Announcing my middle grade novel, STRANGER ON THE HOME FRONT

STRANGER ON THE HOME FRONT, a middle grade novel dealing with the impact of the Hindu-German Conspiracy Trial and the nationalism of WWI-era America,  will appear from Jolly Fish Press on September 1, 2020. I love my half-Punjabi protagonist, Margaret, who slowly learns to stand up for her beliefs, and her German-American best friend Bettina who’s dealing with her own issues that Margaret can’t see. And of course, it was a pleasure to delve into a less famous aspect of the Indian independence cause.

You can preorder from Amazon here. Here’s the summary:

It’s 1916, and Europe is at war. Yet Margaret Singh, living an entire ocean away in California, is unaffected. Then the United States enters the war against Germany. Suddenly the entire country is up in arms against those who seem “un-American” or speak against the country’s ally, Great Britain. When Margaret’s father is arrested for his ties to the Ghadar Party, a group of Indian immigrants seeking to win India’s independence from Great Britain, Margaret’s own allegiances are called into question. But she was born in America and America itself fought to be freed from British rule. So what does it even mean to be American?

Five Books for a Fourteen-Hour Plane Flight

Somewhat foolishly, I booked a direct flight to India on a plane with no seatback televisions and, as far as I know, no chargers for my phone/Kindle app. So I’ve been making a list of paper books to read on the way.

1. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
I was about two hundred pages into this when I fell off the wagon of the group readalong on tumblr. I’m excited to get back to the adventures of Edmond Dantes, and even more excited to find out more about everyone’s favorite badass quadriplegic revolutionary grandpa, Noirtier (yes, he’s a minor character, but so far the most fun).

2. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
To my shame, I’ve never read this book, despite majoring in Russian in college. Fortunately, I have a lovely English translation, which I’ve read a few chapters of. So far I’m more interested in the story of Pontius Pilate than in the satire of Stalinist-era society, but hopefully that thread will pick up later on. My fanfic loving friends may find this book interesting, with its “modern AU” of Goethe’s Faust and its audacious take on the New Testament.

3. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
I know nothing about this book other than that it’s about an aristocrat in (once again) the Stalinist period, who’s confined to a hotel under house arrest. Also, both my parents read and recommended it. We’ll see how it turns out!

4. The Peach-Blossom Fan by Kong Shangren
I was perhaps lured into buying this under false pretenses, as the NYRB Classics blurb talks more about corrupt courtiers embezzling money for a theater performance than about the central love story, which is foregrounded in other summaries of the play. This is a Chinese classic about the fall of the Ming dynasty–a reformer and a loyal courtesan fall in love as their world falls apart around them. They eventually become Taoist monks instead of staying together.

5. The Volcano Lover by Susan Sontag
I had to buy this because a) it was on sale for two bucks and b) it has an epilogue in the voice of Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel, Neopolitan journalist and revolutionary martyr. Mostly it seems to be about Lord Nelson (who put down the revolution Fonseca Pimentel was involved in), Emma Hamilton, and Hamilton’s husband, but it ends with a refreshing “They thought they were civilized. They were despicable. Damn them all.” I’ve read nothing by Sontag before, so this should be interesting.

The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer – Laxmi Hariharan

ARC from NetGalley.

Ruby Iyer has left her wealthy SoBo (Southern Bombay) family– including her emotionally abusive mother– behind, and lives with her new friend Pankaj, a gay fashion blogger, in the suburbs. Her life is normal until she’s shoved off a train platform and survives an electric shock. Soon after, she meets the handsome cop Vikram. But before long, Bombay is plunged into chaos by the attack of Dr. Braganza and her army of cold-blooded, violent teenagers. Panky is kidnapped and Ruby and Vikram thrust into a fight for survival. Romance blossoms between them, but both are keeping secrets…

I was not a fan of this novel. I picked it up because I was intrigued by the idea of an urban fantasy set in India (I’m half-Indian). Unfortunately, while it had a fairly original plot and a vivid, action-movie style, I got frustrated by both the long wait to get to the plot and the character of Ruby. After Ruby suffers an electric shock, she saves a girl from the same man who attacked her, and later is mysteriously summoned to help a man who is about to jump off a bridge. These episodes take a long time and delay the introduction of the main plot. The bit about the suicidal man on the bridge is never explained.

Ruby herself is somewhat irritating. She at least acknowledges that her temper is a problem rather than cute (and the fact that she cuts as a coping mechanism signals that she’s not the most stable person), but it’s annoying to watch her repeatedly lose her temper with Vikram when he’s just trying to help her. “I do like him, really! It’s just… I don’t want him to see it…Yet.” Not the most mature attitude. I don’t demand that characters be perfect–indeed I liked Ruby’s flawedness, her rage that is both a weakness and a source of strength. But her immaturity annoyed me.  And Ruby’s repeated thoughts that she’s “different” and doesn’t fit in seemed cliched. “That’s me; always having to swim upstream against the tide, being different.”

There’s a twist at the end that is emotionally foreshadowed but insufficiently explained. Also, a major plot point is that the villain is descended from Catherine de Braganza, but the historical Catherine (wife of Charles II of England) was unable to have children.

The book ends “To be continued.” I won’t be following Ruby’s next adventure.