Saturday, November 30, 2013

Author Interview- Sarah J Pepper - Death of the Mad Hatter


  • ISBN-13: 9781492823919
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
  • Publication date: 11/27/2013
  • Pages: 322


Thursday, November 28, 2013

I'm Thankful

Today as we in the US celebrate a tradition that started before many of our ancestors even came to these shores, as we gather with loved ones, or as we volunteer to give those less fortunate a good meal, whether we're staying put or traveling long miles on this most traveled of all holidays take the time to tell those you've gathered with what they mean to you.

Today from the bottom of this blogger's heart I'd like to thank all my followers, my authors, the publishers and publicists who help keep this blog going, who make the interviews and giveaways possible.

And now as we go full steam into the holidays take a minute each day to stop, relax and chill out!

Monday, November 25, 2013

**Giveaway** Author Spotlight Shannon Stacey-Love A Little Sideways

Today I'm showcasing NYT & USA Bestselling author Shannon Stacey who is celebrating her very first Print Novel coming out Tomorrow 11-26. Congrats Shannon. To further commemorate the occasion Shannon's publisher Harlequin is offering one paperback edition of Love A Little Sideways, US & Canada only to one lucky winner!!

  • ISBN-13: 9780373002252
  • Publisher: Carina Press
  • Publication date: 11/26/2013
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 368

liz kowalski is heading home to Whitford, Maine—this time for good. Eager for her family, a fresh start and some fun, she doesn't count on being rescued by the chief of police her very first night back in town. Drew is everything she's not looking for…so why is she still so attracted to him?

Friday, November 22, 2013

**GIVEAWAY** Author Interview-Toby Venables- Hunter of Sherwood: Knight of Shadows

If you're like me you love the Robin Hood legend and being true to the legend sometimes means obliterating it, author Toby Venables has done just that with his more true to the times novel, Hunter of Sherwood: Knight of Shadows. So enjoy his interview and then his publisher Abaddon Books is offering two paper copies open Internationally of the novel!

  • ISBN-13: 9781781081624
  • Publisher: Abaddon
  • Publication date: 9/24/2013
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 544


    Guy of Gisburne has a story, one the liar Robin Hood has obscured for centuries. In legend he was the Sheriff of Nottingham's henchman, the man who could not defeat Hood. But this errant knight, spy for the crown and hunter of Sherwood was never anyone's accomplice, or petty hoodlum. This thrilling reinvention of the Robin Hood legend is the beginning of a major new series.

    Thursday, November 21, 2013

    Author Interview Julie & Charles Mayfield-Quick and Easy Paleo Comfort Food

    I'm so pleased to welcome Julie & Charles Mayfield who are talking today about their new cookbook promoting the Paleo method of cooking. Sometimes all we have to do is look to our roots and we'll find our dietary answers. Read the interview and learn a bit about Paleo cooking. It makes a great gift for that special someone on any holiday list.

    • ISBN-13: 9780373892808
    • Publisher: Harlequin
    • Publication date: 9/24/2013
    • Edition description: Original
    • Pages: 272


     The Fast, Fun, Delicious Way to Fight Aging
    A radiant appearance. Boundless energy. Effortless weight management. Supercharged health and well-being. Forget facelifts and fancy wrinkle creams—the fountain of youth is in the foods you eat and simple exercises and behaviors that will turn back the clock. Acclaimed nutritionist and wellness expert Elisa Zied shows you how to jump-start weight loss, reduce stress, improve sleep, banish mood swings ...

    Wednesday, November 20, 2013

    Author Interview RaeAnne Thayne- Christmas in Snowflake Canyon

    Today it's my pleasure to introduce an author that I've had the pleasure of reading and reviewing, one who really knows how to get to the "heart " of a story. Please welcome RaeAnne Thayne.

    • ISBN-13: 9780373778157
    • Publisher: Harlequin
    • Publication date: 10/29/2013
    • Series: Hope's Crossing Series , #6
    • Format: Mass Market Paperback
    • Pages: 368

    Holiday gifts don't always come in expected packages…especially in the town of Hope's Crossing.
    No one has ever felt sorry for Genevieve Beaumont. After all, she has everything money can buy. That is, until she discovers her fiancé has been two-timing her and she's left with two choices: marry the philanderer to please her controlling father or be disinherited and find a means to support herself.

    Praise for RaeAnne’s novels:
    "Hope's Crossing is a charming series that inspires hope and the belief miracles are possible." —Debbie Macomber, #1 New York Times bestselling author
    "Small-town sensibilities drive this very sweet romance in which two people learn that everything that makes them good friends makes them easy to love."
    -Library Journal on Blackberry Summer
    "Plenty of tenderness and Colorado sunshine flavor this pleasant escape."
    -Publishers Weekly on Woodrose Mountain
    "Thayne, once again, delivers a heartfelt story of a caring community and a caring romance between adults who have triumphed over tragedies."
    -Booklist on Woodrose Mountain
    "If you're going read only one book this season, make it Blackberry Summer." —Debbie Macomber, #1 New York Times bestselling author

    Tuesday, November 19, 2013

    Author Interview Sarah Burningham- Girl To Girl Honest Talk about Growing Up and Your Changing Body

    It's my great pleasure to welcome to The Reading Frenzy author and Publicity Wiz Sarah Burningham who has just released her latest and much needed guide for girls in Girl To Girl Honest Talk About Growing Up and you Changing Body.
    This will make a great gift for that special tween girl in your life, but don't just let her unwrap the package because this book is meant to be shared.

    • ISBN-13: 9781452102429
    • Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC
    • Publication date: 11/26/2013
    • Pages: 136
    • Age range 8-12 years

    Being a girl isn't always easy, and growing up is far from a walk in the park. This time of transition is particularly confusing without a confidante to help. Meet Sarah O'Leary Burningham, a real-life big sister here to coach preteens through all of life's big moments, from first bras to first periods.

    Sunday, November 17, 2013

    December 2013 Line up

    It's the most Wonderful Time of the Year! So while your kids are jingle belling and everyone yelling "Be Of Good Cheer"! Stop by The Reading Frenzy and enjoy a bit of holiday cheer as I dedicate the month to The Holidays. Stop by and get your fill of tasty recipes, holiday novels, author interviews, reviews and what's on every wish list my annual Best 20 novels of the year.

    Friday, November 15, 2013

    Author Interview + Review -Lu Ann Cahn- I DARE ME

    I want to introduce my readers to my new heroine, Lu Ann Cahn, who has convinced me I'm not "too" to do anything. After you sit back and enjoy our interview and my review, get off the couch and "do" something.

    • ISBN-13: 9780399161674
    • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
    • Publication date: 11/5/2013
    • Pages: 240

    Overview: One woman’s quest to do one new thing every day of the year, what she learned, and what we all can gain from her journey...
    In 2009 veteran journalist and eight-time Emmy award winner Lu Ann Cahn was feeling angry and frustrated. The economy was tanking. Her job was changing. Budgets were being cut. She resented the new technology and social media she was being asked to embrace at work. In a word, she felt “stuck.

    Wednesday, November 13, 2013

    Journey From Darkness-Part Three-Week Two

    Journey From Darkness
    Part Three
    Week Two

    Week two takes us along with Derek, Maguaasi  and Shawu deep into the bush where trouble is never far away.
    So let’s talk about this section

    Talk about Shawu

    How do you feel about the author’s portrayal of her?

    Maguaasi-What kind of impression do you have of him?

    Talk about the relationship between Shawu and Derek

    Does the treatment of the poachers during the war change your attitude about them at all?

    And of course as always please add your own thoughts or comments.

    ***GIVEAWAY*** Author Interview-Terrell Griffin-Found Matt Royal series # 8

    Please welcome Terry Griffin to The Reading Frenzy, learn a little about his Matt Royal Mysteries, a few personal tidbits then enter for the chance to win an autographed copy for your personal library or for gift-giving.  Tis the season!

    Terrell's fantastic publisher Oceanview is offering
    one Author Signed first edition Hardback copy
    US ONLY of Found
    Use the Rafflecopter form below to enter
    Thanks Terry and Oceanview!!
    Good Luck!!

    The quiet of Longboat Key, Florida, is shattered when an old man is shot to death and his murderer is killed while fleeing the police. Strange documents in German and Arabic are found in the killer's car then an old friend of the murdered man disappears.

    Tuesday, November 12, 2013

    **GIVEAWAY** Author interview Sugar Jamison-Dangerous Curves Ahead-The Perfect Fit Series

    Please welcome Sugar Jamison to The Reading Frenzy, sit back and enjoy getting to know her just a little better, hear her talk about her debut in her Perfect Fit series Dangerous Curves Ahead then enter to win your very own copy.

    • ISBN-13: 9781250032973
    • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
    • Publication date: 8/27/2013
    • Series: A Perfect Fit Novel Series , #1
    • Format: Mass Market Paperback

    Sugar's Publisher St. Martin's Press
    is offering one copy of Dangerous Curves Ahead
    use the Rafflecopter form below
    Thanks St. Martin's Press and Sugar
    Good Luck!!

    Monday, November 11, 2013

    **GIVEAWAY** Author Interview-Lora Leigh - Live Wire

    I'm pleased to share NYT bestselling author Lora Leigh's interview about her newest re-released novel Live Wire, part of her Elite Ops series.
    Enjoy the interview and stay and enter US ONLY for a chance to win a copy of  the novel.

    • ISBN-13: 9781250036698
    • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
    • Publication date: 10/1/2013
    • Series: Elite Ops Series , #6
    • Edition description: First Edition
    • Edition number: 1
    • Pages: 384

    I have one copy of Live Wire with the great new cover
    for a giveaway US ONLY
    sponsored by Lora's publisher St. Martin's Press
    Use the Rafflecopter form to enter below
    Thanks Lora and St. Martin's Press

    Friday, November 8, 2013


    I'm so pleased to bring you from my favorite publisher a little pre-holiday happiness in the form of this super holiday giveaway. So get out those lists and start crossing off your romance addicts because if you win so will they, or maybe you're the one who'll be benefiting from this giveaway.

    Here's the fabulous prize package
    A copy of each of the books listed below
    and some fab Harlequin Gift Tags

    Contest is open to US & Canada only
    Sponsored by Harlequin
    To Enter use the Rafflecopter form below
    Good Luck!!!

    Thursday, November 7, 2013

    Vote Now Until November 21st for Harlequin's 2014 More Than Words Candiates

    The Program:


    MTWInfographic-webClick here to see an infographic on how More Than Words gifts have benefitted the community.
    Somewhere right now, a woman’s compassion is improving the quality of life in her community—not only for herself but for those she cares about most.

    With each act of kindness, each word of support, she is proving that heroines do exist. And at Harlequin we believe her story should be told!

    We solicit nominations of women who have made extraordinary contributions to their communities. With your support, we hope to turn awareness into action, and mobilize others to become engaged and make a difference in their community.

    Information detailing how readers can get involved in their own communities in projects related to the award recipients’ chosen causes will be available both in print and on our web site.

    The Harlequin More Than Words program is responsible for the administration of Harlequin’s social responsibility initiatives dedicated to the well-being of women.

    **GIVEAWAY** Kristan Higgins Blog Tour-The Perfect Match- Review

    Welcome to my stop on the Kristan Higgins The Perfect Match blog tour. You know there are many authors that I love and Kristan is always at the top of the heap as far as entertaining, emotions and that spark we call Love. So sit back and enjoy my from the heart review of her latest novel set in New York wine country then enter for a chance to win a copy for yourself US Only.

    • ISBN-13: 9780373778195
    • Publisher: Harlequin
    • Publication date: 10/29/2013
    • Series: Blue Heron Series , #2
    • Format: Mass Market Paperback
    • Pages: 448

    What if the perfect match is a perfect surprise?
    Honor Holland has just been unceremoniously rejected by her lifelong crush. And now—a mere three weeks later—Mr. Perfect is engaged to her best friend. But resilient, reliable Honor is going to pick herself up, dust herself off and get back out there…or she would if dating in Manningsport, New York, population 715, wasn't easier said than done.

    Wednesday, November 6, 2013

    Author Interview-#1NYT & USA Today bestselling author Brenda Novak-Take Me Home For Christmas

    Today I'm welcoming another personal favorite of mine, an author whose romance is as steamy as her suspense is nail-biting and who really knows her way around a story. Today she's talking about her Holiday romance-Take Me Home For Christmas. 

    • ISBN-13: 9780778315469
    • Publisher: Harlequin
    • Publication date: 10/29/2013
    • Series: Whiskey Creek Series
    • Format: Mass Market Paperback
    • Pages: 400


    Christmas is a time for remembering…Too bad not all memories are pleasant! Everyone in Whiskey Creek remembers Sophia DeBussi as the town's Mean Girl. Especially Ted Dixon, whose love she once scorned. But Sophia has paid the price for her youthful transgressions. The man she did marry was rich and powerful but abusive.

    Read an excerpt:

    Sophia DeBussi's husband was gone. As in disappeared. Nowhere to be found. At ninety feet, the Legacy was a sizable yacht—Skip never bought anything except the very best—but not so sizable that a full-grown man could easily be overlooked. The six-member crew had just helped Sophia and her thirteen-year-old daughter scour every inch of the boat.
    Other than his cell phone, which he wasn't answering, Skip's things were where they should be, but he was not.
    Holding back her long hair, Sophia squinted against the sunshine glinting off the water, trying to see the coast of Brazil a few miles to starboard. Could her husband have gone for an early-morning swim and somehow reached land?
    That was a possibility, but it was a remote one. Why would he go off on his own? It was too windy to enjoy the beach today. And although he traveled all over the world for business, she'd never heard of him meeting anyone in Rio de Janeiro.
    Besides, he'd planned this trip for their thirteenth anniversary because he wanted to spend quality time as a family. She couldn't imagine he was working, not when this vacation was supposed to be about starting over, about saving their troubled marriage. He'd said he wouldn't take one call. If he'd made that promise just to her, maybe she wouldn't have relied on it. He'd said such things before and hadn't followed through. But he'd also promised their daughter, and he and Alexa were very close. So…where was he?
    Sophia gazed down at the water itself. Had he fallen overboard and drowned in the choppy Atlantic?
    That thought led to a surge of relief. It was macabre to wish anyone dead, but only if Skip was gone for good would she ever escape him. She'd lived with him long enough to know he'd never willingly let her go. He'd said as much.
    The moment Alexa came to the railing to stand beside her, guilt replaced the relief she'd been feeling. Her poor daughter might have lost her father. How could she be happy about that?
    "What happened, Mom?" Lexi asked, her big blue eyes filling with tears.
    Sophia put an arm around her child's thin shoulders. "I don't know, sweetheart." She kept going over the past twenty-four hours in her mind, but could point to nothing out of the ordinary. Skip had gone to bed with her last night at eleven, as usual. He'd demanded sex, as usual. If he was around, he insisted on some sexual favor at least once a day. She was pretty sure he slept with other women when he was traveling, especially since he was often gone for a week or longer. But she never tried to check up on him. She just did what she had to when he was home to keep the peace, to survive. She knew how he'd act if she refused him. Even if he didn't strike her, he'd sulk for days.
    Except for the embarrassment of having to tell everyone, including their daughter, that she'd tripped and fallen into a door or slammed on her brakes and hit the steering wheel, she would've hated the sulking even more. Sometimes it lasted far longer than the bruises.
    Alexa wiped her wet cheeks. "You really don't remember when he got up this morning?"
    They'd already been over this. Sophia didn't remember. She didn't rise as early as he did. It wasn't as if he'd allow her to have a job. On a school day, she typically went back to bed after Alexa left, staying there until ten or so. Then she'd get up slowly, work on maintaining her beauty, which was all-important to Skip, and drink away the rest of the afternoon. Alcohol was the one thing that seemed capable of dulling the disappointment, not to mention the boredom, she lived with on a constant basis.
    But it also gave him a club to use when he needed it. I thought I was getting something special when I married you. You were someone, remember? The mayor's only child. The most popular girl in school. Now look at you. You're nothing but a lazy drunk.
    She tried to shove those hateful words into the back of her mind, where they resided. They made her crave a gin and tonic, but it was too early for that. She couldn't have one, anyway, she reminded herself. Not only had she just spent thirty days in rehab, she'd promised Skip, as part of their "starting over," that she'd really quit the booze this time. He'd threatened to have her committed to a mental institution like her mother if she didn't.
    She wasn't sure what he'd use to make her seem crazy, but he'd figure it out. Her mother's condition, the fact that there was mental illness in the family, definitely wouldn't work in her favor. "Mom?" Lexi said.
    Sophia pulled herself out of the whirlpool of her thoughts. "He didn't wake me, honey. I'm sorry. He didn't tell me he was leaving, either. I would've remembered."
    "Are you sure? He says you forget a lot. That you'd live in a bottle if you could."
    He often criticized her to Lexi. He was the dazzling father who swooped in bearing outlandish gifts. The parent who'd promised her a Porsche for her sixteenth birthday. He never had to raise his voice to insist she do chores, finish her dinner or improve her grades, because he wasn't around long enough. "I've quit drinking," Sophia said softly. "That's why I went away, remember? Why you had to stay with Grandma and Grandpa."
    Alexa didn't pursue the old argument. She was too bewildered by her father's disappearance. "This is just so. weird."
    "It is weird." Sophia could tell that the captain and his mates agreed. She'd heard them asking each other if anyone had seen Mr. DeBussi on deck in the wee hours. No one had. No one had heard him, either. But with the engine chugging away and the waves splashing against the sides of the boat, would anyone notice if he fell overboard?
    "I keep thinking he has to be here somewhere.." Dressed in cut-offs and a white tank, Alexa leaned on the railing as her troubled eyes ran over the deck, the bar, the stairs going below. "I'm so worried."
    Sophia didn't want her to have to accept the worst quite yet. She didn't want her to suffer at all. Alexa was the only reason she'd remained in her loveless marriage. Skip had told her she'd never see her daughter again if she left, and she believed him. He had the support of a rich and powerful family who lived in the same small town they did. With her own mother diagnosed with schizophrenia and her father dead, she had no one. "He might turn up."
    A fresh tear rolled down Lexi's cheek. "But you heard the captain. He said there's no way Dad could've reached shore. No one could swim that far."
    The captain would've been right had he been talking about anyone else. But he didn't know Skip, not like she did. Skip could do anything he set his mind to. Sophia had never met such a strong-willed individual. Or such a controlling one.
    She pulled her daughter into a hug. "We've contacted the U.S. Consulate, and they've called the police. We'll be docking at Rio to wait while they check the city and the beaches. We won't leave without him. Let's not give up hope too soon."
    Alexa's head bumped against Sophia's chest as she nodded, but she was obviously struggling to believe those measures would do any good. She couldn't picture her father jumping over the side in the middle of the night and swimming for shore—and neither could Sophia.
    The captain approached. "I've secured a slip at Marina de Gloria, Mrs. DeBussi," he said. "We should be in port in less than thirty minutes."
    "Thank you, Captain Armstrong."
    His nod had the same effect as a salute. He turned away, but then he paused.
    "Is there anything else?" she asked.
    "I just—" he faced her again "—I wanted to warn you."
    A sense of foreboding chilled her despite the ninety-degree weather. "About."
    "The police. When I spoke to them on the radio, they…they asked me if…" He cleared his throat as his eyes flicked to Alexa, and she nudged her daughter toward the stairs.
    "Lexi, why don't you go below and check our bedroom one more time, okay? Make sure everything of Daddy's is there, even his shaving kit."
    "We know it's there," she protested.
    Sophia gave her another little push. "Check again, will you?"
    Reluctantly, her daughter headed to the stairs, casting a frown over one shoulder before she disappeared from view.
    "What is it, Captain Armstrong?" Sophia asked. "They had questions about your marriage, Mrs. De-Bussi. If I've ever seen the two of you fight, that sort of thing."
    He hadn't seen them fight. No one had. Skip kept up appearances at all costs. His reputation as the man who had everything meant more to him than something as malleable as the truth. He never grew violent when someone else was around, and that included Lexi. If he got upset, he simply punished Sophia later.
    But anyone who was astute could no doubt feel the tension. Sophia was terrified of him. Even when he wasn't overtly abusive, she endured many small but vicious reprisals.
    "And you told them…what?" Her heart thumped so loudly she was afraid he could hear it. Skip wouldn't like this intrusion into their personal lives, so why had he left her vulnerable to it?
    "That I don't know anything about your private life. But…I want to reassure you that even if I did, I wouldn't speak of it."
    She found his loyalty comforting, especially because she would never have taken it for granted. She barely knew him, had hardly ever spoken to him. It didn't matter that he was old enough to be her father, or that he was married himself. Her husband was too jealous. Any interaction would've risked the captain's job. "Thank you, Captain Armstrong."
    "You're welcome. I have the utmost respect for you, Mrs. DeBussi. But…"
    She pulled the gauzy white scarf she'd paired with her summer sheath dress tighter. "Yes?"
    He lowered his voice. "You should be prepared. They will ask you the same thing."
    Suddenly she grasped why he was telling her this. "You don't mean… They don't think I might've harmed Mr. DeBussi?" The irony of anyone suspecting her of hurting him almost made her laugh.
    "They have to rule out that possibility."
    She could understand why, of course. But how would she convince them? Although the U.S. Consulate was acting as a liaison, she'd be dealing with foreign police; she couldn't even speak their language. What if they arrested her?
    Her face must've betrayed her panic because the captain took her elbow and led her to a chaise. It was nothing he'd risk doing in her husband's presence, but she was grateful for his kindness.
    "They won't be able to prove anything, Mrs. DeBussi," he said. "You just need to remain strong and insistent."
    They won't be able to prove anything? What did that mean? That he suspected her—but didn't blame her? She dared not ask him to clarify. Forcing a smile, she said, "Of course."
    If only "strong" felt like a possibility. She'd been strong once, even willful and rebellious. She regretted a great many things about those days, had been paying for her sins ever since. She considered living with Skip to be part of her penance. But the one attribute she'd lost that she wished she'd retained was her fighting spirit.
    Maybe it was there, somewhere. But having a child had completely disarmed her.
    2 ia slipped out of Alexa's room. She was finally asleep, and Sophia was grateful. It had been a long, hard day. Although she could scarcely believe it, there'd been no word from Skip. As promised, the police had met them at noon, when they docked at the marina. While a handful of crime-scene techs went through the boat, searching for blood or any other clue, an investigator had spoken to her. In a heavy Portuguese accent, he'd asked all the questions one might expect under the circumstances.
    And Sophia had lied in response to almost every one of them.
    What made you decide to take a trip to Rio?
    Where better to celebrate our anniversary? We've been meaning to get away for months.
    Do you consider you and your husband to be a happy couple?
    Oh, yes. We've never been more in love. Is there anyone, maybe a member of the crew, who might've been angry with your husband?

    Tuesday, November 5, 2013

    Debut author interview-Shona Patel-Teatime for the Firefly

    I'm so pleased to bring you an interview that tells us a little about debut author, Sweet Adeline's member and Tea Drinking aficionado Shona Patel. Her debut novel is getting rave reviews. Sit back and learn a bit about the author then go out and get the book.

    • ISBN-13: 9780778315476
    • Publisher: Harlequin
    • Publication date: 9/24/2013
    • Edition description: Original
    • Pages: 432

    Layla Roy has defied the fates. Despite being born under an inauspicious horoscope, she is raised to be educated and independent by her eccentric grandfather, Dadamoshai. And, by cleverly manipulating the hand fortune has dealt her, she has even found love with Manik Deb—a man betrothed to another. 
    Editorial Review:
    "With lyrical prose and exquisite detail, Shona Patel's novel brings to life the rich and rugged landscape of India's tea plantation, harboring a sweet love story at its core." - Shilpi Somaya Gowda, New York Times bestselling author of Secret Daughter
    Kirkus Reviews:
     A lyrical novel that touches on themes both huge and intimate and, like Layla, is so quietly bold that we might miss its strength if we fail to pay attention.
    Library Journal:
    The historical detail makes this debut novel a rich reading experience. Those who enjoy historical fiction and portraits of foreign cultures will surely love this book.—Kristen Stewart

    Read an excerpt:

    My name is Layla and I was born under an unlucky star. The time and place of my birth makes me a Manglik. For a young girl growing up in India in the 1940s, this is bad news. The planet Mars is predominant in my Hindu horoscope and this angry red planet makes people rebellious and militant by nature. Everyone knows I am astrologically doomed and fated never to marry. Marriages in our society are arranged by astrology and nobody wants a warlike bride. Women are meant to be the needle that stitches families together, not the scissors that cut.
    But everything began to change for me on April 7, 1943.
    Three things happened that day: Boris Ivanov, the famous Russian novelist, slipped on a tuberose at the grand opening ceremony of a new school, fell and broke his leg; a baby crow fell out of its nest in the mango tree; and I, Layla Roy, aged seventeen, fell in love with Manik Deb.
    The incidents may have remained unconnected, like three tiny droplets on a lily leaf. But the leaf tipped and the drops rolled into one. It was a tiny shift in the cosmos, I believe, that tipped us together—Boris Ivanov, the baby crow, Manik Deb and me.
    It was the inauguration day of the new school: a rainy-sunshine day, I remember well, delicate and ephemeral—the kind locals here in Assam call "jackal wedding days." I am not sure where the saying comes from, or whether it means good luck or bad, or perhaps a little bit of both. It would seem as though the sky could not decide whether to bless or bemoan the occasion—quite ironic, if you think about it, because that is exactly how some people felt about the new English girls' school opening in our town.
    The demonstrators, on the other hand, were pretty much set in their views. They gathered outside the school gates in their patriotic white clothes, carrying banners with misspelled English slogans like: INDIA FOR INDANS and STOP ENGLIS EDUCATON NOW.
    Earlier that morning, my grandfather, Dadamoshai, the founder of the girls' school, had chased the demonstrators down the road with his large, formidable umbrella. They had scattered like cockroaches and sought refuge behind the holy banyan tree.
    "Retarded donkeys! Imbeciles!" Dadamoshai yelled, shaking his umbrella at the sky. "Learn to spell before you go around demonstrating your nitwit ideas!"
    Dadamoshai was an advocate of English education, and nothing irked him more than the massacre of the English language. The demonstrators knew better than to challenge him. They were just rabble-rousers anyway, stuffed with half-baked ideas by local politicians who knew what to rail against, but not what to fight for. Nobody wanted to butt heads with Dadamoshai. He had once been the most powerful District Judge in the state of Assam. With his mane of flowing hair, his long sure stride and deep oratorical voice, he was an imposing figure in our town, and people respectfully stepped aside when they saw him coming. To most people he was known simply as the Rai Bahadur, an honorary title bestowed on him by the British for his service to the crown. There was even a road named after him: the Rai Bahadur Road. It's a very famous road in our town and anybody can direct you there, yet it appears unnamed on municipal maps because it does not lead to any place and deadends in a river over which there is no bridge. The Rai Bahadur Road is just that: a beginning and an end unto itself.
    When I arrived at the school that morning, the demonstrators were a sorry lot. It had rained some more and the cheap ink from their banners had run, staining their white clothes. What was even sadder was that somebody had tried to hand-correct the spellings with a blue fountain pen. Somewhere down the line, they had simply lost heart. They sat listlessly on their haunches and smoked cigarettes while their limp banners flopped against the wall.
    One of them nudged the other when he saw me coming. I heard him say, "It's her, look—the Rai Bahadur's granddaughter!"
    I must have rekindled their patriotism because they grabbed their banners and blocked my entrance to the school. "No English! India for Indians! No English!" they shouted.
    I was wondering how to get past them when I remembered something Dadamoshai once told me: Use your mind, Layla—it is the most powerful weapon you have. I continued to walk toward them and pointed my mind like a sword. It worked: they parted to let me through. The gate shut behind me, and I continued down the graveled driveway to the new school building. It was an L-shaped structure, freshly whitewashed, with a large unpaved playground and three tamarind trees. Piles of construction debris lay pushed to one side.
    The voices of young girls chirruped on the veranda. Students aged nine or ten sat cross-legged on the floor, stringing together garlands of marigold and tuberose to decorate the stage for the inauguration ceremony.
    "Layla!" Miss Rose called out from a classroom as I walked past. I peeked through the door. Rose Cabral was sitting at the teacher's desk, sorting through a pile of printed programs. There was a large world map tacked to the back wall and the room smelled overwhelmingly of varnish. Miss Rose, as she was called, was a young Anglo-Indian teacher with chestnut brown hair and pink cat's-eye glasses with diamond accents. The small fry of the school swooned with adoration for her and wanted to lick her like a lollipop.
    Miss Rose was about to say something when she sneezed daintily. "Oh dear," she said, wiping her nose on a pink handkerchief edged with tatting lace. "I don't know if it's the varnish or this fickle weather. Layla, oh my! How you have grown! What a lovely young woman you are. Are you still being privately tutored by Miss Thompson, dear?"
    "No, not any longer, Miss Rose," I said. "I passed my matriculation last year."
    "So you must be all ready to get married now, eh? Suitors will be lining up outside your door."
    "Oh no—no, I don't plan to get married," I said quickly. "I want to become a teacher, actually." I did not tell Miss Rose that marriage was not in my cards. It would be hard to explain to her why being born under a certain ill-fated star could negate your chances of finding a husband.
    A tiny, round-shouldered girl with thick braids appeared in the doorway, pigeon-toed and fidgeting.
    "Yes, what is it, Malika?" Miss Rose said. "Miss…miss…"
    "Speak up, child."
    "We have no more white flowers, Miss Rose."
    "The tuberose? I thought we had plenty. All right, I am coming." Miss Rose sighed, bunching up her papers. "I better go and see what's going on. Oh, Layla, there's a packet of rice powder for you lying on the secretary's desk in the principal's office. I suppose you know what it is for?"
    "It's for the alpana I am painting in the entryway," I said. Miss Rose looked blank, so I explained. "You know, the white designs—" I made curlicue shapes in the air "—the kind you see painted on the floor at Indian weddings and religious ceremonies?"
    "Ah yes. They are so intricate. Boris Ivanov will like that. He loves Indian art. I hope you have brought your brushes or whatever you need, Layla. We don't have anything here, you know."
    "I don't need any brushes," I said. "I just use my fingers and a cotton swab. I have that. Miss Rose, is my grandfather still here?"
    "The Rai Bahadur left for the courthouse an hour ago. He said to tell you he will be home for lunch. Boris Ivanov's train is running three hours late. Let me know if you need anything, Layla. I am here all afternoon."
    It was close to lunchtime when I got the alpana done, so instead of going to the library as I had planned, I went home. Dadamoshai's house was a fifteen-minute walk from the school. I passed the holy banyan tree and saw that the protestors had abandoned their wilted banners behind it. The tree was over two hundred years old, massive and gnarled, with thick roots that hung down from the branches like the dreadlocks of demons. In its hollowed root base was a collection of faded gods surrounded by tired marigold garlands. I walked past the stench of the fish market, the idling rickshaws at the bus stand and the three crooked tea stalls that supported one another like drunken brothers, till I came to a four-way crossing where I turned right on to the Rai Bahadur Road.
    It was an impressive road, man-made and purposeful: not like the fickle pathways in town, that changed directions with the rain and got bullied by groundcover. The road to my grandfather's house was wide and tree-lined, with Gulmohor Flame Trees planted at regular intervals: exactly thirty feet apart. Their leafy branches crisscrossed overhead to form a magnificent latticed archway. On summer days the road was flecked with gold, and spring breezes showered down a torrent of vermilion petals that swirled and trembled in the dust like wounded butterflies. Rice fields on either side intersected in quilted patches of green to fade into the shimmering haze of the bamboo grove. Up ahead, the river winked over the tall embankment where fishing nets lay drying on bamboo poles silhouetted against the noonday sun.
    I adjusted my eyes. Was that a man standing under the mango tree by our front gate? It was indeed. Even at that distance, I could tell he was a foreigner, just by his stance. His legs planted wide, shoulders thrown back, he had that ease of body some foreigners have. I was curious. What was he doing? His hands were folded together and he was gazing up at the branches with what appeared to be deep piety. Oddly enough, it looked as though the foreigner was praying to the mango tree!
    The man heard me coming and glanced briefly in my direction. He must have expected me to walk on by, but when I stopped at our gate, he looked at me curiously. He was a disconcertingly attractive man in a poetic kind of way, with long, finger-raked hair and dark and steady eyes behind black-framed glasses. A slow smile wavered and tugged at the corners of his mouth.
    When I saw what he was holding in his cupped hands, I realized I had misjudged his piety. It was a baby crow.
    "Do you live in the Rai Bahadur's house?" he asked pleasantly. He spoke impeccable Bengali, with no trace of a foreign accent. I figured he must be an Indian who probably lived abroad.
    "Yes," I said.
    The man was obviously unschooled in the nuances of our society, because he stared at me candidly with none of the calculated deference and awkwardness of Indian men. I could feel my ears burning.
    The crow chick struggled feebly in his hand. It stretched out a scrawny neck and opened its yellow-rimmed beak, exposing a pink, diamond-shaped mouth. It was bald except for a light gray fuzz over the top of its head. Its blue eyelids stretched gossamer thin over yet unopened eyes.
    "We have a displaced youngster," the man said, glancing at the chick. "Any idea what kind of bird this is?"
    "It's a baby crow," I replied, marveling how gently he held the tiny creature. It had nodded off to sleep, resting its yellow beak against his thumb. He had nicely shaped fingernails, I noticed.
    I pointed up at the branches. "There's a nest up that mango tree."
    He was not looking at the tree, but at my hand. "What's that?" he asked suddenly.
    "Where?" I jerked back my hand and saw I had traces of the white rice paste still ringed around my fingernails. "Oh," I said, curling my fingers into a ball, "that's…that's just from the alpanadecoration I was doing at the school."
    "Are you related to the Rai Bahadur?"
    "He is my grandfather."
    "Is this the famous English girls' school everybody is talking about? What is the special occasion?"
    "Today is the grand opening," I said. "A Russian dignitary is coming to cut the ribbon."
    "Boris Ivanov?" he asked.
    I stared at him. "How did you know?"
    "There are not many Russians floating around this tiny town in Assam, are there? I happen to be well acquainted with Ivanov."
    I wanted to ask more, but refrained.
    He tilted his head, squinting up at the branches, then pushed his sliding glasses back up his nose with his arm. The chick woke up with a sharp cheep that startled us both. "Ah, I see the nest. Maybe I should try and put this little fellow back," he said.
    "You are going to climb the mango tree?" I asked a little incredulously. The man looked too civilized to climb trees. His shirt was too white and he wore city shoes.
    "It looks easy enough." He looked up and down the branches as though he was calculating his foothold. He grinned suddenly, a deep crease softening the side of his face. "If I fall, you can laugh and tell all your friends."
    I had no friends, but I did not tell him that.
    "There's not much point, really." I hesitated, wondering how I was going to say this without sounding too heartless. "You see, this is very common. Baby crows get pushed out of that nest every year by…" I moved closer to the tree, shaded my eyes and looked up, then gestured him over. "See that other chick? Stand right where I am standing. Can you see it?"
    We were standing so close his shirtsleeve brushed my arm. I could smell the starch mingled with faint sweat and a hint of tobacco. My head reeled slightly.
    He tilted his head. "Ah yes, I see the sibling," he said.
    "That's not a sibling—it's a baby koel."
    His face drew a blank.
    "The Indian cuckoo. Don't you know anything about koels?"
    "I am afraid not," he said, looking bemused. "But I beg to be educated. Before that, I need to put our friend down someplace. I am getting rather tired of holding him." He looked around, then walked over to the garden wall and set the baby crow down on the ground. It belly-waddled into a shady patch and stretched out its scrawny neck, cheeping plaintively.
    I was about to speak when a cloud broke open and a sheet of golden rain shimmered down. We both hurried under the mango tree. There we were all huddled cozily together—the man, the chick and me.
    A cycle rickshaw clattered down the road. It was fat Mrs. Ghosh, squeezed in among baskets and bundles, on her way home from the fish market. She looked at us curiously, her eyes bulging slightly, perhaps wondering to herself: Am I seeing things? Is that the Rai Bahadur's granddaughter with a young man under the mango tree? This was going to be big news, I could tell, because everybody in town knew that the Rai Bahadur's granddaughter avoided the opposite sex like a Hindu avoids beef.
    The cloud passed and the sun winked back and I hurried out from under the tree. To cover up my embarrassment, I launched into an involved lecture on the nesting habits of koels and crows.
    "The koel, or Indian cuckoo, is a brood parasite," I said. "A bird that lays its egg in the nest of another. Like that crow's nest up there." I pointed upward with my right hand and then, remembering my dirty fingernails, switched to my left hand. "See how sturdy the nest is? Crows are really clever engineers. They pick the perfect intersections of branches and build the nest with strong twigs. They live in that same nest for years and years."
    "Are their marriages as stable as their nests?" The man winked, teasing me. "Do they last as long?"
    "That…that I don't know," I said, twisting the end of my sari. I wished he would not look at me like that.
    "I am only teasing you. Oh, please go on."