Book Review: The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

I picked up the ARC to The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi at the OLA Super Conference. What draw me to the novel was the appealing cover and when I read the blurb, I saw it was an historical novel set in India that described a woman’s journey to independence. As I enjoy stories describing a woman’s journey to independence, I brought it home with me.

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction

Blurb:

Lakshmi Shastri has spent years carving out a life for herself as a henna artist after fleeing her abusive husband and backward rural village for the Rajasthan capital. Well-versed in apothecary and the miraculous properties of herbs, her services (the effects of which are far more than just aesthetic) are highly sought after by upper-caste women, and Lakshmi’s success brings her within inches from her, and her country’s, ultimate goal: total independence. That is, until the past she has so desperately tried to run from comes knocking at her door…

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this diverse read which shows a culture so different to mine. There were many unknown terms within the story but that was not a problem to my understanding of the setting because I was able to consult the glossary at the back of the novel. Soon I was able to read the story without needing to turn to the back of the book.

The story shows us the life and struggles of a woman living in India in the 1950s. One cannot help but admire her courage and spirit. Lakshmi has the strength and wit to pull herself out of poverty and an abusive relationship. The story shows how she does this – and how she copes with the sudden appearance of a sister she did not even know she had.

The Henna Artist is a story of a strong, independent woman who finally finds the place she belongs. It is a story that shines a light on the empowerment of women – and is also a reminder to the modern woman that those who came before us did not have it easy. Joshi adroitly describes to us the life of a woman struggling to be independent in the caste system in India with sensitivity and realism. I enjoyed the novel and would recommend it to anyone looking for a diverse read that embraces the history of Indian culture.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 28th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Practicing Social Distancing When Grocery Shopping

Last night my family expressed two wishes: my husband wanted me to make coq au vin for dinner; and my daughters were craving our favourite chocolate cake. When I woke up this morning, I decided to take the time to bring smiles to their faces. Yes! I went on the dreaded grocery run. I added a few other items to my list and stepped out of our home at 8:30am this morning.

Usually when I shop at the grocery store this early on a Saturday morning, my experience is quick. Not many people get out of bed early after a long week of work to go grocery shopping. Now, however, lines to get into the store cannot be avoided – no matter how early you shop.

The mall where I do my grocery shopping is eerily quiet as the only store open in the centre is the one that sells food. My fellow Canadians are adjusting to social distancing and we all stood 2 feet apart while waiting patiently to enter the shop. What saddens me though is that this practice has stopped people from talking to one another. The chatter of the child standing behind me with his mother was a welcome respite.

I completed my shopping quickly, cognisant of the fact that others were waiting to enter the store. Once home, I placed the cake and the ingredients for tonight’s dinner in the fridge. I look forward to my daughters’ squeals of delight when they open the fridge later today. I will make the shopping experience worthwhile.

When was the last time you went grocery shopping? What was your experience like?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This post was my first attempt to participate in the Six Word Saturday challenge)

Looking From Above

We are nearing the end of our third week of social distancing and, as I look down from our balcony mid-morning, I can see how quiet the streets and nearby park are. Normally at this time of day, the sidewalks are busy with people, the park echoes with the sound of playing children, and the roads are teeming with cars.

However, the eerie silence does have a thread of positivity running through it – the city dwellers in my neighbourhood are following the directives of the politicians in charge of running our country. Hopefully our actions will show results in the upcoming weeks. All I know as I look down from my balcony, that I miss being a part of the life on those streets.

Are you able to see the quiet streets from above?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This post is linked to Becky’s Square Challenge. During the month of April, we are challenged to share photos featuring #squaretops)

Book Review: Taken By Storm by Tami Hoag

During the first week of social isolation, I needed something more than music to ease my mind while journaling. I came up with the idea of searching the catalogues of our library for an audiobook. My thought was that the focus required to listen to a story would help focus my mind and prevent it from skittering all over the place as I thought of the CoronaVirus. I requested the first available book I saw by an author I knew: Taken by Storm by Tami Hoag.

Genre: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Format: Audiobook (narrated by Donna Rawlins)

Blurb:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Tami Hoag comes this bittersweet romance classic about a woman who’s rebuilt her life—and her heart—after the disappointments of the past, only to find her carefully laid plans shattered by a knock on the door.…

As a trauma nurse, Julia McCarver is accustomed to dealing with life-and-death emergencies. But she is the one in shock when she answers the door and finds the past standing there in the person of S. T. “Storm” Dalton. Julia had painstakingly put her life together not just once but three times in the wake of his abrupt and devastating departures, and she has no intention of doing it a fourth time. Because that’s what S.T. promises he will do—break her engagement to another man, her heart, and her future all over again. Except, of course, that’s not what he calls his plan to win her back. He gives himself two weeks to convince Julia that he’s changed, that she is still in love with him, and that—despite conventional wisdom—the fourth time lightning struck can be a charm.

My thoughts:

I did not know that Tami Hoag wrote romance as I have only read her thrillers. According to the author’s note at the beginning of the story, Hoag began her career writing romance. Taken by Storm does follow the traditional format of a romance, leaving the storyline to be a predictable one. However, many of the images used by the author were beautifully written and reminded me of why Hoag is one of my go-to novelists. In addition, the humour of the story elicited a few chuckles from me.

I enjoyed the audio version of this book especially because the reader did an excellent job. Her voice and pitch for the story was perfect. I loved, too, that she changed her voice for the various characters – even taking on a Latino accent for one of the characters. Donna Rawlins’ interpretation of the text added another level of pleasure to my enjoyment of this novel.

Taken by Storm was the perfect story to take my mind off of the COVID-19 pandemic that was encroaching our borders at that time. It is a lighthearted, humorous read that is perfectly narrated. I recommend that this novel be added to your list of books to listen to.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 27th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Task Accomplished

PHOTO PROMPT © Douglas M. MacIlroy

The bird tapping on the window reminded her that there was life outside of this room and these four walls. She had been so engrossed in her task for the last few days, that life had stood still. Eating crisps in front of her laptop had been the norm; and her exercise routine had been set aside. Her research was done! Attaching the documents to an email, she sent it off to her supervisor. Hopefully now they would make the decision to cancel the forthcoming policies. If they did not, the company would be the target of crippling lawsuits.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

Note: After 17 days of social distancing, I am finding it difficult to connect with my muse!

(This post was inspired by Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle. The challenge asks for bloggers to write a story in 100 words or less in response to the photo prompt.)

Book Review: The Holdout by Graham Moore

While browsing the ARCs set out by publishers at the OLA Super Conference, a friend of mine suggested that I pick up The Holdout by Graham Moore as she thought I would enjoy it.

Genre: Legal Thriller, Suspense

Blurb:

In this twisty tale from Moore, young juror Maya Seale is convinced that African American high school teacher Bobby Nock is innocent of killing the wealthy white female student with whom he appears to have been involved and persuades her fellow jurors likewise. Ten years later, a true-crime docuseries reassembles the jurors, and Maya, now a defense attorney, must prove her own innocence when one of them is found dead in Maya’s room. 

My thoughts:

It has been a while since I read a legal thriller and this novel was the perfect one to enjoy this genre once again. In addition to reading about the jury experience, the author encourages us to think about whether the jury system is a good way to serve justice. Moore suggests an answer, but he leaves it to the reader to decide.

The Holdout is a fast-paced novel that leaves you wanting to know the outcome. There is not a lot of action in it (as is usual with legal thrillers) but you continuously want to know the outcome of the mystery. Moore adroitly takes us through the ‘evidence’, encouraging us to make judgements much like a juror would.

If you are looking for a legal thriller that will hold your interest from the first page, The Holdout will not disappoint. I enjoyed my first foray into Moore’s work and will certainly keep my eye out for his name when browsing book stacks.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 26th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Currently Listening: Taken by Storm

Since the start of social distancing, I have discovered the joy of audiobooks and have started borrowing books from the library through their virtual checkout. I have found that listening to stories distracts me from my boredom – especially when I am no longer able to read physical books. I now listen to novels while doing household chores, cooking, and journaling.

Currently, I am listening to an author I have enjoyed in the past: Tami Hoag. I have read many of her thrillers and have now discovered that she wrote romance when she started publishing work. It is interesting to know that she changed genre. While listening, I can still enjoy the way she writes.

Do you listen to audiobooks?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

Music Monday: Japon

As we move into the third week of social distancing, the one habit that I now have is ensuring that I exercise a little every day. I am the first to wake up in my household thus ensuring that I am disturbing no-one when I play the music I use to exercise.

For the last couple of weeks, I have been exercising to a Zumba DVD that I have on hand. One of the songs is Japon by Rombai.

I have now reached the point where I know the song well (even though I cannot sing it) and am able to see the dance choreography in my head as I go about my chores. It is time, I think, for me to change the songs on my exercise playlist!

What songs have you been exercising to during the past week?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

Book Review: Bloom by Kenneth Oppel

I have enjoyed Kenneth Oppel’s middle grade novels in the past and was excited to receive a signed copy of his latest, Bloom, at the OLA Super Conference this year. The line was long and I spent a long time in it but the wait was worth it.

Genre: Middle Grade, Young Adult, Science Fiction

Blurb:

They take over fields and twine around houses. They bloom and throw off toxic pollen—and feed.

Strangely, three Salt Spring Island teens seem immune. Anaya, Petra and Seth. What’s their connection? What’s their secret? A week ago, they wouldn’t have thought they had one.

But they’d better figure it out fast—the invasion has already begun.

My thoughts:

I loved this book so much that I read it in one sitting! The novel is fast-paced and filled with tension – I could not help but turn the pages. Bloom is an excellent choice to get children reading: it is filled with adventure and tension featuring middle grade children.

Children and adults are fighting for survival on the planet. We don’t read much about what the adults are doing – but the group of children featured in this story are doing plenty. They are getting to know one another – and to know their own strengths in a changing world. All three characters (Anaya, Petra and Seth) are good role models and show children that they could contribute in a situation no matter what their strengths and social status.

Oppel has done it again! He has created a story that will engage readers with the written page. Bloom is the first book in a trilogy and I cannot wait to read the next installment.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 25th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Weekend Coffee Share: Fourteen Days Already

If we were having coffee, it would once again be virtual. On Friday we experienced the fourteenth day of social distancing and isolation from others. I have now reached the point where I am beginning to feel the isolation and the confinement of our apartment walls. I am lucky that I live with people and therefore do have others to spend time with – I feel for those that live alone.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I have been speaking to people virtually – and the connection with a different person has been good. I have spoken to my mom in South Africa – a country that has just entered a 3 week lockdown. I am pleased that she is not alone and that she is able to go outside and spend time in the garden. I have also spoke to a colleague – and we had our first virtual staff meeting.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that a garden is what I am missing right now. People who have gardens are doubly lucky at this moment as they are able to move around outside. I do wish the weather were a little warmer here then I would be able to sit out on the balcony and read. I guess that time will come as we have been told that social distancing will go on indefinitely.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I have moved closer to connecting with my students virtually. I have figured out how to set up my Google Classroom and am now in the process of connecting my students. It is slow going as the emails with parents are going back and forth and I cannot see exactly what it is they have on their screen. But I have hope that we will eventually get there.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I have been reading more than usual – though not always as sometimes I feel the need to move onto another activity. I have found pleasure in listening to audio books while journaling and have put a number on hold at the library. I have not listened to books in the past but now I think I have found a new habit. 🙂

If we were having coffee, I would wish you well with your experience of social distancing. Stay safe, and stay healthy

What would you tell me if we were having coffee?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This post is linked to Eclectic Ali and the Weekend Coffee Share)