Teatime for the firefly

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Title: Teatime for the Firefly
Author: Shona Patel
ISBN: 9780778315476
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Source: Advance copy via NetGalley
Release Date: September 24, 2013
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

From Shona Patel’s blog:

My name is Layla and I was born under an unlucky star. The time and place of my birth makes me a Manglik. For a young girl growing up in India in the 1940’s, this is bad news. The planet Mars is predominant in my Hindu horoscope and this angry, red planet makes people rebellious and militant by nature. Everyone knows I am astrologically doomed and fated never to marry. Marriages in our society are arranged by astrology and nobody wants a warlike bride. Women are meant to be the needle that stitches families together, not the scissor that cuts.

But every thing began to change for me on April 7th, 1943.

Three things happened that day: Boris Ivanov, the famous Russian novelist, slipped on a tuberose at the grand opening ceremony of a new school, fell, and broke his leg; a baby crow fell out of its nest in the mango tree; and I, Layla Roy, aged fifteen years and three days, fell in love with Manik Deb.

The incidents may have remained unconnected, like three tiny droplets on a lily leaf. But the leaf tipped and the drops rolled into one. It was a tiny shift in the cosmos, I believe, that tipped us together—Boris Ivanov, the baby crow, Manik Deb, and me.

I loved this book! It is such a beautifully written book that I couldn’t put it down but somehow I made myself stop to just let the words wash over me and to feel the characters and live with them for some more time. Shona Patel’s storytelling and writing ability is so powerful that it transports you and you can’t get out of that magical place. While reading the book, I felt nostalgic for an era I didn’t even live in. Is it even possible?

In Teatime, we follow Layla’s journey from her laid back life with her grandfather, Dadamoshai to the turbulent times she faces during India’s independence and thereafter. Layla is born under an unlucky start and is orphaned at a very young age. Yet, she is brought up by her wise and forward thinking grandfather to be a smart, educated and independent thinking girl. After marrying Manik Deb, Layla moves to the borders of Assam to live in the tea plantations where her husband works. Overnight she finds out that she is a now a memsahib with a fully staffed bungalow at her disposal and has to look and act accordingly. Soon we see that her relaxed life with her grandfather is over and she has to face many issues arising out of the changing economic situations at that time. Set against the spectacular backdrop of tea plantations, Shona Patel remarkably portrays the contrasts of an idyllic exotic location and it’s flawed society. Through Layla we see the life and times of the local plantation workers as they face racism, poverty, superstition and even politics.

I fell in love with Layla first and with her grandfather a little later – but these are not the only people who are delightful to read. The other motley of characters that Patel weaves in this story are equally captivating and touching – from Layla’s extended family to her servant staff, her husband’s colleagues and their wives and mistresses – every character is a joy to read – they are real, believable and you can easily picture them in your head with their nuances.

Shona Patel’s prose is lush and lyrical. It transports you to the India in the 1940’s and completely immerses you in that time and place . Layla’s story is funny, adventurous, dangerous and courageous. You would at times wish to stop and savour the moments yet find yourself distraught at the thought of staying away from the beautiful place and characters of this book. A coffee addict myself, after reading this book, I craved for a cup of tea…

Highly recommended! Can’t wait for her next book!

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Statistical Probability Of Love At First Sight

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Author: Jennifer E Smith

A love story spanning across only a day. Almost seems like a movie. In this teen love story, lot of emotions are explored – betrayal, loneliness, fears and friendship.

Hadley is upset at being asked to attend her father’s wedding after being already devastated about his exit from her and her mother’s lives. Before the journey, she misses her flight and meets a sexy British, Oliver. The long journey seems sweet and too short because she spends it talking to Oliver. Oliver makes her feel good and forget about her worries. Little does Hadley know at that time that Oliver is fighting his own battles silently.

They part at London airport with a memorable kiss. Hadley moves towards her father’s wedding venue with remorse that she has no way to contact Oliver.

But they meet again. And again. In the next 24 hours.

What brings them together again? How do they manage to meet without knowing each other’s whereabouts?

That is destiny at work.

This book is clearly a YA book. From a grown up’s point of view, the story is childish and weak. For example, I found the concept of Hadley having to see her father getting married to another woman and then accept the logic that ‘love just happened’ ridiculous. You can’t exactly forgive your good father, who drops a bomb at your home saying while he was away teaching in college in another country, he fell in love with someone and will be marrying her. And your Mom urges you to attend the wedding.

Chemistry between Hadley and Oliver was tepid. For love at first sight and the work of destiny, one would expect a spicier and fierier story. I saw no soulful connection between the two. While Oliver was more expressive and charming, Hadley was just remote and expressionless.

I had been quite keen on this book (and got one copy for my office library!) but I was quite disappointed. Realistically, this is a teen novel and will be appreciated by teens. It has all the elements of a sweet love story without bothering about complicated details.

I would only rate it a 1 / 5.

Love on the Rocks

– Ismita Tandon Dhankher

My first thoughts on hearing the title of this book was categorizing it to the arena of sappy romantic stories. But surprise of surprises! It is an enthralling thriller with strong undercurrents of love. The first two pages of the book are enough to  make you get up and take notice of the plot line.

In a cargo ship sailing from Japan to America,the Sea Hyena, among with the 24 crew members, the chief officer, Aaron is newly wed and decides to bring along his wife, Sancha on board for the voyage. The husband and wife are blissfully in love but there is turmoil on the vessel. A murderer is on the loose and this in turn causes turmoil among the happy couple too. Everybody is under suspicion for theft and murder. Once the detective authority comes on board, it becomes a vicious cat and mouse game. With the thrill of murders there are also revelations of various key characters and they are not pretty. Sancha even doubts her own husband and doesn’t hesitate to voice these doubts. A gloomy masked presence looms over all this drama.

The narration of the book is unique. Every character explains the proceedings from their own perspectives in their respective chapters. This style may start out to be mildly confusing, but you soon get into the rhythm as you grasp the nuances of each character. There are several mysteries entangled in this story but the author deftly extracts each one and even succeeds in connecting them to each other to form a beautiful large picture at the end.

The mounting suspense predictably climaxes to the finding of the murderer without any twist. But it is then that the author brings out her trump card and reveals the identity of Manna, the mysterious journal writer with the violent past.

One flaw that I observed was the characterization was incomplete. There were some gaping holes in the character descriptions. All the characters have some kind of a past which could have been better illustrated in the soliloquy chapters.

Even through all of this and some mild confusion in the middle of the plot , the book turns out to be a delightful read. It is non pretentious, mature and manages to be practical and true to the characters at all time. An engaging thriller with great description of life on a cargo vessel. Kudos to Ismita!

Rating – 4*

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Love Story

…by Erich Segal.

Oliver, a wealthy guy who goes to Harvard and plays in the school’s Hockey team, meets Jennifer, who is a music student at Radcliffe and her father a baker in Rhode Island, in a library. They fall in love and get married, even though Oliver’s father has objections. After marriage, they go through ups and downs, but live happily with each other. Jenny supports the family as Oliver goes to law school. Once he graduates, he lands a good job in a law firm New York City. With time, they decide to have a baby; but end up having to seek a doctor when they see nothing happening even after months of trying to conceive. That’s when they learn of a health issue that Jennifer has; something that is incurable. What happens next; how they cope with the shocking news – makes up the rest of the story.

I stumbled upon this book during one of my recent visits to the bookstore and since I’ve heard people talking so much about how good it is, I didn’t think twice before picking it up. As I started reading it, I was expecting it to be exceptional, given all the high recommendations I’ve heard over the years. And in the following few hours that took me to finish the book, I was only met with disappointment. This book didn’t do justice to all the hype; it was just mediocre.

In my opinion, the problem lies in the short length of the novel. There wasn’t enough time to develop any of the characters. Everything happened too quickly, which means, as a reader, I couldn’t connect with the depth of the couple’s love or sympathize with them during their grief. I wanted to like the book for the story has potential. But too long a story confined to a short novel brought out neither the beauty of the plot nor its characters…at least not to my liking.

Overall, a quick and easy read, if you have a few hours with nothing else to do; but don’t expect anything extraordinary.

My rating: 2*.

*for the rating scale, click here.

P.S: A book that I liked along the same storyline as this one is A Walk To Remember by Nicholas Sparks…now that one, a sweet romantic novel, left me heartbroken with its tragic end.

The History of Love

…by Nicole Krauss.

Leo Grusky, an elderly lonely person, a retired locksmith by profession, an on and off writer, lives in New York. Originally from a small town in Poland, Leo, as a teenager, falls in love with a girl named Alma and writes a book before they both get separated and flee the country (to come to America) due to the war. When Leo lands in NY, he does everything to find Alma, only to be disappointed to see her married and raising a family. He spends the rest of his life after that yearning for her love, lonely in his apartment, spending time with his friend Bruno, and working on another book every now and then.

Alma, a teenager in NY who was named after a character in a book titled The History of Love by an author named Litvinoff, wants to help her mother find love after her father passes away. She explores ways to make her mother move on when her mother receives a copy of the manuscript of The History of Love from a person named Jacob Marcus, who wants the story translated. Recognizing a chance for her to find love, Alma sets out to find Jacob Marcus and during that quest gets pulled into wanting to discover about her namesake character in the book.

The mystery that unfolds after that, with interference from Alma’s brother Brid, is what makes the rest of the story. Who is Jacob Marcus? How does Alma, the teenager, and Leo come together? What role do the author Litvinoff and his book play? Does Alma find Jacob Marcus? And many other questions are answered in this gripping tale of love, life, melancholy, friendship, misunderstanding, longing, simple pleasures and much more.

Narrated mainly from the point of views of Alma (the teenager) and the elderly Leo, this book made me smile, left me feeling sad, kept me immersed in the story and at the end, brought out few tears. The story in itself is gripping. Many characters, each with its own charm, at first left me confused. But everything comes together as the mystery unfolds little by little in later parts of the novel. Although the story was strong in general, there were parts that were tad unrealistic for my taste, particularly with Alma and her brother Bird. Even with little dissatisfaction here and there, I’ve to admit that I absolutely enjoyed reading the book from start to finish.

One of the points I was attracted to the most while reading this book was the prose – the words that poured like poetry, giving life to even the most heartbreaking situations. I immensely enjoyed reading the book, especially the parts where the narration was done by Leo. I felt that Leo’s character was the strongest, and had the greatest potential in bringing out the beauty of the story. Honestly, I might’ve liked the book more if it had been narrated by Leo only…but then each and every chapter / character was deep and enriching in its own way, so I won’t complain.

Overall, I would highly recommend it – it’s a brilliantly penned story of compassion that shouldn’t be missed.

My rating: 5*.

*for the rating scale, click here.

The Disappeared

…by Kim Echlin.This novel, set in the backdrop of Canada and Cambodia, is a love story about a girl who falls deep in love with a Cambodian musician, whom she first meets in Canada. As a teenager, Anne falls in love with Serey, a Cambodian musician. When the Cambodian borders open for a while, Serey moves back with hopes of finding his family, leaving Anne longing for everything about him. Anne waits for years to hear back from him, but is left disappointed.

Years later, while watching a newscast about Cambodia, Anne is convinced that she saw Serey. Happy to have seen him alive, she’s determined to go to Cambodia and find her lost love. Despite her father’s efforts to stop her, she leaves Canada and arrives at Phnom Penh, where she desperately stars searching for Serey.

What all she goes through to find the love of her life. What happens once they meet – does the bond they once shared still exist? Do they get to live happily ever after, or does tragedy strike again? What’s the story of Serey – what turns his life took after he left Canada? Did he find his family? All this and more is revealed in this beautiful love story set in the backdrop of heartrending Cambodian genocide.

This novel, I found, was both easy and difficult to read. While it was written well enough to keep me engrossed, wanting to read more, the pain that is reflected in the book with respect to life in Cambodia during that period made me want to stop. So much melancholy oozes every now and then leaving the reader feeling heavy. There were parts in the story where I found myself almost teary eyed.

Also, as much as I appreciated the story as a whole, I couldn’t bring myself to comprehend Serey’s affection for Anne. While I could easily empathize with Anne’s feelings here and there, I couldn’t see how Serey reciprocated his commitment to her. Then again, after enduing all that Serey had to in life, I am not surprised the way his character turned out; so I guess I shouldn’t be complaining about it because I’ll never be able to understand the depth of his sorrow.

Overall, a tragic novel of love, hope, despair, war, cruelty, deceit, death, pain and everything that is life – I would definitely recommend it.

My rating: 4*.

*for the rating scale, click here.

Here’s the post on Front Cover Attraction for this book written by BlueMist.

Dear John

Quick Data

Author: Nicholas Sparks

ISBN: 978-0-7515-4046-8

Price: 295 INR

Website:http://www.nicholassparks.com/

‘Dear John’ is a narrative by the character John Tyree, who joined the army to get away from his reclusive father[or so he thinks] and straighten out his life.. It’a a story about John and Savannah who fall in love at the first sight.

Army changes John’s life for better..he has been raised by an almost non-receptive father to which over a period of time John could not relate with.He is not great at studies and is unsure about his future..that is when he finally decides to enlist in the military and do something about his life.

On his first leave from the army he meets Savannah at the beach-she is beautiful and smart and something about her clicks John which initally even he isn’t aware of…only thing he realizes is that he likes her and would want to know more about her. On the other hand Savannah too reciprocates the same feelings and within no time they become friends…John spends his entire leave with Savannah and they get to know each other pretty well…by the end of the leave both of them realize that it’s nothing but love between them and they make promises to each other about future….only thing that bothers Savannah is that John is in the army and based in Germany..she has to wait until he comes back again-discharged from the army job.

With promises to write and call, they say goodbye until John’s next army leave.

John’s days and nights pass with a countdown to the day when he will be with Savannah forever. In between he gets his second leave and they decide to spend sometime with Savannah’s parents as well and then remaining leave with John’s father. Everything goes well in that duration except that John feels Savannah has changed a bit..or may be she is naturally busy in her work by then..or may be it’s John’s fears that are working on his mind…he didn’t know which is the actual reason but he sure knew that something has changed…just something !

This time when John is back to the army base…something happens…the uneventful 9/11. And it sure changes everything in their lives too.

Sparks has written about the love which is deep,out of this world and that aches. It’s an easy and quick read. With less complicated characters and straight narration. Though what I felt was the love that has been talked about in the story is too-good-to-be-true types. Somewhere in the middle of it..specially when the story reaches a point where John feels that something has changed-the further story becomes predictable…there are no twists and turns.

It’s a quick read if you are travelling or at the beach..it’s a nice read for those who like sappy romantic a girl-meets-the-boy love stories.

My rating for this book is 2*