Phantom Limbs – By Paula Garner

  Rating:

Note: I won an ARC of this book via giveaway hosted by Amy@novelgossip

Buy links:

Kindle       Hardcover   Audio CD

Synopsis2

How do you move on from an irreplaceable loss? In a poignant debut, a sixteen-year-old boy must learn to swim against an undercurrent of grief—or be swept away by it.

Otis and Meg were inseparable until her family abruptly moved away after the terrible accident that left Otis’s little brother dead and both of their families changed forever. Since then, it’s been three years of radio silence, during which time Otis has become the unlikely protégé of eighteen-year-old Dara—part drill sergeant, part friend—who’s hell-bent on transforming Otis into the Olympic swimmer she can no longer be. But when Otis learns that Meg is coming back to town, he must face some difficult truths about the girl he’s never forgotten and the brother he’s never stopped grieving. As it becomes achingly clear that he and Meg are not the same people they were, Otis must decide what to hold on to and what to leave behind. Quietly affecting, this compulsively readable debut novel captures all the confusion, heartbreak, and fragile hope of three teens struggling to accept profound absences in their lives.

My review (contains mild spoilers)

This was a wonderfully nuanced novel in its exploration of so many powerful themes through its characters. I thought it would be easier for me to talk about each of them taking turns for the three main characters:

otis I loved how Garner made sure he didn’t turn out to be a sad Mary-Sue version. I mean, he is described as someone with an athletic body, good with kids, and a loyal friend and totally disinterested with the fact that all these attributes would easily get him a date. Sounds typical and unreal, right? But, Garner does make him believable. There is a history, reason, and background to the way he is.

Themes explored:

Sexuality: Sure, he is still pining for Meg, but you also see glimpses of how he is (or might have been) a regular teen when he does notice that someone is good-looking or mentally compares someone with Meg. The closest female relationship he has had since Meg left him is his friend-slash-coach Dara. There is a moment in the book where he does compare Meg to Dara and how he finds the former more physically and sexually attractive. I just found it interesting that the only person he immediately sought to compare with is the probably the only female friend he has. So, while Meg and he have a lot of shared emotional baggage and history which binds Otis to her, I wonder whether he and Dara could have ever been more than just friends.

Friendship – Oh, they were more than just friends all right!! I mean, not lovers but definitely not your regular buddies either. It was an intense friendship because at its root, it was borne out of a need to numb the past wounds. It definitely started out at a need-based relationship – Otis needed a routine something that would force him out of the grieving stupor over his brother’s death. Dara needed another goal to replace her own scuttled Olympics dream. So Otis welcomes Dara’s vigorous swimming training and humors her Olympics ambition for him. Dara was just content in living vicariously through him. But finally the carefully constructed and fragile schedule starts coming apart when Otis realizes that time is running out for him to confront Dara with the fact that he isn’t really chuffed about training for the Olympic trials. The mail from Meg and later, her reappearance further distracts him.

I absolutely loved his equation with Dara. Sure, at times their friendship felt symbiotic but there was something so pure and honest about it. I loved how Otis recognized and acknowledged that Dara was crucial for him to get through the months after his brother’s death.

Loss – Otis has grieved for the last three years, not just over the loss of his brother but also Meg – who leaves him without any explanation. His brother, Mason’s death is like a scab that he can’t scratch at, it is always there. He wants to preserve Mason’s memories forever, but each good memory is followed and clouded by the fact that they can’t be relived in the present day.

And Meg? Her disappearance hurt him, but her reappearance confuses him further. He sees that she has changed and realizes he isn’t the same either. He compares his pain to that of a phantom limb – of something that exists in nothingness and he doesn’t know how to deal with it.

dara  Definitely one of my favorite characters this year!! She is described as someone who is gritty, hates sympathy coming her way due to half her left arm missing, and has always had a bit of a reckless streak in her.

Themes explored:

Sexuality – This book and Dara will definitely be on my LGBT recs list this year! I loved how Garner wrote her as she was trying to let her defenses down and accept that there is nothing wrong to be a little “vulnerable” in love. It was a huge step for Dara to let someone that close to her life – her inner thoughts and insecurities. It was also difficult for Dara because she knew it is something her father wouldn’t approve.

Parental Abandonment – Her father emotionally abandons her after her accident because he had set his sights on her winning the Olympics. She craves for that love and acceptance from him again and this is one of the reasons she is hesitant to reveal to everyone that she might be a lesbian. Because, she worries it might be the last straw for her father.

It isn’t just her father who has abandons her. Her mother does too… but to say anything else will be a huge spoiler.

Loss – She has suffered from many losses – of her parents, dreams, and a degree of independence with the loss of her limb. She insists on driving a car with a clutch and manual gear system (though she can afford a better car) because I guess, somewhere she likes being challenged every day? I wasn’t really sure why.

The hardest loss for her is definitely her limb because it isn’t just that – She doesn’t have half her left arm and what that leaves her with is the occasional phantom pain that she can overcome only by either the mirror box or Otis rubbing his hands in front of her (thereby creating a virtual reality). The pain is hard on her psyche especially when it shoots up during her swim sessions. After all the efforts to wave off sympathy, her body doesn’t support her  when she most needs it and she feels embarrassed when her teammates watch her writhing. Moreover, it feels like a cruel taunt aimed at her whenever she is trying her best to continue doing what she loves – swimming.

Friendship – Otis is her protégé slash closest friend. He is the first one who is privy to her past and the first person in whom Dara has confided so much. I loved how Dara changed through the book, from someone who wanted to hold onto Otis for the lost dream he represented to someone who was willing to let him go for his sake. Some of the revelations in the end totally surprised me. Throughout the book, we mostly see how Otis is more perceptive towards her and understands her but we never really get a sense of it being reciprocated. But, in the end, we see that she understands him and has listened to him all these years.

meg  Since the story is from Otis’ POV, we are as clueless about her as he is. I mean, a large part of the story’s “mystery” is centered on her. Why did she leave? Why did she come back? What happened in her life the past three years? These are the questions Otis desperately wants to know, and yet he is scared to ask because it is also related to Mason’s death. He has tried to stay aloof from the exact details so far because he is scared to know any further. This was probably the only part of the book that I felt a bit lacking – the whole routine where Meg wants to tell him but he doesn’t want to listen and when he does want to know, Meg doesn’t open up. It was built like a big mystery plot but the revelation isn’t that surprising.

Themes explored:

Well, since Meg is a bit of an enigma and revealing anything more about her would be a major spoiler, I am just talking about a couple of themes (and skipping others):

Guilt – This was probably the reason for all that changed in her after Mason’s death. As the years pass, the burden becomes easier in some ways, but harder in many other ways. This intense feeling of guilt is also shared by Otis’ mom. One of my favorite Meg scenes is between the two, because it provided some sort of closure to a painful chapter in her life.

Loss – Otis was her best friend and first love ; so leaving him when she had just entered her teens was hard. In addition, she also has to deal with the loss of the family structure that she has always known – due to her parents separating.

Overall impressions – This was definitely my favorite book released this year. The ending was deeply satisfying and I was so happy that no character was shortchanged or treated shabbily by the other.

 

Game of Scones (Game of Scones #1)- By Samantha Tonge

Rating:

*Note : I received this book from the author via Aimee’s giveaways*

Buy Links:

Paperback

Synopsis2

A story of icing and flour…and how love doesn’t always go to plan!

Growing up, Pippa Pattinson’s summers were spent in the idyllic Greek island fishing village of Taxos. There she spent many long hazy days determinedly ignoring thoughts of the life her parents had mapped out for her (a dreary-but-secure banking job and obligatory sensible husband!) Instead she daydreamed of running her own tea shop – serving the perfect scones –with mocha-eyed childhood friend Niko by her side…

Arriving back in Taxos for the first time in years, with suave boyfriend Henrik, Pippa barely recognises the tired little town – but is relieved to catch glimpses of the quaint, charming village she’s always loved. Together Niko and Pippa put together a proposal to save Taxos from tourist-tastic ruin, and at the heart of their plan is Pippa’s dream project – The Tastiest Little Tea Shop in Taxos. It’s time for Pippa to leave her London life behind and dust off her scone recipe that’s guaranteed to win over both locals and visitors. And amidst the rolling pins and raisins, it seems romance is blossoming where she’s least expecting it…

If you’re a fan of Lindsey Kelk or Lucy Diamond then don’t hesitate to step into Samantha Tonge’s truly delightful tea shop.

My review

What I loved:

  • It was an ideal “destination chick-lit”, travel enthusiasts would love and echo the sentiments shared by Pippa in this book – the best tourist-destinations are often the ones that are less-travelled and untouched by the glitz of the modern bars and restaurants.
  • The Greek heritage and daily life in a quaint li’l village – Pippa’s (and I guess Tonge’s too!) love for it shines and leaps through the pages and I fell in love with it too.
  • All the food!!! – The way Tonge described Pippa’s familiarity and comfort in baking scones in parallel with how she found comfort in the stillness and beauty surrounding her every morning she wakes up in Taxos – was wonderful (and tantalizing!) to read.
  • All the entrepreneurial spirit!!!– Honestly, I could probably never do it if I was in Pippa’s place – Leave the luxuries of a city and a plush high-paying job I am good at and start afresh in a small village to bake and sell scones.

What I disliked:

  • Pippa’s boyfriend dilemma – It felt like something I have already read many times before – the trope where the girl is in a long term relationship with a guy but finally loses her heart to her best friend BUT you can’t have the main girl protagonist ditch a perfectly reasonable and practical guy as then she would come across as cold and heartless. So, what is the best solution? Make the long-time boyfriend have a couple of douche-y public meltdowns. The thing with tropes is that they are unavoidable. I don’t think it is possible to really have a book totally devoid of them. But I do like and have my own preferences in how some are handled. So, in these kind of love triangles I really like it when authors handle the “ditching the long-time boyfriend” trope in a way where we get to see the guy’s POV and the reasoning behind his actions. So, I liked it that we actually got that with Henrik in the end. (Moreover, I thought Henrik got the better lines when it came to convincing Pippa that she wouldn’t be able keep a lasting relationship with her childhood friend Niko. I am not much of a romantic and well..some of the arguments Henrik made just appealed to my pragmatic side *shrugs*)However, my problem lied more with Pippa than with Henrik. I just felt like she had already made her decision about Henrik even before she went to Taxos, so there were times in the first half of the book when I felt she just strung him along as a back-up plan if her crush on Niko wasn’t going to turn to anything meaningful.
  • The tourism politics – It would be a major spoiler to say anything further but there was a lot of unnecessary OTT drama in the end which felt out of place in the book (though props to the author for dropping hints of the occurrence a couple of times earlier in the book). It was out of sync with the very earnest, small but collective steps taken by the villagers throughout the book to increase tourism footfalls into Taxos.

Overall impressions If you like a story about good food, travel, tourism, childhood friendships and small town corporate greed locking horns with villagers determined to preserve the natural splendor of their surroundings, then I would definitely recommend this one!!!

 

Shepherd & the Professor – By Dan Klefstad

Rating:

*Note : I received a digital copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review*

Buy Links:

Paperback         Kindle

Synopsis2

Most people take comfort knowing their family and friends will remember them after they die. For Susan Shepherd, “remembering” is bullshit. She wants an eternal shrine to her sacrifice: a book that never goes out of print.

Shepherd served her country in the Gulf War, got shot while serving her community as a cop, raised an ungrateful daughter by herself — and for what? A diagnosis of terminal cancer and she isn’t even fifty. If you were in her shoes, you might agree that nothing short of national perpetual acknowledgement will do.

She’s glad you feel that way; she just wrote a memoir and sent a flurry of query letters, hoping a publisher will memorialize her with a best-seller. After hitting Send, she waits not-at-all patiently for an editor to decide if her story will sell enough copies — that is, if her life really mattered.

My review

The writingUnconventional and refreshing. Slightly acerbic at times, Klefstad isn’t afraid to let his characters indulge in highly-charged conversations at the risk of not sounding PC. The format of the book does lend itself to being categorized as an epistolary (but it is one long query letter, and not a series of short ones) and it did take some time for me to get used to the changing narrators (as different people take over at from Susan at different times) and the initial time-leaps in the reminiscences. But once the book hit its stride – I got more comfortable reading it after 35-40% – I appreciated the atmospheric detailing that made the small university town of Charters come alive.

(Check out some of my favorite quotes from the book here.)

The charactersThis is Susan’s story and I found it interesting that Klefstad completely skips addressing the details about the big cancer-related chapter of her life – and I think it is a gutsy decision! I mean, kudos to the author for not making this entire book and Susan’s life about cancer.  Instead, we are given brief glimpses of a couple of early incidents in her life, including her only significant but brief relationship with a guy (who is the father of her child). All these experiences left indelible marks but I would like to think they only made her stronger and more equipped to deal with everything that came with single-parenting.  But from what we see of Susan’s twenty-something daughter Emma, and by Susan’s own admission, she has a lot of regrets with how things have turned out for her daughter. Although as a reader, Emma is absolutely infuriating to read about, an ungrateful brat who is hell-bent on throwing away whatever her mom is working very hard to provide.

Though this is Susan’s story on the query letter, the plot itself doesn’t move by the precipitating actions of any one single character. It is an ensemble plot in the truest sense as every character’s actions have a ripple effect though each one thinks they are doing what is required for them to survive and move up in Charters. So, there is a student, who is at loggerheads with his devout lecturer by arguing the under-representation of atheism in literature. Then there is a campus law enforcement chief vying for the position of the new President of the University. There is a also a radio jockey fighting to keep the seven-minute interview hosting slots amid reports of falling ratings. Finally, there is a woman identifying herself as Judy Peterson who is a bit of an enigma, a loose cannon willing to do what it takes to become the president.

Through all this radio station, university and law enforcement politics, there is a shady drug dealing business that Susan keeps trying to shoo away from Emma and herself, but her efforts prove futile as Emma is bullish about sticking to her drug-peddling boyfriend.

The plottingI felt that the book could have used one single high-stakes plot point centering all the characters instead of many – such as the president nomination, funds misappropriation, drugs consumption, investigative journalism and so on. The only thing holding these characters together in one book is the university and I just found the whole plot surrounding the president post a bit weak and unconvincing. Maybe it is because I could never get a sense of how “evil” Judy is. I mean, she is described as someone who has gotten away with scheming for years and yet, she makes so many mistakes – so many basic ones – that I just couldn’t believe she has never got caught. She came across as too vulnerable.

Then there was this drug peddling business that the Sheriff’s department has been looking for an opportunity to bust. I was a bit confused about how the entire thing went down. The department apparently was “successful” by the end of it, but the result of the entire operation seemed to be a heap of mess, so I am not sure what happened there.

Overall impressionsWould definitely recommend the book if you want to read something that just – well – reads differently! It tested my patience at times (especially the first half), but I began enjoying the leisurely vibe later on.

When diversity is seen an an adversary…

My post is prompted by all that happened on Twitter (for a change, I was actually clued in to the happenings this time) and I tried to tweet about it too but I couldn’t put it in the limited words.  So I thought I would make a short post.

Let me start off by saying that it is only since last year (when I came to the US and started blogging) that I have become more aware about terms like “diverse voices” and “representation”.

I mean, in India I never really thought about it when I read. Never thought about why I rarely read about POCs or people with not the most “perfect” bodies. But now that I have been here for over a year, it is something that I have wondered about more often. Now I feel that just the fact that there are advocacy movements for diversity shows that there is something wrong. I mean, shouldn’t that be like the most “natural thing”? Let me just start with this – When I step out of the house, I see people of different ethnicities. I see people of different body types. I am not making any special effort to “see” “different types” of people, am I?

I don’t know much about writing, but is it that hard to put the same thing on paper? One argument put forward by a blogger is that authors may fear misrepresenting the characters. I can understand (for the lack of a better word) this argument for the main characters but what about the secondary characters? I rarely see even any of the MC’s friends being .. oh, I don’t know … South Asian? Surely it isn’t that hard to have diverse voices that might not be part of the main plot but make up the cast of characters? For secondary characters with less page time there is a lesser chance of misrepresenting and lesser research will be needed.

The point I am trying to make is that the fact that even the “background setting” of the story doesn’t have diverse voices makes the whole “fear of misrepresenting” argument seem a bit futile for me. The fact that even describing people’s skin color, weight, gait, sexuality in more than one way – all of which doesn’t take much “research” –  is still seen as something worth mentioning and applauding in book reviews shows how uncommon an occurrence it is.

It is the authors’ prerogative to write what they want to and the reviewers’ job to review based on what is written. But there is a world beyond the books and that world is ours. Where we can advocate our hearts out.  Where we can still wish that there would come a time when the diversity campaign becomes redundant. Because how else would we see any kind of change? If the readers keep quiet, then how will the authors get a sense of the causes and beliefs that we are passionate about? If we don’t flare up with posts (and rebuttals) every now and then, how will the authors know that the conversations surrounding diversity is not some passing fad that will die down with time, but that it is real and unceasing?

So, let’s talk and let’s keep talking. I disagree with the notion that the readers talking will pressurize the authors into doing anything. The word “pressurize” carries such negative connotations. How about something nicer – like motivate? Or inspire?

 

Those pesky three star reviews

There are different ways you can classify a review based on the structure and style, but the reviews (movies, books, art, plays) I grew up reading were in newspapers and mainly of two “types” – ones with a rating system (out of five) and ones without.

When I started this blog for book reviews, I didn’t use a rating scale at all. Over time, I became active on Goodreads, started opening up my blog for review requests and came to know about the importance of leaving reviews on Amazon. It was then that I started rating books, because I realized how inbuilt and expected it is in the scheme of online retail, forums and promotions. I also went back to my earlier reviews and rated all of them.

However, there are times I wish there was no concept of a rating system at all. I feel that way every time I am about to give a 3 star (sometimes even a 3.5) review. There are two aspects to this: what I want to communicate through the rating and how the author ends up perceiving it.

When I give a three-star rating, it means that – while I didn’t love the book, I don’t regret spending my time reading it. It was a decent one-time read with some good moments. In addition, if I am giving 3 star rating to the first book in a series, it means that I found some potential of improvement in further installments of the series. I always thought 3 star rating meant something “positive”. Any book or movie that was rated 3 or above was automatically included in my to-read or to-watch list.

But I feel like there has been a huge change in the way 3-star ratings are being received over the past few years. While I understand it is the prerogative of the author/publisher to choose which review or post to use for promotions, I just find it part-bemusing and part-baffling whenever a 3/3.5 star review is barely acknowledged (by author/publisher) with nothing more than a “like” on your tweet/post and sometimes completely ignored. Like seriously, not even a 3.5 is good enough?! How boring and commonplace would it be to have reviews filled with 4 stars or above for every good book out there? Moreover, the 4 or 5 stars would totally lose their significance if the reviewers are expected to give them out like freebies.

To be honest, I look out for the 3-star reviews that are interspersed with the 1s, 2s, 4s and 5s and the 4s which have a li’l note saying “3.5 rounded to 4” (because GR and Amazon don’t like the .5s, if y’all don’t know..:/ ) whenever I want to have a quick and rounded view of both the “good” and “bad” in the book. It is the easiest way to read about both the strengths and weaknesses which, though, subjective to the reviewer, can be used to judge or gauge whether the book is aligned to your likes and preferences.

So, what do you think? Do the 3-star reviews get enough love from the author, blogging and publishing world or are they completely lost amidst the sassy 1s and 2s and the gushy 4s and 5s?

[ARC Review]Sometimes We Tell the Truth – By Kim Zarins

Rating:

Hardcover:  448 pages
Expected publication: September 6th 2016
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Note: I won an ARC of this book via yareads giveaways.
Buy Links:
 Kindle              Hardcover

Synopsis:

In this contemporary retelling of The Canterbury Tales, a group of teens on a bus ride to Washington, DC, each tell a story—some fantastical, some realistic, some downright scandalous—in pursuit of the ultimate prize: a perfect score.

Jeff boards the bus for the Civics class trip to Washington, DC, with a few things on his mind:
-Six hours trapped with his classmates sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.
-He somehow ended up sitting next to his ex-best friend, who he hasn’t spoken to in years.
-He still feels guilty for the major part he played in pranking his teacher, and the trip’s chaperone, Mr. Bailey.
-And his best friend Cannon, never one to be trusted and banned from the trip, has something “big” planned for DC.

But Mr. Bailey has an idea to keep everyone in line: each person on the bus is going to have the chance to tell a story. It can be fact or fiction, realistic or fantastical, dark or funny or sad. It doesn’t matter. Each person gets a story, and whoever tells the best one will get an automatic A in the class.

But in the middle of all the storytelling, with secrets and confessions coming out, Jeff only has one thing on his mind—can he live up to the super successful story published in the school newspaper weeks ago that convinced everyone that he was someone smart, someone special, and someone with something to say.

In her debut novel, Kim Zarins breathes new life into Chaucer’sThe Canterbury Tales in a fresh and contemporary retelling that explores the dark realities of high school, and the subtle moments that bring us all together.

My Review:

This is probably the third retelling I have read this year and for the first time I wished I was more familiar with the original work. As much as I liked the book, I feel like there were some things I would have appreciated more if I knew how to spot the references to the plots from the original tales. Nevertheless, the book stands tall in its own right and is effortless in telling a story about high schoolers on a six hour bus ride.  Effortless because it addresses so many issues, from embracing your sexuality, to adoption, parent struggling with depression, parents’ abandonment, sibling suffering from PTSD, and then dealing with everything else that comes with the territory of being in high school and just counting off the remaining days left to get into the college you have applied for. Yet, it never felt like there was some deliberate attempt to tick off a diversity checkbox.

The book starts off with listing and describing the cast of characters, and this fondly reminded me of some of the books I used to read in middle-school, like the Perry Masons and Poirot stories. Most of the chapters begins with and is named after the tale narrated by one of the teens. Some tales are completely fictional and used by sparring students to settle scores by casting the others as unsavory characters in their tales. Some other stories are heavily inspired by something from their life. Others pitch ideas and beliefs that they feel strongly about. Since there were so many stories, I guess it was bound to be a bit of a hit-and-miss?  I mean, I really liked some of them, and I do understand that the stories were meant to have takeaways that were morally ambiguous to generate discussion amongst the teenagers, but sometimes I wished that they weren’t that vague. Then, there was this whole running theme of one of the girls, Cece, seeing an opportunity to attack anti-feminism everywhere. I wasn’t really sure whether the heavy-handed approach taken to raise this topic was to seriously espouse the cause or criticize those who were giving it a bad name because, for most part, that’s how Cece was coming across; although she did redeem herself slightly with her lovely tale.

Another person who stood out, both due to her personality and her tale was Alison. Actually, she was one of the few who prefixed the tale with a real-life snippet from when she was twelve. Without giving away much, all I will say is that both her real story and made up one was a bit disturbing and as a reader, it did make me sit up and think about her current emotional head-space. Some of my other, (unexpected) favorites by the end of the book were Reeve and Cannon because for most part of the book they come across as a killjoy (Reeve) and a casual opportunist (Cannon). But then you learn a little bit more about them and end up understanding their actions better (if not sympathizing).

Through this motley collection of tales and people, the book’s primary story features the changing dynamics between ex best friends Jeff and Pard. As the book progresses, we are given bits and pieces of details about what transpired between them over the past couple of years. There is also an allusion to an eventful party and a high-school prank gone wrong.  While the party does indeed end up turning significant to the current Jeff and Pard equation, I am not exactly sure what the entire deal about the high-school prank was. There is a lot of noise made about it with accusations and suspicions flying around amongst everyone in the school bus, but I found the entire sub-plot unnecessary. Then, there is another guy called Mace who was friends with Pard once upon a time, but they now avoid each other. I felt like there was a lot more to the history between Pard and Mace which didn’t make it to the book. All that we end up with is Mace’s acne problems.

Jeff and Pard are alike in the sense that both fall in the peripheries of all the established high-school cool cliques. But, that’s probably where the similarity ends. Jeff is passive when it comes to really sticking your neck out and be a friend, and well in his own words, his signature move in tough situations is to – “do nothing”.  Pard, despite all his faults (well, no matter how you spin it, drawing naked images of your friends without permission is creepy), exudes quiet strength and self-assuredness.

By the end of the book, nothing much changes for the group as a whole; they are just back to hanging out with their own coteries; so any illusion that this bus ride made a dent in the inherent high-school social structure is quickly dispelled. Jeff wasn’t magically given a ticket to be accepted into the cool crowds.  But what did happen is this – Jeff found the courage to look in the mirror and accept himself, warts n’ all. Well, as Alison says:

“When people want to love you, let them. When people open a door like that, never close it, not even to hide”

 

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne

  Rating:

Synopsis:

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

Review: 

After reading all the reviews, and after all that I came to know about the book, I wasn’t really planning on buying it. But, my husband surprised me by taking me to B&N under the pretext of  “let’s just roam around a bit and spend the evening browsing books”  and buying it for me. I was all “Oh, umm… I heard it isn’t really that good, and well you know.. it isn’t exactly Harry’s story.. for me, the story ended after seven books…. “  and so on.. . Then, I kept staring at the huge stack of the Cursed Child copies… and I said “Oh screw it, let’s buy it!”

Since I never planned on reading it so soon – I had just booked it at my library and would have had to wait for months to read it as there were more than a hundred holds for it – I carelessly browsed through quite a few major spoilers online. I didn’t mind it either because the whole idea of Cursed Child felt weird to me so  I was pretty okay with reading some of the big spoilers. But now that I actually ended up reading it, I am in a bit of a conundrum about how to review it.  As I cannot really exclaim that “I was surprised by this” for some of the things that I knew beforehand.

So you must be wondering whether I even managed to like or enjoy the book?

Well, hell yeaahhh!!!

*Note : This review contains mild spoilers, with me gushing and maybe using the word “nostalgia” and it’s variants a dozen times*

The story pretty much hinges on time-travelling being done by more than one character multiple times. The whole thing was unconvincing and that wasn’t the only one. Time Turners and Polyjuice Potions were spoken about, summoned and used so casually, you would find it hard to believe that there was a time when these two concepts were stressed about, discussed and explained with such detail in past books. So yes, the writers take a lot of “magical liberties” with time, space and appearances. You have Transfiguration being used as a temporary substitute for Polyjuice Potion in one scene, and Time Turners creating alternate realities in so many others (and I know all about that, okay??  Wrote an entire review on it, so don’t tell me – time-travel<>alternate reality, what’s the difference?)

But damn, I wasn’t prepared for all the nostalgia that is going to follow with being re-introduced to so many characters (some dead in real-time) in the other timelines. All that going back and forth time sprung up those lump-in-my-throat moments which probably wasn’t possible by just following the lives of older characters in real time.  And speaking of the older characters, oh geez, it was so weird to see this side of Draco; and weirder to see him and Harry having polite conversations. Well, it was all-round surreal to see everyone older, introspective and making candid admissions like both Ginny and Draco confessing that they were jealous of the Harry-Hermione-Ron friendship at Hogwarts!! To see Ron being this goofy dad and uncle cracking lame jokes. Ron still being the first one to get affected by Draco’s snark, take the bait and get up to punch him. Despite the seriousness of that scene, I had a huge smile on my face and thinking “Some things never change….”

What about the younger ones, you ask? Well, the Cursed Child focuses mostly on Albus and Scorpius as they travel through time more than once. Scorpius was too kind and well, positively angelic right from the first scene, Albus already seemed to be over-burdened with being Harry’s son and named after Dumbledore and Snape. He has a less-than-pleasant time at Hogwarts, but from whatever I gauged, Hogwarts might have made it worse but it felt like he had already made up his mind that school is going to be terrible. And Scorpius seemed to be speaking for us readers, always trying to be positive and making the best of things and chiding Albus for always whining about his life. I guess what I am saying is that, both the characters felt a bit contrived. As if Albus was written to always sulk and Scorpius was written to always be nicer, sensible and pleasing to read about. Then again, just the idea that it is Albus and Scorpius – a Potter and a Malfoy becoming best friends – is what made their scenes interesting to me.

If I really think about it, the shared history is what made everything interesting. I mean, who would have thought that two decades later Harry and Draco will be having a conversation about how they don’t understand their sons? Or that, Ron will exclaim about how similarly geeky Hermione and Draco’s son are? These small moments – and not the big, but frankly; bordering-on-the-ridiculous Time Turner plot – that makes this book worth reading and cherishing – Reading about both Hermione struggling to balance work and home, Harry getting dreams about his childhood with the Dursleys, Ron finally learning how to be expressive about his feelings towards Hermione and Draco struggling with the process of grieving.

I devoured the book in a few hours (well, obviously!) and as the book neared its last few pages with a very familiar scene from the past, I wished it was a few pages longer. A few more scenes with the trio+Ginny+Draco as parents, as colleagues, as friends, as former Hogwarts students…. Sigh, how much I’ve missed reading about these fictional characters😦

[ARC Review] The Infinity of You & Me – By J.Q. Coyle

Rating:

Hardcover:  256 pages
Expected publication: November 8th 2016
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Note: I won an ARC of this book via Goodreads giveaways. Would like to thank the publishers!!
Buy Links:

Kindle      Hardcover

Synopsis

What if every life-altering choice you made could split your world into infinite worlds?

Almost fifteen, Alicia is smart and funny with a deep connection to the poet Sylvia Plath, but she’s ultimately failing at life. With a laundry list of diagnoses, she hallucinates different worlds—strange, decaying, otherworldly yet undeniably real worlds that are completely unlike her own with her single mom and one true friend. In one particularly vivid hallucination, Alicia is drawn to a boy her own age named Jax who’s trapped in a dying universe. Days later, her long-lost father shows up at her birthday party, telling her that the hallucinations aren’t hallucinations, but real worlds; she and Jax are bound by a strange past and intertwining present. This leads her on a journey to find out who she is while trying to save the people and worlds she loves. J.Q. Coyle’s The Infinity of You & Me is a wild ride through unruly hearts and vivid worlds guaranteed to captivate.

My thoughts

I think I must be going through a blogger’s block because I am really struggling to come up with complete reviews these days. So I thought I will do something different this time:

multiverse Alicia finds out that the world contains NOT a universe but a multiverse and that all her nightmares are actually real lives and scenarios playing out. It took some time for me to realize a basic fact – what makes her special is not that she has different selves, but that she has the ability to consciously flit between the bodies of all her selves. She has the “awareness” that there are more lives of hers out there. The term for such people is – Spandrel (this is an actual word in English, btw). This was interesting and in some ways reminded me of another genre – time-travel. Now, time-travel is something that I have slowly gotten familiar with, atleast familiar with some “rules” that a lot of authors employ. For example, your past and present selves can’t meet without bad consequences.  But with multiverse being new to me, and with this book being a standalone (?), I felt that there was probably too much of complications packed in. This is not exactly a criticism. Considering it is a standalone, I felt the authors did a really good job staging everything. But there were a few things which could have made better sense if brought up by Alicia. Like for example, why didn’t she ever question anyone what will happen if people’s two selves meet? For most of the book I thought maybe that is not even possible because, from what I had understood this is not like time-travel but alternate realities. So, I thought maybe two selves meeting each other isn’t a possibility. But, something like that actually happens with a character in the end. But Alicia isn’t freaked out or wondering at all. I was surprised she wasn’t curious what would happen in such a case. I felt that is such a big thing to be sprung out at us in the end without any explanation as to how that works. Apart from these issues, I found it quite entertaining and fun to read. And may I say, despite all the problematic logic, I understood this better (whatever was put on paper) than a time-travel fiction I read earlier this year.

diversity.jpgAlicia’s best friend is Hafeez, an American-born of Pakistani descent. I rarely come across best friends of South Asian ethnicity in the books I read. Since the focus isn’t really on Hafeez or his family in this book, we don’t get to know much from his POV. But still, I liked how his family’s background and what he might have gone through all his life was subtly incorporated.

parenting.jpgAlicia has been diagnosed with everything you can think of when one says “mental health” – from ADD and anxiety to hallucinations and paranoia. She struggles to make daily decisions and it is so severe that the thought of choosing from the cafeteria menu can trigger a panic attack. So, I found it ironical that the one decision that Alicia is sure of – accept what she can do and be in a multiverse – is not met with encouragement but resistance by her mother.  However, truth be told, I could see where her mother was coming from. It is a pretty perplexing way to live. Moreover, I could understand why she didn’t want to lose a “single” Alicia to someone with knowledge of her different selves.

eternityIn the book, we see a character that set off a chain of unfortunate events with the intention of doing the right thing. But, I found it interesting that the “selflessness” was borne out of the knowledge that the person can have or branch into many selves and a “sacrifice” in one branch of life is palatable when you can live a “happily-ever-after” version in another branch.  But, the character is never really able to create or live a proper and fulfilling “family life” because the other participant is tired of inhabiting different realities and abandons the idea. So the character creates a partial reality that plays out the desired phase of life. It was honestly kind of sad to read about because the whole scene was set up like a doomed end to an incomplete love story.

final.jpgThis wasn’t perfect and there were couple of other things that I felt could have been dealt with better:

  • Addressing mental health – I would have liked it if a clear distinction was made between the symptoms manifesting as a result of what Alicia was actually suffering from all her “universal” life and the symptoms which were a result of her turning into a spandrel. The way it was explained, it looked like everything was because she was turning into a spandrel and that she never really had any mental health disorders in the first place.
  • Love Interests – There are teens developing crushes and falling in love, but that made no difference or impact on the story whatsoever. Alicia is attracted to the boy – Jax – from her “dream” from the first time she sets her eyes on him and well, it is clear that this is the “REAL” love story (and not Alicia-Hafeez, because, well, of course Hafeez being the best friend will be friend-zoned). But it didn’t make any impression on me whatsoever. I didn’t care whether they would get their happily-ever-after or not.

But.. but… but… despite all crinkles, I really enjoyed the book. It was wildly entertaining and imaginative.  I had so much to think about and say once I finished reading, so I couldn’t wait to start typing and get out of my reviewing block!

[Blog Tour: Review+Giveaway] – Loreena’s Gift by Colleen M. Story

Rating:

Buy Links:

Amazon –  ( Kindle      Paperback)     ~   Barnes & Noble  ~  Book Depository  ~  Chapters Indigo

*Note: I received a print copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review for iRead book tour*

Synopsis:

A BLIND GIRL’S TERRIFYING “GIFT” ALLOWS HER TO REGAIN HER EYESIGHT–BUT ONLY AS SHE FERRIES THE RECENTLY DECEASED INTO THE AFTERLIFE.

Loreena Picket thinks she knows herself. A blind young woman who lives with her uncle, a reverend at a small-town church, she’s a dutiful niece and talented pianist for the congregation.

But they’re both hiding a terrible secret. Loreena can kill people with the touch of her hand.

While her uncle sees her as an angel of mercy, helping usher the terminally ill members of his flock into the afterlife, Loreena has her doubts.

Torn between doing her uncle’s bidding and the allure of the fleeting moments when her eyesight returns on the journey to the other side, Loreena cooperates with her uncle until her troubled older brother returns to town. When she reveals her power by saving him from a local drug dealer, she is drawn into a sinister and dangerous world that will test the true nature of her talent and force her to consider how far she is willing to go to survive.

An exciting debut that crosses fantasy and literary fiction,Loreena’s Gift is a thought-provoking meditation on life and death and what ultimately lies beyond this world.

My Review:

When we first meet Loreena, she is walking back from the Church to her uncle’s home. The opening scene does establish a lot of things about her. With the best of intentions, her uncle has provided her with quite a sheltered life revolving around playing the piano at the church. We soon learn that this is just partly him being protective about her. Well, maybe he would have been more open about her exploring the world a lot more once she became an adult if not for the fact that along with reaching adulthood,  she also ends up with “poisonous hands”. When she accidentally kills the gardener, her uncle decides that he can take her help to relieve the terminally ill people of his congregation out of their misery. Maybe, this can be Loreena making amends for her sin of killing a perfectly healthy, innocent man.

The author’s idea of the afterlife is pretty interesting. To be honest, I didn’t know that there would be so many references about the Church and the almighty. I don’t read Christian fiction so I was wondering whether the whole book was going to be filled with religious references. Thankfully, that didn’t happen and the concepts of heaven and hell are discussed in a way that is probably relatable irrespective of whatever faith you subscribe to. In a weird, morbid way, it was actually kind of fun to see what kind of fate is waiting for the different people Loreena ends up killing.

The story is told in third-person but mostly from Loreena’s POV. So, the author does a really good job of walking us through her shoes by not making us see but “feel” and “hear” what’s happening – there is a lot of description about the footsteps and flooring and weather.

The drive was long, but the air still smelled of rain, and it came in fresh through the front vents.

-Pg. 192

The ground was soft, her flat shoes sinking into the dirt with each step.

-Pg. 194

A series of events leads Loreena right amidst a gang war between two groups trying to wrest control of a small town. She is captured by one group and blackmailed into killing their rivals in exchange for her brother’s safety. It was interesting to see her introspecting after she causes each death and whether the person deserved the scenario of heaven/hell that waited for them.

I just couldn’t get into the whole cloak-and-dagger and crime aspect of this book though. It was way too predictable and none of the deaths surprised me either. I could see what went down in the final few pages even before I finished 1/4th of the book.  As stated by the synopsis, the book is about life, death and what lies beyond; told by metaphorically using the fantasy element of a girl “literally” walking people into their afterlives. I think that was a really cool idea and one of the book’s stronger suits. But the book also has quite a lot of “crime fiction” as the backdrop. I found this aspect of the book a bit half-baked and just very… linear.

I liked the book though. It had a different concept and well, if you want to read the book more for its transcendental ideas, then you would probably enjoy it a lot more than I did.

Book Trailer:

About the author: 

Colleen M. Story
Colleen M. Story writes imaginative fiction and is also a freelance writer, instructor, and motivational speaker specializing in creativity, productivity, and personal wellness. Her latest novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” was released with Dzanc Books April 12 2016. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” is a North American Book Awards winner, and New Apple Book Awards Official Selection (Young Adult). She is the founder of Writing and Wellness (writingandwellness.com) a motivational site for writers and other creatives.

Connect with the author:

Website  ~ Twitter

Check out all the tour stops! : 

July 18 – Cheryl’s Book Nook – review / author interview / giveaway
July 18 – Bound 4 Escape – review
July 19 – Writing Pearls – review
July 19 – Jayne’s Books – review
July 20 – Young In Rome – review
July 20 – And the Buck Starts Here – review
July 21 – Writers and Authors – book spotlight / guest post
July 22 – Corinne Rodrigues – review
July 22 – 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, & Sissy, Too! – review / giveaway
July 25 – A Bookaholic Blog – review
July 25 – Nighttime Reading Center – review / author interview / giveaway
July 26 – JBronder Book Reviews – review / guest post
July 27 – T’s Stuff – review / guest post / giveaway
July 27 – Book reviews nature photos and everything in between – review
July 28 – Sahar’s Blog – review
July 29 – Life as Leels – review
July 29 – The Autistic Gamer – review
Aug 1 –    Bookishly Devoted – review
Aug 1 –    Olio By Marilyn – review / author interview
Aug 2 –    Heidi’s Wanderings – review / giveaway
Aug 2 –    Bookaholic Banter  – review / author interview / giveaway
Aug 3 –    Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers – review
Aug 4 –    The Travelogue of a Book Addict – The Book Drealms – review / giveaway
Aug 4 –    bookmyopia – review / giveaway
Aug 5 –    Svetlana’s Reads and Views – review
Aug 5 –    Jessica Cassidy – review / author interview / giveaway

Giveaway!

Win a signed copy of Loreena’s Gift. One winner will also get a $15 Amazon GC (Open int’l). Click on the link below to enter the giveaway:

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