It’s been a verrrrry long time since I’ve reviewed a book but there just haven’t been any lately I've really loved, but that all changed when I got a copy of TEATIME FOR THE FIREFLY from Netgalley.
There are basic components to a good book: sympathetic characters, solid writing, and an engaging plot. If you can manage all three, you’re off to a solid start but that’s where the real challenge begins. Most writers don’t want to write a “good” book, they want to write a “great” book (myself included). Heck, I’d even argue that they want to write THE GREATEST BOOK OF ALL TIME and that means there needs to be something more than the basic components. And that, fellow book-clubbers, is where TEATIME FOR THE FIREFLY comes in because it’s one of those books that a writer would most definitely strive to emulate. Also, I kind of feel smarter having read it, which is always a nice bonus.
Isn’t the cover to die? And there are these gorgeous details on the first page of each chapter. I’m a total sucker for aesthetics and this baby has all the pretties, guys. All of them.
Within the very first line, the mega-talented Shona Patel not only introduced the MC, Layla, but did so in such a profound way that I knew I was in for a great read. It was a simple sentence, or declaration depending on how you look at it, and from that moment on, Ms. Patel had my undivided attention. And by the time I got to the end of the second paragraph, I was cursing my busy schedule because I wouldn’t be able to read it in one sitting.
Frankly, the only way you’re going to get what I’m talking about is if you just read it for yourself:
The time and place of my birth makes me a Manglik. For a young girl growing up in India in the 1940s, this is bad news. The planet Mars is predominant in my Hindu horoscope and this angry red planet makes people rebellious and militant by nature. Everyone knows I am astrologically doomed and fated never to marry. Marriages in our society are arranged by astrology and nobody wants a warlike bride. Women are meant to be the needle that stiches families together, not the scissors that cut.
But everything began to change for me on April 7, 1943. Three things happened that day: Boris Ivanov, the famous Russian novelist, slipped on a tuberose at the grand opening ceremony of a new school, fell and broke his leg; a baby crow fell out of its nest in the mango tree; and I, Layla Roy, aged seventeen, fell in love with Manik Deb.
The subtle pulse of the story begins on that first page and leads you through, slowly but steadily, until you reach the end. Yes, TEATIME FOR THE FIREFLY is a romance, but there is so much more happening and the layers upon layers of details and descriptions of a tea plantation in 1940s India left me feeling like I lived there myself, which is impressive considering I live in a forest with winters so cold that a penguin would wear a coat. And man, I have never wanted to drink tea so continuously in my life because when I did, I felt even more connected to the story and I wanted to be as connected as possible.
As a MC, Layla is fascinating. She knows that she’s been given a raw deal but doesn’t dwell on it. She lives with her grandfather—a man who believes in educating women—and grows up with a quiet confidence and assertiveness that immediately drew me in. And Manik, although somewhat frustrating at times, was the kind of character who not only admired a woman’s strong mind, but truly appreciated it. Their slow and tenderly-developed relationship was a far cry from what I was expecting, considering that TEATIME FOR THE FIREFLY is a Harlequin romance, but I don’t mean that in a negative way. There was definitely romance but, for me, the story was more about Layla coming into her own than it was about the relationship between her and Manik.
The majority of the novel is about the life that Layla and Manik have while on the tea plantation, where Manik is the Assistant Manager. There are lions, tigers, and bears all over the place, only replace lions with unpredictable elephants, tigers with man-eating leopards, and bears with enormous snakes. Through it all, Layla learns to not simply survive, but carve out a life for herself, and she meets many interesting characters who have rich and full backstories of their own. The political unrest in India tramples into the plantation at one point, leaving Layla and Manik in more than a few difficult situations, and the way that everything goes down is as shocking as it is unexpected. Yes folks, this book really has it all so I'm pretty sure that you should read it.
Okay, I just can’t help myself, I went through my Kindle notes and found another excerpt that I need to share because it's just so freaking awesome:
But I also know this: even though water chooses the path of least resistance, it ultimately defines its own course. Rivers divide and merge, they braid and weave, they form complex wholes. They move apart only to rejoin at a different point. The geography of our lives would reconnect us again.
If that paragraph were a person, I’d probably want to make-out with it. Seriously. It’s like the most perfect combination of the most perfect words and it also gives me feelings. Gaaaaaawd guys, I legit loved this book.
So look, TEATIME FOR THE FIREFLY is a phenomenally written and very original story with such richly developed characters that I missed them once I was finished. It will be released on September 24th so mark your calendars and add it to your Goodreads list, people, because TEATIME FOR THE FIREFLY gets my MUST READ recommendation.
Also, I’ll be featuring an interview with Shona Patel next week, so be on the lookout for that!
Happy Friday, everyone!