Reviewed by: BigAl
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words
Kindle US: YES UK: YES Nook: YES Smashwords: YES Paper: NO
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store
Although she has a website, finding biographical information about Kavita Nalawde proved problematic beyond some minimal facts. This is her first novel. She is married and has at least one child, possibly a recent development. Although it appears Nalawde is of Indian descent, she currently lives in the UK. Maybe you’ll find more than I did if you visit her website.
Set in India, Coffee @ 4:00 is the story of three friends, Ria, Geeta, and Ryan, who meet each Thursday afternoon for coffee, talk, and advice about love and life.
No book is all bad. Even the best has ways it might be improved. I’ll get the good out of the way upfront. Almost all of the words were spelled correctly. The story concept is a good one, and the glimpses I got of Indian culture and tradition added spice, and were something I’d like to have seen more of. There were glimmers of potential. I think the chances are good that, given enough time and practice, the author has some good books in her. But she has a long way to go.
I won’t attempt to be comprehensive in describing the issues I found, but will give a few of the heavy hitters. Some of the examples given may have other problems beyond what I mention.
My first issue is that the syntax of sentences often seemed mangled, with words seeming out of order. Often it feels like a word doesn’t belong (“…had seen so much of trouble …”) or that a word is missing (“her effort had not gone waste”). Yet other times the word seems wrong: “… kept the phone down” instead of “laid” or “put [it] down” when a character is ending a call. It occurred to me that perhaps differences in English as it is spoken and written in India might account for some of this perception and, keeping in mind the post I’d done on regional language differences, I tried to cut Nalawde some slack. But this happened even with colloquialisms; for example, referring to a precise time as “dot at 2:00” and “sharp 2:00.” There were too many issues with basic grammar, perhaps because English is a second language. Improper verb tense, using the singular where a plural was appropriate (also the reverse), and homonym errors were a few of the additional grammar problems I found. A copy editor could fix these issues, but there are other, more serious problems.
Clichés abound. “Their life was never the same,” “broke into a thousand pieces,” and “with two paths ahead of her” are a sampling of some I spotted. The road less traveled didn’t see much traffic in this story.
However, the biggest problem of all is captured in the old writer’s saw that says “show, don’t tell.” I believe this is an overused and often misunderstood critique. Showing everything can make a story drag. Sometimes summarizing what happened or describing how a character feels rather than demonstrating it through action and dialogue is best. But usually, especially when what is happening is critical to the story, showing is preferred.
This issue was obvious from the first paragraph, with the novel starting with an “info dump.” An info dump is giving a large amount of back-story, in this case pages and pages, as a narrative, with little in the way of action or dialogue. Just the facts M a’am is right for nonfiction, but too much at a stretch in fiction bogs the story down. When it happens at the beginning of the story, before readers have a chance to get drawn in, it is a foolproof way to insure that many will abandon a book before the end of the first chapter.
However, the urge to tell didn’t end after the info dump. It permeated the book. For example, “Pam had become very emotional recollecting this story and Ryan gave her a hug.” Don’t tell us Pam became emotional. Show us some tears. Have Pam’s voice crack. Or in this instance, have faith in your writing. This sentence followed several paragraphs in which Pam related a story about her son that was obviously an emotional experience for her. If the reader doesn’t understand this is going to make Pam emotional, her telling of the story needs work.
Another example is when Ria suggested a family vacation to her husband Sunil, an idea he rejected. He left for work and in the next scene Ria stumbled on evidence that Sunil was taking a vacation without her and the kids. Ria thinks, “Just this morning she had suggested going to a resort somewhere outside Mumbai and Sunil had straightaway rejected the idea.” This might not qualify as telling; Ria thinks it, but as the narrator of this section it might. What is certain is that there is no reason for saying this. The reader already knows. This barely happened. We’re smart enough to realize Ria is also making the connection. Show her reaction; explaining why she reacts that way is redundant.
I could continue, but think it best if I don’t. Coffee @ 4:00 isn’t ready for prime time.
Very small amount of adult language. Some adult situations.
The author used UK spelling conventions. Because this story is set in India, some terms may not be familiar. Many were in the Kindle dictionary and virtually all were understandable enough from the context.
No significant typos; however, there were many language usage and grammar problems, discussed in more detail in the appraisal section.
Rating: * One star