Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Little Something For You

Hello everyone, long time no post (at least in blogger world). So here's a little update on where I've been. 

For the last three or so years I've been living in Houston, TX. That's right, the lone star state was my base of operations, but not my homeland. I've lived in various places throughout my life, but consider London my home now. And I've finally moved back. Hence the absence and lack of posts. But I'm back now, so expect a lot of posts shortly. 

To start off my return, I have a little something for you all- courtesy of poet and author Jac Wright. He has very kindly offered a free copy of his short story "The Closet" to the first ten people who sign up to his blog from mine. For more details check out the blog post linked here.

So now I've said it all. Book reviews will be returning very shortly and in full swing. Till then, enjoy the company of a good book.

A Giveaway to Start the Day

That's right, it's giveaway time. The very kind poet and author Jac Wright has offered a free e-book version of his short story, "The Closet", to the first ten people who sign up for his blog via this link:



are incredibly simple. This will be a first-come-first-serve competition. The first ten people who sign up at the above link, with "The closet Giveaway" in the title, will receive a free ebook version of the short story. Simple. There are no hidden costs, no strings attached. 


"The Closet" is a kind-of prequel to his upcoming, first novel "The Reckless Engineer"- a thriller about Jeremy Aiden Stone- engineer-cum-detective. "The Reckless Engineer" is scheduled for release very soon, and I will let you all know once it's out. 

There will be a review of "The Reckless Engineer" on my blog in the near future, as Jac Wright has kindly offered me an ebook ARC of it. So please do look out for that if the interest grabs you.

Back to "The Closet". It stars hotel owner Harry Duncan Wood, as he moves his family from Bath to Somerset- after falling in love with a farmhouse on the River Avon's banks. But the move starts to uncover the bare foundations of his marriage- revealing the faults and cracks. Could it be possible that his marriage wasn't as blissful as his rose-tinted glasses made it out to be?

So, what are you waiting for? As I said, a review of "The Reckless Engineer" is upcoming, as well as an author interview with the man himself. If you'd like any specific questions asked, let me know and I'll try to squeeze them in, otherwise look forward to a little Q&A.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Stories of the Iranian Revolution

First Paragraph:

“Azar sat on the corrugated iron floor of a van, huddled against the wall. The undulating street made the car sway from side to side, swinging her this way and that. With her free hand, she clasped on to something that felt like a railing. The other hand lay on her hard, bulging belly, which contracted and strained, making her breathing choppy, irregular. A heat wave of pain spouted from somewhere in her backbone and burst through her body. Azar gasped, seizing the chador wrapped around her, gripping so hard that her knuckles turned white. With every turn, she was thrashed against the walls. With every bump and pothole, her body was sent flying toward the ceiling, the child in her belly rigid, cringing. The blindfold over her eyes was damp with sweat.”

   Amazon /

Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delihani is a book that focuses on the Iranian Revolution- more specifically the years between 1983 and 2011, and the fall of the Shah, as well as the chaos that followed.


Children of the Jacaranda Tree is less of a plot based book and more a collection of intertwining, related stories. They all share the same general plot and are all part of the overall story, but the way the book is set up makes them seem more individual and personal, though this book is not a collection of short stories- as may have been implied.

Each chapter begins or continues a person or group of people’s stories. So every time a new chapter begins, a new story or a continued story is told. Within each chapter the POV switches constantly too, but it’s done pretty seamlessly (for the most part), so that it never becomes distracting or confusing. Throughout the book we hear the stories of Azar (who is a heavily pregnant woman being held in Evin Prison in Tehran, and is going into labour), Leila and Maman Zinat (a daughter and mother (respectively), looking after their relations’ children while they do their time in prison. Throughout the years, the children include Omid, Sara, Forugh, Dante, and many others who need help. All young children waiting for their parents to return- some of whom have never known their mother or father. The focus of the story varies depending on the chapter, but each character gets their own arc. Another chapter focuses on Amir- in Komiteh Moshtarak Detention Centre, Evin Prison in Tehran. He has been imprisoned for 45 days and is constantly blindfolded. His wife, Maryam, was pregnant when he was arrested. The story also follows from Maryam’s POV- ranging from the year Amir was taken (1983) to her current life in 2009. Another focuses on Donya- whose mother was imprisoned long ago, finally released and then emigrated with her daughter to America- where Donya’s been for the past 15 years. The final chapter (and alternate POV) is Neda’s story (or part of it), and is the story most similar to the author’s own (at least partly). Both were born in Tehran’s Evin Prison in 1983. 

However, the author was raised by her mother in California. Her father was imprisoned for at least seven years after she was born. She and her husband now live in Turin, Italy- another important place in this book. In fact, the entire story takes place in either Tehran or Turin.

Azar’s story is perhaps the shortest, but also the first- so one of the most impactful. Her story sets the tone for the rest of the book. When we find her she has been prison for a few months, after she and her husband, Ismael, were arrested for being political activists- protesting against the regime in 1983. Iran has been at war with Iraq for three years, and Saddam was Iraq’s leader at the time.

Her story tells of her experience with labour, childbirth and having a baby in prison. Her child brings new hope to her and the women who share her cell. Azar has no idea what is going on outside her tiny cell, or what happened to her husband, but for now she has a little piece of both of them in her hands. 

In her cell there are many other women- including Parisa (who is also pregnant and has a son waiting for her outside the prison)- Omid.

Time skips are frequent in this book, and each chapter can go either forward or backward between any year from 1983 to 2011, though usually in substantial increments. The story spans three generations of people, who are all interconnected in one way or another, sometimes in multiple ways. The chapters alternate between years and characters- with the same time period retold multiple times from different POVs. Between 1988 there is a sudden time skip to 2008, and the next generation of characters, which mostly fills in some gaps left from the previous generation’s characters, and also sets up the generation to follow.

There are a few motifs played through the book. The jacaranda tree is an obvious one, but other motifs include butterflies and pregnancy (obviously symbolic of new life while the old is taken and/or abused). Another strong theme of this book is the power of memories. That decades can pass, but the memories can still feel fresh in the mind- still have the strength to cripple you or lift you.

This book is more a story of relationships, which can make for a slow-paced book as there is little plot. It is more a story about how much a person can impact another’s life. How relationships are born through necessity or by chance, and how they last or change- regardless of whether the person is with you any longer.

In its own words, this quote from the book perfectly describes what the story consists of and is about:

“the mysterious ripples of love and pain, of breaking and blossoming, of past and future.”

There are always two sides to everything. There cannot be love without hate, or a future without a past. There are many different kinds of relationship and this book explores a lot of them. What must it be like, to be a child who is more comfortable with other women than your own mother- for her to be a stranger to you. Childrens’ relationships to one another, and how they change as they age, along with whether they grow up together or not are explored frequently in this book, along with the relationship to the women who raised them compared to those who birthed them.


The war and regime are more of a necessary plot point to place the characters in the needed conditions, as well as to immerse the reader in the truth of events. These characters and situations may be fictional, but they most likely happened. There were thousands of people killed or hurt during their protests of the regime- the regime that was meant to free them all from the the fallen Shah. In 1988, 4000-5000 young men and women were executed in the months of July and August. The committee interviewed all political prisoners and ordered executions of those deemed “unrepentant.” Twenty years later, and the next generation is still suffering the country’s rule, but in different ways, and the opposing side are more open- killing on the streets instead of behind the walls of a prison.

During the chaos surrounding the demonstrations and loss of the country’s leader, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein decided to take advantage of the disruption that followed the wake of the Revolution by invading territories previously taken by Iraq during the Shah’s rule. In 1980, Iraq invaded Iran, starting the Iran-Iraq War, which the Iranian Regime used as an excuse to execute many of it’s own people. By 1982, the Iranian forces had managed to drive out the Iraqi army. In 1987, Iran tried to close the Persian Gulf- thereby stopping oil flow to Iraq, after almost seven years at war with the country. In 1988, Khomeini accepted a truce created by the UN, and the war ended. Iranian casualties were estimated to be between 500,000 and 1,000,000. Following the war, President Rafsanjani concentrated on keeping to the ideology of the regime, while trying to rebuild the country. He served until 1997, when Khatami took over. Khatami is not generally thought to have been successful in freeing his country. In 2005, presidential elections brought Ahmadinejad to power. He was again voted in 2009, winning over Mousavi- though there were conspiracy theories that provoked the 2009-2010 Iranian election protests in (not just Iran), but many major capitals in the West too.

Out of all the different stories told, I think Amir’s is my favourite. It is easily the darkest, and most chilling, but it’s also very endearing in terms of Amir himself- which is why it affected me the most. I cared for all the characters, but his story resonated most with me for being short, but effective. 

All the stories are dark (as can be expected), but quite how much varies on the story. Some are simply tinted with dark memories or fears, while others are seeped in it- the inescapable fate.

This is a book that ends on a slightly hopeful note, that describes the power of memories, relationships and cleansing- revealing everything to the people that matter, that need to know, rather than keeping it inside and letting it fester- to slowly eat away at you.

A well-rounded story, filled with as much love and comfort, as it is hate, fear and hurt. With as much joy and new life, as pain and loss. It’s not necessarily a powerful story- despite it’s subject material- but it is a real one. It is based on fact and spreading the word goes a long way to helping end the issues. I wasn’t as deeply moved by the story as I thought I would be, but I did enjoy the book. It may be that the switching chapters/POVs makes it hard to not distance yourself when the book already does that. Some of the characters are mentioned in others’ stories, but then it feels distanced, rather than if we followed one or a couple people’s stories, but were with them for longer. There are so many characters in this book that, it’s not so much that it doesn’t work (as all their stories are interesting), but that the emotion is filtered too much. With so many people to care about, feeling so many different things at one time (thanks to the time skips), the characters go from extreme loss to falling in love, to the happiness of a well loved child, to rekindled relationships in a short time span. It’s a little like an emotional rollercoaster- with so many ups and downs going by so quickly that you don’t really have time to immerse yourself completely in any of them.

However, I did like this book. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I loved it, but I would read it again, and I would recommend it, so clearly there is enough to be gotten out of it (in my opinion) to take the time to read it.

Disclaimer: I received this book through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

Kindle, Kindle, Kindle. You're On Fire

For all book lovers who prefer e-book format, I have a special offer for you. Right now Amazon is offering the Kindle Fire at a discounted rate. If you've been thinking about getting one, now is the time. To check out the deal, just click on the image below, and voila! Instant Amazon Kindle page. Or you could open a new browser window, go to Amazon and find the page you want, but who has time for that, right?


And if you'd like some new e-reads, check out the Kindle Summer Sale

Enjoy your reading!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Doppelgangers, Disappearing Bodies and the Missing Monet


First Paragraph"The woman with long red hair appeared to be leisurely browsing one of the clothing racks in the Paris boutique, but her attention was less focused on the fabric and cut of the dresses than on the art gallery visible through the shop's front window. When a couple, obviously tourists- easily identifiable because of their camera case, sensible tennis shoes, and bright jackets- exited the gallery and wandered away to explore more of the Seventh Arrondissement, the woman abandoned the boutique and quickly crossed the narrow Rue Andre to the arched doorway under five stories of iron balconies."

   Amazon /

Deceptive by Sara Rosett is the third (and final?) book in the On the Run Trilogy (possibly series).


Beware: spoilers of the first two books, Elusive and Secretive, beyond here. You can check out my reviews of those two books here and here, respectively. Final warning.

A few months after the events of the last book, and almost a year since those in the first, Zoe and Jack are back in hot water. At the end of the last book, Anna had devised a scheme using the painting she stole from Costa. All these months later, she's finally putting it into play.

Disguising herself as Zoe, she is selling the painting in Paris. What makes the plan so perfect is that Costa set it up for Zoe and Jack to take the fall too. He created an account with the stolen GRS money that was the plot for the last two books, labelling Zoe as the owner of the account. 

Meanwhile, unaware of the events taking place, Zoe is getting used to having Jack back in her home and her life. Jack's made it very clear he wants to try getting back together-taking it slow this time, so as not to make the same mistakes as before. But Zoe isn't sure that's what she wants. She can't deny the attraction, but she's wary after how their marriage fell apart. They worked well together on the run, but there's a big difference between being a 'couple under pressure' and a real-life couple, capable of handling even the mundane together.

All this is put to the back of her mind when she discovers the body of her occasional client, Lucinda. All she wanted to do was deliver the flyers ordered, but a note on the front door leads her to the garden, and the corpse with a knife in it's back- casually reclining on the chaise lounge. While trying to summon the courage to (unnecessarily) check for a pulse, she's knocked out by an unseen assailant- coming to in her car half an hour later. She immediately calls the police, but when they go to check the 'scene of the crime' all evidence Lucinda was ever there is gone. No flyers (which Zoe had dropped everywhere), no knife and no bloody Lucinda. Not even one drop of blood on the chaise lounge.

When the police check with Lucinda's office, they tell her that Lucinda left on holiday the day before. Thoroughly confused, and facing chargers for wasting police time, Zoe explains the situation to Jack on the way home, but they're stopped short when they see 'Green Lawn Care' vans parked outside their house, with a strange man waiting for them- holding the missing flyers Zoe dropped at Lucinda's.

Long story short, the man is Oscar. He works for Darius Gray, who believes they have something that belongs to him- the stolen painting. When they try to explain that Anna stole it in Germany, Oscar isn't having any of it. He doesn't care who has it, he only cares about getting it back- and has tasked Zoe with the job. Gray found the money trail leading to her, so she has to get it. 

They know the missing painting is valuable, but not just how valuable it is until Oscar lets slip that it's the missing Monet painting 'Marine', that was stolen from a museum in Rio de Janeiro in 2006. And either they get it back to Gray in three days, or he will pile up the evidence that Zoe killed Lucinda- helpfully pointing out that her body is buried in Zoe's flowerbed- courtesy of 'Green Lawn Care'. That and he'll kill all her friends and family. If they succeed, Gray will forget it ever happened, destroy all evidence of the murder, and leave Zoe and Co alone. With little choice, Zoe and Jack are off on another adventure.

Her first instinct is to call Mort from the FBI- not knowing that he retired in the last book. When that fails, she decides to go it alone (with Jack of course), as she doesn't think the rest of the FBI will believe her story.

Meanwhile, Sato is getting used to his new partner and missing his old one. However, when they finally discover the money trail leading to Zoe and the painting, the new boy may be Zoe's saviour, as he believes the pieces fall into place a little too easily.

No possibility of questioning Zoe though, as she and Jack are off to Paris, following the only lead they have- Anna.


More travelling and espionage for the duo. This time through France and Italy, but the main focus of the story is the complicated relationship between Zoe and Jack. He wants to make it work, but she's afraid it can't- considering how badly their marriage went. There were many reasons it didn't last, and the air has to be cleared before they can ever have a second chance at working.

Because the focus is mainly on them, this book has a slower pace than the last- very hectic- two. They do have a very short, definite deadline here, but there's less travelling and hiding from the law to add tension.

The ending is suitably genre-savvy, full of warm fuzzes and dramatic revealing of emotions. Mostly, this book is a wrap-up to complete the series. The ending is still open to additions, and Zoe is awfully good at attracting unwanted attention, so though the trilogy has ended, the duo may return for further adventures. As I said, this is just a wrap-up mainly, with even Sato getting his own very mini arc. There are a a few tiny threads left dangling, but nothing important or overly relevant.

By now you know what to expect plot-wise, assuming you've read the first two. If I had to add a criticism, it would be the villain. In the previous books, the villains were threatening and intimidating, as well as being major parts in the stories. In this one, while the villain is named, he is only in the book for a few pages at the end, and certainly never seemed that dangerous- despite the threats and obvious capabilities. 

On a small side note, the missing Monet painting is based on fact. The painting was stolen from the Chacara do Ceu Museum in 2006 in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival. Other pieces were stolen along with it, by artists such as Picasso, Dali and Matisse.

In terms of ending the series, this one doesn't end the usual way- with a big finale. As I mentioned before, it wraps everything up, focusing more on conclusions that attention-grabbing. Both methods works- as long as they are done well, so no complaint from me with this ending.

Overall a fun series, not necessarily suspense- more of a cozy mystery- based on fraud more than murder. There may be 'bad', but it's more shenanigans than danger. Mystery with pleasantness.

In terms of the book alone, this was my least favourite of the series, but that by no means means it's bad, just that the others are better- in my opinion any way. They had more tension and more energy. If they're an all out sprint, this one is more of an amble.

In terms of the series as a whole, I would give it 4 stars. It was enjoyable, had entertaining characters and beautiful scenery- even if the plots started to become a little far-fetched as the series progressed. A perfect read for when you want something fun and quick, and don't want anything too serious.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

And The Winner Is...(August 2013)

So begins a new month- which of course means it's time for another instalment of And The Winner Is here on Need to Read. This month I had less titles to pick from, due to the fact that I'm moving and have had less time to read, but there was still more than enough to choose from for me.

I'm going to stick with the same setting as last month and pick my top favourite book from August. So without further ado, here it is:

Ostrich by Matt Greene: Review here

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's the story of Alex and the way he perceives the world around him- from the insignificant to the life-changing, Alex tells all with a dry wit and a loveable character. The book covers many issues that people face today, as well as the way they affect those who experience them. It takes a little while to get into the book, and it's a story you'll either love or hate, especially as the ending is a little confusingly ambiguous. I'm firmly in the 'love it' camp, confusing ending and all. A refreshingly blunt book, told through the eyes of an 'almost thirteen' year-old boy with a brain tumour.