Tag: bookblog

Book Review: A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry).

A Fine Balance

-Rohinton Mistry.


A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is set in an unnamed city of India during the period of The Emergency (1975 – 1976). This is the first novel by Rohinton Mistry that I have read. It is a long novel and complicated in terms of its plot, so I don’t think I will be able to summarize it here properly. I’ll try my best to explain the story.

The story focuses on four main characters – Dina, Ishwar, and Omprakash, who are uncle and nephew, and Maneck. The four characters come from different social settings. Dina was born in a well to do family, but after her father’s death, her older mother took her in because her mother was unable to provide for her. Dina’s older brother mistreated her regularly treating her like a burden. She rebels against him when she marries Rustom Dalal and they are happy together until Rustom dies in a car crash three years later.


Dina is determined and spirited enough to fight against the odds. This time she doesn’t want to be a burden to anyone and make her own way by starting her tailoring business. Ishwar and Omprakash are the tailors Dina hires to work for since her eyesight isn’t the best. Ishwar and Omprakash have fled their village to escape from caste violence against them. They want a fresh start in the city, and they get jobs as tailors for Dina. Surprisingly, they meet Maneck, a student from an idyllic hill station who rents a room as a boarder at Dina’s house later on. Maneck’s friend disappeared without a trace which still weighs on him and is the reason he moves away from his college campus housing. Their lives converge with each other, and in times of unrest, they form a solid understanding among each other.

A Fine Balance can’t exactly be classified as a political novel, but the Emergency period setting makes in an underlying theme. The characters come from different backgrounds so, the experience of each of them during this time differs from one another. This gave an insight into a period of unrest and crises from four perspectives which make the story is so realistic. Rohinton Mistry’s writing perfectly captures the essence of Indian culture in terms of his descriptions, and it transports you to those places and time. It touches on practices like the sterilizations, mass detentions, caste, and religious discriminations which were carried out during this time regularly.


The story takes a much darker turn and the true extent of the Government’s practices are exposed. It is hard to read through those parts. The freedoms citizens get that we take for granted; the story shows how horrific and anarchic it can get if these rights are taken away. For each character, the effect of the Emergency varies. Ishwar and Omprakash live in slums which are targeted areas for sterilization and labor camps. It is eluded that Maneck’s friend was an activist, and he was detained by the Government because he opposed, and nothing was heard of him again. Dina’s landlord constantly threatens her with eviction using thugs to do his dirty work.


I was unaware of the intensity and the extent of the effects on people’s lives at this time in the history of the country. The story is grounded, and at any point, doesn’t seem forced or unrealistic. The novel is pretty lengthy, but it is engaging throughout and doesn’t feel dragged on. I liked reading this book though, at times, it got too heavy. It is not something I’ll pick up again anytime soon, but it is one of the best books I have read. It is a must-read.

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Book Review: The Princes (Manohar Malgonkar).

The Princes

– Manohar Malgonkar.

The Princes by Manohar Malgonkar is an Indian fiction novel. The story is set in India during the times of British Colonialism, pre and post-independence era. It is about the survival of the Indian Royals during a time of change in the country.

The protagonist of the story is Abhayraj, the prince of Begwad, who is the only heir of his father. The story begins in the post-independent India but the narration shifts to the past, as Abhay reflects on his life. Abhay is an intelligent kid, and for the most part, he is not prejudiced against anyone or anything. He is taught to be a gentleman from a young age and carry himself a certain way. His father is very demanding of him, and at times it takes a toll on him.

Abhay is the narrator of the story. The story focuses on all aspects of his life. His childhood days, the first girlfriend, joining the army during World War II, his father’s struggle, and his mother’s wish to escape her life. Abhay grows up with all the treasures fit for a prince and is never wanting for anything. It is interesting to read about the character at different points in his life and how the social landscape around him affects his conduct.

The story discusses a lot of problematic aspects prevalent in society then. The inferior treatment of individuals based on caste is seen through the treatment of Kanakchand’s character, who later becomes an activist and politician. The treatment of Abhay’s mother by his father is appalling, and in general, the system of having concubines is considered the norm. Throughout the story, Abhay fights not to turn into his father, but on one occasion he does something cruel and accepts the fact that he is his father’s son after all.

The transition from British Raj to becoming an independent state is not exactly smooth. Especially for the royals, their treasures were taken and their power. Many of them tried to save as much as they could by any means possible. Abhay’s father says that he refuses to be the last king of Begwad and see this chapter of history close. I didn’t know much about dissolving the princely states and making them a part of India as a whole. The transition of this wasn’t easy, and there was resistance, but with a wave of democracy, they had to give in.

The writing paints a picture of the life during those times and I realized how much history I was unaware of regarding this period. Abhay, as the narrator, is pretty reliable though he tries to be objective; it doesn’t work all the time, which might be on purpose. This is the only book by Manohar Malgonkar I have read, and his writing style is intriguing and easy; he doesn’t digress too much. The story set a good pace from the beginning, and it continued throughout the novel.

The Princes is different than I expected it to be. It has a good story with the right amount of historical context to keep you interested. Surprisingly for me, it was also emotional in parts, and you can’t help feeling empathetic towards Abhay. I enjoyed reading this book.

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Currently Reading (September ’20)

Currently Reading (September ’20)

The books I plan to read this month.

  1. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is set is an unnamed city of India during the time of The Emergency from 1975. There are four main characters – Dina, Ishvar, and his nephew Omprakash, and Maneck. These characters come from varied backgrounds but develop a solid bond during times of turmoil. Only a couple of chapters in but, the story has a good pace. The historical events are in the centerfold of the story which makes it interesting and grounded.

2. 1984 by George Orwell.

1984 by George Orwell is a dystopian fiction novel. It was written in the 1950’s but is still relevant and relatable. The story is set in the future, in the year 1984, where the world is drastically different than before. I started reading this book a few months back but I never finished it. I don’t know why I stopped; I had liked the part I read. So, I am going to start reading it again this month and finish it.

3. The Princes by Manohar Malgonkar.

The Princes by Manohar Malgonkar is a story about Abhay, a young prince of Begwad. The story focuses on the princely states in India during British colonization and how these states steadily declined as India came closer and eventually became independent. The novel begins in the present but, then shifts from past to present. The way it is written makes it easy to keep track of the story. I am enjoying reading this novel.

Book Review: My Last Duchess (Daisy Goodwin).

My Last Duchess

-Daisy Goodwin.


I bought My Last Duchess by Daisy Goodwin randomly at a book sale last year. The book is a historical fiction/romance which intrigued me. The book is the story of an American heiress Cora Cash who travels to Europe to find a suitable titled match.

Cora Cash is the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Cash. There are the wealthiest family in America and live in Newport. Cora is romantically interested in a guy named Teddy who is not as rich as her but, Cora doesn’t care. Mrs. Cash is very controlling about Cora’s life which often leads to her questioning all of Cora’s decisions including Teddy. Cora is rejected by him the day before she is supposed to set for Europe. It is actually
Mrs. Cash who wants her daughter to marry someone with a title, hence, she is taking Cora to Europe.

In England, Cora has an accident where she falls from her horse. This is when she meets Ivo; he takes her to his home Lulworth. Ivo is a Duke that fascinates Mrs. Cash and she sees this as an opportunity. A few days later Ivo proposes to Cora soon they get married. After the honeymoon period is over things start going sideways for Cora.

In the beginning, I couldn’t find anything relatable or sympathetic about Cora. She is vain and spoiled, she thinks very highly of herself. The way Ivo and Cora’s love story starts is a little underwhelming. Maybe it was on purpose for the story to progress but when Cora starts questioning whether she knows her husband or not; it is not surprising. Cora has trouble adjusting at Lulworth even after marriage but she tries to take it in stride.

Ivo Maltevers is the Duke of Lulworth. He is often aloof and moody. There is not a lot you find out about him when he is introduced. Ivo inherited Lulworth after his brother’s death and refuses to talk about his past, even if Cora questions him. There is no doubt that he is secretive and feels burdened with the duties that come with the title of Duke of Wareham. Cora’s money is definitely something that he needed which he accepts but his affection for her seems genuine.

The story is a slow burner for the first half of the book but the pace picks up for the second half. This is where my interest peaked and I was interested to know what’s going to happen next. Cora’s character goes through a transformation and she becomes much more likable and real. Ivo leaves for Africa leaving Cora when she is pregnant. She is forced to take control and stand for herself among people who are cold towards her. Ivo has his reasons for his secretive behavior and later, he feels guilty about treating Cora the way he did. The explanation about his past especially about his brother was something I didn’t anticipate.

Daisy Goodwin gives beautiful descriptions of details regarding the decadency of the dresses and houses of the century. I felt that the details, at times, sort of broke the flow of the story. Overall, Cora and Ivo are round characters. Both of them change as the story progresses. The narration of the book is mostly from Cora’s point of view which helped understand her journey properly. The minor characters are colorful and play a part in the overall story.

The start was a little slow but once I got into the story I enjoyed it. The difference between the New World (America) and the Old World is portrayed in a unique and sometimes, funny way. It is an enjoyable and fun read.

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Book Review: Walden (Henry David Thoreau).

Walden

– Henry David Thoreau.


Walden by Henry David Thoreau is a non-fiction novel. The book is an account of Thoreau’s stay in isolation at a secluded cabin near Walden Pond in Massachusetts. The author chose to live alone away from society as an experiment. This book delves into many philosophical ideas yet somehow remains grounded in the world we know today.

I am not sure how to explain the story of this book; it is tricky. Thoreau chose to live near Walden Pond outside of Concord, Massachusetts for two years, writing this book. It was a social experiment that would help him explore nature and society from an objective point of view. Thoreau talks about how hard people work to fulfill their needs but they don’t need to work so hard if they choose a simpler life. The obsession of materials things, needing to have certain luxuries just for the sake of it ends up taking a toll on us. In the end, all of the materialistic or extra luxuries leave people drained and empty.

Thoreau works in the field himself to grow food produce, cooks it himself too; he builds a small cabin for himself. He lives a self-sustaining lifestyle at the cabin. He earns some money by working a bean field and maintains a record of finances diligently to show how little humans need to survive. He often has visitors but he specifically mentions a woodcutter who is rough around the edges but Thoreau enjoyed his company. When he finds himself isolated from people, he often went to the village where he was once arrested for not paying taxes.

The book talks a lot about existence, the choices we make, our needs and the part society plays in our life. The one idea that you come across in the book prominently from start to finish is Self- Reliance. This idea to trust oneself and your instincts completely to survive; to be yourself and not try to fit in with societal conformities. Thoreau enjoys his solitude; it gives him time to think and enjoy nature but communication with people is appealing too. Often he finds himself needing company and socialize with other people. We need solitude and space for ourselves but we also need other people so it is not an either-or kind of situation.

Thoreau was a transcendentalist writer. This is the reason Walden emphasizes self-reliance, independence, nature, and individuality An individual doesn’t need to conform to society; conforming leads to loss of individuality and society and its institutions have ruined the idea of an ‘individual’. The ideas of the books and the way it is written has a philosophical tone to it. Thoreau’s ideas and concepts make sense, it is interesting no doubt but at times it got too slow. The content of the book with its themes can become heavy to read, as there is much to absorb.

It took me time to get immersed in the book especially in the beginning. I read this book slowly because it’s difficult to read for a long time. The ideas in the book resound even in today’s society and it is still a relevant work of literature. After reading this book, I understand why it is considered to be one of the best works of American literature.

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Book Review: The Turn of the Screw (Henry James).

The Turn of the Screw

-Henry James.


The Turn of the Screw by Henry James is a novella. The story is about a young lady who gets an opportunity to work as a governess at a beautiful but mysterious estate. This book has gothic, horror, and mystery elements to the story. It is slightly difficult to explain the story because of the way it is structured but I’ll try to cover major points.

The story begins at a party held on Christmas Eve where one of the attendees Douglas says he has access to a governess’s account of a ghost story when she worked for a wealthy family. He starts reading the written account of the governess and at that point the narration of the story shifts to the governess’s point of view. The Governess who is also the narrator remains unnamed throughout the story. She is responsible for the well mannered young girl Flora and a 10-year old boy Miles at their uncle’s estate the Bly. The uncle is their guardian. Miles has been suspended from his school due to his troublesome behavior just days prior to the governess arrival.

One day while taking a walk, the governess notices a man looking at her from one of the towers. She spots him staring at her again through the window the next time and that is when she enquires about him. Mrs. Grose works at the Bly and becomes kind of like a confidant for the governess. The governess tells Mrs. Grose about the strange man looking at her twice. Mrs. Grose tells her about the previous governess Miss Jessel and her relationship with Peter Quint a valet both of whom are now deceased. She also finds out that Miles and Quint shared a good bond but Miles tried to lie about his relationship with Peter to Mrs. Grose. Miles’s behavior is slightly creepy at times which made you think he is up to something.

The governess sees a stranger, a woman by the lake when she is there with Flora. She believes that Miss Jessel and Peter Quint are a threat to the kids. Once Flora goes out of the house alone and she is seen talking to Miss Jessel near the lake by the governess but Flora claims to have not seen Miss Jessel at all; Flora falls ill after that is taken to London to her uncle’s place. The governess is suspicious that Miles distracted her by playing the piano so that Flora could leave. Quint is seen outside the window by the governess and she tries to protect Miles from it but then his heart stops.

The horror element is the main theme of the story. The possibility of the supernatural is left up to the readers I felt. No one sees the ghosts except the governess or at least doesn’t admit to it, so it depends on the reader to choose whether to believe her or not. The atmosphere of the story has an air of mystery and eeriness which reminded me of the gothic tradition. The governess finds the Bly and children extremely beautiful to look at but as the story progresses you can tell that the exterior doesn’t match what is going on inside. There is a lot of secretive behavior by the characters. The lying and concealing of relationships is something that happens regularly in the book. The need to repress information for whatever reasons leads to a lack of open communication which causes more problems than it solves.

The way the story ends is surprising and sad. I did not predict that the story will end abruptly in such a way. It came out of nowhere. The plot itself is interesting, starts as a haunted house type of a story but changes along the way. The story feels a little dragged in some places but when it picks up pace, it goes up a notch. Overall, I liked reading this book. It has a lot of elements to it that keep you invested in the story.

*Get a copy by clicking on the book cover above.

Currently Reading (August ’20)

Currently Reading (August ‘20)

These are the books I wish to finish reading this month. Maybe I will get to read more as well if possible. My reading list for this month.

  1. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James is a horror novella. The story is about a young woman who gets a job as a governess for two mysterious kids on an estate which seems to be haunted. I just started reading it and it has a gothic feel to it because of the descriptions. The young girl who is the narrator of the story is unnamed so far. It is an intriguing read.

2. Walden by Henry David Thoreau.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau is a book that details the social experiment Thoreau carried by living in a secluded cabin for two years. I am only a couple of chapters in but, it has a philosophical undertone to it. It talks about the author’s experience with nature and living simply, being self-reliant. It is a little difficult to read because there is a lot of symbolism and depth to the writing.

3. My Last Duchess by Daisy Goodwin.

My Last Duchess by Daisy Goodwin is a story about an American Heiress, Cora Cash, who travels to England with her mother to find an aristocratic match. The world in England is different than what she is accustomed to and when she marries Ivo, an eligible but secretive bachelor, her life changes. I enjoyed reading this book so far though I have trouble relating to Cora’s character which I hope will happen eventually. It seems like a fun read.

4. Morrigan’s Cross by Nora Roberts.

Morrigan’s Cross by Nora Roberts is the first book of the Circle Trilogy. A sorcerer named Hoyt loses his brother in 12th century Ireland to evil forces. He is chosen for a mission by the goddess Morrigan and is told he will be joined by five others to form a team to destroy Lillith. Nora Roberts has a way of blending fantasy elements with the reality that it seems grounded. The story and the characters are interesting. I finished almost seventy pages at one go when I started reading.

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Book Review: Lilac Girls (Martha Hall Kelly).

Lilac Girls

– Martha Hall Kelly.

This is a book I have been meaning to read for a while but it wasn’t easy to find. Finally, I read it and it was worth the wait. Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is set in the time before, during, and after World War II. The story of this novel is based on a true account of Caroline Ferriday, a socialite in New York who helped the Polish women of Ravensbruck camp. The story of Lilac Girls focuses on three main characters – Kasia, Caroline, and Herta who come from different backgrounds and countries but their lives intersect. Caroline helps the medical experiment survivors from Ravensbruck by bringing them for treatment to America almost a decade after the war is over.

Caroline is an ex-actress who comes from a wealthy family and volunteers at the French Consulate in New York City before the war. Caroline and her family have a strong sense of their French roots and enjoy many traditions of their culture. It is also the reason Caroline works dedicatedly at the consulate. Kasia is an 18-year-old girl living happily with her family and friends in Lublin, Poland until Nazi Germany invades Poland on 1st September in 1939 and her life is turned upside down. Herta is studying medicine in Nazi Germany and dreams of being a surgeon but there are restrictions for women in the medical field under the Reich. She is ambitious and determined from the very beginning and has complete faith in Hitler’s vision for her country.

The story is pretty straightforward in terms of timelines and events. The novel is divided into three parts. The first part gives an insight into the background of the characters and this really helped me understand the motivations and personalities of these women. The second part was difficult to read because the main focus of this is the course of their lives during the war. It is not outwardly described in a gory or violent way but it is more about the emotional reactions which get to you. The third part of the story is Caroline, Kasia, and Herta’s life after the war ends.

The characters in the book are what make this novel unique. Caroline does everything in her power to help French children during the war. She does so at a personal cost at times and even when things turn hopeless she keeps doing what she does because she knows this is the least she can do to help. Kasia is a rebellious girl but she wants to help change the situation in Poland. She starts helping the Polish underground in Lublin with the help of her friend and her crush Pietrik. One day she is followed by a German officer after doing an assignment she begs Pietrik for and is arrested. Kasia’s mother and sister Zuzzana, Pietrik, and his sister Luiza who have come to collect the envelope from Kasia are all arrested along with her.

Ravensbruck is where Kasia ends up with her sister and mother, a labor camp in Germany for women. I didn’t know much about this camp and the medical experiments conducted there until I read this book. These women stick together, helping each other stay safe that too at a personal cost. It’s heartwarming to see them help each other this way in a situation where one wrong move meant your death. The experiments were inhumane and the way is written makes us understand the gravity of it. It is at the camp that Kasia’s mother, Halina, is taken under Herta’s wing as a nurse and where Halina dies. This is the only time Herta shows some emotion. Herta is not a fictional character and is based on a camp doctor in Ravensbruck. She believes in what she is doing and it seems like she doesn’t care but somewhere deep down she feels a little remorse for her actions. Most of the time though she is detached and cold focusing only on her medical research with no thought of the human cost.

Caroline has a personal connection to France during the war, a married actor she falls in love with named Paul who is also taken to a camp when France is invaded but survives. Kasia comes back with her sister to Lublin where their father still lives and has trouble adjusting to normal life. She finds Pietrik and he is having a hard time too but Kasia is trying to forget but her guilt about her mother makes her angrier and angrier. Pietrik and Kasia get married and have a daughter who is named Halina after her mother but Kasia doesn’t want her to be named Halina. She snaps at everyone about the tiniest things but slowly realizes she needs to let go. With Caroline’s insistence, Kasia goes to Germany to confront Herta who was released early from prison. Once she confronts Herta and finds out what happened to her mother at the camp that she is finally able to move on with her life and leave all the darkness behind.

Martha Hall Kelly has been able to give a lot of heart to the story through her characters. Kasia and her family are the fictional characters but the story revolves around them in a way and, they are instrumental in telling the story of those Polish women who suffered at Ravensbruck during the war and treated unjustly after the war. It is a beautiful and inspiring story yet it is so sad and heartbreaking.

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Book Review: Why Not Me? (Mindy Kaling).

Why Not Me?

–  Mindy Kaling.

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling is a memoir which is a collection of essays about her life, career and experiences. This book has been on my shelf for years but I wasn’t really familiar with Mindy Kaling so I didn’t read it. Recently, I watched the series The Mindy Project and loved it. So, now that I was familiar with her work I thought I’ll read her memoir.

This collection of non-fiction essays about life is a clever and interesting way to write. The way it has been written, the format was new to me and in a way it makes the writing stand out even more. The essays are fun, witty and surprisingly relatable. It starts with awkward childhood stories than navigates through college life making it way towards career and personal life. Mindy Kaling’s experiences are relatable which I didn’t expect to be honest but it was a pleasant surprise.

She doesn’t care how she will be perceived by others, she mentions that in the book too which made the stories or essays authentic because there was no sugarcoating. The way she freely talked about drifting apart from people you thought would be a part of your life forever but it doesn’t happen or how she looked for friendships in wrong places and people and disappointments about her career. Her awkward behavior around people is amusing and funny especially around famous people as she says that she is socially anxious. As a person who doesn’t know how or what to say in social situations, I could completely relate to her.

Mindy Kaling doesn’t hold back about her insecurities or vulnerabilities throughout the book may it be about herself or her career. She candidly talks about the life in public eye and how celebrities are expected to carry themselves at all times. The constant comparison with others for example – articles like who were this better? She tries to subtly emphasize the point that all celebrities are regular people too and at times that is forgotten when they are held to different standard.

 The title of the book itself has a deeper meaning which didn’t even cross my mind as I was reading it. Why Not Me? The title of the book refers to the constant question she is asked that how come you are so confident? This question she felt implied that you have so little to be confident about then where does t come from?  Mindy Kaling explains how confidence is about entitlement, about believing what you deserve.

I don’t usually read non-fiction books especially memoirs or biographies but I am glad I read this one. It is honest, relatable and so witty. The way it is written, divided into different parts of her life and experiences makes it more interesting. The book is funny and it is deeper than one would expect it to be, it has a good message.  I enjoyed reading this book.

*Get a copy by clicking on the book cover above.

Book Review: The Marriage Bargain (Jennifer Probst).

The Marriage Bargain

– Jennifer Probst.

I read a book last month which had a reference to this book and since, I liked that novel I thought might check this one out. The Marriage Bargain is a marriage of convenience type love story written by Jennifer Probst. This romance novel was the perfect kind of escapist fiction I wanted to read for the weekend.

Alexa Maria McKenzie is a 27-year-old bookshop owner. Her shop is doing well enough but her family is in financial trouble and she wants to help them but doesn’t know why. The story starts with her making a list of all qualities she would like in a man and casts a love spell. Maggie is Alexa’s best friend and they have known each other for years. Nicholas Ryan is a billionaire and Maggie’s older brother. Alex had a major crush on him when he was younger but it didn’t end well for her.

Nicholas needs to marry to inherit his father’s business but he doesn’t believe in marriage or love and wants a marriage of convenience. Nicholas (Nick) learns about Alexa’s financial trouble and he has known her for a long time decides to make a proposal to her which she accepts. This is the way Alexa and Nick end up getting married. Alexa and Nick quite opposite when it comes to their beliefs especially about relationships and family. Nick doesn’t want or even believe in marriage or love, but Alexa has always wanted the fairytale.

This is an odd situation for them to act like a happy couple in front of their families and friends but they try to make the best of it. Once they are married they become friends first and start getting along really well which leads to them becoming lovers. It seems like a natural transition because they don’t exactly know each other all that much, Maggie is the only common thread between them. The way their relationship evolves and becomes stronger, the build-up to it is interesting and fun to read.

Nick can be a bit much at times especially in the beginning but slowly there is a change in him and he becomes more likable as a character. Alexa is independent and strong, she comes from a tight-knit family and she sticks to her moral compass throughout even when it is not favorable for her. The element of magic with the love spell thing in the story is a nice surprise; it is underlying and doesn’t take anything away from the actual love story. I like how Alexa and Nick bring out the best in each other which neither of them expected and grow stronger together.

The conflict towards the end was a little rushed but it still keeps you hooked. The Marriage Bargain mostly has a predictable story but there are some unexpected events in it as well. Being a contemporary romance novel the plot does seem predictable but with a fresh perspective on it that made this story enjoyable for me. It is a feel-good, fun, and interesting romance novel. I liked reading this book and once I started reading it took me a day to finish it.

*Get a copy by clicking on the image above.