Book Review

The Henna Artist Book Review

Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for sending me this beautiful book in exchange for an honest review. Receiving diverse books from publishers makes my heart soar.

I was six years old the first time I had Mehndi (henna) placed on my hands. I was in Pakistan at the time with my parents, and we were watching a henna ceremony from the lobby in our hotel. I was mesmerized by all the dancing, singing and by all the girls running around with henna on their hands. I begged my mother to go ask them if I could get henna done on my hands as well. It was the henna artist that caught my eye and saw me pulling my mom towards the ceremony. She walked up to us holding her tube of henna and asked me if I wanted a design on my hand. My mom loves to tell me how I let go of her hand and followed the henna artist into the ceremony as if I was an invited guest. While I don’t remember the exact design she drew, I do remember being fascinated by the end product. My mom’s favourite part of the story is how I created such a scene because I was so excited that the bride herself invited us to the wedding two days later.

Reading “The Henna Artist” by Alka Joshi reminded me of this memory. I have loved Henna from that moment twenty-six years ago. I knew I needed this book in my life just by reading the synopsis. This story transported me to 1950’s India as we follow a woman’s quest at an independent life through her art.

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(photo from @khanlibrary)

Synopsis:

Lakshmi was seventeen-years-old when she escaped an abusive marriage and set off on a journey alone from her 1950’s village to the city of Jaipur. She begins a decade long career of adorning wealthy women’s hands and bodies with henna. Lakshmi becomes well known for her beautiful designs and slowly begins building towards her dream of an independent life. Everything comes crashing down when her husband tracks her down with a thirteen-year-old sister she never knew she had. The story follows Lakshmi and Radha as they both navigate their new relationship.

This was such an incredible book to read around International Women’s Day. Lakshmi was a character I rooted for from the very beginning, even when she was making choices that I did not agree with. The author made her so human, which means she was flawed but also living under the weight of a painful past, a difficult present and often times what felt like an impossible future. Her dream of being financially independent and living in a house built from her hard work was admirable and it was a dream that felt so fragile, like a house of cards that a small gust of wind could topple over. “The Gossip-Eaters” as the author calls them had such a huge role in the book. I think the author did a phenomenal job in portraying how people’s words could have a lasting effect on a person’s life. The author also did a great job in depicting the hardships of different caste members, of the poor and unmarried women at the time.

The Characters:

The characters felt so real to me. The author did a great job in humanizing many of the characters, including the ones I wanted to hate. She excelled at showing the driving factors that can lead people to make bad decisions, which left my feeling sympathy for many of them. Lakshmi and Radha’s relationship was both beautiful and complex. These sisters really grew together, and while there were times when I felt the just as protective and frustrated with Radha, I began to understand her and how vulnerable those teenage years can be. Malik was by far one of my favourite characters. I smiled every time he called Lakshmi “Auntie-boss”.

Final thoughts:

Overall this book is immersed in culture, history and female empowerment. I always talk about how diversity is important in the publishing world and I’m really happy that books like these are being published. There is so much you can learn from this book and I have a feeling you will end up wanting to get henna done right after. I know I’m thinking about it right now.

Happy reading bookworms!

 

Book Review

Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors Book Review

Here is a little fun fact about me: all you need to say is “Pride and Prejudice” and you will have my undivided attention. I’ll be ready to list all the reasons why I love awkward Mr. Darcy and discuss the antics of the Bennet sisters. I have read the book numerous times and I even keep my old copy on my nightstand. I have watched the movie so many times that I have lost count. While we are on the topic of the movie I just need to say that Matthew MacFadyen is the real Mr. Darcy for me. Sorry, not sorry to all the Colin Firth fans.

I have also read quite a few retellings of Pride and Prejudice and a good number of them have disappointed me, until Sonali Dev came around with her refreshing take on this classic. Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors not only brought diversity into the story, but also a gender swap with the female lead having the personality of Mr. Darcy. These two changes were enough for me to pick up this book and dive right it.

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(picture from @khanlibrary)

Synopsis:

Dr. Trisha Raje is a renowned neurosurgeon. Despite her success, Trisha is the black sheep of her influential immigrant family after making a mistake that almost jeopardized her brother’s political aspirations. After years of standing on the family sidelines, Trisha has a chance to redeem herself as long as she plays by the family rules.

DJ is an aspiring chef who is new in town after dropping everything to come to the aid of his ill sister. The Rajes hire DJ as a chef for an important political event and it is there that he meets the beautiful and arrogant Trisha. DJ’s pride is immediately wounded during his first encounter with Trisha. While her arrogance is infuriating, DJ realizes she may be the only surgeon who can save his sister’s life.

Trisha and DJ:

“The truth was, he was right about many things—things she could change, like how she treated people. He was also wrong about a few—things she could not change, like who she was” – Sonali Dev

These two characters were so well developed and the author did a great job with the gender swap. It’s rare to read about a female character that embodies the personality of Mr. Darcy and I would say the author really knocked it out of the park with this one. Trisha is every bit awkward as our beloved Mr. Darcy. Her heart is in the right place and she is only ever truly herself around those she trusts. Making Trisha a doctor was perfect for this role as her confidence and pride in her job can come across as arrogance. I loved the character growth as we see Trisha bring down her walls and begin showing her true self. 

Just like our precious Lizzie Bennet, DJ has got a way of making quick judgments about people. He suffers from some serious tunnel vision around Trisha as he interprets everything she does and says as arrogance or coming from a place of privilege. I loved reading about him seeing the error in his ways and putting his prejudice aside to see the real Trisha. These two made me laugh out loud but they also made me feel frustrated most of the time. I wanted to mother them into being normal around each other. Thankfully they figured it out after a long, and sometimes hilarious battle. 

There is so much character development in this book, but what I also love is how we get a glimpse into the lives of other characters. We get the backstory of both Trisha and DJ’s siblings. I especially enjoyed reading DJ’s sister, Emma’s story as she battled with her illness and the difficult medical decisions she had to make. I was also thrilled to see that we had a villain named Wickham in this story! These little salutes to the original classic gave me life.

A Pride and Prejudice Remix:

You do not have to be a Pride and Prejudice fan to enjoy this story. It would be wrong to classify this book as just a retelling. It is so much more than that. This book has comedy, drama, a love story and a lot of flavor. Seriously, the foodie in me was drooling every time the author described one of DJ’s delicious dishes. The mark of a great author is when they make the reader hungry, not for actual food though it did happen in this case, but hungry for more from world they created. This is how I felt once I finished the book. I wanted to know what would happen with the secondary characters along with Trisha and DJ in the future. I was not ready to say goodbye to these characters or the story. I highly recommend this book that will surely add some flavor into your bookshelves. 

Happy reading bookworms!

Shazia.

65000168_2243365769262287_3012229447093846016_n(Cartoon of me by @maddie.bookish.art)

 

Book Review

The Chai Factor Book Review

Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for sending me a copy of The Chai Factor in exchange for an honest review.

There were three factors that made me pick up and read “The Chai Factor” by Farah Heron:

  • It was advertised as a multicultural rom-com.
  • I’m a chai enthusiast and addict.
  • I never read a rom-com involving a barbershop quartet. I also had no idea what that was and relied on Google to educate me.

While this book did not feel like a romantic comedy to me, it still did focus on many important issues such as Islamophobia, sexism, prejudice and homophobia. If you were to read the excerpt of this book you would not know that the book covers these topics. In fact, I was surprised every time the author introduced us to situations revolving around those themes. I personally enjoyed reading about the bigger themes of this book more than the actual romance.

Synopsis:
Amira Khan is a thirty-year-old grad student in the male dominated field of engineering. She leaves her campus and returns to her family home for some much needed quiet time to work on her final project. But when she arrives home she finds out her grandmother has rented their basement to a barbershop quartet. While Amira is annoyed by their distracting presence, she has a hard time denying her attraction to one of the men in the quartet, Duncan. Amira becomes overwhelmed with her project deadline, her feelings for Duncan and the growing injustice she is witnessing in her world.

64598051_691574131302866_8504612206216740864_n(Picture from @khanlibrary)

It is interesting reading a book that not only focuses on the prejudice from the outside world, but from within the character’s own world as well. On top of dealing with the ignorance and hate from others, Amira has to confront the prejudice and hate within her community. This is especially the case when she becomes friends with a gay couple and sees the homophobia from her own grandmother. 

The Characters:

Amira has gone through a lot as a brown, Muslim woman. A lifetime of discrimination and feeling like people were making her a Muslim ambassador to educate the ignorant ones can be exhausting. It is enough to build a wall around yourself to protect against all the hate. Amira is a character that is not afraid to educate and put ignorant people in their place. While this may be a quality that I admire and aim to practice myself, I found Amira sometimes found problems when there were none and pounced without thinking things through.

This is especially true with many of her interactions with Duncan. She constantly berated him when he tried to help and was just plain rude to him for a good chunk of the book. I understand having experiences of being discriminated due to the color of your skin and your religion can leave you feeling a bit defensive. Trust me, I sometimes have to tell myself calm down and get more information before laying it on people when I’m included in a discussion about Islam that is going a bit wayward. However, I don’t think it excuses being so rude and treating her love interest so poorly. I understand that she built a wall to protect herself but the rudeness made me wince many times. That is not to say that Duncan is perfect. He walks around with a lot of guilt over how Amira is treated and somehow tries to play victim or make excuses for others.

“She’d grown weary of dealing with the preconceptions people had about her when they saw her or learned her religion.” – Farah Heron.

The times that I did enjoy seeing her anger bubble to the surface was when she told off a bigot, put a sexist co-worker in his place and confronted closed minded people from her own community. These scenes were great and I was cheering her on. I felt that this level of anger was enough for the book and the love/hate relationship between Amria and Duncan may not have been necessary. 

I enjoyed the friendships she forged with the barbershop quartet and how she inadvertently got pulled into their complicated lives. The relationship between Sameer and Travis was endearing and I liked seeing Amira’s softer side while she interacted with them and stood up for them.

Overall review:

I started out with a lot of hope for this book and while I did not lose interest while reading it, I still had a hard time getting past the main character’s antics. It was definitely one of the bigger downsides to a book that would have otherwise been a great read. Nevertheless, this book does focus on important issues that I feel many readers would relate to and learn from. Diverse books are so important and I applaud the author for bringing forward diversity in the cast and opening the door to different people’s struggles. Take a peak in and learn something new. 

Happy reading bookworms,

Shazia.