What do you see when you think of war?

Do you see rolling plains filled with men on horses, brandishing swords? Or trenches stuffed with soldiers, shooting at their enemies?

Maybe it depends on the last war film you watched or book you read.

But do you see the dead and think, “This! This is who I want to be!”?

No.

Why then have we raised giving up our lives for a cause to such proportions?

Below is an excerpt from a book I personally love. Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews.

Curran’s voice carried over our heads. “We have a job to do. Today we avenge our own! They came here, onto our land. They tortured a child. They killed our Pack mates. Nobody hurts the Pack!”

“Nobody!” answered a ragged chorus.

He pointed at the bubble. “They are not men. There is no human flesh on their bones.”

Where was he going with this?

“What happens here, stays here. Today there is no Code. Today you can let go.”

They lived the Code. They followed it with fanatical discipline. Obey, perform, account for yourself. Ever diligent. Always in control. Never let go. Curran had promised them the one thing they could never have. One by one their eyes lit amber, then flared blood-red.

“Remember: it’s not your job to die for your Pack! It’s your job to make the other bastards die for theirs. Together we kill!”

Kill!” breathed the field.

“Win!”

Win!”

“Go home!”

Go home!”

“Kill! Win! Go home!”

Kill, win, go home! Kill, win, go home!” They chanted it over and over, their voices merging them into a unified avalanche of sound.

Please notice the underlined sentence.

It is not your job to die for what you represent. It is your job to kill them for theirs.

Now, of course, in no way do I promote death or murder.

But.

I have to admit we have an unhealthy obsessions with ‘beautiful death’ – a death that we think of as a victory.

What has brought this to the fore for me right now is that I saw the ending of Padmaavat – that uber controversial Bhansali film. Now, what I thought of the film is besides the point as I really did only see the last hour.

But the thing that struck me was the sense of ceremony at the end. The ceremony associated with death. Should they not have fought? Those women at the end beat back Khilji with coals. They did not lack bravery. What they had was a different set of goals.

We have elevated death to the point where ‘veergati’ is an honour. Honourable death may be, but it is also an end. Had those brave men and women lived, how much could they have achieved? Had they put victory ahead of everything else, would they have been the ones ruling from the Delhi throne? Yes, not all should be fair in love and war, but when faced by an enemy who has no such qualms, do we die or do we win?

“Is it better to out-monster the monster or to be quietly devoured?”

― Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

And if we die, who protects those left behind?

And if we win, if we become the bigger monster, what stops us from then on out? Do we rampage, or do we trust that we might out-monster the monster, but then we would have the integrity to stop.

Should our goal really be to die for our beliefs?

Or should it be to make the enemy bleed for his?

We believe in Veergati. We believe in Shahaadat. I think it is time we changed those beliefs. Or at least modified them.

Yes, we can die for a cause. But, would that cause survive our death? Is there truly any guarantee? History, after all, is written by the victors.

I think Curran says it best. Yes, he’s fighting demons with a Pack of shapeshifters. Yes, those demons want to eat everyone. But don’t we have demons of our own? It is not our job to commit suicide – but to kill our demons, no matter what form they take. Whether it is our depression, our pain, or our sense of despair.

I know I have moved from one concept to another here in this post. But this is a true glimpse into my mind. These are my thoughts. Make of them what you will.

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via The Best And Worst Of Bollywood From the First Half Of 2018

Quote  —  Posted: July 10, 2018 by Arushi in Uncategorized

Years ago, my father said ‘What you read is a definition of who you are or want to become.’ Then, when I would not show him my writings, he was amazed. After all, it was an accomplishment. But that was the thing – as a teenager in India writing romance stories online – I could in no way conceive of sharing those with the people who knew me in real life. But sharing my most intimate imagination with strangers was okay because they would only judge the stories, not me for writing them.

It took me years before I even admitted to my parents that I wrote romantic stories and fan-fiction online under a pseudonym. That I even had a semblance of a following.  They were proud of me. They truly did not care that I was writing romance – and romance from a teens point of view is a different matter entirely – they were just that happy that I was creative and had found a way to spread that creativity.

Since those were their reactions, without reserve, it can be said that they had not internalized it into me that writing romance was something I had to hide. In fact, throughout high school, I had regaled my grandmother and aunt with stories I read in Mills n Boons books. They had always listened patiently, never judging me or the women in those stories.

So what went wrong?

In the 1990s romance in Indian media was an obsessive thing. Men would fixate on a woman – usually for her beauty, sometimes for her spunk and many times for revenge – and then follow her until she gave in and ‘loved’ them back. Some women were wrong for loving a man while others were wrong when they refused. It all depended upon the story the filmmaker had chosen – and if the man in question was ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The judgement, in truth, depended wholly upon the man despite it seemingly being the woman’s decision and her character that was being judged.

And every single time – parents opposed this love. It could be mild opposition, it could be extreme, or it could be comedic. But oppose they did. Love was taboo. And unless you were lucky, it did you wrong. It is in this world and with these role models that I started writing.

To me, a rape attempt was a perfectly usable plot device. But it could only be an attempt because ‘a heroine never gets raped’ and ‘the raped woman always dies’. This was a me who was still unsure of how sex worked – and thought she knew what she was talking about when men ripped a woman’s shirt. Sure, the shirt needs to be ripped to rape someone – after all, don’t the villains always grab the pallu in the films?

The intrinsic misogyny went deeper than this.  In my stories, when the man cooked, it was because he was taking care of the woman. He was the progressive and perfect man. It never occurred to me that every person should be capable of something as basic as feeding themselves. When a man fell in love with a woman – I found it acceptable to write that he scowled at all other men who even looked in her direction. But he was good because he did not tell her to change her clothes – he just glared at everyone else. I never understood that him having to glare at other men because they were ogling his girlfriend painted a fairly creepy society – one where only the protection of a man kept the woman safe.

In my stories, women have been abused, raped and hurt. There is emotional abuse as well as societal and familial pressures. All of these are things I had never faced or seen in real life. Yet, if I re-read my work, it is scary how accurate I was.  So how did I internalize all of this to the point that my stories rotated around women overcoming all these odds and the men who helped, supported or led them? How could romance mean learning martial arts so that you are never helpless and raped again to a sheltered teenager?

Because that is the world I was raised in. After all, familial attitudes are not the only thing that shape us. We are shaped by everything in our surroundings. From the films we watch, the songs we sing, the conversations we are a part of, or the ones we overhear.

When I grew up – I was influenced by stories and media that said rape was bad. Where the rape victim died and the ‘hero’ took revenge for her ‘izzat’. But rape was never shown, or truly described. It just had a man biting the neck of a woman – if even that. That was then.

Now, we are surrounded by news of rape. We are surrounded by mass media that propagates an internalized misogynist attitude. From lyrics to plotlines, there is objectification of women everywhere. And the children growing in this scenario are the ones who will be holding the reins a decade down the line. Some of them will not even wait that long to show the effects of this environment. For example, there was news on how a kindergartener had been raped using pencils by her classmates. This is now.

We cannot stop reporting on rape and sexual crimes. We cannot remove objectification of women from all media immediately. After all, the media is only a reflection of us. But we can try to change the narrative. It is not sufficient any more to give or even show your values to the people around you. It is important to discuss things. The children need to see and hear discussions about these things and understand that while they might be surrounded by sexualized media – that does not make it correct. That while a popular actor is dancing to extremely sexist lyrics, that does not make the reality of those lyrics okay or even acceptable.

It is easier said than done.

Everything is easier said than done.

But we have to start somewhere.

Let us start with teaching our children, boys and girls, what is okay and what is not. And let us keep telling them again and again until they internalize what we teach them, and not what the world is forcing them to learn.

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Gina Royal is the definition of average—a shy Midwestern housewife with a happy marriage and two adorable children. But when a car accident reveals her husband’s secret life as a serial killer, she must remake herself as Gwen Proctor—the ultimate warrior mom.

With her ex now in prison, Gwen has finally found refuge in a new home on remote Stillhouse Lake. Though still the target of stalkers and Internet trolls who think she had something to do with her husband’s crimes, Gwen dares to think her kids can finally grow up in peace.

But just when she’s starting to feel at ease in her new identity, a body turns up in the lake—and threatening letters start arriving from an all-too-familiar address. Gwen Proctor must keep friends close and enemies at bay to avoid being exposed—or watch her kids fall victim to a killer who takes pleasure in tormenting her. One thing is certain: she’s learned how to fight evil. And she’ll never stop.

I have read almost all books by Rachel Caine – and loved every single one. Most of her work though falls under the banner of urban fantasy.

The Stillhouse Lake series though, is different – a mystery that is equal parts horror and thriller, the books keeps you on the edge of your seat. 

The premise is rather straightforward: This is the story of the wife and kids of a serial killer – and what happens to them after he is discovered. 

This is not an easy story and these are not easy characters to create. Rachel Caine manages to do so flawlessly. Her characters are real, they have background stories, they have personalities, they have flaws and above all, they are human.  

Gina Royal had the ‘normal’ life – a stay-at-home mom of two kids with a ‘good’ husband. After all, if your husband is perfect all the time and the only thing you have to respect is his need for space – then it is a pretty good deal. Of course, the need for space involved giving up on the garage – but that was a small price to pay in Gina’s opinion.

But Melvin Royal was no normal, good husband and his ‘space’ was the place where he butchered young women. He was/is a serial killer and Gina and the kids were his unwitting camouflage. That all comes crashing down right at the beginning of Stillhouse Lake and the actual story starts a few years later.

The story is mostly told from Gina’s perspective and it is heartbreaking and brave in equal measure. She has picked up the pieces of her life, even though most of the world thinks she must have helped her serial killer husband even though the courts have exonerated her. 

She is no longer Gina Royal. She is Gwen Proctor, a fiercely protective mother who  will do anything to keep her children safe from the shadow of their father and his crimes.

It is from here that we move on, along with Gwen, as she and the kids, Lanny (15) and Connor (11), finally build a home in Stillhouse Lake. For the first time in years – they start putting down roots, trusting their surroundings and thinking that the past might finally be behind them.

Of course, that is when the murders start. The MO is the same as that of Melvin Royal – and the bodies are being dumped in Stillhouse Lake – practically Gwen’s backyard. And Gwen’s world starts crashing down.

I can actually wax poetic about how well this book is written, about how real it is – the characters, the setting and the situations – and I would still not do a good enough job.

The characters are real. The situations make complete sense. There is mystery, a hell of a plot and a sense of horror and foreboding throughout the book – because you know that this could have happened to anyone, that this could be anyone. And that is the biggest draw of all, to be able to see yourself in Gina and to hope like hell that we too can reforge ourselves into Gwen.

For Killman Creek, the second book in the series, I got the ARC from NetGalley.

BEWARE: SPOILERS AHEAD.

Killman Creek starts 12 days from where Stillhouse Lake left off.

Melvin Royal is on the loose and Gwen and the kids are on the run, again. There is just one major difference. They are no longer alone. Now they have friends – trustworthy, good people who proved themselves worthy of Gwen’s trust in Stillhouse Lake.

There is a lot on the line. Gwen needs to protect the kids – but she can no longer hide. After all, Absalom has betrayed her and she knows it is only a matter of time before Melvin catches up to her. No matter how far she runs, she just cannot seem to be rid of Melvin and so finally she makes a decision.

Gina ran. Gina was prey.

Gwen will stand and fight and hunt.

This book is different from the first – Gwen and Sam are working together. There are people who Gwen can trust and who trust her in return. But the suspense, the plot, is just as well executed as it was in the previous book – there are layers upon layers to the mystery.

Is it just about the cult following of one serial killer, or is it something much, much bigger than that? With the FBI involved, the hunt for Melvin is on – only problem is – Melvin is also hunting them and he too has friends in high places.

This is an excellent book, a perfectly done sequel to Stillhouse Lake. The book is told from several POVs – all as unique as the characters that Caine has built. We understand motivations, thought processes and above all we can see what is happening as if it is literally happening in front of us. The read is as real and visceral as it can be.

There is a thread of horror woven through the thrill – the depths of human depravity bared for all to see. But there are the good guys – the ones who fight against ridiculous odds – and the struggle of one woman to reinvent herself, overcome her past and raise her children well. There is a scene (of both the kids separately) near the end – which felt poignant even though it is in the middle of escalating terror and horror – where you see just how far Gwen, and the kids, have all come. She has succeeded on many accounts but that felt like her biggest victory to me: She had managed to take those kids and make them independent, intelligent and brave individuals.
You cannot help but root for her!

I would highly recommend both books!

Killman Creek comes out in a month – so I would suggest reading Stillhouse Lake now and letting it simmer under your skin until then, or do a binge read of both together.

 

Parrots: The Highlight Reel

https://static01.nyt.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000004330501

And the post, responses to which, led to this reel:

Parrots Are a Lot
More Than ‘Pretty Bird’

Video  —  Posted: September 13, 2017 by Arushi in Uncategorized

People do not change over night. You do not, you cannot, wake up one day and choose to be different than who you are. But you can change over time, gradually, sometimes so slowly, that you are a different person even before you realize it.

That realization comes later, from a word, a gesture or a thought. And it is quite profound when it comes.

I am a very open person. Whatever is happening in my life is known to multiple people at any given point in time. If they ever get together, they can weave a very detailed tapestry of my life.

It is here, on my blog, that I have been more reserved. People find it easier to speak out anonymously. I find it easier to share with people I know. No more. I made this blog so as to speak out. The only thing that has truly held me back is what I read somewhere – that once the words are out, they do not belong to the author, they belong to every reader and the interpretation is no longer what the author thought, but what the reader reads.

I have been depressed for nearly two years. It was a slide downhill ever since I got married. Discussing my marriage is not what I want to do today. But I learned a lot of things. I finally ‘grew up’. I lost the naivete and innocence I had had – without even realizing it. I was a shiny penny who thought the world only reflects yourself back to you. I learned that is not the case – and that I am a fool who trusts and loves too easily.

I am old school in all the wrong ways in a world which has moved forward. It sounds like so much self-justification but I am not listing my crimes or what was done to me. I have now felt real loneliness and I would never wish it on anyone. I have felt unrequited love and I hope no one has to go through this.

And I have changed. Today, I ranted on facebook:

To everyone wishing a #happywomensday and using said wishes to define women: a woman is a woman is a woman. Period. Its biology, not a mental state of being. Get over yourselves. I am a woman and I can celebrate that even if I am the worst excuse for a human being. Being a woman is not about being strong, managing family, having kids, having ANYTHING specific in fact, except ovaries (and not even that if you are trans). I will not celebrate getting out stronger when faced by problems, being the gentle and kind one. I refuse. Being a woman does not mean taking the high road. I am so so done with that.
Okay, rant over.

Because I am done. I changed. I am stronger, and it might be good in the long run – but I miss that innocence which I had. I miss my belief that the world was a genuinely good place – and that everyone has good intent, even if their actions do not match. I may have been a fool – but ignorance truly was bliss.

I have great friends. I have a very loving and supporting family. I have a doctor who listens to me. I have people who are willing to put everything aside and be there for me. I have that and now I know just how lucky I am to have it. I know that I was in situations where I could have been in real danger, except I was lucky that the people with me were decent human beings.

It is not about men vs. women. It is not about birth parents vs. in-laws. It is not even a husband vs. his wife. It is about nothing except fighting your own battles because no one else will do it for you. It is about growing up – because ignorance might be bliss, but at the end of the day, ignorance will only ensure that someone fools you.

I have grown up and it is today I am realizing that I have also grown a lot stronger. I knew the words, but now I finally believe: My happiness is my responsibility. My life is my responsibility. The world owes me nothing and it is up to me to make the best of the life I have been given.

I plan to keep growing, keep learning. I will not regain that naivete, but I will rebuild my belief that the world is a good place. I have changed and change is neither good or bad, it just is.

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In a land governed by the cruel Frostblood ruling class, seventeen-year-old Ruby is a Fireblood who has spent most of her life hiding her ability to manipulate heat and light – until the day the soldiers come to raid her village and kill her mother. Ruby vows revenge on the tyrannous Frost King responsible for the massacre of her people.

But Ruby’s powers are unpredictable…and so are the feelings she has for Arcus, the scarred, mysterious Frostblood warrior who shares her goal to kill the Frost King, albeit for his own reasons. When Ruby is captured by the Frost King’s men, she’s taken right into the heart of the enemy. Now she only has one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who took everything from her – and in doing so, she must unleash the powers she’s spent her whole life withholding.

Frostblood is set in world where flame and ice are mortal enemies – but together create a power that could change everything.

I actually liked Frostblood by Elly Blake quite a bit.

It is a fast read. The writing style is clean and the story flows very smoothly. There are many of the tropes generally associated with fantasy YA – magically powerful but untrained female protagonist, brooding male lead, end of the world prophecy and of course, an evil king. But it retains a freshness, mainly due to the author’s writing style and because the book is not gritty but rather has a fairytale-esque quality to it – which makes it charming rather than typical.

I had guessed the main twist quite early on in the book, but still the start of the second part brought some surprises. The book also has a feel good factor – most people, when given a choice – choose to be good. I think that makes the book feel lighter than it actually is. There is decent character development of the protagonist, and some nice touches in regards to the other characters as well. I would have preferred them to be more fleshed out, but they are more than caricatures – and the second book might have quite a few things in store. Plus, the book has a somewhat definitive, happy ending. That was so good to have.

It will be a definite favorite with people who have just gotten into this genre (or want to check it out) and also good for people who are a bit tired of all the brutality/murder/grit (you get the idea).