Friday, July 31, 2015

August preview

It's the last blast of summer, soon school will start and your vacation will only be a fond memory or a road trip from, well you get the picture ;-)

Here's what's coming up in August on The Reading Frenzy

August 3rd  - Interview/review Lamp Black, Wolf Grey - Paula Brackston

August 4th - Book Blast/blog tour - Local St. Louis author Jo Heistand book blast sponsored by Partners in Crime blog tours

August 5th #Giveaway/Interview - The Comfort of Black- Carter Wilson

August 7th - Interview - The Coincidence of Coconut Cake - Amy Riechert

August 10th - Interview - Rome in Love - Anita Hughes

August 11th - Interview - Weightless - Sarah Bannan

August 12 - Interview - Enchantress of Paris - Marci Jefferson

August 13th - GIVEAWAY - Interview - Three Rivers - Tiffany Quay Tyson

August 14th - Interview - Fishbowl - Bradley Somer

August 17th - Interview/blog tour - Blood Rose - Danielle Rose

August 18th - Interview - Some Like It Scot - Suzanne Enoch

August 24th - Interview/review(s) - The Gretel Mystery series - PJ Brackston

August 25th - Review/blog tour - If You Only Knew - Kristan Higgins - Little Bird publicity

There will always be changes, giveaways added, cancelations and additions so be sure to check in daily to see what's up!!

Enjoy your August and spend some of if with The Reading Frenzy

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Interview - Pam Jenoff - The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach - Review

Please welcome Pam Jenoff back to the blog, she was here last year talking about her novel, The Winter Guest. Today she's here talking about her latest and also a WWII tale The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach.

ISBN-13: 9780778317548
Publisher: MIRA
Release Date: 07/28/2015
Length: 384pp
Buy It: B&N/Amazon/Kobo/IndyBound/Audible


Summer 1941
Young Adelia Montforte flees fascist Italy for America, where she is whisked away to the shore by her well-meaning aunt and uncle. Here, she meets and falls for Charlie Connally, the eldest of the four Irish-Catholic boys next door. But all hopes for a future together are soon throttled by the war and a tragedy that hits much closer to home.
Grief-stricken, Addie flees—first to Washington and then to war-torn London—and finds a position at a prestigious newspaper, as well as a chance to redeem lost time, lost family…and lost love. But the past always nips at her heels, demanding to be reckoned with. And in a final, fateful choice, Addie discovers that the way home may be a path she never suspected.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Interview with Marilyn Brant - The One That I Want - Review

I'm so happy to bring back to the blog one of my all time favorite and always a go-to author for me, Marilyn Brant. She's been busy since she last visited working on her new Mirabelle Harbor series and now Book 1, The One That I Want, and her prequel novella, Take a Chance On Me, are both out and she's here to tell us a little about them.

ISBN-13: 9780996117814
Publisher: Twelfth Night Publishing
Release Date: 07/20/2015
Length: 264 pp
Buy It: B&N/Amazon/Kobo


THE ONE THAT I WANT is Book 2 in Marilyn Brant's Mirabelle Harbor series, but this story and all of the contemporary romances in this series can be enjoyed as stand-alone novels.
The summer after her beloved husband died in a car accident, Julia Meriwether Crane is still picking up the pieces of her life in Mirabelle Harbor and trying to help her ten-year-old daughter adjust to this difficult new reality. 
Read an Excerpt:


Read an excerpt:

Story Excerpt:

With the exception of my best friend Sharlene, the others had gone back to their conversations so, thankfully, I didn't have too many people witnessing my fumbles with setting up a (sort-of) date for the first time in twelve years. It was awkward, but I agreed to coffee with my old high-school boyfriend and gave Kristopher my phone number, which he dutifully punched into his cell so we could arrange a time and day to meet.

Shar nudged me when he wasn't looking and whispered, "See? Not so hard, is it?"

I made a face at her and shrugged.

Finally, the party was beginning to break up. I was mentally congratulating myself on making it through the evening when Elsie wolf whistled. "Wait, people!"

Everyone halted.

"I've been wanting to tell you this good news all night." She paused for effect. "You know my friend Rosemary, the one who works at the Knightsbridge Theater in the city, right?"

Most of the group nodded, seeming to have met Elsie's friend or, at least, heard about her.

"There's a dress rehearsal for their upcoming summer production, 'The Bachelor Pad,' this Thursday at six-thirty in the evening, in advance of next Friday's Opening Night," Elsie said. "And Rosemary reserved a block of seats for us."

Despite the noise in the wine bar, an audible spike in sound came on the heels of those words, and a couple of the women actually squealed.

I squinted at them. I mean, tickets to a play were always nice, but wasn't this taking theatrical enthusiasm a bit far?

"But that's not all," Elsie continued enthusiastically. "Rosemary also got us passes to meet the cast, just as she did for that steampunk musical last year--"

"Steampunk musical?" I hissed in Shar's ear.

She nodded. "It was bizarre. Tell you more about it later."

I grinned and brought my glass of wine to my lips, draining it of its final swallow.

"--including a special Q&A session with the director, Zachary Leeward," Elsie added, "and with the star of the show, Dane Tyler."

I choked on the last drops of Merlot, coughing so hard that Bill reached across the table to hand me a fresh glass of ice water, Shar patted me on the back, and everyone else stared at me worriedly. Except for Kristopher. He shot me a knowing look.

Yeah, of course he'd remember that.

"Are you okay?" Elsie asked me.

I gulped down half the water. Oh, God. Of all the actors on the planet--Dane Tyler. Here? REALLY?

My teen world had just materialized out of thin air, like that freaky phantom ship that came from absolutely nowhere in Pirates of the Caribbean. My gut twisted weirdly, and I could barely breathe. "P-Please go on," I managed to whisper.

Friday, July 24, 2015

**Giveaway** Interview with Jerry Kaczmarowski– Sapient

Today I'm happy to present an interview with Jerry Kaczmarowski about his new release Sapient. Jerry's publicist Kelsey McBride at Book Publicity Services is sponsoring the giveaway, details below.
Enjoy the conversation then enter to win an e-copy for yourself.

ISBN-13: 9780990410928
Publisher: Jerry Kaczmarowski
Release Date: 04/14/2015
1124 KB - 381 pp
Buy It: B&N/Amazon

Abandoned by her husband after the birth of their child, Jane Dixon’s world is defined by her autistic son and the research she does to find a cure for his condition. She knows her work on animal intelligence may hold the key. She also knows that the research will take decades to complete. None of it will ultimately benefit her son.

All that changes when a lab rat named Einstein demonstrates that he can read and write. Just as her research yields results, the U.S. government discovers her program. The army wants to harness her research for its military potential.  The CDC wants to shut her down completely.  The implications of animal intelligence are too dangerous, particularly when the previously inert virus proves to be highly contagious.

She steals the virus to cure her son, but the government discovers the theft. She must now escape to Canada before the authorities can replace her son’s mental prison with a physical one.

Giveaway is for one Kindle version of
Open Internationally
Please use Rafflecopter form below to enter
Sponsored by Book Publicity Services
Good Luck!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Interview with J.T. Ellison - What Lies Behind - Review

I'm so pleased to present NY Times Bestselling author J.T. Ellison's interview plus my review of her newest thriller, What Lies Behind. I met JT several years ago when Bouchercon was in St. Louis and I was thrilled to be able to moderate a panel with her and two other mystery authors,  Hank Phillipi Ryan and Julie Compton.
Since then JT has become one of my very favorite thriller writers who keeps me on the edge of my seat from page one until the end.
Enjoy our Chat!

ISBN-13: 9780778316503
Publisher:  MIRA
Release Date: 05/26/2015
Length: 400pp
Buy It: B&N/Amazon/Kobo/IndyBound/Audible


Critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison delivers another riveting novel featuring the incomparable Dr. Samantha Owens
Waking to sirens in the night is hardly unusual for Samantha Owens. No longer a medical examiner, she doesn't lose sleep over them, but a local police investigation has her curious. When her homicide detective friend, Darren Fletcher, invites her to look over the evidence, she realizes the crime scene has been staged. What seems to be a clear case of murder/suicide—a crime of passion—is anything but. The discovery of toxic substances in hidden vials indicates that something much more sinister is at play…
Read an Excerpt:

Georgetown Washington, D.C. 
Tuesday morning
They'd drunk too much, gotten too loud, too boisterous. Mr. Smith's kicked them out a few minutes past midnight, and they stumbled into the Georgetown night, dragged themselves up Wisconsin and loped across M Street, tripping and clutching each other to stay upright, cackling hysterically, their heels an incoherent tattoo on the sidewalks. People watched them, their antics greeted with amusement or derision, depending on the mood of the observers.
"I can't go on, I can't. Stop, Emma, please, stop."
Emma, ponytailed, blonde and lanky, fiddled with her tights with one hand, tugged on Cameron's arm. "I gotta pee. We can't stop now, Cam, it's just a few more blocks."
"My feet hurt. And my head." Cameron slipped, landed hard against the plate-glass window of Starbucks. "Bump!" That set them off again, the giggles turning into guffaws.
Emma yanked on the door to the darkened store. "Nuts. They're closed."
"Why are they closed?" Cameron whined.
"'Cause it's midnight. The witching hour. And you're not a witch, you're just a bitch. Tommy's place is just ahead. Can you make it there?"
Cameron squeezed her eyes closed, chanting the rhyme under her breath. "Not a witch, just a bitch, not a witch, just a bitch."
"You really are screwed up, aren't you? Come on." Emma dragged her to her feet, off down the darkened street.
Georgetown never truly sleeps. Even when the bars close, there are still people about—joggers, the ubiquitous construction workers, musicians and homeless, dog walkers and students, lovers and mistresses. A stew of incessant liveliness, perfect for the college-aged and the cuckolded. The romantics and the hardened.
They made it a block before Cameron stopped dead. She grabbed Emma's arm, nails digging into the soft flesh. "Did you hear that?"
Emma strained, but one block up from M Street and two blocks over, all she heard was the tittering of the night birds and the whooshing of tires on pavement, maybe some faint, masked music. "Hear what?"
Cameron shook her head. "I thought I heard something. Someone shouted. I'm drunk. Where are we?"
Emma glanced at the sign on the corner. The numbers and letters weaved together. She shut one eye and the familiar N floated into range.
"We're on N Street. One more block up. Come on already."
They started off again. "How are you going to get in? I thought you two broke up. Didn't he take back his key?"
"We're not broken up. Just on a break. There's a difference. He's so busy now, with school and working. He just took on another new project. He needed some space. I understand."
"Oh. I see. You understand why you're not important to him anymore. Big of you."
"Bitch." But there was no heat behind the word.
She heard footsteps. Straightened in time to see a jogger cross the street in front of them, legs pounding out a steady rhythm. Chick could move. Emma wasn't a runner. She played tennis, quite well, but the idea of running for the sake of running was boring to her. At least on the courts there was a tangible goal.
She realized she was alone, looked over her shoulder. Cameron had stopped again, was leaning woozily on a trash can.
"Come on," Emma said, her tongue getting stuck on the words. She bit back a giggle and held out her hand. "We're almost there."
"Gotta rest."
"Fooocuuuus, Cameron. Don't make me leave you behind in the dark, all alone. Whooooo. Big nasty dark gonna eat you alive."
Cameron flipped Emma the bird and stumbled back to her feet. "Lesgo."
A car turned the corner, engine purring as it disappeared behind them. Now they were truly alone.
One block, turn right. Twenty steps more, then the basement apartment railing appeared on her left. Emma fished the key out of her bra. She'd known they were going to be drunk tonight. Thought a little booty call would be appropriate, even though she and Tommy had, in essence, broken up. Not because he didn't dig her; he did, she knew it. It was just school was tough on him.
She knew Tommy would be home studying, late into the night, working on some random epithelial cell or DNA splicing theory, as he always seemed to be. Medical school was hard. Hell, undergrad was hard. Harder than she'd expected. Life was hard, too, especially for a pretty young thing with just enough smarts to make it into Georgetown, but maybe not quite enough to stay there. Her parents would freak if she failed out.
Tomorrow, I'll stop drinking and partying and really study.
But for tonight, everyone needed to blow off some steam, get a little nookie. Sex was good for the brain. Raised the levels of oxytocin, serotonin, melatonin, all those tonins Tommy liked to talk about.
Emma shook her hair free of its ponytail so it would fall in a sultry mass about her shoulders, sloppily freshened her lip gloss, licked her lips and shot Cameron a look. Cam seemed like she was about to pass out. Her eyes were half-shut, the smile on her face dreamy and stupid.
Emma slipped as she went down the five stairs to Tommy's front door. She grabbed the railing with both arms, clung on, the metal biting cruelly into her rib cage. She managed not to drop the key, but one sky-high platform peep-toe clattered toward the door, hitting it with a thump.
"Whoops," she said, laughing. Cameron hooted like it was the best trick she'd ever seen.
Emma put a finger to her lips. "Shhh. God, you're gonna wake the whole street." She righted herself with dignity, squared her shoulders and put the key in the lock.
"Aren't you going to knock?" Cameron asked.
"Why?" Emma replied, jiggling the key, then turning the knob. The door swung open into darkness.
"Darn it. He's asleep," Emma said, looking back over her shoulder. "Better be quiet, Cam. Can you be quiet?"
"Go in, for Chrissakes. I need a drink."
Emma took off her other heel and stepped inside, the straps looped on her index finger. It was dark, so dark she couldn't see anything. She ran her hand along the wall by the door, found the light switch. The lamp in the foyer cast its yellow glow into the hallway. Tommy's bike was leaning against the wall. Careful not to knock it over, she pulled Cameron inside and shut the door. Made her way down the hall into the living room.
Turned on the light. Saw red, and it took a moment for reality to penetrate her margarita-fogged brain.
Not red.
Blood, everywhere. The sofa, the floor, the wall by the two-seater bar.
Emma stood frozen, unable to move. Cameron was busy getting sick behind her, gagging and choking. Only then did the smell of the blood hit her, meaty and raw, like steaks left too long in the refrigerator, their surface shiny and green.
Want to run, want to hide, want to go away.
Something kept her rooted to the spot. "Tommy?" she called.
There was no answer.
"Stay here," she told Cameron, an unnecessary direction. Cam was on her hands and knees, moaning, trying and failing to scrabble backward away from the living room and the vomit. She bumped up against the hallway wall and ducked her head into her hands, eyes squeezed tightly shut. She wasn't going to be of any help.
Careful to avoid stepping in the blood, Emma moved along the edges of the living room. Tommy's bedroom was down the hall. It was dark. There were no sounds but Cameron's low keening, which sent shivers down Emma's spine.
"Please," she said, uncertain to whom the plea was directed. Please don't let this be Tommy's blood. Please don't let him be hurt. Please don't let him be dead.Please please please please please.
His door was shut. She steeled herself, took two deep breaths. The smell was worse here, tighter, fresher. Almost alive in its awfulness.
She opened the door, flipped on the light.
Over and over and over again. Screams.

• *
The wailing jolted Dr. Samantha Owens from sleep. She listened for a moment, heard them growing louder. They were close. Too close. Several of them, caterwauling through the night as they came near. Instead of peaking and fading, blue lights suddenly flashed on the opposite wall of her bedroom, rotating frantically. The sirens ended with a squawk, but the lights continued their alternating strobes. Based on the angle of the flashes, they'd stopped on O Street.
Her home in Georgetown was generally quiet and calm in the darkness. A few drunk kids every once in a while, hollering as they wound their way back to campus, but rarely something like this.
Clearly, something terrible had happened.
Sam was used to sirens. Living in the city meant they were a regular, nightly, daily occurrence. Sirens used to be the precursor to her part in the festivities, so she always registered their noise. Sirens used to mean her phone was going to ring, and she'd have to drop everything and rush to a crime scene. But that was another life, in another city. One she tried very hard to put behind her.
Her phone wasn't going to ring, but habits die hard. She glanced at the clock—one in the morning.
She got up, pulled a brush through her shoulder-length brown hair, slipped a warm cashmere sweater over her thin T-shirt, pulled on black leggings and a pair of leather ankle boots. Grabbed a pashmina and tossed it around her shoulders.
Autumn was in full swing, and the late-September temperatures had dropped precipitously over the past week, making D.C. shiver. The bedroom, too, was cold, empty of Xan-der and his internal furnace. He was on assignment, a close-protection detail with one of his old Army buddies, Chalk. Trevor Reeves Worthington III on his driver's license, but Chalk forever to his Army mates, named for his propensity to write everything down.
It had only been three weeks since Xander and Chalk had hung out their shingle, made the business official, and they'd already been in high demand. She was glad to see Xander reengage with the world, though she had to admit, it was a bit of a shame. She liked the idea of him up in the woods with Thor at his side, doing his best Thoreau, leading the occasional fishing party, hiking solitary through the woods. The new gig was intense, all-hours, and took him away too much for her liking. Plus, his main job was to throw himself in front of a bullet should the need arise, and she wasn't at all comfortable with the thought.
She started down the stairs, whistled for Thor. The German shepherd was waiting for her already, ears pricked. She knelt beside him, buried her face in his fur. He was warm, like his daddy, had been curled in a ball in his sheepskin bed, dreaming doggy dreams. He nuzzled her and licked her on the nose gently, then went to stand by the door, alert and ready.
"Let's go out the back, baby."
He hurried to her side, and she fastened his lead. She opened the back door, was rewarded with a gust of chilly air, and the voices that carried from the other side of her privacy fence.
You have stooped to a new level, Owens, trying to eavesdrop on a crime scene.
But she went to the far fence, skirting the eternity pool, Thor stuck to her leg like glue. Put her head against the wood. If she turned slightly sideways, she could see through the double slats.
It was so familiar, the shouts and calls. The first responders were there, the police, too. An ambulance was parked on the corner. As she watched, EMTs scrambled toward it with a stretcher. One was kneeling on the gurney itself, straddling a body of indeterminate sex, performing CPR with single-minded intensity.
The open doors of the ambulance blocked the rest. Moments later, they slammed shut and it left in a hurry, sirens wailing. The fire trucks followed, calm now, big beasts rumbling into the night.
The police stayed.
Definitely not a good sign.
She wondered if her friend Darren Fletcher, the newly minted homicide lieutenant, would show. She didn't know why she assumed it was a homicide, or an attempted homicide, given that someone had been brought out at a rush. It could be anything. More than likely, at this time of night, it was a simple domestic dispute. Someone was punched, had a bloody nose, a black eye, then things got out of control. She ran through the neighbors she knew on O Street, people she'd waved to when walking Thor, imagining them in various states of fury and undress.
Maybe a heart attack. Or a stroke. Embolism, aneurysm, overdose.
God, you are cheery, aren't you?
She heard one of the cops say, "Hernandez, while you're at it, go ahead and call the OCME. We'll need them."
And she knew. Something inside her gave a little buzz. Death comes in all forms, from all directions. Expected or by surprise, it was the greatest common denominator, the great equalizer. She felt an affinity with the grimness, couldn't help that. But she had a choice, now. A choice to walk away from the carnage, from the horror. To face death on her own terms, especially since she'd agreed to work with the FBI on their more esoteric cases. A deal made all the more tantalizing because they wouldn't be dragging her out of bed in the middle of the night to parade, yawning, to a crime scene, where she'd face death in all its incarnations, as she had for so many years as a medical examiner.
She had a more immediate choice, as well. She could open the gate, walk around the block, stand with the crowd of neighbors who'd come to watch the show. Or she could go back inside and return to bed. She'd be able to get several more hours of sleep if she went inside now.
You're not the M.E. anymore, Sam. She stepped away from the fence.
Thor took advantage of the nocturnal walk to do his business, then she followed him into the silent house, feeling strangely hollow. As she closed the door behind her and watched Thor scoot back to bed, something made her pull out her cell phone and send Fletcher a text.
What's up on O Street?
She knew it wasn't too late for him; he was a night owl, especially now that he was seeing FBI Agent Jordan Blake. He'd be up, one way or another. She sent another, this time to Xander.
Miss you.
She poured herself a finger of Ardbeg, thought about it, brought the bottle with her to the couch. Sat down. Took off her boots.
Didn't know exactly what she was waiting for.
She spared a glance at the file folders on the coffee table in front of her. She'd left them scattered carelessly in frustration before climbing the stairs to bed. Crime scene and autopsy photos spilled out of the manila folders, coupled with her notes and Baldwin's notes and toxicology reports, all jumbled together on the smoky glass. She'd pulled all the autopsy reports from the files and stacked them neatly on the side table; they were her reading material and were proving to be an even bigger frustration than the case itself. This massive, sprawling, unnamed and unacknowledged case.
There were so many pathologists, coroners, methods, regulations, jurisdictions. No one did a postmortem exactly the same, much less were handling several of the individual cases as if there was a criminal component. She'd begun to feel she was interpreting without a Rosetta stone.
When John Baldwin had talked her into coming on board the FBI as a consultant to the behavioral analysis unit, BAU II, to work with his infamous group of profilers, he'd promised she could pick her cases. True to his word, he'd brought her to Quantico, gotten her set up with passes and emails and paperwork galore, then set her loose in the BAU file room. They had so much work, and so few people to handle it, any help was welcome.
And whether she was trying to prove her worth to her new team, or to herself, she'd chosen the big daddy of them all. A stack of files that were getting dusty, because no one could manage to link them, even though there was a single similarity between each victim—every woman was from the same hometown. New Orleans.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Martian By Andy Weir - Review - Showcase of the Goodreads Group Read

ISBN-13: 9780553418026
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Release Date: 02/11/2014
Length: 384 pp
Buy It: B&N/Amazon/Kobo/IndyBound/Audible


Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.
Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Interview with Shona Patel - Flame Tree Road

Please welcome author Shona Patel back to the blog, last year she was here chatting about her debut, Teatime For Firefly. Today she's here about her second novel release, Flame Tree Road.

ISBN-13: 9780778316657
Publisher: MIRA
Release Date: 06/30/2015
Length: 416 pp
Buy It: B&N/Amazon/Kobo/IndyBound/Audible


From the acclaimed author of Teatime for the Firefly comes the story of a man with dreams of changing the world, who finds himself changed by love
1870s India. In a tiny village where society is ruled by a caste system and women are defined solely by marriage, young Biren Roy dreams of forging a new destiny. When his mother suffers the fate of widowhood—shunned by her loved ones and forced to live in solitary penance—Biren devotes his life to effecting change.
Read an Excerpt:

Small villages cluster the waterways of East Bengal in India. Seen from above they must appear like berries along a stem, dense or sparse depending on the river traffic that flows through. Crescent-shaped fishing boats skim the waters with threadbare sails that catch the wind with the hollow flap of a heron's wing. Larger boats carry people or cargo: bamboo baskets, coconut and long sticks of sugarcane that curve on their weight down to the water's edge. There are landing ghats along the riverbank with bamboo jetties that stick out over the floating water hyacinth. Here the boats stop and people get on or off and take the meandering paths that lead through the rice fields and bamboo groves into the villages.
Once a week, the big world passes by in the form of a paddleboat steamer bound for important destinations: Narayanganj, Dhaka, Calcutta. It shows up on the horizon, first a tiny speck the size of a peppercorn, and grows to its full girth as it draws closer. The village boats scatter at the sound of its imperious hoot, and small boys in ragged shorts jump and wave at the lascar who moves easily along the deck with the swashbuckling sway of a true seafarer. His long black hair and white tunic whip in the river breeze as the steamer gushes by with a rhythmic swish of its side paddles, leaving the tiny boats bobbing like toothpicks in its wake.
Once a bridal party loaded with pots and garlands caught the powerful wake of the steamer as it passed. It bounced the boat and almost tossed the young bride into the river. The shy young husband instinctively grabbed his wife, drawing her into an awkward but intimate embrace. The veil slipped from the bride's head and he saw for the first time her bright young face and dark, mischievous eyes. He drew back, embarrassed. His male companions broke into wolf whistles and rousing cheers and his bride gave him a slant-eyed smile that made his emotions settle in unexpected places. During the remainder of the journey, their fingertips occasionally met and lingered under the long veil of her red and gold sari. chapter 1
Sylhet, Bengal, 1871
Shibani was the lighthearted one, with curly eyelashes and slightly crooked teeth, still girlish and carefree for a seventeen-year-old and hardly the demure and collected daughter-in-law of the Roy household she was expected to be. Having grown up with five brothers, she behaved like a tomboy despite her long hair, which she wore, braided and looped, on either side of her head twisted with jasmine and bright red ribbons.
Everything was so strict in her husband's house. The clothes had to be folded a certain way, the brinjal cut into perfect half-inch rounds, the potato slivered as thin as match-sticks. Then there were fasting Mondays, temple Tuesdays, vegetarian Thursdays. Mother-in-law was very particular about everything and she could be curt if things were not to her exacting standards. But Father-in-law was softhearted; Shibani was the daughter he had always wished for. She brought light into the house, especially after the older daughter-in-law, who walked around with her duck-footed gait and face gloomy as a cauldron's bottom. Perhaps being childless had made her so, but even as a young bride the older daughter-in-law had never smiled. What a contrast to young Shibani, whose veil hardly stayed up on her head, who ate chili tamarind, smacked her lips and broke into giggling fits that sometimes ended in a helpless snort.
During evening prayers Shibani puffed her cheeks and blew the conch horn with more gaiety than piety. She created dramatic sweeping arcs with the diya oil lamps, and her ululation was louder and more prolonged than necessary. Mother-in-law paused her chanting to give her a chastising look through half-closed eyes. Father-in-law smothered a smile while her husband, Shamol, looked sheepish, nervous and love struck all at the same time.
Every evening Shibani picked a handful of night jasmine to place in a brass bowl by her bedside so she and her husband could share the sweetness as they lay in the darkness together.
A year after they were married, the first son was born. They named him Biren: Lord of Warriors. Shamol carefully noted the significance of his birth date—29 February 1872—a leap year by the English calendar. Shamol worked for Victoria Jute Mills and owned one of the few English calendars in the village. Just to look at the dated squares made him feel as though he had moved ahead in the world, as the rest of the village followed the Bengali calendar, where the year was only 1279.
In truth, moving ahead in the world had been nipped in the bud for Shamol Roy. He was studying to be a schoolteacher and was halfway through his degree but had been forced to give up his education and work in a jute mill to support the family. This was after his older brother had been gored by a Brahman bull near the fish market a few years earlier. His brother recovered but made a show of acting incapacitated, as he had lost the will to work after he developed an opium habit—the drug he had used initially to manage the pain. Only Shamol knew about his addiction, but he was too softhearted to complain. He did not tell anyone, not even his own wife, Shibani. He considered himself the lucky one after all. Life had showered on him more than his share of blessings: he had a beautiful wife, a healthy baby boy and a job that allowed him to provide for the family. Every morning Shamol woke to a feeling of immense gratitude. The first thing he did was to stand by the holy basil in the courtyard and lift his folded hands to the rising sun to thank the benevolent universe for his good fortune. chapter 2
Mother-in-law was mixing chickpea batter for eggplant fritters when she looked out of the kitchen window and saw Shibani and Apu, her friend from next door, gossiping and eating chili tamarind in the sunny courtyard. Baby Biren lay sleeping like a rag doll on the hammock of Shibani's lap. She jiggled her knee and his head rolled all over the place.
"Shibani!" yelled the mother-in-law. "Have you no sense? Do you want your son to have a flat head like the village idiot? Why are you not using the mustard seed pillow I told you to use under the baby's head?"
"Eh maa! I forgot," said Shibani, round eyed with innocence, a smudge of chili powder on her chin. She scrambled about looking as if she was going to get up, but as soon as her mother-in-law's back was turned she settled back down again.
"The mustard seed pillow is currently being used to round the cat's head," she said to Apu, giggling as she tickled Biren's cheek. "The cat is going to have a rounder head than this one." Biren opened his mouth and she let him suck on her fingers.
"Aye, careful!" cried Apu. "You have chili powder on your fingers."
Biren's little face puckered and his big black eyes flew open.
"Eh maa, look what you did," chided Apu. "You woke the poor thing up!"
"Just look at him smiling," said Shibani. "He's even smacking his lips. Here, pass me the tamarind. Let's give him another lick."
"The things you feed him, really," said Apu reproachfully. She never knew whether to admire Shibani's audacious mothering or to worry about the baby. "Remember the time you made him lick a batasha? He was only four months old!"
Shibani laughed, her crooked teeth showing. "You were my coconspirator, don't forget."
The two of them had smuggled batasha sugar drops from the prayer room and watched in awe as the baby's tiny pink tongue licked one down to half its size. Of course, the sugar had kept him wide-eyed and kicking all night.
"This child will learn to eat everything and sleep anywhere," said Shibani. "I don't care if he has a flat head, but it will be full of brains and he will be magnificently prepared to conquer the world."
At six months Biren had a perfectly round head full of bobbing curls, the limpid eyes of a baby otter and a calm, solid disposition. He hated being carried and kicked his tiny feet till he was set down, after which he took off crawling with his little bottom wagging. He babbled and cooed constantly and a prolonged silence usually meant trouble. Shibani caught him opening and closing a brass betel nut cutter that could have easily chopped off his tiny toes. Another time he emerged from the ash dump covered with potato peels and eggshells.
"This one will crawl all the way to England if he can," marveled the grandfather. There was a certain sad irony to his words. An Oxford or Cambridge education was, after all, the ultimate dream of many Sylhetis and, being poor, they often did have to scrape and crawl their way to get there. Even with surplus brains and a full merit scholarship, many fell short of the thirty-five-pound second-class sea fare to get to England. Sometimes the whole village pitched in, scraping together rupees and coins to send their brightest and their best into the world, hoping perhaps he would return someday to help those left behind. But most of them never did. chapter 3
Shibani slipped around to the pumpkin patch near the woodshed behind the house. She cupped her hands over her mouth and called like a rooster across the pond. Soon, there was an answering rooster call back from Apu: a single crow, which meant, Wait, I am coming. Shibani smiled and waited.
The two friends no longer saw each other as much as they used to. Both of them had two-year-olds now. Apu's daughter, Ratna, was born three days after Shibani's second son, Nitin, who was four years younger than Biren.
Nitin turned out to be a colicky infant who grew into a fretful toddler. He clung to his mother's legs, stretched out his hands and wanted to be carried all the time. He ate and slept poorly and forced Shibani to reconsider the charms of motherhood.
Shibani shifted her feet. Now, where was that Apu? Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a small movement in the taro patch. Shibani gave a tired sigh. It was that nosy son of hers again. Biren had lately started eavesdropping on their conversations. Apu and Shibani often discussed private matters relating to their mothers-in-law, husbands and what went on in the bedroom. Six-year-old Biren had already picked up on the furtive nature of their conversation. How long this had been going on and how much he had overheard already, Shibani dreaded to know, but this time she was going to teach him a lesson.
Apu ran out of her kitchen, wiping her hands on the end of her sari. Shibani watched her nimble figure jump over backyard scrub and race around the emerald-green pond. She is still so lithe and supple, like a young sapling, Shibani thought fondly of her friend, who was a trained Bharatnatyam dancer.
Apu huffed up to the fence and mopped her face with the end of her sari. "I have only five minutes. Ratna will wake up any minute. Quickly, tell me, what?"
Shibani rolled her eyes in the direction of the taro patch and silently mouthed, Biren. He's listening. Then she said loudly, "Have you heard the latest news about the small boy in the Tamarind Tree Village? The one whose ears fell off?"
"No, tell me," said Apu, suppressing a smile.
"He had these big-big ears and was always listening to grown-up things. Now I hear his ears have come off. Can you imagine? One day he woke up and his ears were lying on his pillow like two withered rose petals. Now he has only big holes through which bees and ants can get in and make nests in his brain. So tragic, don't you think?"
Apu clicked her tongue. "Terrible, terrible. The poor fellow. What will happen to him, I wonder?" The shuffling in the taro patch grew agitated. Apu began to feel a little sorry for Biren. "Are you sure his ears fell off?" she asked. "I mean, fell right off? I heard they almost fell off. They had begun to come a little loose but thank God he stopped listening to grown-up things. He had a very narrow escape, I heard."
"I hope so, for his sake." Shibani sighed. "I would feel very sad if I was his mother. Imagine having a son with no ears and a head full of bees and ants."
The taro leaves waved madly to indicate an animal scurrying away.
"Oof!" exploded Shibani. "That fellow is impossible. He listens to everything. Now I hope he will leave us in peace. I can't wait for him to start going to school."
"He starts next week, doesn't he?"
"Yes," said Shibani. They had waited all this time because Shamol wanted him to go to the big school in the Tamarind Tree Village near the jute mill. It was a better school because the jute mill funded it privately. Most of the mill workers' children studied there. "Thank God Biren is a quick learner. He's already far ahead in reading and math because Shamol tutors him every night. That reminds me, did you talk to your mother-in-law about Ruby's tuition?"
Apu sighed. "I asked her. Twice. Both times it was a big no. It is so frustrating. Your suggestion made so much sense. Shamol can easily tutor Ruby along with Biren in the evenings. But Mother-in-law won't have it. She says if you educate a girl nobody will want to marry her."
"What nonsense!" cried Shibani. "We both had private tutors and we got married, didn't we? Thank God our parents were not so narrow-minded. Let me tell you, sister, Shamol especially picked me because I was educated. He said he wanted a wife he could talk to, not a timid mouse to follow him around with her head covered."