… the marketing personnel of a gym you pass by insist on handing to you, you and only you and no other passerby, a pamphlet on their weight loss program?
I said ‘Oh, well. Thank you.’ and walked away.
… the marketing personnel of a gym you pass by insist on handing to you, you and only you and no other passerby, a pamphlet on their weight loss program?
I said ‘Oh, well. Thank you.’ and walked away.
Book: Shadow Princess
Author: Indu Sundaresan
What wonderful writing! What a lovely book!
I have just started experimenting with historical fiction, and am enjoying the genre. I am so happy to have discovered Indu Sundaresan! This book transported me right into the Mughal era, and I could see each character, each place, each dress and each jewel described in the story, as if the story were unraveling right in front of my eyes. The author sure does have a way with words, wonderful research capabilities and a special love for the Mughal era.
Shadow Princess is the story of Jahanara, daughter of the much-famous and very-much-in-love royal couple, Emperor Shah Jahan and Empress Mumtaz Mahal. The story begins with the passing away of Mumtaz Mahal, which causes Shah Jahan to break down completely. Princess Jahanara, at the tender age of 16, is forced to take over the reins of the empire in her hands, and provide all the support that her father needs to recover from her grief. The author has beautifully etched the character of Jahanara, who went on to become the most powerful woman in the imperial harem and a wonderful daughter as well.
I have no qualms in admitting that I am weak in history, and have always had trouble remembering the sequence of the Mughal kings. However, this book has caused one generation of the imperial family to be etched in my mind. I wish history were taught this way in school – through stories – which would make it very real and relatable, instead of just being a list of names and dates.
This book brought forth many emotions in me. I felt awe at the grandeur of the Mughal courts, a mix of compassion and respect for Jahanara, and anger at the cruelty that seemed to be meted out to women in those days – even royal women – just because they were women. I always used to wonder how the courts of these kings worked, and this book gave me a fair idea of the same. I couldn’t really relate to the monarchs’ greed for power and their vanity, but then I guess that was how things worked for them then.
As much as Shadow Princess is the story of Jahanara, it is the story of the building of that luminous edifice of love, the white marble Taj Mahal. I especially loved reading the parts about how the land for the Taj was acquired and how it came to be constructed, since I have had the opportunity to see the awe-inspiring structure a couple of years ago.
Shadow Princess is actually a sequel to The Feast Of Roses and The Twentieth Wife, but I chose to read this first. That did not take away from my reading in any way, since this is pretty much a stand-alone book. I am looking forward to read the other books by this author. A real page-turner this one is, full of drama, romance and grandeur. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading this book.
Do you look for faces and other shapes in those old-fashioned bathroom tiles with abstract designs, too? Do you have fun unleashing your imagination as you… err… go about your business in the said room, identifying the face of an old man here, a hand there and a horse somewhere else?
Please tell me you do, too.
I have been reading quite a bit lately, experimenting with new authors and genres that are new to me. Most of these reading experiences have been good!
So, what have I read this far?
Queen Of The Big Time – Adriana Trigiani
I had never read any Adriana Trigiani before, but have heard a lot about her books on several blogs. She seems to write sensible chick-lit, most of her books based in Italy, and that sounded like just what I needed at the time. So, I pestered the OH till he got me a used copy of Adriana Trigiani’s Queen Of The Big Time. True to the good reviews of the book I read on blogosphere, it didn’t disappoint.
This is the story of Nella Castelluca, the daughter of an Italian farmer couple settled in Delabole, USA. The story begins in Nella’s childhood and spans two further generations of hers, without getting boring at any point. Nella is one of her parents’ five daughters, and has big dreams of studying in the school in town and becoming a teacher one day. When she is about fifteen, she falls in love with a handsome poet, and dreams of marrying him when she has finished her studies and working. However, fate intervenes, and Nella is required to go to work instead of the school. What happens to her after that? You have to read the book to find out!
This one was no major literary masterpiece, just a simple book that can be read in a couple of days, at most. It is different from other chick-lits, in the sense that it is realistic and the heroine is, thankfully, not depicted as a complete bimbette. It made me think a lot about life in general and fate, and how circumstances often put us in situations we never thought we would be in. There is a hint of romance in the book, too, which is quite beautiful without any of the vulgarity that I have come across all too often in chick-lits.
I would recommend this book to you if you are looking for a simple but thoughtful read. Oh, and of course, there is a lot of old-fashioned country charm in it.
Rodrick Rules – Jeff Kinney
I read Diary Of A Wimpy Kid a few months back, and loved it. I found Greg as adorable as I found him to be atrocious, and so, I didn’t hesitate in picking up the second book in the series, Rodrick Rules, when I was looking for something super-fun to read.
Like in the first book, Greg is at his hilarious best in this one, too. This book is all about Greg’s (mis)adventures with his brother, Rodrick, and the very special bond (not) that they share. It cheered me up immensely, and made me laugh out loud at places. The cartoons in the book are way too good!
By all means, read this book if you need a laugh. However, I would suggest you keep it away from your kids – the book might backfire on you!
The Wedding Officer – Anthony Capella
I have read two other books by Anthony Capella, The Food Of Love and The Empress Of Ice Cream, and loved both of them. I picked up his The Wedding Officer on a whim from Blossoms a couple of years earlier, but somehow, didn’t get past the first few chapters of the book the few times I tried to read it. This time, though, I decided to plod on, and finished the entire book.
The Wedding Officer is the story of 1944 Naples, when Italy is in the throes of the Second World War. Allied forces have occupied Naples, and someone is needed to stop the Italian girls from marrying Allied soldiers, thus distracting their concentration when they need it the most. England sends a ‘wedding officer’, James Gould, to Naples for just this purpose. At first, James is overwhelmed by his duties and the state that Naples is in, but he soon settles into a routine. And then, the wedding officer himself loses his heart to an Italian beauty. What will he do? Find out!
I didn’t enjoy this book quite so much as Capella’s two other books. Being the ignoramus that I am, I didn’t understand much of the history in the book. I felt that some parts of it are way too drawn out and, overall, the book lacks that magic feel of Capella’s that was very much present in the other two books. Some parts of the story are beautiful, though.
I wouldn’t say this is the best of Capella’s books, but then, someone else might like much more than I did!
The Last Letter From Your Lover – Jojo Moyes
On a beautiful morning in the 1960s, Jennifer wakes up from a stupor in a London hospital, and doesn’t remember who she is or how she came to be there. She is told that she had had an accident, that she is Jennifer Stirling, and that she is the wife of rich and successful businessman Laurence Stirling. Declared to be in good health, Jennifer is allowed to go home, and to let her memory take its time to return to her. Jennifer accepts this, but finds something rather strange – everyone is extremely reluctant to talk to her about the accident. That, and the fact that Laurence and her relationship seems very strained and…. well…. cold. Oh, and the bunch of love letters she discovers in her house from someone called B. What Jennifer makes of her changed circumstances forms the bulk of the book.
I LOVED this book. Yes, the storyline is nothing new, but the treatment it has been given in this book is completely different. I found the book gripping and un-put-down-able. There is a twist in almost every chapter, intelligent twists, which do not seem forced. I loved the romance in the book, and the boldness of it. It is a mix of the lightness of love and the darkness that life and circumstances sometimes bring to a person, and I think the author has done a wonderful job of depicting the mix.
What have you been reading?
Once upon a time, long, long ago, very long ago, I was a little girl who used to go to school. In the long, hot months of the summer vacations, there used to nothing much to do except watch TV and play silly games with friends from your apartment complex. This was the time when cable television was still, largely, an unheard-of concept, and we used to be happy watching what the nation, largely, watched – Doordarshan. Only DD1, not even DD2. There was no Star TV, no Colours, no Zee, NatGeo or Discovery, but there was Duck Tales, Jungle Book, Potli Baba, Reporter and Byomkesh Bakshi. And vacation-special programmes for kids in the afternoons.
One of the sections of these vacation-special programmes used to be cooking, featuring recipes that kids could whip up easily in their home kitchens, without causing their parents too much distress. On one such summer afternoon, one such programme featured a recipe called ‘Roller Coasters’, easy-peasy chocolate-biscuit-coconut powder pinwheels that promised to taste as delicious as they were easy to make.
I took it into my head to try out this delicacy immediately. My Amma, being my Amma, took it into her head to ‘help’ me make them. Cocoa powder and unsalted butter and dry coconut – which the recipe called for – were not things we stocked in our kitchen readily those days, so we spent an evening assembling them. We toiled for about 15 minutes getting the pinwheels together, and then came a long wait of 2 hours while they cooled off in the refrigerator. Taking my first bite of one of these lovelies and feeling the tastes of coconut and cocoa mix in my mouth is one of my earliest foodie memories. This was the first ‘dish’ I had ‘cooked’ on my own, after all, albeit with ‘help’ from Amma.
These roller coasters got prepared in our house, and promptly devoured, a couple more times after this first time. Then, they were forgotten. Lost somewhere under the myriad dishes, cuisines and flavours entering my life over time. The memories of them remained buried somewhere in my still-little brain till recently, until a severe craving for something chocolate-ey forced them out. A severe craving for something chocolate-ey, the lack of availability of something chocolate-ey to eat instantly, some butter and cocoa powder and Marie biscuits and dry coconut lying unused since ages, that is.
The OH was equally excited by the prospect of some no-bake chocolate-coconut goodies, and we promptly looked up the recipe on the internet. This recipe confirmed that my memory had served me right, and I remembered the proceedure I had adopted all those years ago to make these pinwheels.
The proceedure was followed again yesterday and 12 beautiful chocolate-coconut pinwheels came into being, this time not without much ‘help’. They were much loved, and promises were made of them being a regular occurrence in the house henceforth. Yes, ‘were‘.
Presenting to you, ladies and gentlemen, ROLLER COASTERS. ‘Roller coasters’ shall always be the way I think of these.
Do you remember these from your childhood, too?
If you haven’t ever tasted these, I recommend you do soon. They’re worth much more than the 15-odd minutes you will spend on making them.
…. discovering proper Gujarati-style dabeli in your city.
…. a friend from another city sending you an extremely sweet CD, with a beautiful thought behind it.
…. relishing the first mango of the season.
…. discovering face washes and soaps from Lush.
…. serendipitously finding a copy of a book you have been wanting to read since ages.
…. rediscovering the joy of watching Bollywood movies.
…. the smell of wet earth invading your senses after a shower of rain every other day.
…. a meal of phulka rotis, Gujarati-style methi leaves curry, and the drumstick kadhi that your Patti used to make years ago.
…. discovering, and liking, historical fiction, a completely new genre of books for you.
…. a friend of your husband picking up some Gujarati snacks for you from a place where he found them being sold, because he knows you love them.
…. a game of online Scrabble.
…. Strawberry Body Butter from The Body Shop.
…. long slices of raw mango, sprinkled with chilli powder and salt.
…. listening to long-forgotten, crazy songs from the 90s, and finding out that you have so many memories associated with each one.
I must have been living under a rock so far, because I found this beautiful poem by William Butler Yeats only yesterday. It touched me in a way very few things have in the last couple of months. It resonated with a certain chord in my heart, and I instantly fell in love with it. Of course, it has to find a place on my blog as well.
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
- William Butler Yeats
I know I would melt if someone (*ahem ahem*) read this poem aloud to me. I think it is one of the most romantic things ever written. I hope the ‘Love’ doesn’t ‘flee’, though.
I loved The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate when I read it some time back, and haven’t stopped recommending it since. It was a lovely read, and made me want a sequel eagerly so that I could know what did happen to the protagonist, the spunky Calpurnia Tate aka Callie Vee. I read up a bit about the author of the book, Jacqueline Kelly, and was surprised to know that this was her debut novel! The writing is beautiful, and quite mature actually.
I wrote to Jacqueline and asked her if she would be interested in answering a few questions for my blog. She was sweet enough to say yes, and sweeter still to send in her responses within just a few days, even though she is busy writing a sequel to The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate. Thank you so much for this, Jacqueline! And, yes, I am all excited to get my hands on the sequel!!
Without further ado, here we go:
How did you come up with the idea of The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate?
I came up with the idea for the book while lying on the couch, in the middle of summer, in my big old Victorian farm house. The air conditioning wasn’t working well, and as I lay there in the terrible heat, I thought, “How did people stand it in this house a hundred years ago?” And just like that, a little voice started up in my head, telling me what life had been like in my house in 1900. I got up and found a piece of paper and a pencil, and started writing down exactly what the voice said, and this ended up being the first page and a half of the book.
By the way, the first chapter was only intended to be a short story. It was my writing group that encouraged me to turn it into a novel.
Are any of the characters in the book inspired by people you know in real life?
Calpurnia is about 60% me, about 30% my mother, and about 10% various friends of mine. Granddaddy is about 1/3 my own father, 1/3 my friend Houston White, and 1/3 my friend Phil Tate.
Why did you base the story of Calpurnia Tate in Texas?
I based the story in Fentress, Texas, because that’s where my house was located. The house in the book was my house. I say “was” because it was struck by lightning and burned to the ground a couple of years ago. I have nothing left except the front door key.
The end of your book didn’t reveal whether Calpurnia succeeded in breaking away from the shackles of her life, and became a naturalist or not. Did you intend to leave the ending vague? Is there a sequel in the offing?
Yes, there is a sequel in the offing! I can’t say much except that I am working on the sequel right now. I don’t yet know when I’ll finish.
Also, my second book, Return to the Willows, just came out a few months ago.
How has the response to The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate been?
The response has been overwhelming. Calpurnia has been translated into 17 languages, which I find astonishing. It turns out that young girls in Finland and Korea and India respond to her the same way Texas girls do.
What is the best compliment you have so far received for The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate?
I’ve had several young readers tell me they think it’s the best book they’ve ever read. It doesn’t get any better than that!
Please tell us the names of some of your all-time favourite books.
My all-time favorite childhood book was The Wind in the Willows. I loved it so much that fifty years later, I wrote my version of a sequel to it. My favorite books for adults are Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, Moo by Jane Smiley, everything written by Alice Munro, John LeCarre, Lee K. Abbott, and T. C. Boyle. And I absolutely adore P. G. Wodehouse. Who doesn’t?
A word of advice for newbie writers?
The best advice I can give new writers is to find or form a writing group of people you trust, to critique your work. This does not mean your family, or best friends, or someone who is going to gush about the work and tell you it’s great when it’s not. It’s not easy to find the right group. I went through three groups before finding the one that works for me, and we have all been together for about 12 years now.
When I heard about American pastry chef David Lebovitz’s book about his adventures in Paris, The Sweet Life In Paris, I wanted to lay my hands on it immediately. The romanticism of Paris, yummy food, anecdotes about life in a foreign city and the author’s brushes with the culture there – what more could I want in a book? I thought I was all set for a wonderful reading experience when I ordered this book. Sadly, that was not to be.
The anecdotes that Lebovitz relates are funny, and some of them had me laughing. His insights into life in Paris – especially the food culture – are interesting to read, some surprising as well. The recipes are great, too, and made me drool. The book even made me take a quick trip to our neighbourhood bakery and pick up a chocolate mousse.
That said, the writing style of the author did not quite hit it right with me. The book reads more like a collection of lukewarm, hastily written blog entries, without depth, only hinting at what could have been great stories to read. The narration is very informal, and the recipes give the book a feel of some scribbles in between recipes in a cookbook. In my humble opinion, a bit more in-depth narration would have taken this book to new heights.
There is a lot of generalisation in the book, too. The author is quick to poke fun at things and people he doesn’t like, but that is balanced by the fact that he is just as quick to laugh at himself as well.
Overall, The Sweet Life In Paris did not turn out to be the exciting read I had expected it to be. It did not make me dream about visiting Paris, sitting in that cafe and sipping that hot chocolate or munching on that delectable piece of cake. It was, for me, a book that could have been a lot better. Of course, that could be just me, because I have read some wonderful reviews of this book across blogosphere.
Have you read this book? What are your thoughts about it?