Showing posts with label India. Show all posts
Showing posts with label India. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi, Betheny Hegedus

Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated impressively by Evan Turk employing a dazzling variety of inventive techniques, this was a fascinating book. How do you ever cope with having a close relative who is as famous and renowned as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, aka Mahatma Gandhi? This is written by Arun Gandhi, son of Manilal, who was Mahatma Gandhi's second child to survive; conditions were harsh back then and still are for many people, and not only in India.

Arun describes an event which obviously must have made an impression on him. It was when he went to visit his father as a young child and was abused on the football (soccer) field. He became very angry at being pushed, and then ashamed that he was unable to emulate his grandfather, but in talks with Gandhi-ji, he learns a few things about how to live his life non-violently and turn his anger into a light, not a thunderous darkness.

If only we could all learn this! All of us struggle with anger and frustration at times. The book might have offered more, but it's aimed at young children and I think it at least lights a candle, so I recommend this book as a beginning for children trying to deal with all of that.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This started out great, but slowly fell apart the further I got into it. The blurb announced that it's "Told in alternating teen voices across three generations," but I did not expect from this that we would actually fast-forward through all three generations, and eventually be moving so rapidly that it was all-but impossible to keep track of who was who.

I'd thought it would be about the interactions between three generations all existing together! I did not expect to be flung summarily and unexpectedly into the future as those new generations arrived on the scene. The story lost so much in those jumps that it was ruined for me.

The huge, unbridged chasms between different parts of the novel were destructive, and really spoiled the story which had begun at a really good pace and allowed the reader to honestly get to know this family. I would have been quite content to follow the first two girls, Sonia and Tara, through the whole book, and see how their lives panned out. Unfortunately, I was robbed of that in this author's hell-bent, breakneck sprint to get to the grandchildren.

I felt Sonia and Tara were torn from me and diminished into becoming distant and vague memories as the new generation swept in. We learned nothing of their adult lives except what we were told in summary. It was like riding an elevator, and the car coming down at a comfortable pace, then something goes wrong and suddenly you're plunging the last few floors in free-fall. There was no warning; nothing to indicate that the comfortable pace of the early story was suddenly going to change to a rough ride.

Even that might have worked, but the story moved far too fast and spent so little time on the youngest generation that we never got to know them. They were brought in so quickly, and were danced around so capriciously that they were never more than two-dimensional shadow puppets, and not real people at all. I could not connect with them.

I was left not caring about them because they were strangers. I was left wondering why I had read that far instead of DNF-ing this novel as soon as Sonia and Tara were forced to take a back seat. It felt like the author had lost interest in the story and wanted to get it over with as soon as she could, so that she might move on to another project, and so she just summarized, or maybe simply published her outline instead of turning it into an actual story.

Perhaps I should have figured out how it would end when we met the first two girls with their story already in progress. After the briefest flash-in-the-pan memory of life in Ghana, which I had thought might be relevant later, but which was not, we meet the girls already on a plane from London to New York, so London is not even a memory in the author's desperation to get these teens onto American soil - like no other soil really matters, not even for Indian girls.

We did get a very brief time in India, which was delightful, but that was quickly over, and then the future was already banging on the door, demanding entrance, and people were married and having children before any courtship had seriously begun. It was too fast, too furious, to borrow the name of a movie, and like the movie, it was all fumes and madcap rushing from that point onwards. It was very unsatisfying.

This had the potential to be a great story and I wish the author had had enough faith in her two girls to let their story shine, but she evidently didn't, and it obviously didn't, and I felt robbed. I cannot recommend this as a worthy read.

Friday, June 2, 2017

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

This is another audiobook experiment which started out strongly, winning me with its improbable events, Indian mythology, and dry humor, but which in the second half of the book, particularly the finale, became so lost and bogged-down in endless exposition and irrelevant descriptive prose that it spoiled the entire story for me. Perhaps I should have paid attention to the initials of the title, which spell out 'A Cow'!

The author's name is Roshani Chokshi which sounds wonderful, but when the audiobook opened, I discovered that the author's name has been so Americanized that it's lost all of its charm, being pronounced Row-shnee Choke-she, which doesn't sound exotic at all, and even sounds abusive: choke she?!

While I can't judge a book on the author's name any more than I can on the cover, I have to confess to disappointment that so rich a heritage has been so badly diluted. Indian names tend to be pronounced as consonant/vowel pairs, so Roshani would be Rho Sha Ni. The 'a' is long and the 'i' is pronounced as 'e', so in Indian, the name would be like Row Shaa Nee. Obviously it's a matter of personal taste (and it's her name to do with what she will, after all!), but to me that sounds so much sweeter than Row-shnee. Schnee is the German word for snow!

Let's move along! In the novel, Gauri is a warrior princess of Bharata, who is imprisoned for reasons which were never clear to me. I listen to audiobooks while commuting, which means I miss things on occasion, as I'm more focused on traffic, as necessary, than I am on listening, so I readily admit this may well have been explained, yet never made it to my conscious mind. It's not really important. Vikram, known as the Fox Prince, is from a neighboring, but hardly friendly nation. Each sees a chance though, of recovery of their inheritance in the other, and so they form an alliance.

If they are to form a team and enter the Tournament of Wishes, then he will need her fighting skills, and she needs his deviousness. The victor gets a wish, although how this works if the victor is two people was not clear to me either! Do they each get a wish or is it shared? The fact that neither of them ask this question to begin with makes me doubt the smarts of either of them, but the story was initially interesting as they navigated the world of mythical creatures and entered the competition.

Unfortunately, while it was fun in parts and interesting in others, the author rambled on far too much about things which seemed to me to be irrelevant and which id nothing to move the story along. I was looking forward to an interesting and eventful contest, yet the contest itself fell flat for me. Either that or, through driving, I missed the best bits! But when I was about eighty percent into the book I became tired of the endlessly rambling tone, and I DNF'd it. I decided that overall it isn't a worthy read, despite some really good bits, because it was slow, tedious, and boring in far too many parts.

In terms of the reading, it was very pleasant, I have to say, to listen to reader Priya Ayyar's voice, which was charming and told the story, such as it was, well. I would listen to her again, hopefully reading better material. Her only misstep that I noticed was when she read "Boughs of an impossible tree" and pronounced it 'bows' of an impossible tree! Language matters. So does pronunciation! Authors - and readers - neglect this at their peril! Overall, I can't recommend this one.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Love Muffin And Chai Latte by Anya Wylde

Rating: WARTY!

Tabitha Lee Timmons is a thirty-something American living in England. Why she is there is never explained. I guess it's just to appeal to American audiences. For the last year, Tabby has had a loose relationship with a guy named Chris, but that's not his real name since he's Indian. He just uses that name because us idiot westerners can't handle Indian names. His real name is Chandramohan Mansukhani which isn't that hard of a name to grasp, and neither is his family pet name, Chintu.

At the start of the story, "Chris" proposes to Tabby, and she promptly swallows the engagement ring which he had stupidly hidden in the muffin her gave her. 'Love Muffin' is her nickname for him. Fortunately it isn't used often. Chai latte is her favorite drink. I really enjoyed the first third of this book, but then it started to go downhill for me, big time. This was curiously right at the point where I thought it would take off, because this was when she went on a trip to India which was one of the main reasons I picked up this novel.

I never had understood why Tabby was with Chris in the first place, because far more often than not, he acts like a major dick and a jerk, treating his fiancée like she's an annoying a piece of furniture he's forced to live with, yet this seems to impinge upon her consciousness not a whit, let alone make a negative impression on her, or issue a warning that she's with the wrong guy. The two do not live together and have apparently never had sex. He's painfully self-centered and she's tragically ignorant of this fact. His response to her question, "Do you love me" is along the lines of "I guess." That ought to tell her right there, but she's too dumb to see it.

Normally I would be out of there at the first sign of that in a novel. I don't like stories about idiot women - unless there's some sign down the highway that we're just a few miles (or in this case, kilometers) from wise-up-ville. What kept my interest was the quirky humor which ran through the story and which was, I admit, silly in places, but it amused me.

I very much enjoyed that, but it became harder to use that as an excuse to continue reading, when Dev showed up. Dev is right out of trope casting: a muscular hunk of a guy, good looking, mysterious, a bad boy. The problem is that he's also a dick and a jerk, yet Tabby gets the hots for him like she's a fifteen-year-old watching a music video. It's pathetic. I lost all respect for, and interest in, Tabby at this point, and I quit reading this novel about forty percent in.

I have no time for love triangles because they always make the one in the middle - in this case Tabby - look like a dithering idiot. Either commit or get out of the bedroom! I also dislike the idea of this trope hunk. Maybe there is a portion of the female gender who respond to this. I know it's a biological urge and there is obviously a market for it with these novels, but my feminine side doesn't reach that far and frankly, I much prefer the road less traveled, especially in a story like this.

I respect women who are smart enough to know the difference between an idle feeling of lust, and a real attraction on a level deeper than skin goes. That doesn't mean you can't have both, but if you're going to do that, then you'd better give me a real reason as to why this relationship actually is both, and it had better not be you just telling me it's an enduring love while all you're showing me is nothing but the shallowest and most juvenile of lusts.

While there are welcome exceptions (I've read one or two), this kind of romance is all too often that shallow and I have no time for it. It doesn't help to lard up Dev with good deeds which are told rather than shown to Tabby, and this had especially better not be when the author has already portrayed him as a complete jerk in his previous interactions with her.

I cannot recommend this one at all.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Bindi Babes by Narinder Dhami

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a highly entertaining novel about three young Indian girls living in England, who lost their mother to severe illness quite recently and are not dealing, although they think they're dealing well, and in some ways they really are. Narinder Dhami is the author of the novelization of the Bend it Like Beckham movie which starred Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. I have not read that book, but I saw the movie and really enjoyed it. Hopefully the novelization captured the spirit of the movie.

This volume was the first of at least four in a series with Bollywood Babes, Bhangra Babes, and Superstar Babes succeeding this. It was amusing enough to me that I'd be interested in reading more, although I am not a fan of series since they tend to be repetitive, derivative and ultimately boring. Once in a while though, I do find an exception, and maybe this will be such a one. The author has many other stories out there too, including individual novels and a long-running The Sleepover Club series.

In this tale, three sisters: Geena, Ambajit (Amber, the narrator), and Jasvinder (Jazz) Dhillon are the Bindi Babes. Bindi, in Sanskrit means literally 'a drop' and refers to the red dot (or these days anything!) placed on an Indian woman's forehead at the fictional point of the sixth chakra. These three though, are not traditional Indian women. They're a new generation: a mix of the old and the new, and ostensibly are doing amazingly well after the death of their mother.

All this conceals an largely unacknowledged hole in their life, which their father is failing to fill because he's working all hours to distract himself from the same loss they're feeling. This leaves the bindi babes free to run wild, but the interesting thing is that they're not running wild. They do enjoy more freedom than their peers, and their father is a pushover whenever they want anything new. He has both the lack of interest in their daily activities and the complete absence of a lack of money to buy them whatever they request of him. Curiously, they're actually not spoiled rotten. They are are spoiled, but in many ways their life is the contrary. They're mostly reasonable in what they request, although they do run to excess, but they're also confident, hard-working, self-possessed, and envied by their peers at school for being respectable, fashionable and pretty.

Of course, admirable as all this is, they're still doing it to wall-off their pain of loss and have become so self-obsessed that they're failing their friends. All this starts to change when their father's sister arrives from India to take them in hand. No matter how they try to thwart her plans, she always seems one step ahead of them, and right at the point where they're about to take drastic action, they finally get the vision to see clearly what's going on around them.

In some ways this story is a fake, because these girls are doing fine, and are maturing pretty darned well. Yes, they're spoiled to an extent, and they've failed to grieve over their mother, but not everyone grieves in the same way and this business of 'x' number of steps of grief you 'have to go through' is bullshit, so this 'conflict' between them and their aunt and the resolution of it felt a bit fake to me. On the other hand, their aunt's story interested me, and I could envisage a novel about that rather than about the girls, or at least told from her PoV, doing very well for itself.

To me though, the girls were highly entertaining, often in-fighting, but standing firm when attacked from outside their trio, they are always thinking and planning, and they come up with some amusingly interesting schemes to try to root this pernicious Auntie influence from their lives. I'm no more a fan of first person PoV stories than I am of series, but once in a while - and this proved to be that once - an author writes one of these and she carries it. I found Amber (the middle sister's) had a voice I could listen to without becoming nauseated. Maybe this is became I married a middle sister and I've never regretted it! I can see where she;s coming from! LOL! But Amber was an intelligent, incisive, and amusing story-teller, if a bit on the cruel side on occasion. But then she's very young, and her voice did sound authentic to me.

I loved this story completely. It was entertaining and amusing, and it came to a satisfying conclusion. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in stories of Indian culture, stories set in England, or stories about young, feisty, and fiercely loyal sisters.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda

Rating: WARTY!

Yes, it's talking book Thursday and here's my third review of an audiobook today.

I really enjoyed Sarwat Chadda's The Devil's Kiss which I guess I read before I started blogging reviews, since I find it nowhere on my blog, but if I'd known this was the start of a series titled 'Ash Mistry Chronicles', I would have left this audiobook on the library shelf. I have sworn-off reading any book (single or series) which has 'chronicles' in the title (or 'saga' or 'cycle', and so on). The very name Ash Mistry is a warning. The novel turned out to be every bit as unappealing as I would have expected for a chronicle

Mistry and his daughter and Indian who have grown up in England, and are visiting the city of Varanasi here they run afoul of the evil Lord Savage (I kid you not with these character names). The main reason for this is that Ash is a petty thief. he damages an archaeological site and finds an arrow head made of gold. Instead of turning it in to the people running the dig, his first thought is that the can sell it and get some money. His selfish thoughtlessness directly leads to the death of an aunt and uncle, and he sheds not one tear nor offers a single expression of regret for them. Not in the part I could stand to listen to.

Worse than this, the novel is genderist. When Ash and his younger sister lucky are in hiding, someone offers to train them in the fight against the supernatural evil that Lord savage controls. One of the two gets to be a warrior - Ash. His sister gets to be a caregiver! Not that there's anything wrong with being a caregiver by any means, but why is the male the warrior and the girl the 'nurse'? Could they not both have been warriors? Or nurses? Could they not have chosen for themselves what they wanted to do rather than be assigned traditional gender roles? it was at this point that I quit reading.

The story was read rather melodramatically and breathlessly by Bruce Mann, which didn't help my stomaching of it. Also, if I'd known that this had been recommended by Kirkus reviews, I wouldn't have wasted my time on it at all. Kirkus pretty much ever met a book they didn't adore, so their reviews are utterly worthless. I cannot recommend it.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Meantime Girl by Sindhu S

Rating: WORTHY!

"Anjali blinked, allowing a sigh wander past her sneer" should read "...allowing a sigh to wander past..."
"The entire blame will to be on you" should lose the 'to' and read, "The entire blame will be on you"
The 'to' from the previous example belongs here between 'gotten' and 'her'!"The arrogance of Siddharth’s editor had gotten her"
"got along famously well with her son’s wife, and kids, than with her own daughter." should read "...better than she did with her own daughter."
"Her fingers, creased from the bath, slipped grandma in her musings."? "...reminded her of grandma's fingers..." maybe?
There's an odd speech quote at the end of stifling unease.” which should not be there.
There's an entire paragraph repeated. It begins, "When the first bell sounded minutes later, Anjali stood in the orientation hall..."
"Lunch chocked her" should be "Lunch choked her".

This is a novella which started life as a novel. Where the rest of it went, I don't know, but I think the author was smart to précis it. It would have been a bit of a trial to read a full-length novel in this style. Written in 2012, this novel by an Indian author and set in India, tells the story of a doomed love affair between the young, rather impetuous Anjali and the older, married Sidharth, who is frankly not worthy of her. It takes her a long time to realize it. The novel is very widely spaced between paragraphs, so it's actually even shorter than you might think from the page count.

The story read more like a poem than a prose novel and it was charming. English isn't the author's first language, and it shows in the way this is phrased, making for writing that is by turns endearing and confusing! The more I read though, the more I got into the rhyme and reason of it, and I found it to be quite exhilarating and really warmed to it, especially after I'd read the ending. I don't know if I really liked either of the main characters. Sidharth definitely not, but at least Anjali wised-up and took charge, and began to take serious responsibility for the way her life had gone, and that made it worth while for me.

In addition to the sometimes amusing phraseology, there were some intentional moments of real fun, such as this part:

"What can I do? God’s will,” the maid said picking up the laundry basket.
“Did you hear that, Anju? She just called a prick God.”
I laughed out loud at that one.

Overall I think this was a worthy read and I ended up liking the story. I have a soft spot for India though, so your mileage might well differ!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Second Daughter by Susan Kaye Quinn

Title: Second Daughter
Author: Susan Kaye Quinn
Publisher: Susan Kaye Quinn
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new novel is reward aplenty!

This is the sequel to Third Daughter which I reviewed positively today. I have to say I was a bit surprised, since I'd had the impression (wrongly, it seems!) that each of the three novels in the trilogy would be told from the perspective of the particular daughter to which the title referred, but it does not seem to be that way since this novel opens not with Seledri, the second daughter to the queen, and her adventures, but with Aniri (the third daughter) focused on her imminent wedding to Prince Malik. Indeed, the second daughter plays very little part in the story although she's the trigger for some major events.

This novel takes off from pretty much where the previous one ended, and is told from Aniri's PoV (again, not first person thankfully!). At the end of the previous novel it looked like there was a second sky ship out there which could still threaten Dharia, Aniri's homeland. In addition to that, Seledri has long been married to a Samiran lord, and living in that nation. If the two countries go to war, then her life - or at least her welfare - may be at risk.

With regard to the proposed wedding, I have a hard time believing that in Victorian times, there was a 'wedding rehearsal dinner'. Yes, they had a wedding rehearsal if they were wealthy enough, but this was a very private thing, quite literally to rehearse the wedding itself. The author here has created her own world, and she can do whatever she wants, but this rehearsal with a huge number of people in attendance struck a really false note for me. Of course, if she had not written this, then it would have been impossible to interrupt it with the dramatic news of an attempt on the life of Aniri's sister, the second sister of the title, Seledri.

This is where the novel (and the series) took a downturn for me. I was already soured with all the frivolous pomp of the 'wedding rehearsal', but to have Aniri take a big step backwards in her development, and to be dithering and fretting and panicking, and then to decide to postpone the wedding (scheduled for the very next day), and thereby failing to cement the alliance with Jungali, for no reason other than to hie herself to Samir to find out what happened to her sister was just plain stupid! It was foolish in the extreme and not at all in line with what we had learned to expect from Aniri in the previous volume, so for me it was a really poor start to this novel.

Aniri was taken prisoner and her life threatened by the Samir ambassador, and now she's going to voluntarily put herself at the mercy of these people, traveling pretty much alone into the heart of the enemy territory and give them a second hostage? This behavior is moronic. Clearly it was only done to elevate the drama between herself and Malik, but it was done badly, falsely, and amateurishly, and this wasn’t to be the first time. Things seemed to go determinedly downhill with one farcical daytime TV melodrama after another cropping up.

About half-way through this I was getting ready to ditch it and down-rate it, but it turned itself around somewhat - at least sufficiently fro me not to be able to rate it badly! I have to say I was disappointed in it. Aniri was nowhere near as good as she was in the first one, and the novel quite literally went around in circles ending-up at pretty much the same point as it began. It definitely had MTV (Mid-Trilogy Vexation) syndrome.

That said, there were sufficient good parts, particularly when Aniri gets her head out of her gaand and starts trying to make good on her deficits, that I felt I could uprate it in the hope that the third volume would be truly a worthy read like the first volume was.

Third Daughter by Susan Kaye Quinn

Title: Third Daughter
Author: Susan Kaye Quinn
Publisher: Susan Kaye Quinn
Rating: WORTHY!

P65 ""…secret us away…" should be "…secrete us away…"
p212 " have been the one to secret me to the sky ship's hiding place..." makes no sense. "secrete me in"? "spirit me away to"?
P332 "She threw him and arched look..." should be "She threw him and arch look..."

Third Daughter is part of a trilogy which features the exploits of a young princess from a nation (Dharia) modeled loosely on India, but set in a purely fictional world and sprinkled lightly with elements of steam punk.

I love exotic India, so this drew me in immediately and effortlessly, but it would have just as easily kicked me out again, had the main character, Aniri, been a wet blanket or a wilting violet. She isn't! Kudos to the author for providing a non-white strong female character! These are very rare! Treasure them!

Aniri is the third daughter of the queen, so not in line for any throne, and not laden with expectations. We meet her climbing down the palace wall via a rope of knotted sheets to visit her boyfriend Devesh in the palace gardens, and she's a feisty, independent, rather love-struck young girl, but her plans this evening are thwarted by Janak, the queen's bodyguard, who is there to tell her that she must attend upon the queen.

Aniri resentfully visits with her mom only to learn that she has been put forward as a marriage candidate for Prince Malik, ruler of the rugged, northern, purportedly barbaric Jungali nation. Aniri wants no part of this, but when she realizes that her withdrawal from this pledge might mean war, she agrees to go, under the pretence that she will marry Prince Malik after a month's courtship, but really acting as a spy to discover if rumors of the Jungalis developing a flying machine are true.

Now how this works - sending a young girl with only two attendants into what’s considered to be a primitive and dangerous territory remains quietly unexplained, but Aniri doesn’t see Prince Malik as a threat. He seems reasonable, and decent, and she can get along with him. He is understanding that there is no love here, and that this relationship is purely for promotion of peace both across and within borders. He tells her outright that this will be platonic and that if she wishes to have a secret lover after they are married, she's most welcome to do so.

They board the train and begin their journey to the border. Aniri has only Priya, her young personal attendant, and Janak, the queen's most trusted bodyguard with her. Now why Janak is abandoning the queen to protect the daughter goes unexplained.

There was a really poorly written and very YA attempt to get the two of them into each other's arms by having Aniri get so close to a fire that she sets her cloak on fire, and then having Malik not even notice this until it's burning, whereupon he doesn't simply warn her that her cloak is on fire or tear it off, but grabs her and holds her to him, and then beats at the flame with his hand? Weird! And badly written! But not as bad as it might have been.

After that things really take off, with Aniri turning out to be very much the strong female character I was hoping she would be. That alone, for me, is sufficient to rate this as a worthy read. The love story ultimately turns out to be very natural and not forced or amateurish at all, and Aniri turns out to be a smart and capable lead character, and an admirable adventurer, with some foibles of youth haunting her, but not hobbling her, which is exactly how it ought to be.

One thing I did have a huge problem with is Janak. I already mentioned him as Aniri's mom's bodyguard, which makes it inexplicable how he comes to be traveling with Aniri, rather than guarding the queen, but the real problem is that his attitude sucks. "Off with his head!" I say! I don't have any respect for royalty myself in real life, but I do not go around insulting them. In a novel like this, it's inconceivable that a bodyguard would get away with being outright disrespectful to a princess as Janak does routinely.

This did not sound at all realistic to me, nor did Aniri's putting-up with his forceful, insulting, and domineering attitude towards her. I'm serious, his attitude and behavior is intolerable; I don't care what secrets he knows about Aniri's father, it's no excuse for his behavior whatsoever, yet he repeatedly gets away with it. That was bad writing and makes Aniri look weak, ineffectual, and juvenile, which is the very last thing she needed heaped on her after she'd shown herself to be a sterling main character in the previous chapter.

One thing which made no sense was this focus on the 'flying machine'. I can see how it would be considered a weapon of war, but Prince Malik's assertions that it would be a tool for trade between Dharia and Jungali made no sense given that they already have railways. It's far more economical to send goods and materials by train than ever it is by 'sky ship'. Yes, the sky ships can access the mountainous regions in Jungali where trains might not be able to reach, or where it might be difficulty or expensive to lay tracks, but in terms of trade between the two nations, I didn't see the value of it.

There were a couple of other issues where the writing was nonsensical. For example, at one point, Aniri is on an airship which is described as being thousands of feet in the air. She has already exhibited some instances of being short of breath because of the thin air in the high mountain region, yet we're expected to believe that she's clambering (yes, clambering!) around outside the airship - at thousands of feet, without even remotely becoming light-headed? Not credible!

But these are relatively minor points in comparison with how well, and how engagingly, the rest of this novel was written. The only oddball exception to this of which a mention still seems required, is that of the clothing Aniri wears. It was a really good idea to set a steam-punk novel in a place other than London, but if you're going to move it all the way to India (or more accurately, a setting rooted in India) - a move of which I approve, I have to say - then why would you drag Victorian clothing along with you? I don't get the point of having women in a nation strongly reminiscent of India dressed in corsets and stays when they could have saris and Punjabis. Why make the location exotic if you're not planning on doing anything with it? It seemed like the author was afraid to stray too far from steam-punk convention, which ironically makes her lurk rather timidly in comparison with the main character she's created!

But in conclusion, I have to say that this novel was truly remarkable and very addictive. I loved the setting, the characters in general, and specifically the main character Aniri who is a kick-ass strong female character. I loved that the love was in no way overdone and that it fit in with, but did not high-jack or derail the main story. Apart from a trope or two, it was normal, ordinary, and natural, like real love is.

So I fully recommend this novel. It has some issues, but overall the story is wonderful and refreshing. I was less thrilled with the sequel, a review of which I'm also posting today.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Time To Dance by Padma Venkatraman

Title: A Time To Dance
Author: Padma Venkatraman
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: worthy!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

p194 "souls progress" should be "soul's progress"

I used to know someone whose name (both names, actually!) sounded very much like Padma's last name, though I suppose such a name is relatively common in a nation of over a billion people (so I don't imagine they're related!). So what about what she wrote? Well, despite some sad tropes and clichés in this novel, I really did enjoy it; however, my undertaking with this blog is to give honest reviews that pull no punches even for novels that I recommend, so brace yourself! Amongst the good, lies some tough fiber!

You might think that this story - the shattered artist - has been done before (and it always seems to be about dancers, doesn't it?!). I don't doubt that it has, but the real question you need to ask here is: has it been done so refreshingly well, and was it so beautifully written? Discuss! In my opinion, it wasn't: this novel is the standard, not what may have gone before.

This novel is what Born Confused could have been but which failed to get there. Unlike that novel, this one is set in India, in Chennai (which you may know as Madras, home of the hotter-than-hell curry). Chennai is the home-base of the Tamil film industry, and a center of Bharatanatyam dance, so it's no surprise that this novel is about a young girl named Veda whose greatest passion in life is that very dance form (examples can be found on You Tube). Her whole focus, as we join the narrative, is on preparing for a dance competition, which she wins. Right at that moment, as she's flying so high, the vehicle in which she's riding home flies into a tree, and she awakens in a hospital to find part of her right leg is missing.

A Time To Dance is written like a poem, and it works. Sometimes it's a bit awkward because the line breaks come where I wasn't expecting them, but most of the time they come exactly where they ought to be. Okay, maybe they always come exactly where they ought to be, and I'm just clueless! Fine! I'll deal, but one place where it worked less than ideally for me was around page ninety-one, where there was a long conversation. That seemed quite artificial (that is, the line breaks, not the conversation).

Hey, the Bharatiya Janata Party just won a majority in the Indian general election, so maybe Bharat is in now! I have no idea what I'm talking about, do I?!

On the other hand, there was a (shorter) conversation later which scanned much better, so maybe it was having so many single lines on a page which looked so odd. Other than that, I was pleasantly surprised at how well it did work. Venkatraman is evidently a very talented writer and knows her poetry even when it's disguised as prose (or vice-versa). Some of the lines read like haiku.

Veda (no word yet on whether the prefix is Darth...) meets an American doctor who insists that she call him Jim. He's working to provide Indians with limb prostheses, and he takes a cast of her leg and tells her that he will have her dancing again. Veda all but falls in love with him which struck me as a bit too much, especially since he has to be considerably older than Veda is. We're not actually told how old Veda is, but this novel is for ages 12 and up, and Jim is around 30.

Yes, I know there are May-December relationships and there's nothing wrong with them, but one does not find such relationships in YA novels; then again, one does not find very many Indian-authored YA novels widely available in the USA. Maybe there's a less blinkered ethos in India when it comes to relationships?

Veda notes that while, during her time in the hospital, her rival Kamini came to see her and even brought flowers, her teacher Uday failed to show up, and when she goes to see him wearing her temporary prosthesis, and demonstrates that she can still do the moves, he reminds her that there's one important Bharatanatyam dance move which she has failed to make, and when she attempts it, she can't do it. He then makes his move: turning his back upon her.

Angry, Veda seeks a new teacher, Dhanam, who takes her on, but she must start in the beginner's class until she finds her feet (so to speak). That class is taught by Govinda, so now she has the hots for two males in her life, both of whom are older than herself. I have to confess at this point that I would have liked Veda better had she been a little more mature - not older, necessarily, but more mature.

It felt wrong to me that she so easily fell for two guys in a row when she was supposedly so devoted to dancing. That's not to say, of course, that a girl can't multi-task(!), but it betrayed the devotion and focus which she'd had in the early part of the novel. To me it felt like she had not only lost part of a limb, but also lost her drive, which would be a far more devastating loss in my opinion. Deva stating - get it? See, Padma V., I can pun, too!

Talking of trope, Govinda has gold flecks in his eyes. Is it not in any way, shape, or form, possible to have a main YA male character who doesn't have gold flecks in his freaking eyes? Is it illegal to have non-gold-flecked eyes in a male love interest YA fiction?! I'm so tired of reading that! Are there no YA writers who can come up with something original in this regard? Where are the editors to tut-tut when their writers put something like this on the page?! OK, pet peeve off, moving on....

One thing which struck me as odd was the cruel puns made by a set of twins at Veda's school, who kept joking about her amputation. The problem is not that they were being cruel: people can be cruel in real life, whether intentionally or not, and it would be foolish to chide a novelist for portraying realistic characters even if you don't like the character. No, it was the puns which made me think, "Really?". Plus, a lot of these puns were tied to the game of cricket, which will be well-received in British ears, but which will fall flat for a US audience.

Puns were made on words like 'limp' and on cricket terms such as 'stump' and 'match' (Veda played cricket before her injury), but this is purportedly taking place in a part of India where they're presumably speaking Tamil. )That's just a guess! The language isn't specified.) I couldn't help but wonder if the puns would work in a different language. Since cricket was 'exported' to India by the Brits, perhaps the words for 'match' and 'stump' are actually the same, but is the word for 'stump', in reference to the remainder of an amputated limb the same in Tamil or Hindi? I doubt it.

Is the word for 'match', meaning a fortuitous pairing of two people the same as 'match' meaning a game, in these languages? Maybe we're supposed to overlook things like this, but I can't completely ignore it! It jumps out at me, even as I'm frankly quite amused by the puns. Padma Venkatraman would probably be an entertaining conversationalist. Fortunately, this language-specific punning isn't a killer with regard to my rating this novel! Not for me, it isn't at any, er, rate....

I have to say that Veda's friend Chandra's comparison of Karma with Newton's third law of motion doesn't work! In Newton's law, actions have equal but opposite reactions (strictly speaking, an object upon which a force is exerted will present a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to the force acting upon it), whereas in karma, actions are supposed to have similar reactions, not opposite ones, aren't they?!

But enough quibbling! This is, despite my griping above, a really good and entertaining novel, and it was a pleasure to read it. I recommend it without reservation.