgmental about everyone whose world view does not match with hers. All the other women in the book were so good, I enjoyed reading about them very much indeed!
They had their quirks and strengths. There’s something to learn from each one of them.

I’d definitely recommend this one to readers looking for a diverse, contemporary, ownvoices book. 😊

Happy Reading!

~ Mathangi.

Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian || Sherman Alexie

Author : Sherman Alexie
Genre : YA
No. of Pages : 230
Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Published on: September 12th, 2007
My Rating : ★★★★ / 5

synopsis

Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live. (bleh, don’t you just hate it when the blurb tries to sound like a review? Leave that to the readers, I say)

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This book was an unexpectedly enjoyable read for me. Unexpected because a) I know absolutely nothing about the Native Americans, so I had no idea what to expect. b) this book was banned for its sexual content and language in America so naturally, I had to be wary.

This book has no fixed plot; it follows the life of a Spokane Indian boy Arnold Spirit aka Junior who was born with a congenital brain condition which alters his appearance (he has a bigger head and feet than the average kid) drawing ridicule from his schoolmates and people in his own reservation. What Arnold wants the most is get out of his reservation and go to another school which happens to be an all-white school so he is forced to get head-on with racial hatred every single day. This book talks candidly about alcoholism and extreme poverty in the Native American community. It talks about racism in such an open way only a 15-year-old boy could. Such serious topics are handled in a heart-warming, funny way and the reading experience is enhanced by the little cartoons drawn by Arnold that appear throughout the book. I found Arnold’s voice relatable despite our cultural differences and him being a decade younger than me.

The world, even the smallest parts of it, is filled with things you don’t know.

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There wasn’t much I didn’t like, except that through Arnold’s narration, the book read more like an MG book than a YA one. I wonder if that’s why the language got called ‘explicit’? 😀 there was nothing so explicit about it if you ask me. YA readers would know how YA protagonists get way more action these days 😂

One more thing, I feel like the topics dealt with in this book were moving and powerful, however, the characters didn’t leave a lingering impression on me. I can’t really put a finger on why.

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Now, one can’t really talk about this book without talking about the author Sherman Alexie who is a known sexual offender. Like Shruti @thisislitblog queries, is it okay to like the work of a despicable human like him? can we separate the art from the artist?

I’m going to swallow my guilt and say yes. I used to believe a writer’s work is an extension of their true selves; this may be true in some cases but it’s also a severely flawed logic. because by that logic, writers who write crime novels and abhorrent serial killer characters are secretly psychopaths (I know…it is not a pleasant thought) so this time I’m going to allow myself to like this book but I’m not likely to read any backlist or frontlist books of this author’s and support him.

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I read this book as a part of the Banned Book Club which is a meme hosted by Shruti @thisislitblog where we read one historically challenged book a month. We support free speech and fight censorship every chance we get. Join our Goodreads group and get in touch with Shruti if you would like to join our Twitter group chat!

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~Mathangi.

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Book haul: Giggles – Biggest Little Bookshop, Chennai

“Book Haul? Not againnn!” you might think, Reader. but deep down, you know how we are. I visited a book shop, so how could I not buy books? Would it ease my guilt if I call this my birthday present to myself? Questions…questions… but what’s done is done. Enough about myself, I’m here to tell you about this classic Indie book store that I visited recently. Giggles – Biggest little bookshop is located just behind Spencer Plaza, in the premises of Vivanta by Taj which is undergoing renovation presently so I had to step around rubble and debris to get to the bookshop.

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Did you know Giggles has been around for 43 years? How it has escaped my knowledge all these days, I will never know. I got to know about the shop through Instagram, found some news articles after digging around and have been wanting to visit ever since. The bookshop is run by Ms. Nalini Chettur with whom I had a chat couple of times over the phone before actually visiting the shop – she was an inquisitive, well-read, gracious lady. She already started referring to me as ‘customer’ even before I visited the shop for the first time. 😀

When I finally got round to visiting, I found that, although it was a small space, Giggles houses so many new Indian titles that I have not come across even on Bookstagram or the blogosphere yet. Unlike big bookshops that display only the fast/best selling titles, Giggles has a handpicked collection that is sure to tempt even the casual browser into buying a few (ask me how I ended up buying 5 books 😂) Ms. Chettur quizzes you about your taste in books and then suggests you books accordingly. Her lifelong passion for books shines through when she talks.

I even got to meet one of the regulars at the bookshop – Nanditha, who handles the Facebook page of Giggles. When Nanditha mentioned this book  – Kwaidan by Lafcadio Hearn, a collection of ghost stories based on Japanese lore, I expressed interest in buying it. Giggles did not have a copy of the book but Ms. Chettur contacted the nearest distributor and made sure I had a copy in hand within 20 minutes just so I don’t have to make another trip for this one book! Color me impressed! ☺️ Suffice to say, I spent a happy evening browsing through the dusty bookshelves and chatting about books.

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I bought these wonderful titles that I’m really excited to read (while I pretend my TBR’s not already overflowing with unread books)

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I was sad to learn that they might close up shop soon due to issues with space and even if they move to a different venue, Ms. Chettur may not be able to run the shop single-handedly anymore. As much as I would like the shop to keep going, can’t help but feel like the spirit of Giggles might be lost if someone else takes over…

However, pulling down of the shutters is not imminent so you should definitely visit this store if you’re in Chennai and up for discussing/discovering books over some chai. I understand they have plans to hold some book exhibitions soon, do keep an eye on Giggles’ social media pages listed below for more information on the same.

Pro tip: Make sure you call ahead before visiting, they are open only for a few hours in the afternoons and closed on Sundays -> you can find Nalini Chettur’s mobile no on their facebook page.

Giggles’ social media: Instagram page || Facebook page

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Have you chanced upon any interesting meetings/conversations at book stores? I’d LOVE to hear! Do share in the comments. 🙂

Happy Reading!

~ Mathangi

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Review: Happily || Chauncey Rogers

Author : Chauncey Rogers
Genre : MG / YA Fairy-tale retelling
No. of Pages : 299
Publisher : Independently published
Published on: April 3, 2018
My Rating : ★★★★ / 5

synopsis

If the shoe fits, wear it.
If it doesn’t, 
make it.

Laure is a teenage street urchin just trying to get away. Where the rest of the world sees an enchanting love story, Laure sees royal incompetence and an opportunity to exploit it. She’ll have wealth and a way out of a life she detests if she can only manage to hoodwink the royal family and survive to tell the tale.

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I’ll be honest, I was a little skeptical when I first saw that HAPPILY is YET another Cinderella retelling. I had felt the same way about Geekerella which I read last year, and it had pleasantly surprised me (← sly plug of my review) Now, history has repeated itself with this book. While Geekerella is a straightforward modern retelling, Happily by Chauncey Rogers is an entirely fresh take with original characters.

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When it’s announced that ANYONE who fits into the glass shoes can marry the prince, surely the ugly stepsisters couldn’t be the only ones scheming, in the ENTIRE kingdom?

That’s where our protagonist Laure comes in. Laure is a poor street urchin living off whatever she steals on that day and she realises that the simple task of getting into those shoes can be her ticket out of poverty, and hopefully this kingdom that she hates so much. She decides to grab the chance by any means. Life is not so simple and straightforward of course. Luc, a poor, young merchant, is out for Laure looking for revenge for upsetting his business (…his cart. read the book, you’ll know what I mean 😀 ) and thereby leaving his family hungry. Our girl Laure is smart, she convinces him to team up with her and help her fit into the glass slipper and and get to the throne so that both of them get what they want. This sets off an entertaining chain of (mis)adventures involving looted riches, bandits, fights, a rival kingdom and much more! I enjoyed Laure’s biting snark and her cynical world view. Luc, in contrast, was a friendly, warm, precious bean who could bring upon a change of heart on someone like Laure even.

Has it ever bothered you that, in the original fairy tale, the prince could have just identified the girl he danced with by her face rather than her foot size? yeah, that little plot hole is tied up in this book, I really liked that. 😀

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There wasn’t much I didn’t like about the book but while it was nice to read about the kingdom and its quaint markets, the horse carriages, its merchants, the palace etc, I didn’t really get a “feel” of it, you know what I mean? I wasn’t really “transported” to Éclatant. Other than that, the setting of a kingdom struggling under an incompetent king was perfect for the story.

If I had to be reaaaally unfair, I’d say this: the ending was too perfect, too happy for me. I know…that’s a new low, even for me especially seeing how it’s a fairytale retelling and the book is titled Happily for Hades’ sake. It’s not the book ok? it’s just me that’s a sucker for heart breaks and tragic endings.

If you like your heart getting all gooey and hot chocolate-warm, you should definitely read this book. Like I mentioned earlier, Happily is a wonderfully fresh take on Cinderella with a generous dash of originality.

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Thank a tonne to the author for entrusting me with a copy of his book for my honest opinion.

Happily releases on April 3, 2018 (one day before my birthday, just saying 😀 )

You can buy the book on Amazon here — Happily By Chauncey Rogers (this is not an affiliate link)

About The Author:

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Chauncey Rogers was born in Arizona, and since then has hopped back and forth between the mid-western and western United States. He married in 2012 while attending school in Utah. His favorite movie since he was three is Jurassic Park, and he wishes very badly that Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster were real, though he doesn’t believe in them as much as he used to.
In March 2017, he published his first novel, Home To Roost. In October 2017, he published Cleaving Souls.
He currently lives in Kansas City with his wife and two children.
Author website: http://chaunceyrogers.com
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Does this book sound like something you would like to check out?
Do let me know in the comments! 🙂
~ Mathangi
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