“Aru held her breath as the familiar weightless sensation of the portals swept through her.” page 50
Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes (Pandava #3) by Roshani Chokshi. Rick Riordan Presents, Disney Hyperion, New York, 2020. MG fantasy, 386 pages including back matter. Lexile: 760L . AR Level: 5.4 (worth 13.0 points) . NOTE: This review will contain spoilers for previous books in the series.
Aru and company manage to flub their mission to protect two targets and receive a prophecy, only to find that the targets are twin sisters and their last remaining Pandava siblings. Moreover, the prophecy has a line about one sister being untrue which has everyone second guessing each other and allows the Sleeper to sow dissension among the group. Aru believes the only way to fix this mess is to find Kalpavriksha, the wish-granting tree from the Ocean of Milk. She’ll need her allies both old and new to surmount this new quest!
I was not prepared for this to include foster children. Granted, some aspects of care are different in the magical world of the Pandavas, but that still was something I hadn’t seen in other reviews before reading this for myself. While it didn’t quite match with the logistical details of real-life foster care, the emotional aspects rang true, and I was willing to forgive some magical hand-waving here. In particular, the backstory about Nikita’s love for fashion and their parents leaving them in care to protect them were especially moving.
The twins are Guyanese – open for a wide variation in appearance, but they are described as Black and blue-eyed. The official illustrations are lighter than I’d imagined from the text. Nikita has plant-based powers, while prophetess Sheela is simpler and more sensitive. The girls are only ten, so even when officially recognized by their godly ‘fathers,’ they don’t receive weapons. Instead each gets a choker necklace (Sheela a silver star, Nikita a green heart) which serves as a tracking device and placeholder. Chokshi’s attempts to include such a wide variety of representation for Indian-Americans with various cultural backgrounds and family situations are welcome and well-done.
“King Bheema was a kind and just ruler. Every day he held court at the palace. Rich or poor, tall or short, man or woman – anyone could walk in with a problem.” page 1
Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship: Stories from India by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy.
My edition Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA, 2019.
MG fiction, 180 pages.
Lexile: 600L .
AR Level: 4.4 (worth 3.0) .
NOTE: this is a compilation of two books:
> A Dollop of Ghee and a Pot of Wisdom (2010)
> A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice (2016)
Prince Veera and his best friend Suku decide to hold court and resolve disputes when his father King Bheema is not available in this collection of eight interconnected short stories.
I came across this charming book looking for our next family read-alouds after we finished the Anna Hibiscus series. Since there are only two volumes, the American publisher has decided to combine them into one book. It was considerably cheaper to purchase the collected hardcover volume than to buy the two paperbacks separately, although I’m not sure how much that has to do with import costs.
“Aru knew that not all parents stick around – not all can, for whatever reason. It isn’t the kid’s fault, and sometimes it isn’t even the parent’s, either.” page 306
Aru Shah and the Song of Death (Pandava Series #2) by Roshani Chokshi.
Rick Riordan Presents, Disney Hyperion, New York, 2019.
MG fantasy, 381 pages including glossary.
Lexile: 700L .
AR Level: 5.1 (worth 13.0 points) .
NOTE: This review contains spoilers for the previous book.
Aru Shah and her friend Mini are back – and need to clear Aru’s name quick after a thief wearing her form stole the god of love’s bow and arrows. In order to stop the thief’s horde of heartless zombies, they’ll have to team up with extra-strength Brynne and that unusual guy from across the street.
This installment of the Pandava series introduces two new characters, sidelines some who were main players in the first book (mostly Boo) and involves a lot of courtly intrigue.
The underworld apparently operates under the idea of guilty until proven innocent, so even though there’s a picture proving that a malicious doppelganger stole the bow and arrows, not Aru, she still has to quest to clear her name by finding the real thief and retrieving the stolen goods. Plus some of the people they’re battling have the favors of the gods, and Aru and friends don’t get extra help while they’re considered criminals.
“I didn’t feel safe in crowds near my home because the person ringing up my groceries could be the person who shot my son.” page 140
A Better Place: A Memoir of Peace in the Face of Tragedy by Pati Navalta Poblete.
Nothing But the Truth, LLC, San Francisco, California.
Memoir, 255 pages.
NOTE: I received a free copy of this book. See review for more details.
The story of one mother’s life after her son was a victim of gun violence.
When I get interested in a topic, one of the things I like to do is to read a variety of books that talk about the same subject from different angles. This past winter I wanted to look at incarceration, gun violence, and forgiveness (as well as several other topics that aren’t related). Among the books I’d purchased or put on hold at the library there were several friends gave to me or recommended.
However, this was mailed to me and I originally thought my prison volunteer friend sent it, but it came with a mug and he knew nothing about it. Looking back through my emails I didn’t find any that mentioned this book either, so if I’ve accidentally deleted or missed one then my apologies!
I took some time before reading, since it seemed pretty intense emotionally. Indeed, this title walks you through Poblete’s experiences, starting at the joyous moment when she and her fiance of several years finally booked a venue for their wedding… only to receive the call her son was murdered.
“Words did have power. When she said the word Pandava, all the feelings that came from discovering who she really was uncoiled like a spring jumping to life.” p. 33
Aru Shah and the End of Time (Pandava Series #1) by Roshani Chokshi.
Rick Riordan Presents, Disney Hyperion, New York, 2018.
MG fantasy, 356 pages including glossary.
Lexile: 630L .
AR Level: 4.7 (worth 12.0 points) .
Aru didn’t mean to bring about the end of the universe. She was just trying to impress the so-called friends who caught her in a lie. But then it also turns out that she’s been learning all those old folktales from her mom for a reason.
I’m constantly shocked when I go to look up my review for this book and then realize that I’ve never yet reviewed it, although I’ve been referencing it since this May 2018 review. We’ve actually read it several times already too. Clearly it’s past time that I review this novel!
Aru Shah was the story that kicked off the much-anticipated Riordan Presents imprint, so it got a lot of buzz. The first volume was well-received and by this time the third has been announced. Beyond the obvious critical reviews, our family has also highly enjoyed reading Aru’s adventures.
“The air turned foggy, and Ash’s sweat turned to ice. He sank to the ground, his body wracked with pain.” page 164
The Savage Fortress (Ash Mistry #1) by Sarwat Chadda.
Arthur A. Levine, Scholastic, New York, 2012.
MG fantasy, 292 pages.
Lexile: 660L .
AR Level: 4.6 (worth 10.0 points) .
Ash Mistry is the pudgy video-game-loving Indian mythology nerd we never realized we needed to save the world. Spending the summer with his sister visiting his aunt and uncle, he gets caught up in a strange archaeological dig, which leads to even stranger events.
This past year, two debut MG fantasy series drawing from Indian culture have gotten a lot of buzz – Aru Shah in the Rick Riordan imprint, and Scholastic’s Kiranmala Chronicles. But those series are only releasing about one per year, so what’s a fantasy lover to do in the meantime? Binge this already-completed trilogy, of course!
“Nursing homes have come a long way from the firetrap warehouses of neglect they used to be. But it seems we’ve succumbed to a belief that, once you lose your physical independence, a life of worth and freedom is simply not possible.” p. 75
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande.
Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt & Co, New York, 2014.
Nonfiction, 282 pages.
Because his parents both immigrated to America from India, Gawande didn’t have much first-hand experience with aging or mortality – the elderly members of his family were a continent away, being cared for by others. He certainly didn’t learn much about it from his medical school classes. Then he came face-to-face with the reality of American aging through his grandmother-in-law and patients, and decided to raise some questions about end of life-care and the meaning of life, and death.
Gawande has an interesting perspective on mortality and his second-generation-immigrant perspective gave him an insight into other methods of dealing with age that helped him turn a critical eye on how we deal with it here in America. This book reminded me of Another Day in the Death of America in that way – it takes a subject that most Americans wouldn’t even think twice about, and presents it to everyday readers.
“Even here things are pretty divided. Except that the breakdown is different. The aunties hang out with the aunties and the uncles hand out with the uncles.” page 53
Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap, illustrated by Mari Araki.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2011.
Illuminated realistic fiction, 247 pages.
Lexile: not leveled
AR Level: 4.7 (worth 3.0 points) .
NOTE: This is a YA book, not intended for younger children.
Tina Malhotra is the youngest in a family of five and a sophomore at the mostly white Yarborough Academy. She’s taking an Honors English elective course in existential philosophy, and has taken on an assignment to write letters to Jean-Paul Satre about the process of discovering who she is and who she is becoming.
The format of this book was different to any I’ve read before. I hesitate to call it a graphic novel (although the dust jacket does so) because large portions of the story were carried through text only. Neither was it an illuminated work because whole pages at a time would be done in a comic style relying on both text and illustrations.
“Asha paused to flick the sweat from the crook of her elbow. Suddenly she caught sight of a face staring at her through the coconut leaves.” p. 31
Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins.
Delacorte Press, Random House Children’s Books, New York, 2009.
Historical fiction, 225 pages.
Lexile: 800L .
AR Level: 5.3 (worth 7.0) .
Asha’s father has gone to America to look for a new job, leaving his family in the care of his older brother’s family. Already saddened by the move from Delhi to Calcutta, Asha, her beautiful older sister Reet, and their mother wait and try to fend off marriage proposals, rebukes from the other women, and a life of servitude and confinement.
Asha’s mother suffers from depression and fits that her daughters describe as visits from the Jailer, when her face and mind go blank. She attempts methods of coping such as knitting or cooking, but as their life circumstances deteriorate, she’s unable to function, leaving Asha in charge of their physical safety and everyday needs.
“My dad was always curious about humans, how we react in different situations. He asked us hard questions at a young age, and even better, he listened carefully and respectfully when we answered.” p. 39
Yes, My Accent is Real: and Some Other Things I Haven’t Told You by Kunal Nayyar.
Atria Paperback, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, New York, 2015 (my edition 2016).
Personal essays, 245 pages.
At only 34, Nayyar is best known for playing the role of Rajesh, an Indian immigrant and astrophysicist with selective mutism, on the American sitcom The Big Bang Theory.
I have a soft spot for diverse celebrity memoirs, especially if I happen to actually know who the celebrity is. This was one of those guilty pleasure books that you know won’t be very filling but want to read anyway.
The format was unusual – more like short essays punctuated by “A Thought Recorded on an Aeroplane Cocktail Napkin” every so often. They are roughly chronological (although this isn’t an autobiography) and roughly written, so I believe Nayyar wrote this himself (or if not, his ghostwriter owes him a big refund).