Book Reviews Book Club Pop Culture Interviews

Witches are at the forefront of the Suffragette movement in Alix E. Harrow’s “The Once and Future Witches”

Why have regular activists when you can have activist witches? I found the perfect combination of the two in Alix E. Harrow’s new novel The Once and Future Witches.

We’ve all heard the witch tales told to us as little girls – the Wicked Witch of the West was a popular one in my childhood. She is so widely hated by people because of the inconvenience she causes Dorothy, but I secretly liked her better. She made the story. Why are we taught that the witches are always the villains of the story?

Author Alix E. Harrow recalls tales told in her childhood, “There are witches in so many of our stories,” she says in an exclusive interview with The Tempest, “creeping along the margins, waiting at crossroads and hexing babies; I guess it was only a matter of time before we started dragging them out into the light.” And drag to the light she did.

The Once and Future Witches is a novel that centers around injustices that, sadly, are still all too familiar to modern-day society, legal, economic, social and racial. The story is set in 1893, during the time of the suffragette movement, and did I mention that the main characters are activist witches?

Harrow admits that the idea wasn’t entirely hers: “I wish I could say it came to me in a dream, but the honest truth is that I was trying really hard to come up with a new novel idea, and my husband said, ‘you should do witches, but like, activists.'” And from there, The Once and Future Witches was born; a story combining the modern understanding of witchery with the age-old movement of the Suffragettes.

The protagonists of the book, the three Eastwood sisters, display a sense of morality that isn’t heard of from witches in the tales stemming from centuries ago; they are activists fighting for their rights as women. But can they balance witchery and activism? 

There are so many characters that you come to love in this book; my favorite happens to be James Juniper, the youngest of all the Eastwood sisters, on a journey to leave her traumatic past behind. She also happens to be the most dedicated to her roots and a proud witch – something that is consistently frowned upon within the pages of this book and is a trait that makes her incredibly appealing in the new age of activism.

Juniper is the first to become involved with the women’s suffrage movement, later involving her sisters. However, the movement itself is not just for the rights of women, it also serves as a coverup for the Eastwood sisters’ own growing power throughout the city of New Salem; a force that reconciled the sisterhood of these three and brought forward a new sisterhood between the women of New Salem.

Agnes Amaranth is the middle sister and a solitary individual, and Alix Harrow’s favorite: “I had a newborn and a two-year-old while I was writing this book, and the idea of a character who found strength in motherhood, rather than sentimentality or weakness or softness is one that mattered a great deal to me.” 

Last but certainly not least, we have Beatrice Belladonna, the eldest of the sisters and the insatiable bookworm of the trio. Beatrice is bursting at the seams for knowledge of her ancestors and finds herself digging deeper and deeper into her emotions and knowledge about witchcraft with the aid of her new friend. Beatrice’s love of books resonates with many readers and although on the surface Beatrice has less going on in her life than her sisters, it is truly a wonderful experience to watch such an introverted character bloom into a powerful presence. 

My favorite thing about The Once and Future Witches happens to be how starkly different each of the Eastwood sisters are: there’s a part of everyone in each of these sisters, making them relatable to any reader. It is also quite refreshing to see the characters find pride in being women in a time where it was shunned.

But, throughout History, where there are women, there are injustices and at its very core, The Once and Future Witches is a story about all of these struggles whilst being a disliked member of society. As Harrow so wonderfully puts it,  “All of us grew up on stories of wicked witches. The villages they cursed, the plagues they brewed. We need to show people what else we have to offer, give them better stories.”

Witchery is an essential part of history and literature. From the tales in the literary canon and children’s books to the ones in crime history and newspapers, it’s fair to say that witches haven’t always been depicted as the most just beings. The author of The Once and Future Witches dives deep into the set of fears surrounding the inversions of the natural order. Witches are often portrayed as promiscuous rather than chaste housewives; they prey on children rather than bear them and they curse houses rather than keep them. The nineteenth-century nailed in the gender roles of our society with witches being the feminine form of evil – but not the protagonists of this book. 

The Eastwood sisters alongside many of the other characters find themselves facing an age-old battle that women appear to be destined to fight for the longevity of their time. “I wouldn’t necessarily want to declare that it’s some sort of grand allegory for the #MeToo movement, which involves real women in the real world.” Harrows says, “But all the injustices my characters deal with – legal, economic, social, racial, are absolutely still with us.”

Whether it’s an issue of classism or the economical stance of women in society, Harrow taps into our innermost subconscious, allowing us to see an age-old story with modern eyes in the best way; through the lives of witches. “I think the thing that fantasy can do better than any other genre is literalize experiences that are metaphorical – it can make the invisible suddenly visible. Women’s sociopolitical power is an invisible, uncertain quantity that shifts according to class, race, sexuality, ability, and identity. But with witchcraft–I could make it visible.”

The Once and Future Witches was a great read for me personally: though I’ve never villainized the witches, I’ve never thought to put them in the position of the heroes either. I was surprised just how much I connected with the main character James Juniper – her wit and charm as well as her pride had me rooting for her the entire way through. And although witches have never been traditionally written as humane, this was the most human I’ve read them to be and definitely the most I’ve connected with them.

This book is eloquently crafted and depicts the long-lasting journey that women have been on since the beginning of time and fills you with a sense of righteousness. Remnants of beautiful yet powerful messages are hidden in the charming words you’d come to expect from an Alix E. Harrow’s story. “With my first book (the take away) was a sense of wonder and nostalgia. With this one, it’s righteous anger, and the thing underneath righteous anger, which is almost always hope.”

We are hosting a giveaway of the book on our Instagram, stay tuned! Or, if you absolutely can’t wait to read “The Once and Future Witches”, get it now on The Tempest’s bookshop supporting local bookstores here or on Amazon here.

Book Reviews Books Pop Culture

Koral Dasgupta’s latest novel “Ahalya” infuses feminism into Indian mythology

Koral Dasgupta creates true wonder with her new book Ahalya.

The titular character is a demi-goddess from Hindu mythology, in some versions a naiad, created to perfection. As a huge fan of Indian mythology, I was so excited to hear about this retelling from a feminine perspective and I dove into it eagerly. Dasgupta’s novel brings into light cultural aspects otherwise hidden by patriarchal retelling: Ahalya is a brilliant novel because it infuses femininity, sexuality and power into the Ramayana universe.

According to the myth, Ahalya was molded into the form of the perfect woman by Brahma and brought up by Nature. She was married to the Sage Gautama (one of the seven revered sages) However, her unsurpassable beauty attracted the attention of the king of Gods: Indra, who while diguised as Gautama seduced her into sleeping with him. Thus, a young woman who had yearned for physical affection and love from an otherwise oblivious saint got cursed and turned into stone for her unknowing infidelity. 

There’s this particular line in the prologue of the novel, which immediately drew me to the book: “You will attract a million suitors obsessing over the beauty I craft with care, but the same beauty will be too blinding for a lover to trace the path to your soul,” as said by Brahma, the creator of the universe. This one particular statement was chilling to me and reminded me of another line from one of my favorite books, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, “Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful we quiver before it.”

Beauty has been a fascinating element throughout history, and Ahalya manages to capture the raw element of beauty in Hindu scriptures in a stunning portrayal of a woman who was wronged in history, cursed for her sexuality and later redeemed by Lord Rama. Ahalya is one of the five Panch Kanyas who are considered chaste and sacred and she is praised for her undaunting loyalty to her husband, but cursed for adultery as well. The Panch Kanyas are five iconic heroines in the Hindu epics whose names are recited to dispel sins. They include Ahalya, Tara, Sita and Mandodari from the Ramayana and Draupadi (or sometimes Kunti) from the Mahabharata.

The author says, “Panch Kanya has the presence of Indra in their lives and I wanted to discover this less explored but very interesting deity in popular literature. The term Panch Kanya, is translated by great scholars as five virgins! And the general perception of Indra is that of a philanderer, a womanizer. So a philanderer and five virgins – doesn’t it intrigue already?”

I know that there have been an influx of feminist retellings of Hindu myths, there’s A Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Kavita Kane has a host of books like Menaka’s Choice, Karna’s Wife, etc. Devdutt Pattanaik’s retelling is different as well. But Koral Dasgupta’s approach is more simplistic. It is a shorter read, and doesn’t delve into unnecessary mythological history but captures Ahalya’s essence nonetheless.

The image shows the book jacket of Ahalya written by Koral Dasgupta with description written on the left panel and an illustration of a woman on the right panel.
[Image description: The image shows the book jacket of Ahalya written by Koral Dasgupta with description written on the left panel and an illustration of a woman on the right panel.] Via Ahalya by Koral Dasgupta
Ahalya perfectly captures the heroine’s discovery of self. Hinduism is a beautiful religion, earliest retellings of which have delved and captured sex. However, these have been lost due to deep-rooted patriarchy of the Brahmanical society, but Koral manages to bring those careful keen moments of female physical pleasure into a book about a woman who just craves physical affection.

There is a haunting line in Chapter 4, that I absolutely loved: “Seldom did I know that boundless pleasure attracts cruel reality.” Pleasure is oddly defined in Indian mythology. When I asked Koral how she felt about sexual pleasure in Hindu mythology she replied saying, “Hinduism connects sexuality with spirituality, ranging from homosexuality to tantra practices. Brilliant stories from the Hindu philosophy have explained various versions of pleasure – and interestingly, both men and women have been quite open about their desire. I find that empowering and equally normalizing, given that pleasure is sinful in our ‘modern’ society!”

What’s best about Ahalya is that it showcases the politics of the universe. Koral’s interpretation of this Sati suggests that Gautama was the only true loser in the grand scheme of things, along with Brahma of course, for believing in his wife’s infidelity. I loved the way the words were used as metaphors, and how storms, rains, and nature was described in the book. Ahalya captures petrichor, and illuminates self-pleasuring. You feel empowered the moment Ahalya orgasms and creates magic within herself. Ahalya’s relationship with the stream and the wind is sorrowful but leaves a mark.

Again, Ahalya showcases a beautiful blossoming friendship that turned into eventual love between Gautama and Ahalya. The gradual transformation of innocence into self-discovery is enhanced in the book utilizing their relationship that isn’t much talked about when we acquaint ourselves with the myth.

I found the author’s writing style excellent. Though I indeed wish a little more could have been delved about Indra’s trickery, and the introduction before the actual incident happened between Gautama, Indra and Ahalya could have been smaller, I have no other qualms about the book. It is an honest retelling that dramatized and fictionalized a myth and this might be my favorite retelling I have read this year. 

So, go ahead and order a copy because you will not regret reading this incredible novel. And it is the first in a series so once you’re done you have more to look forward to. After all, who doesn’t want to read a feminist author’s work who says this?

The Sati Series will not follow the forced male-bashing path of feminism, which a few have unfortunately reduced it to. This will be an attempt to understand the women and their magical abilities. Women are magic.”

Here is an exclusive excerpt of the book:

On nights when the moon observed its fortnightly leave, the fireflies came rushing in hoards to light up my path with their glowing phosphorous. Other than the Mist, only Mandakini looked happy to have me around. The natural charm and irresistible energy was perhaps embedded within her character. As I moved closer the water came gushing to soak my feet and the cloth hanging towards the bottom. With great force it formed fragile bubbles on the surface. I tried touching the bubbles and they ruptured. I went deeper into the river, now standing knee-deep. The water stared back, waiting for me to trust more and offer myself unbarred. With a tender touch it charmed me to resign and let go of my non-existent hold over everything permanent or perishable. I bent my knees and fell on the sand for the water to run over every corner of my body and ease my restless muscles. With unpredictable strokes of her waves, Mandakini played around splashing not only on my body but also soothing my overcast mind. Within a few moments of meeting she made me feel alive and wanted! I got up to venture closer and embrace the welcome more wholeheartedly. She let me slip and fall, yet held me firmly with her aqua hands girdled around my waist; her ploy would unsettle, not hurt. And then she laughed!

In my desperation to seek acceptance I assumed this was special, meant exclusively for me. And yet I strongly felt that there was something brewing between the two of us. Something that indicated we had a long way to go, together. A kinship was growing. At times she would vigorously participate in a rugged sport, bouncing me off from one bank to the other. And there were also days when she would let me float on her like a stray leaf, without a destination, bereft of a distinguished aspiration! Perhaps Mandakini too was deprived of a human connect as much as I. Gautam and his disciples may have been as indifferent with her, as they were with me.

Years passed.

I was least aware of the changes that had started showing on my body, transforming me from a girl to a woman. Only when drops of red trickled down my limbs I reached out to my timeless companion, the Mist, frightened that I must have been devoured by some cureless ailment. Nervous and agitated I asked the Mist whether I should reach out to Gautam, asking him for some of his unfailing medication. With tender care the Mist held me close to herself and explained the wonders of a woman’s body. I listened in awe. And one morning the transparent water of the Mandakini reflected an image which was starkly different from what I had seen when I had peered for the first time. My features had changed, the curves far sharper, confidence high and the physique full of suspense. Nature and its unexpected turns now failed to keep me intrigued all through the day. Some other illegitimate call occupied my dreams. It was as immoral as crossing well-defined boundaries fixed by no one, yet everyone knew of their existence. The Earth beyond the borderline felt like an inevitable stop towards my ultimate yet vague destination! I started walking towards it fearlessly.

I fantasized of a forbidden touch. I was standing at the threshold of a mysterious gate with a broken lock. Hesitant hands dared to push it open. A flood of glittering clouds formed a colourful hammock, inviting me to shed apprehensions and embrace the untamed. I closed my eyes to receive a kind, imaginary face with strong unrelenting hands pleasuring my lean built, his passion igniting the depths of my soul. Not a single person on Earth was aware of the explosion I felt within. I floated in the joy of discovering myself, far beyond the capacity of any great teacher to analyse or interpret. I touched myself with an urgency, to unravel the miracles that a body can bring to the mind. I felt with my hands the smooth skin and beyond, exploring myself a lot more than I ever did. A gentle press or a robust stroke invoked freedom of a different kind. No other knowledge, no experience, no wisdom had ever unravelled so much about myself to me as did this blasphemous plunge into self-indulgence.

Did that intrigue you? Buy Ahalya for only $5.38 now!

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Books Pop Culture

10 short stories by women that’ll keep you more entertained than your Instagram feed

When you’re in a long line, stuck in traffic, or in the doctor’s waiting room, you probably pull out your phone and scroll through social media, right?

Well, I have another form of entertainment for you: short stories.

Short stories are awesome because you get the emotional impact of a full story but in 30 minutes tops. It’s like a more portable (and more educational?) Netflix. Just pop up a short story and leave your mundane waiting for a bit, then come right back.

When I first got into short stories, I noticed that my favorite ones were often written by women. So I’ve decided to compile a list for those boring moments when you need a quick but moving story to keep you entertained.

1. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

This is one of the first short stories I remember reading, and it’s a classic. It’s almost like an entire dystopian drama compacted into 8 pages. The last time I read it was 5 years ago, but I still remember the unnerving last scene very clearly.

2. “The Flowers” by Alice Walker

“The Flowers” is only 9 paragraphs long, and the paragraphs are max 5 sentences. It’s super short and easy to read, but still  powerful. After the first sentences, it may seem like a cute little story about flowers, but keep reading. Walker’s ability to transform it into something completely different so subtly is magical.

3. “Rape Fantasies” by Margaret Atwood

If I had to choose one favorite on this list, it would be “Rape Fantasies.” It’s painful, humorous, and conversational all at once, in a way only Atwood can achieve. She’s one of the best writers of our time, and this story is no exception. While there’s no major violence happening in this story, it is vivid and I’d take caution if this is a painful subject for you.

4. “A Telephone Call” by Dorothy Parker

On a lighter note, this one is for all of you waiting for someone to text back. This was written in 1928 but it’s still so relatable today, maybe even more so now that we have iPhones in everyone’s hands. It also hints at bigger themes, like the forced dependence of women on men at the time. Maybe this will inspire you to look at how far we’ve come. Or maybe not.

5. “Interpreter of Maladies” by Jhumpa Lahiri

Lahiri has a way of combining two cultures so effortlessly into one story without making the story about culture clash. The characters will get on your nerves but will also leave you sympathetic for them. Their multi-dimensionality is what really struck me in this story. And, of course, it’s also just entertaining to read.

6. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The color yellow takes on a totally different meaning for anyone who reads this. If you want to be a writer, this is especially important to read because this is the perfect example of a story that “shows” instead of “tells.” It’s an uncomfortable yet beautifully written story.

7. “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin

This is probably Chopin’s most well known story, and rightfully so. She was a controversial feminist writer during her time – this story was written in 1894 – which gives you all the more reason to read it. It’s really short, but just as well developed. The last sentence gives me goose bumps every time I read it.

8. “Distant View of a Minaret” by Alifa Rifaat

Rifaat, to me, is the rural Egyptian Chopin. This specific story is so similar to “The Story of an Hour” it’s scary because Rifaat was practically uninfluenced by Western culture, having only spoken Arabic and rarely traveled. It gives you a good perspective into what some women on the other side of the world had to go through, too. Like in Chopin’s story, this ending gets me every time.

(Side note: I can’t find the story online except in the Amazon preview version of it. It’s the first one in the book, so you can view it for free. But, you know, you should also buy the book because she has some other good stories in there.)

9. “The Arrangements” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Adichie was asked to write a piece imagining a Trump victory for the New York Times prior to Trump’s actual victory (RIP). It’s absolutely hilarious and will leave you reminiscing about the pre-Trump days. I’ve also heard great things about Adichie and want to read her novels, so this story was a great introduction to her work.

10. “Everything That Rises Must Converge” by Flannery O’Connor

So much to think about in this story. Race and racism, wealth and class, family and generation gaps, arrogance and bias….you name it. Every spoken word and every little glance is important. This is all written in the context of one bus ride in 60s, all in 10 pages.

There you have it, my definitive list to escaping boredom through stories by awesome women. Much better than Netflix, right?

Books Pop Culture

Meet Robyn Smart, groundbreaking children’s book author, mentor, and CEO

Robyn Smart is an incredibly powerful and independent writer living in South London. She is a mother, writer, mentor and CEO for Unlimited You Empowerment Program.

Robyn is currently taking the world by storm with her self-published children’s books, that focus on diversity and the human experience. She is an inspiration for any woman experiencing obstacles in her path and struggling to surpass them.  Her first book was My Magic Scarf published in 2015, and her second is Who Am I? which was published last month. She focuses on children’s books and promoting diversity within the genre. The Tempest spoke with her about her ambitions within the children’s book industry.

The Tempest: Your website mentions that your book was self-published.  Why did you choose to go that route?

I decided to self publish in order to have more control over my books. Quite often books of a diverse nature by diverse authors are not always accepted by the large publishing houses. Having a degree of autonomy enables me to decide when and what to publish, catering for a diverse market.

Your website also mentions that you were planning on attending law school when you decided to become a writer instead. How did you make such a serious decision?

The decision in fact was taken out of my hands by an unknown illness which plagued me during my time at law school. During my third year I completed my dissertation from my hospital bed. Once my degree was completed I continued to be ill, and despite having the offers from top law colleges to complete my [law degree], I had to decline due to continuous admissions to hospital. I asked God to guide me in my next venture and here I am.

What advice would you have for women who also are faced with life-changing decisions, like you went through?

I would say, ask God or whoever you believe in to grant you the serenity to accept the things you cannot change. I would say, have faith in yourself, your capabilities and your fortitude and keep focused on your goals but accept there may be a change in your path, but keep steadfast in the knowledge that you were put on this earth for a reason. To make your imprint, to make your footprint however small.

Why have you decided to write children’s books? What about the genre is important to you?

My decision to write children’s books is to be the voice of children. To help express love, hate, pain, all feelings that children quite often cannot express themselves. The genre of children’s books are profoundly important to raise the profile of our children, future leaders.

Do you have any more books planned yet that you could tell us a bit about?

I do have a number of books planned, however I am giving My Magic Scarf and Who Am I? some time for people to know and understand me and my style of writing.

What would you say to young women looking to get published?

Follow your mind in which avenue you decide to publish through. Whether indie or traditional believe in yourself and your product. Get friends and family to preview your work, although the final decision should be yours based on what your spirit and inner feelings tell you. Be confident in what you do and listen to your inner self.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Books Pop Culture Interviews

Diversifying the world through words: An interview with Nevien Shaabneh

As a passionate writer and voracious reader, Nevien Shaabneh knew the literary landscape she grew up with was missing something – diversity. It seemed that no matter where she looked, every shelf with “the greats” contained books penned by men, with a striking lack of multicultural perspectives. Shaabneh decided it was enough of that, and made her own contribution to the literary world: Secrets under the Olive Tree.

Written by Shaabneh, Secrets Under the Olive Tree is set in Palestine. It tells the story of female protagonist, Layla, as she uncovers her family’s secrets amidst the backdrop of her beautiful homeland. Through her novel, Shaabneh aims to bring light to some of the trials families face and expose her readers to real-world problems, including violence and misogyny.

Nevien Shaabneh shared with us her motivation behind writing Secrets Under the Olive Tree and paying homage to her homeland.

The Tempest: What’s your advice for young Arab women or women of color looking to getting into literature?

Nevien Shaabneh: Be honest, be authentic, because you won’t please everyone. For minority women or women of color, we’re sometimes held to different standards. I think Chimamanda Adichie puts it best when she warns about the danger of the single story. The danger for minority writers is our characters are somehow skewed to be representatives of culture or race rather than characters. Our fiction is analyzed for its ability to represent or failure to represent instead of the focus being on the story. We are not given the same opportunities to just tell stories; we are tied to societal expectations, and we inadvertently become spokespeople.

I embrace this role in my speaking engagements and accept it as a part of my job, but not every author may be ready for this role. In my storytelling, I remain authentic to the craft, unfettered by fear, and encouraged by the lives I have touched. I encourage other writers to do as well. Tell the story, create authentic characters, and keep your voice no matter what.

The protagonist of your novel is a Palestinian woman. What do you want the world to know about Palestinian women?

23151229Palestinian women have grit! I have been around Palestinian women my whole life, and regardless of the background or education, one attribute I see time and time again is grit. There is a sense of striving and working that has served as an integral thread in Palestinian upbringing. Maybe it is because the Palestinian struggle entails holding onto our identities, worrying about the safety of our children, and fighting to keep our homes. Women are born with a sense of grit that unfortunately gets dulled due to society or a patriarchal upbringing.

I think for Palestinian women (especially ones living in Palestine) the future of Palestine depends on their ambition and resilience.

[bctt tweet=”Women are born with a sense of grit that unfortunately gets dulled due to society or a patriarchal upbringing.”]

Do you see yourself as a role model for other Palestinian women? What would you like to tell them?

I am humbled to be considered a role model for Palestinian women. I want to tell Palestinian women (really all minority women) that the future of our sons and daughters depends on us. Our voices (regardless whether or not we agree with everything said) need to be heard. Let us not buy into the “one voice” campaign that lumps us into a monolithic brand. Let us celebrate our voices, our differences, and our achievements (however big or small). I want us to lift each other up. It is not a competition; it is a collaboration of our talents. I want to tell them that I am rooting for them. That I want them to succeed. That when I hear about their accomplishments, I am proud and grateful for all of our opportunities.

As an author, you’ve made yourself accessible through social media. How does social media fit into your writing life?

When I reflect on having over 16,000 fans on Facebook, it astounds me. Social media has been such a great tool to connect to readers and people who are interested in my work. It has been an excellent outlet for discussion and for people to reach out to me. It gets overwhelming keeping up with it at times.

The greatest benefit to having social media is connecting with readers from all around the world whether in Malaysia, South Africa, Nigeria, the U.K. or Canada (to name a few). It has proven to be an eye-opening experience to hear from readers about what the novel means to them. I encourage readers to reach out!

[bctt tweet=”I want my words to help people feel, because as along as we can feel for others, we are more willing to accept and help one another. “]

Tell us something nobody would guess about you.

I love working out and lifting weights. I work out several times a week and push myself to increase the weights. I will not tell you how much I bench, but it can sum up to a whole person. For my size, I think it surprises people, and I have seen some raised brows at the gym. I love it.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished the memoir When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Wonderful book!

Be sure to check out Nevien’s book, and connect with her on her Facebook page.

This interview has been edited for lightly for clarity and length. 

Books Pop Culture

This Indian author amazingly brings Bollywood to the world of books

I will unashamedly admit this: I read romance novels. I like them a lot actually. I’ve read Harlequin novels and Nora Roberts’ masterpieces. Basically, as long as the story looks intriguing enough, I will read it. Never Twilight, though, I have to draw the line somewhere.

I also really like Bollywood movies between the 90’s and ’00s. The clothes, the makeup, and let’s not forget: the romance.

So, when I came across Shobhan Bantwal’s book, “Full Moon Bride,” it was a no-brainer that I would read it. It’s all love and drama in a book, with Indian women as leads.

Being of the Indian diaspora, I’m always searching for ways to gauge my Indian-ness, as I like to put it. Because I have such few ties to India, I look for things to tie me back to the country. In the past, this has led me to watch Indian soap operas. Those things are addictive.

[bctt tweet=”As long as the story looks good, I will read it.”]

What truly drew me to Bantwal’s books was that her leads are portrayed as trying to navigate the world they live in, while still adhering to the traditional values they deemed important. I found this in both books I read “Full Moon Bride” and “The Sari Shop Widow.” As someone who has felt like I have to navigate two worlds as both East and West Indian, this appealed to me. Plus there’s the cultural pressure and expectations thrown on them: they are still Indian girls, after all.

With relatable challenges like the expectation to get married by family and community, body image insecurities, I found myself in the shoes of the female characters at times, wondering what they would do.

Then there are the taboo issues of men and sex, which Bantwal writes about unreservedly. Arranged marriages, relationship age gaps, dowry brides, interracial relationships, and, of course, patriarchal culture all are major themes in her writing.

It’s really refreshing to read about these relevant issues from the perspective of someone who is authentically able to tell it – and does so daringly.

[bctt tweet=”It is important that we tell our stories ourselves.”]

Shobhan brings to the forefront issues that threaten the lives of women into common conversation, making them more real in her books. Ultimately, once I’ve read something upsetting, it tends to stick with me. That’s exactly what these books do.

This is why we need to tell our stories as only we can.

Books Pop Culture

10 books to definitely read this summer, no questions asked

The weekend is upon us and as usual, book-lovers are using the hashtag #FridayReads to share the books they’re currently reading. So far, the books vary widely: while some of them are recent releases, others are contemporary classics. If you’re looking for inspiration about what to read for the weekend, you’ve come to the right place: here are 10 of the most interesting reads shared by Twitter users.












Let’s top it off with some reading advice from Estée Lauder:

Happy reading!