Book Review: Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar

I chose to read this book because I am interested in history, especially of Asian countries and this book promised a different perspective of a very significant time in India’s history; a time when Gandhi started his campaign towards India’s independence from British rule.

I had read a bit and heard much about what Gandhi had done and how he advocated for civil disobedience as a non-violent way to make his point. But it was always from an adult perspective and usually from a rather politically-one-sided recount of various different events.

Kelkar made a ten-year-old girl, Anjali, the centre of the story and we see how the independence movement affected her and her family; how it confused her and turned her world upside down, how she coped with all the conflicting emotions within herself and the incomprehensible reaction of her best friend, who was a Muslim.

As we walk through the story with Anjali, we learn how these historical events affected the lives of the ordinary people and how the caste system was very much a part of life in India. We also see what might be the motivation of different people who joined the independence movement, also how political will, even if it seems to be for the greater good, might not translate into immediate benefit for every citizen.

All these are written in an easy to understand language yet Kelkar kept a good pace which maintained my interest in not just Anjali’s story but also in the lives of the people around her and in the outcome for Anjali and her family and also for India as a whole.

I think this book is a great way to introduce middle-graders to what might have otherwise been a very serious and complicated historical event.

Have you read other historically based books which you would recommend?

syc

Book Review: Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray by Jess Keating

This is one of the books i read during lockdown and it is also one which is part of my research into how much literary liberties one can take with historical figures. See this post for the first book i read for this research.

This is the first book in the Elements of Genius series, published by Scholastic. And i think it’s absolutely fab!

Nikki Tesla is based on the historical figure, NikolaTesla, who invented alternating current (AC) and has much to do with the production, transmission and application of electric power. Keating has taken this well-known person and his amazing genius, and created an exciting, fun-filled, yet so relatable story from the perspective of a young Nikki (female) who desperately wants to fit in but knows and has accepted that she will never be one of the “normal” people.

When her death ray lands her in “serious” trouble, Nikki is given a choice; join a special school for history’s greatest brains, Genius Academy, or else… Nikki feels she has no choice but she is determined that she is there on her own terms and will not be making any friends.

At Genius Academy, she slowly learns that she is not the only genius who does not fit in and that she can be part of a team, and people do like her and even care for her. Genius Academy is full of … well, geniuses… in different areas such as music, story-telling, mathematics, nature, etc… and together, they take on a villain who has grand plans for Nikki’s death ray and they must stop him.

i really like the way Keating writes; witty yet so on point, heartfelt with a great pace to the story. i think this is a wonderful story, which will turn into an amazing series, and will definitely get middle graders reading, even if they say they don’t like reading. i am so looking forward to the next book in the series.

Have you recently discovered a new author or a new series of books which you are excited about? Care to share?

syc

Book Review: Leonardo’s Shadow by Christopher Grey

It looks like the last book review i posted was back in April, in the middle of the lockdown. While i have been reading, i have not been blogging as i have been busy baking (see my last post).

i decided to read this book because i like learning about life in medieval times and about a well-known historical figure like Leonardo da Vinci. It is also part of my research on how much literary leeway one can have when writing a story based around a historical person.

This story drew me in straight away with the mystery behind Giacomo’s, the main character, true identity. But it sort of slowed down for me after it was established that he has now become Leonardo’s servant and he wants to learn to paint but Leonardo would not teach him. There are lots of details about the life of a servant in those days, which is super for someone like me who soak up all these nuggets of information, but it did not move the story ahead as much as i would like it to.

It did, however, show wonderfully well what it is like for a lowly servant in the medieval times and how being well-known like Leonardo does not mean that life is all rosy. Life was so dependent on being liked by and supported by the people in power and wealth in that era.

Leonardo is portrayed as a rather stubborn man with his own ideas on who he can trust with what information, which i suppose is in line with what history says of the man. But with a teenage servant, who wants to know everything and who is torn between being loyal to the master who saved his life and finding out his true identity, things are made even harder. However, Leonardo seems to be quite adapt at getting his way. Leonardo’s softer side is also shown in his relationship with his housekeeper and Giacomo, as well as with the previous love interest of the Duke of Venice, Duke Ludovico.

The story really gets interesting for me when an outsider, an alchemist, offers Giacomo the possibility to find out who he truly is but it means going behind his master’s and the Duke’s backs to do something which they do not approve of. Giacomo decides to do things his way when Leonardo continues to be hard-headed, refusing to share any information with Giacomo. There is potential for lost of lives and encoring the wrath of the Duke and even more powerful people if things don’t go well!

There are other sub-plots which make it an interesting read; it is a story with quite a lot of depth and paints a complex picture of life for the different classes of people who lived then. i am not sure how much liberties were taken with regards to the character of Leonardo but i did a bit of digging and found that at least information such as the name of the Duke, and the dates match when Leonardo was said to have lived in Venice and painted the Last Supper there. i was surprised to learn (and Grey worked this wonderfully into the story) how much difficulty Leonardo had in preparing the wall of the church to be painted and how that ultimately affected longevity of the Last Supper.

i enjoyed reading this story and think it would suit anyone interested in historical fiction as well as in medieval life and in Leonardo da Vinic. It is also a good story to introduce such history to middle graders and above.

Do you like historical fiction? If yes, what are your favourite historical fiction writers or books?

syc