In Conversation with Author Smita Bhattacharya

I had the wonderful opportunity to pre-read Smita Bhattacharya’s upcoming novel. In addition, I have been lucky to collaborate with her on an interview.

Read on to know more about Smita and her upcoming novel Who Threw Draco Down the Chimney?

Find the book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Threw-Draco-Chimney-Nandkarnis-Misadventures-ebook/dp/B08FR4JL3J

The two previous books in the series are

Kiss of Salt: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07SB4MIn 2M6

The Secret Angels: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07ZMR9MB4

Tell us a little about yourself

Author of cosy and psychological thriller mysteries, management consultant, coffee lover, gipsy-in-my-head, living in Mumbai for over 15 years, have travelled to over 40 countries, about 30 of them solo. I have about five published books and counting. I have too many stories to tell, and not enough time.

From where do you draw inspiration for the books you write?

There is no straight path, no direct answer; different books have had different birth stories. It could be piece of gossip someone told me over lunch; I might make a different ending to it, and give a whole new spin to the story. Or it could be a movie I watched and thought about a side character; how interesting she might be if she were to be the main one and what kind of a life might she have. I endure the joys of an overactive imagination. I say endure, because I never sleep well. I have so many stories in my head all the time.

Which book(s) are you currently reading?

I am reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I intend to also take it on my vacation to Goa soon. Yes! Finally! The lockdown eases and we can live as normal people. I am loving this book. It is engrossing, warm, and witty, and a welcome break from the sort of dark books I usually read.

Which is your favourite genre?

I like psychological mind twisters and atmospheric cosy mysteries. They are my ‘go-to’ books, i.e. when I don’t want to focus too much and want the pages to simply turn. I’m specifically fond of British and European fiction thrillers. Something about the dark dreariness of the surroundings, a trickle of blood on the snow, the brooding actors, languages I can’t follow, fascinate me. A few of my favourite authors in this genre are Tana French, Henning Mankell, and Andrea Camilleri. I know most people love fast action, gun fights, and sharp dialogues, but I love soaking in the rolling hills, empty streets, and a small town vibe. ‘Atmospheric’ is the word to describe the kind of books I like. I feel like I’m wrapped in a blanket, drinking a warm cup of coffee during Christmas when I read them.

Who is your favourite author?

That’s a tricky question because I doubt anyone has ONE favourite author. But if I have to mention someone whom I admire because he has managed to blend in good writing with a genre that’s otherwise difficult to master i.e. horror—yes, you guessed it right, it’s going to be Stephen King. He has been churning good content, never losing his touch, rarely getting boring. I think he has the pulse of the market and so, does very well in it. He is an inspiration for authors who aspire to be mass market, and yet, want to be taken seriously.

On the other hand, I have evergreen favourites, those whose books I cherish and will remember all my life. Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, Donna Tartt, Rohinton Mistry, Vikram Seth, Chimamanda Adichie. Most recently, I was impressed with ‘Circe’ by Madeline Miller and ‘Where the Crawdads sing’ by Delia Owens. I love a mix of authors and genres as you can see, and I can go on and on listing them because I read voraciously.

If you had to pick one book to take away with you on vacation, what would it be?

To reread? One in the Harry Potter series. Or maybe Calvin and Hobbes. Or Agatha Christie.

To read for the first time? If it’s a global location, I try and buy local fiction, if possible local crime fiction. I have shelves filled with books from all around the world, inscribed with postcards and notes from book keepers and store owners. Sometimes, traveler friends.

With reference to your new book, Who Threw Draco Down the Chimney? How did you get the idea for the plot?

I don’t know how. I am serious! It all just came together. I wanted a story that referenced the strange eyelets on the roofs of Sibiu—they were everywhere, and they looked so eerie, just as if eyes were following me around. I was also fascinated by the gypsies in Romania. Did you know these nomadic people landed in Romania during the seventh century and they came from Punjab (India)? In addition, I knew Romania had loads of old stories and legends. Of course, you’ve heard of Dracula. So, I decided to mix everything: crazy legends, unfounded rumours, gypsies, eclectic local characters, and the beauty of its villages and towns. A true potboiler of a story!

Why did you decide to focus on Draco in the title of the book?

Naming a book is a tough task, I suppose somewhat like naming a baby: you fear you can never get it perfectly right, and once you’ve given it, it’s stuck for life. Draco is a distinctly Romanian name, and it would be easy to guess where the book is based. Also, a question in the title always piques my interest and that’s what I wanted to do.

Did the town of Sibiu inspire the plot for the book? If so, how?

I already had the basic plot in mind. The town embraced it into its arms and gave it a shape of its own. As I roamed the streets or wrote in my Bed&Breakfast, I could almost imagine Darya walking on the cobbled streets, staring in wonder at the eyelets on the roofs, wondering why they came about.

What did you like the most about Sibiu and why?

Sibiu is a ‘big-small’ city. I had read a lot about it, and when I landed there, I had 6 days to kill, and, so I thought to myself, why not here? Darya could well have come to Sibiu and stayed for her break, as I had myself had come for my sabbatical.

Sibiu is a Romanian city from the 12th century built by the German settlers known as Transylvanian Saxons. It is located in central Transylvania and has a population of around 400,000. Despite the flurry of tourism after being designated European Capital of Culture in 2007, it has retained much of its old world charm and grandeur. In 2008, it was designated Europe’s 8th-most idyllic place to live. It has great people, lovely food, and many many things to see and do. And you will not have tourist feet trampling your own as you explore.

Moreover, the Romanians are extraordinary people: blunt, warm, garrulous. Their inimitable personalities and rich culture and traditions added a whole different flavour to Draco’s story.

Where did you get the inspiration for the main protagonist of the series: Darya Nandkarni?

Three years ago, I wondered why there were not too many books with normal female leads in them. What I mean is, the women in the books I read were usually tragic, struggling, or getting over some difficulties, or simpering women waiting for a glance from a hard-hearted (but rich!) man. I wanted to create a normal female lead, like you and I, who did not have to have suffered in their lives and could do fun things. Hence, was born a series and a couple of standalone books, with strong-willed women, who are imperfect and gutsy, not waiting for a man to rescue them, using their cleverness and wit to navigate through their life and its many mysteries.

Do you base any of your characters on people you know? Would you like to give an example, if yes?

I often always do that, but never one hundred per cent. I am guilty is using names of my friends, and selecting their quirky mannerisms, but never replicating any one whole. I think all authors are guilty of being inspired by their near and dear ones, and also their selves. Some parts of Darya are definitely me. Some parts of Alina and Irina are my girlfriends. I often also replicate my real-life situations in my books, because ‘Fact is stranger than fiction’ has not been vainly said.

What about your other books, where did you draw inspiration for them?

My very popular mystery ‘Dead to Them’ was inspired by my workplace. The first of the Darya Nandkarni series – Kiss of Salt – was inspired by my many trips to Goa. ‘The Secret Angels’ is based in Chapel Road in Bandra, a lane I find fascinating and close to where I live in Mumbai. And Who Threw Draco Down the Chimney? is based on superstitions and old stories, the kind I read and heard in my trip to Romania. Inspiration can come from random comments, unfinished stories, a book or a movie watched accidentally. One merely needs to pay attention, use one’s imagination, and have the will to write.

What is an average writing day like for you?

I write every day, even if it’s for 30 minutes. I write for at least 3 to 4 hours on weekends. Creating is a lot of fun, but getting out a good book is continuous effort and dedication. A lot of discipline! Rewriting and revision takes up a lot of time and that’s where it becomes a bit of a grind. Don’t even get me started on the marketing aspect of it. In conclusion, what I’m trying to say is this: writing is a lot of fun and I can do it every day. I have too many stories in my head and not enough time to jot it down. But if only writing was enough, and we didn’t have to do all the peripherals.

What message would you like to share with your readers?

You have everything. You are enough. If you have a dream, you have everything to do it already within you.

Book Review: Who Threw Draco Down the Chimney? by Smita Bhattacharya

A huge thank you to Smita Bhattacharya, author of the books in the Darya Nandkarni’s Misadventures Series, for reaching out to me and introducing me to her wonderfully eccentric character, Darya.

Read on to know my thoughts on her upcoming novel in the series, to be released in November 2020.

The review is my own honest opinion of the book.

About the Book:

Who Threw Draco Down the Chimney? (Darya Nandkarni's Misadventures #3)

Sibiu, Romania. 1947.

A boy’s dead body is discovered in the chimney of an abandoned farmhouse.

Sixty years later, more bodies are discovered in the same place.

Who did it then? Who is doing it now?

Can it be the same killer, or is it another, inspired by the first?

A backpacker is missing. Impressed by Darya’s past exploits, the owner of the missing boy’s hostel tasks Darya to look for him.

After some digging, Darya leads the police to an old farmhouse. They find the backpacker’s two-week-old dead body wedged inside the chimney. Along with two others.

The locals think it is the devil’s work. Darya knows not to trust local superstitions, of which there are many. But the crime is so diabolical, so unique, it begs the question: who could be doing this?

Darya needs to find out urgently before she is forced to leave Sibiu. And as she races to solve the mystery, she has to make sure she doesn’t let new friendships or the town’s insidious secrets get in her way.

The book’s Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Threw-Draco-Chimney-Nandkarnis-Misadventures-ebook/dp/B08FR4JL3J

The book’s Goodreads link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55024921-who-threw-draco-down-the-chimney

My Thoughts:

This is the third book in the series based on the eccentric character of Darya Nandkarni. Darya is a an accidental and amateur detective who seems to find her way towards mysteries or do they find her? That is a question for the reader to ponder!

Who Threw Draco Down the Chimney? is a very well-crafted mystery filled with the right amount of intrigue in a wonderful setting. Smita introduces the reader to the town of Sibiu in Romania. It is easy to imagine the town even without visiting it thanks to the detailed descriptions and precise explanations of the setting, the people, their mannerisms and lives! She paints a wonderful picture that draws the reader in and would even make the reader want to visit and explore this place!

What sets the book apart are the characters. Each one is shrouded in mystery, suspicious, hiding something and anyone could be guilty! I also enjoyed reading about how they band together and support one another. They are also welcoming and make outsiders feel very much as home. At every point, the reader is forced to pause and wonder at the involvement of each character in the death of the backpacker. It is not clear until the very end with an unexpected twist.

I particularly enjoyed how Smita weaves the past and present, narrating the story in two timelines: one in the weeks leading up to the particular incident that kickstarts Darya’s involvement in the investigation; the second in the present day when Darya is explaining the outcome of her investigation and discussing her findings. A lot of research seems to have gone into the plot line which is well represented through this book.

Smita handles the story and characters very well, with detailed descriptions and a steady pace that takes the reader until the very end. The story can be read as a stand-alone one even though there are some minor references to cases that Darya solved previously and to her family.

This is a must read for everyone who enjoys mysteries set in unique places and with wonderful twists and turns!

A fast-paced thriller, high on adrenaline and abundant in bio-chemistry, Vector: Tradecraft: Phase Zero has it all!

I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

About the Book:

Vector: Tradecraft: Phase Zero

When researcher Jawad Khattib gasps his last breath on the Massachusetts General Hospital floor, the Department of Homeland Security wants answers—especially after a preliminary autopsy suggests he died of radiation poisoning. What exactly was Khattib working on? And who was he working for? DHS Agent Lee Jansen is rushed to Boston and paired with expert toxicologist Dr. Emma Hess to crack the case. All evidence points to the creation of a dirty bomb, but the clues seem too clean, too obvious. During the course of their investigation, they discover the horrible truth. This new weapon is far more deadly than anyone had expected. It isn’t just capable of killing hundreds—it’s capable of killing hundreds of thousands. Can they stop what’s been set in motion by a madman with a dangerous secret before it’s too late?

About the Author:

Picture

Michael Shusko, MD, MPH, FAAFP, FACOEM, was raised in Long Branch, NJ. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1985 after graduating high school.

Dr. Shusko cut his teeth in the military in the mid-1980s and early 1990s. As his first assignment, he attended the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, CA, where he studied Arabic. Upon completing his language training, he worked on intelligence and medical missions across the globe. He spent time in Liberia, served as a Marine during the first Gulf War, and worked for several years with the Defense Attaché’s office at the US Embassy in Kuwait.

After returning to the States in 1995, Dr. Shusko focused his attention on earning his bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern studies from Rutgers University while studying Persian-Farsi at Princeton. He then transferred to the Navy Medical Corps and enrolled in medical school at Wake Forest University, obtaining his Medical Degree in 2002. He also studied at Harvard University, earning his Master’s of Public Health degree in 2013.

Dr. Shusko is a family medicine physician, an occupational medicine physician, and a preventive medicine physician. His Middle Eastern experience and language skills coupled with his background in special operations and intelligence keep him busy deploying around the world. He has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Asia, and has been awarded the Bronze Star twice for service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He currently lives in Japan with his wife and 17-year-old triplet sons.

My Thoughts:

Vector: Tradecraft: Phase Zero is a compelling fast-paced thriller that deals with the idea of a bio-chemical weapon that can end the life of hundreds of people easily. The plot is well thought out and right from the beginning, the foundation is set for an entertaining read. The reader is drawn into a web of secrets and deceit without ever knowing who is really involved and who isn’t.

Starting with the suspicious death of researcher Jawad Khattib, to the meeting of some brilliant minds, the author has created some wonderful characters with whom we can relate. Each one has their own story that has shaped who they turn out to be. The experience and expertise of the author in this genre and area are clearly distinguishable through his writing. The author has included a lot of technical information, be it medical, bio-chemical or even military but it is easy for the reader to understand this.

The protagonist is a strong character, though he has been dealt some serious blows in life and is trying to deal with it. Dr. Emma Hess on the other hand was a winner for me, along with Dr Sue. They are women with in-depth knowledge of their field of work and among the foremost. It was a pleasure to read about them and their role in this story.

This book has all the elements for a good action-packed entertainer and will certainly ensure that the reader gets pulled in for the ride. Who can be trusted and who cannot is one part of the major plot with some serious twists at the end, giving us a hint that there is more to this story.

Prepare yourself for a lightning-fast, fun, thrill-ride in Snatched by Alison Golden

About the Book:

Snatched (Diana Hunter #2)

What would you do if you discovered a dead body? Would you investigate? Try to solve the case before the police arrive?
Would you prattle on about theories regarding the murder, realizing you know almost too much about it? Would you put the handsome detective off balance so that he then accuses you of being the murderer? All before 9AM? No… surely no one would do that?

Clearly, you haven’t met Diana Hunter.

When embarking on an early morning run, Diana notices a man sitting on the ground reading a book. When she returns, she finds he hasn’t moved a muscle since she left her house. She checks him over and discovers that he is stone cold. Once the emergency services arrive, all equipped with a very good-looking, but pompous detective, Peter Hopkinson, she has to continually prove to the detective why she is not the killer while trying to solve the murder herself.

Will Diana find the murderer before the detective does, or will they both discover that something a lot more sinister is going on at Royal Bay Beach?

My Thoughts:

This story is fast-paced and a very quick read filled with interesting characters. The plot is convincing, starting with the main protagonist Diana, setting out for her morning run. On the way, she notices a person sitting under a tree near her building who has been sitting in the same position since she started her run. It is said that curiosity killed the cat, and though this is not literally the case, Diana finds herself in the position of explaining herself to the lead detective on the case. Add in the fact that he is not at all what she pictured detectives to be like and her wild imagination and we have an interesting chemistry between the two.

The author doesn’t dwell much into the background of the characters, only briefly providing information to fill in plot holes, making it a little difficult to understand them. Also, the whole story seems to happen very smoothly with no roadblock or any disturbances. This is not very realistic, but will still hold the readers attention. However, this doesn’t take away much and still ensures that the story is worth the read. The events unfold very quickly and Diana’s sharp mind prove to be an asset. It is nice to read about a female protagonist who is strong willed, inquisitive and extremely witty, piecing together facts to help solve the mystery.

Grab a copy of this short suspense filled mystery that most mystery lovers will enjoy!

In Conversation with Dane Cobain

Here at redpillows, I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with author and poet, Dane Cobain.

Dane Cobain

His work is quite diverse and spans fiction, non-fiction and poetry. His first work No Rest for the Wicked was released in the summer of 2015.

Read on to know what Dane would like to share!

  1. Tell us a little about yourself.

Hi, I’m Dane! I’m a British writer who works across all sorts of genres, from horror and literary fiction to non-fiction and poetry. You can check out my work over here: www.danecobain.com/amazon

  1. How did you get into writing?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I suppose it all started when I was six or seven years old, singing parodies of popular songs with my own lyrics. When I was a teenager, I started to take it a lot more seriously, and the rest if history (and sweat, a lot of that too).

  1. You write such diverse things, novels and poetry, how do you manage that?

Honestly, I just don’t stop. I constantly work on finding ways to optimise my time and to cram as much productivity in as possible. I write a poem a day during the week, and I work on them while on cigarette breaks. Because my poems aren’t too long, I usually also get to spend a little time outlining stories, novels, marketing plans and other things that are stuck in my head. I write longer form things at the computer, while switching between other activities in a ridiculously specific routine I call ‘The Schedule’.

  1. Where do you find inspiration for your poetry?

Life, mainly. But my poetry is unique in that I only include maybe 5% of the poems that I write in the published collections. Sometimes, there isn’t much inspiration, but I still write poems – I just don’t share them.

  1. What are your favourite genres and your favourite books?

I like to read modern classics and ‘alternative’ books, as well as plenty of indie books and new releases thanks to my book blog (SocialBookshelves.com). Some of my favourite writers include Graham Greene, Charles Bukowski, Phillip Pullman, Terry Pratchett and, lately, Stephen King.

  1. Which kind of writing (genre) do you prefer?

They all have their pros and cons and, to be honest, when I’m writing, I don’t usually have a genre in mind. That comes when I get to the marketing stage. I don’t think I can answer this – sorry!

  1. Tell us a little about your research process while working on a novel.

It totally depends upon the novel, but I’m trying to carry out quite a lot for a current project. Unfortunately, the project itself is a bit of a secret, but it involves interviewing subject matter specialists from charities, reading books and documentaries and spending a hell of a lot of time looking at photos and videos that I’d much rather not look at.

  1. Who is your favourite character among those you have created and why?

Hmmm. It’s a tough one to call, but it’s probably Maile O’Hara from my upcoming series of detective novels. She’s basically me, if I was a woman and had specialised in computer stuff instead of writing.

  1. Describe a perfect writing day for you.

I wake up whenever I wake up and stay at home, working until I go to sleep while watching Netflix and chillin’ with my girlfriend. She’s only able to put up with me because she’ll quite happily play Skyrim while I’m working and we both have good taste in documentaries.

  1. What do you find most difficult while writing a novel?

Getting started during the planning stage. The more you plan, the more it all starts to come together, but the early days can be overwhelming. Once you’ve got a plan in place, it just becomes a case of endurance. You just need to stick with it.

  1. What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

There are no rules. It’s just you and a blank piece of paper. It’s liberating, but it’s also terrifying – especially if you’re like me and you hate rhyming poetry

  1. Do you have any advice to share about writing a novel/poetry?

You just need to be prepared for heartbreak, do your best and stick at it. And you’d better make sure that you work with a decent editor if you want your book to be at its best.

Connect with the author:

Goodreads, Twitter

Author Website

Book Review: Rule Number One by Rory Goodwin

About the Book:

Rule Number One (An Oswald Metzger Novella Series Book 1)

Set in Brisbane Australia, a disgraced Australian Football League Star is found dead on the day of his sentencing at the Brisbane District Courts in an apparent suicide.
Detective Baxter knows things aren’t always as they seem and decides to follow a hunch one last time before he retires. But before he can do that he also has one more score to settle.
Family man, Oswald ‘Ozzy’ Metzger is a regular bloke, loving father and committed husband driven by duty, love and honour. Following his heart and driven by what he believes in, being vegan, he doesn’t believe in violence but does believe in justice for the innocent.
Monica runs a crisis centre for women and children, when Detective Baxter comes asking questions she is faced with the confronting reality that all may not be as it seems.

My Thoughts:

This story is a novella, short and fast paced. When a Football player is found dead in the bathrooms of the courthouse, the day of his sentencing, an investigation is opened into the same. Speculation on whether it is a suicide or a murder are rife and in the midst of it all is Detective Baxter, whose aim is to wrap up this one last case before he retires.

In the course of the same, we meet Monica, who runs a crisis centre to help women and who knew the football player’s ex-girlfriend. What happens when you set out to investigate one thing, but while asking questions, you discover something more? The same happens as Detective Baxter follows up on a hunch. In parallel, we are introduced to Oswald, Monica’s husband. As a series of events unfold, the reader is taken on a journey with our very own serial killer with a conscience.

The story ends in quite a different way and this is one of the things that I enjoyed immensely about the book. The author went ahead with an unusual end. Of course some parts of the climax are cliche and expected, but for the most of it, the end was a good turn of events, making it worth the read.

As all the ends come together, the author gives us enough bait to keep us hooked on and waiting in the hopes that there may be another novella or novel to tell us what happens to Ozzy and Monica. The novella is good for a quick read and for those who enjoy the genre!

Book Review: Vanish by Tess Gerristen

About the Book:

vanish

A blessed event becomes a nightmare for pregnant homicide detective Jane Rizzoli when she finds herself on the wrong side of a hostage crisis in this timely and relentless new thriller from the New Your Times bestselling author of Body Double.

A nameless, beautiful woman appears to be just another corpse in the morgue. An apparent suicide, she lies on a gurney awaiting the dissecting scalpel of medical examiner Maura Isles. But when Maura unzips the body bag and looks down as the body, she gets the fright of her life. The corpse opens it eyes.

Very much alive, the woman is rushed to the hospital, where, with shockingly cool precision, she murders a security guard and seizes hostages…one of them a pregnant patient, Jane Rizzoli.

Who is this violent, desperate soul, and what does she want? As the tense hours tick by, Maura joins forces with Jane’s husband, FBI agent Gabriel Dean, to track down the mysterious killer’s identity. When federal agents suddenly appear on the scene, Maura and Gabriel realize that they are dealing with a case that goes far deeper than just an ordinary hostage crisis.

Only Jane, trapped with the armed madwoman, holds the key to the mystery. And only she can solve it-if she survives the night.

More information about the author and the books she has written can be found on the following website:

http://www.tessgerritsen.com/

My Thoughts:

This is the first book of Tess Gerristen’s that I have read. It has also been a while since I read a book in the mystery/thriller genre. This book was initially suggested by a friend as we were having a discussion related to the theme on which this book is based.

The story is precise and well written. The plot is simple and the story has a comfortable, satisfactory ending. The story is narrated partly in third person, which follows the present day events, and partly in first person, from Mila’s point of view. The story revolves around a woman who is brought to the morgue on the assumption that she is dead. However, the medical examiner happens to unzip the body and finds that the woman is alive. This then sparks off a series of events which suddenly become the most important news. Jane Rizzoli, homicide detective with the Boston PD (as I assume most fans of this author’s book may already know) and also pregnant is caught up right in the middle of a hostage situation. Jane is about to give birth and is stuck inside with the woman who miraculously didn’t die. On the other hand, we have Jane’s husband, Gabriel, an FBI agent and Maura, the Medical Examiner who found our Jane Doe, working from the outside to try to understand what is happening. It takes all of their combined efforts and skills to figure out what is actually happening.

Amidst all the chaos, it becomes apparent that there is more to the story than just a mere hostage situation, very much as the story’s blurb says. As you progress through the story, the author gives us insight into life through Mila’s life and she seamlessly brings together her life story with the present day situation. It feels as though every person we meet along the way is important in some way and Tess doesn’t disappoint when she brings everything together at the end.

The details and explanations are to the point and explained quite well so that even those from a non-medical background (like me! :P) can understand all the medical terms. This is a story that will make the reader gasp in shock in some places while it makes us sigh in happiness at others. The tone of the story is consistent and the events occur at a fast pace. There are no detours or unnecessary events occurring in this story. I am indeed inspired to read more books by Tess Gerristen and I hope that those of you out there who haven’t read her books yet will do so soon. For those of you who already know of her, and have read her books, I hope you enjoy my review and share your thoughts below this post!