Phantom of the Opera and The Henna Artist

 Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

I've never seen the stage musical but I watch the gorgeous movie musical starring Emmy Rossum and Gerard Butler at least once a year. That feast for the eyes and ears being my only experience of the Phantom, I had high hopes for the book, but to be honest I wasn't as thrilled as I'd hoped to be. I feel guilty even saying that; one should love the classic novels, right?

I'm not sure why it didn't appeal to me. With much more story than the movie tells, a creepier tone and plenty of suspense, I should have loved it. And I might have if I'd read the book before seeing the movie, but as it was I just found it long and tedious at times. Maybe the glorious music and lush settings of the movie spoiled me for the book, I don't know, but I'm pretty sure the problem is with me and not the book.   

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

Lakshmi Shastri, 30, flees from an arranged marriage and abusive husband to the city of Jaipur, where with the help of an influential acquaintance, Samir Singh, she begins a thriving business as a henna artist and herbalist. Just as she reaches the height of her popularity with Jaipur's elite ladies and begins to enjoy the benefits of years of hard work, a young sister she didn't know existed enters her life, setting off a chain of events that could tear down everything Lakshmi has built. 

This first book in what will be a series was an interesting story with credible characters and realistic dialogue, yet I never came to care enough about the characters to want to read the next book. They didn't step off the page and come to life for me. I did get a lot out of the cultural experience, seeing life in India from a woman's point of view and learning a bit about henna painting and other aspects of Indian life, but even after reading the lengthy excerpt included from the next book I'm still not inclined to keep going.

One aspect of the book that got annoying was the frequent use of untranslated Indian terms. The author does include a glossary of terms at the back to help understand them, but with the e-book it's not easy to flip back and forth. Some of them I could get pop-up definitions for and others could be understood from context, but quite a few I ended up skipping over. There were a lot of them. Even with a print book I don't think I'd have wanted to be looking up words in the glossary every time I turned a page. A list of characters is also included but I'd recommend reading from a paper copy rather than audio or e-book to make better use of the lists.

The topic is interesting and the plot well paced, the writing flows well and it held my attention right through to the end. But I didn't find the characters relatable, or maybe approachable is a better word, and that made it less than great for me.


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