A (very disappointing!) Little life

A Little Life Rating:

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When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

My Review: 

(Note: This is more of a rant and contains spoilers.)

WTF did I just read?!!!! The only emotion I was left with by the end of the book was anger, because this book could have been so much more if it had used less pages and the author had resisted piling on every misery-as-a-result-of-abusive-childhood onto one single person. The mildest analogy (for the lack of a better word) I can make – Take all the victims in all the seasons of Law and Order  SVU, heap all their traumas one over the other, and dump them over one person – and you get Jude St. Francis.

And no, I don’t think it is unbelievable that someone can have such a terrible childhood. That is not even my main issue with the book.  My issue is that everything else surrounding it was so unbelievable – For someone who has seen such horrors, who was abandoned as a baby, raised in a monastery and abused over and over again, by hundreds of men, both physically and sexually – he seems to have had an incredibly easy transition into a successful academic and professional life. He easily makes friends, co-exists with roommates, and wins court cases, cooks amazing food, is a wonderful pianist and mathematician and loved by his peers and feared by anyone who faces off against him in court.

And for all the talk about friendship, none of his friends are forceful about him getting counselling, and just let his self-harm continue through decades. He has a large group of friends, the sorts who take care of him or clean his apartment when he is bed-ridden after his latest hospital visit. But no one, no one puts their foot down to have him committed to a psychiatric facility or rehab. Just because they are scared Jude will cut ties with them.

In a few ways, this book was brilliant – possibly the most horrifyingly vivid close-up of what it is to live through such a trauma, and the self-loathing that stays with you. This was probably the first book I read which dealt with adult adoption and I loved how the author conveyed the feeling of constant doubt and insecurity of Jude with respect to the entire transition to being someone’s son – by law – at the age of thirty. Especially someone like Jude, who constantly feels he isn’t worth that privilege and that whatever is happening is too good to be true. I loved Harold and enjoyed the chapters with his first-person narration.  I wish we could have heard more from his wife Julia too. It is just weird she didn’t have much of a voice considering both Harold and Julia adopt Jude. Then again, this book doesn’t really have any prominent female characters.

The extent to which Williem goes to make Jude a part of his life was incredibly heart-warming, but I honestly preferred Jude and Williem as friends than lovers. I mean, what is the opposite term for being queer-baited? Because, that’s how I felt. It was touching to see the Williem’s love for Jude as a friend, and there was no indication he was homosexual or bisexual. So, I didn’t understand why the author felt the need to change “legitimize” it that way.  It felt like, suddenly the author thought it would be unusual to show Williem devoting his entire personal life caring for Jude as a friend, so she went ahead and made it a romantic relationship. I honestly didn’t see it coming, because prior to that, the author seemed so secure in showing  a selfless friendship. But then she decided, “Okay, so Jude and Williem are practically cohabiting, it is so weird to have two middle-aged guys living together, so let me change their equation to something more..”

I am so divided over this. I loved Jude and Williem and yet, was just very unconvinced with some aspects of how their relationship progressed. (This is a general observation about the book too. While I loved that there was LGBT representation, I was not entirely sure it was done well.) Williem and Jude have intimacy issues and later Jude admits he hates having sex, so with Jude’s permission, Williem has sex with other …. Women.  Like.. what?! There is a moment in the book when someone asks (or mentions?) him about being in love with a man and he replies that he is not in love with a guy; he is in love with Jude.  Soo, does the author want to imply that for Williem, being with Jude is all that mattered? It really wasn’t about the gender? I guess the author’s intention was to state that sometimes the society’s expectation to label everything isn’t always met and maybe that’s why Williem doesn’t even explicitly admit he is a bisexual. But, I just felt that this wasn’t conveyed well and a lot was left vague.

The synopsis was so misleading!!! It wasn’t about four friends at all. It was all about Jude, everything was about him. JB and Malcolm fade away after a couple of hundred pages and I almost wanted to DNF it at that point. I went into this book thinking it was about four friends and though Jude might get more prominent page-time, we are going to get character-arcs for JB and Malcolm too.  But I was sooo off-the-mark. What irked me is how even when some other character got their “moment” in the book, it too turned out be somehow all about “how would Jude feel?”  So, after JB some cruel remarks against Jude during his drug addiction phase, he is immediately boycotted by Williem and Jude for a major part of the book. Oh well, his fate is no different than the two dozen names of Jude’s friends who keep popping up. And there are a lot of friends. All of whom adore Jude and never lose their patience with him. I am not sure what is about Jude which inspires such loyalty though. I mean, he never really confides about his past with them though they keep asking him. Apart from his work, he doesn’t do anything else to have fun and he being a litigator sets him apart from the artistic crowd of Malcolm, Willem or Malcolm. So, what does he even talk with the others? We never get a sense of what kind of a person Jude is beyond his past.

It felt like by the end of it even the author was tired, because all the beautiful prose that held my attention through most of the first half, turned weary and it was just hard for me to plough through the last couple of hundred pages. My patience for all the excessive details (over JB’s art, Malcolm’s architecture, Jude’s injuries and Williem’s movies) was wearing thin.

All of it ends with the most lazy and predictable plot twist (if you can call it that) ever.  I am not even sure why I just didn’t ditch the book. Maybe it is because I have been looking forward to reading it for over a year. Maybe I just thought the ending will be more hopeful for Jude. But, none of that happens. I have read books dealing with these issues (though not so many in the same book and dealt by the same character), and have liked a lot of those books. My problem with A Little Life was that there is no ebb and flow to the story. It is just incredibly one-note – on one side we have Jude who goes through every horrific experience possible and on the other hand we have him and all his friends being super-successful in their fields with lots of wealth (world-famous artist, world-famous architect, world-famous actor and so on). While the entire book could have really used an editor, I also question the need for a lot of the social gatherings that happen in the book. Some of them just don’t serve any purpose and I just found it so unrealistic that around two dozen of their common friends keep in touch so frequently through the years. All of them land up in the same city from different places and when they don’t, Williem or Jude fly over to whichever part of the world they are and meet them – and again, why do we need such details every time they meet friend X or friend Y for dinner? I do applaud one thing though – the representation of LGBT, ethnicity, and the differently-abled in the background cast of characters (well okay, there were times I went “tokenism” in my head, but I am willing to shrug it off) .

Hanya Yanagihara can write, and write brilliantly. This book could have been brilliant too. If only there wasn’t all that gratuitousness floating around.

Reading and other bookish updates

Last week was pretty eventful, in terms of book hauls, giveaways, and gifts (it was my birthday🙂 )

What am I currently reading?

A Little Life This has been in my TBR ever since I started blogging but never got around to reading it. I have a little over a hundred pages left, and I am still not sure how I feel about the book. I am also not sure whether I will be reviewing, not because I have nothing to say, but because I don’t know how am I going to coherently condense everything into a lucid, spoiler-free review. I will just say this though – the synopsis is pretty misleading, and I almost DNFed it at around 300 pages.

Book hauls:

I attended a book fair last week, and picked up a few:

The Help  The Devil Wears Prada  The Kitchen God's Wife

I also downloaded a couple of kindle reads (I really liked the covers and synopsis and there were free for a limited time):

The Other Side of the Stars  Sense of Touch

I also received a B&N gift card on my birthday (yaaayyy!!!!!) , and I am having a hard time trying to decide what to buy, because I rarely go on a book-buying spree. I think that was one reason I just bought three books at the book sale, because I was so confused and kept putting in and removing books from my cart.

Expected bookmail:

I won signed copies of ACOMAF, (via. Twitter giveaway hosted by Sierra) and dots by Angie M. Brashears

A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2)   Dots


So, what are your latest book hauls? What are you currently reading? Have you read A Little Life? Do let me know your thoughts on it!


Which is your favorite PoV?

The third person single PoV in present tense is probably the most prevalent one; but I want to talk about all that I like/dislike about other PoVs:


First person multiple PoVs – A couple of favorites (in the past year) I can think over the top of my head is Mummy’s Little Angel and Shepherd and the Professor. I have found that this works great in building up the “mystery” in the book, like a lot of puzzle pieces coming together. More often than not, one character gets more “page-time” and is obviously the MC but with the multiple first person accounts, you end up knowing some of the secondary characters more intimately and I think it is a really nice way to prevent characters important to the plot from coming across as someone with a one-dimensional personality.

 Second person PoV – I guess this must be the least used PoV? I must have read just two books this year with a second person PoV – Hesitation Wounds and In the Context of Love. It took some time for me to get used to it but after a few pages I got comfortable reading it. By the time I finished the books, it felt like using this type of PoV was the most natural decision ever. In both the books, the female MC is “addressing” her story to that one person whose presence – and later absence – ends up becoming a pivotal factor in defining all the decisions they take later in their lives. So it works like some sort of a lament/plea.

First person single PoV (male voice) in YA – I feel it isn’t used that often. Most of the YA books I pick up are usually from the perspective of a teenage girl. I feel like we can really use more male voices. I would like to read more books like Phantom Limbs (which talks about a teenage boy grieving the loss of his brother and also being separated from his first love) and The Boy Who Killed Grant Parker (which talks about a boy trying not to stick out in a new school and a new town).

Dual PoV – I have seen it being very effective in historical romances because the stories are set in times where letters were used for communication and ships for travelling across countries. So in romances where the two characters are separated by distance and time (and literally time in time-travel fiction) a dual narration works wonders in being invested in the love story and rooting for the couple to get together in the end.  If the novel is in third person dual PoV, I have seen that the dual narration stops once the couple meets  – and that works great when you have run out of patience :p . But, what about first-person dual PoV? Honestly, I am not a huge fan of it. Because, the books that I have picked up with this sort of narration have usually been contemporary romances with insta-love, Mary Sue MCs and just a whole lot of I-hate-you-but-I-love-you-but-I-can’t-be-with-you-because-there-are-still-a-hundred-pages-remaining. Moreover, imagine revisiting the same scene (or the ramifications of a previous scene) twice with such MCs. Twice the whining and twice the self-pitying.

Alternating past/present PoV– Two words – Gone Girl. Five more – The Girl on the Train. But what about others? There have been a slew of psychological thrillers using this style of narrating, and I feel like it has been a bit of overkill. It is used even when it doesn’t bring anything extra to the table. I have seen it being used in simple murder mysteries where a linear narration could have worked just as well.  This used to be one of my favorite style of narration and it still is; but nowadays I tend to look at the synopsis of such books with a bit of suspicion trying to gauge whether a straightforward whodunit is being marketed as something else :p .


So, which PoV do you like? Is there any particular genre that you feel could use a PoV type more often? Do let me know in the comments!

[Mini Reviews] Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon & Titans by Victoria Scott


Note : I received this book via Bookidote blogiversary giveaway. Do check out their amazing blog here !

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My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

My review

Oh dear, this is such a frustrating book to talk about .. and review. It is the sort of book where there is a big surprise towards the end that explains quite a few things which happened throughout the book(so it is hard to write a nice non-spoilery take on the book).

This book was strangely addictive to read despite some of the issues I had with it. I totally dug the adorable Olly and Madeline moments. But, it gets kind of weird and silly in the second half when huge and reckless decisions are made.. which doesn’t even make any kind of realistic sense for teens who are still in high-school and don’t have any jobs or source of income (where do they get all the money?!!!). Btw, that’s another thing I didn’t understand –  why are both are still in school? Shouldn’t they be in college? Madeline is 18, Olly is 18 or older , and both are described as conscientious with their school work. So, it isn’t like they flunked a year or anything of that sort.

I think one big reason I was underwhelmed is because I guessed the big twist pretty early. Take that away, and there feels like nothing spectacular about the rest of this book. There is a lot of cute touches – Madeline’s spoilery book blog reviews, her drawings, IM chats with Olly, e-mails.. But no amount of embellishments can cover up some of the book’s basic weaknesses. Just like no amount of pretty icing can salvage a badly baked cake. The plot twist, though it explains a few things, also made me wonder about a lot of other things (so, basically opening up more plot holes).  The ending was just weird and unreal, and unbelievably “easy” for Madeline who has lived her entire life in a bubble, with her nurse and mom being the only other human contacts.

Despite my low ratings, I would still recommend you give it a try, because it is just one of those books that evoke mixed reactions. There are a lot of good things about it too, so maybe it will strike a chord with you… Check out Trang’s positive take on the book here



Note : I received this book via Michele’s blog giveaway. Do check out her lovely blog here.

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Ever since the Titans first appeared in her Detroit neighborhood, Astrid Sullivan’s world has revolved around the mechanical horses. She and her best friend have spent countless hours watching them and their jockeys practice on the track. It’s not just the thrill of the race. It’s the engineering of the horses and the way they’re programmed to seem so lifelike. The Titans are everything that fascinates Astrid, and nothing she’ll ever touch.

She hates them a little, too. Her dad lost everything betting on the Titans. And the races are a reminder of the gap between the rich jockeys who can afford the expensive machines to ride, and the working class friends and neighbors of Astrid’s who wager on them.

But when Astrid’s offered a chance to enter an early model Titan in this year’s derby, well, she decides to risk it all. Because for a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, it’s more than a chance at fame or money. Betting on herself is the only way she can see to hang on to everyone in the world she cares about.

My review

I really liked the idea – a futuristic sports drama involving mechanical horses – but that’s just about it. This packed in pretty much every cliché you can expect – an underdog (and of course, it is a teenage girl), a grumpy mentor, a best friend with a fashion sense that the protagonist doesn’t have, sneering elite competitors and officials who hate you. There is even a Hunger Games inspired (?) drama revolving sponsors and playing to the media by selling romance. Sadly, even that felt like a pale imitation and you are wondering why that was even included. It was just so random – a fellow competitor just suddenly indulging in PDA with Astrid, catching her unaware, just for the photographers and journalists to capture and write about. It felt like some half-hearted idea or sub-plot that was ditched half-way through the book – and that wasn’t the only one.

I love sports drama and rooting for the underdog. I understand that there is a “basic template” and you know what to expect and what the end result will be. But, I just wanted a few surprises thrown in. I wanted something more to happen on the sidelines of the actual races. Because, as thrilling as these racing might be in the form of a movie or a television show, it is just hard to visualize them and feel the same excitement by reading through pages and pages of description of each race. It is even harder if you are someone like me – who is pretty bad in understanding and appreciating the physics and mechanics of vehicles.

I am not exactly complaining about the details included – in fact I appreciate the author’s focused attempt to tell a story about racing and the families set to ruin if they aren’t careful about being swept in the adrenaline of placing bets. But I just wish there was more to the secondary characters and plots than the very in-your-face poor v/s rich stereotypical posturing. Then, there is also a feeble attempt at building up a mystery over what happened to Astrid’s grandfather and why she feels guilty about her part in it.

I could go on and on and list everything about the characters and plots that felt incomplete and superficial. Right from being hammered over our heads with the fact that Astrid’s family is falling apart and only she can save it; to all the people who are given some sort of “mysterious” background information to make them interesting (but they just feel like missed opportunities to have fleshed them out better)

It was a fast read and I think as a movie it would make a really good visual spectacle. But, as a book, there is nothing much that held my attention in terms of the larger cast of characters.

Mummy’s Little Angel – by J.W.Lawson


*Note : I received a digital copy of this book via iReads book tour in exchange for an honest review*

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Synopsis2Joanne didn’t believe that her life could become worse than it already was. She had lost everybody and everything she had loved. Surely she had suffered enough? The press had called Joanne’s identical twins psychopaths. Her Maggie. Her Annie. But she still loved them, even though one of them had killed her husband, Jeff. Joanne believed that his murder had been an accident. How could one of her girls be a murderer? She knew them better than anybody else; they were good girls really. She just had to prove it… The brutal murder of Joanne’s goddaughter, Laura had never been solved. Items had been missing when Laura’s remains were discovered: clues that could lead to the capture of her killer. One of them was Laura’s doll … the doll that Joanne later discovers in her home. Joanne is facing the most horrific dilemma of her life. Has the wrong woman been imprisoned? Could her child have used such brutality against her best friend? Or could both women be innocent after all? Joanne needs to find somebody for her daughter to confide in; somebody she will trust. She needs a miracle. There is only one person who can help. He is compassionate and caring, with an amazing ability to gain the trust of the most difficult patients. He is Joanne’s only hope. He is Jonathan Davies.

My reviewGosh, this was wild!!! The last book I read which used unreliable narrators this well was Girl on the train. GotT’s main narrator was unreliable because of alcoholism. But here, we are never really sure whose account is true. There are three primary narrators, Joanne, Annie and Maggie. Joanne’s version probably read the “truest” version of what she knew, which was honestly not a lot, and we are left wondering how much of it is clouded by bias towards either of or both of her daughters. But what really messes your head up (and so badly!!) is the contradicting laptop “diary” entries of Annie and Maggie where each one accuses the other of being the psychopathic monster.

There are always two aspects to a psychological thriller. The “psychological” part and the “thriller/mystery” part (duh! :P).  So I thought I will talk about both of them separately:

Psychological : Brilliant, and just so creepy!! The sort of vile creepiness that will make you cringe at the baser inhuman/human desires, proclivities and violence. The diseased mind that blurs distinctions between rape, pedophilia and BDSM. The ending made my stomach curl and wish so bad for a sequel!!

(Note:  Let me just state clearly though that the book does not have any graphic violence described in present tense. All of it is past reminiscences by Annie and Maggie.  We don’t really read any long, detailed scenes. So, if you are uncomfortable about actually reading through detailed scenes but don’t mind reading a book that briefly talks about the violence at many places, then, I think this book should be a safe read)

Annie and Maggie both sound so honest in their accounts of what happened that you are even if you do have a “guess” about who is the guilty one or what might have happened, you can’t help but keep changing your mind about who is the more/lesser of the two evils!! Yes, evil! That’s the vibe throughout, that maybe one of the two is not “that guilty” and maybe there is a little bit of “niceness” somewhere, but completely innocent? Heck, no!

I loved how the author plays with our instinctive tendencies to sympathize with people’s outward circumstances, without delving deeper into how that is even related to the person’s guilt. So, in one chapter, I am feeling sorry Annie not getting much attention from her parents during childhood and now being incarcerated for murder (Oh, poor Annie!) and in the next, I am feeling terrible that Maggie can’t even look in the mirror without staring back at her “ugliness” (Oh, poor Maggie!)

This is just me, going through the motions of a reader, so I can’t imagine how it must have been for Joanne! Considering everything that has happened to her, she somehow still keeps her sanity. But, just barely. With her family lost forever, and vacating the house that they lived in, it is a painful process of letting go. Holding on is equally painful – especially when you are not sure which daughter to hold on to. The murders not just wreck her emotionally but also end up causing her to lead the rest of life alone in increasingly deteriorating health. Her only support is her brother and I loved how the author communicated Joanne’s frustrations with him. She appreciates all that he does for her but also has to tolerate his overbearing interference in how to deal with her feelings towards her daughters. We also meet Laura’s parents – Susan and Richard and through them we get a complete picture of the devastation wrecked on both families after Laura’s murder.

Mystery: The main revelation was stunning and though it was something I guessed (well, a part of it), I loved how it was built up throughout the book and how consistent the “narrating” was – both Annie’s and Maggie’s. I think the issue I had with the book was there there were too many past murders/attempted murders tied in with what was happening in the present. That, in addition with some forensic clues strewn about and revealed later in the book was really confusing to follow. Everything was tried to be made “important” to the main plotline. No wonder then, that I kept thinking that Joanne’s mother and her schizophrenia also had something to do with the “Who killed them all?” question. There were also a couple of major timeline discrepancies (I read and re-read and “fact checked” and still couldn’t come up with a reasonable explanation) . I also felt something was amiss when so much of Joanne’s family is spoken about and I just kept wondering what purpose it served. On a whim, I googled online and found out Joanne’s mom and another character from this book actually appear in the author’s previous novel.  So, though this book is a standalone, just the knowledge that there was a previous book that covered what happened to Joanne’s mom helps in understanding why Joanne’s mom makes an appearance in this story. But, take that away, and you are left with a feeling that she is a bit of an unnecessary add-on.

Overall impressions A bit clunky towards the end (I am still a bit confused about a couple of facts), but if you love gory psychological thrillers that demand you pay attention to detail, then I would definitely recommend this one! This is one of those stories which finishes with a delicious open-ended twist. Ohh, the last chapter was so wicked… and so perfect!!!!

Book trailer:

About the author:


Award Winning Author, JW Lawson is already gaining recognition for her writing talents in the US and world-wide. The second of a trilogy of sensational thrillers,Mummy’s Little Angel is the winner of the highly acclaimed Worlds Best Story competition and has also received some outstanding reviews from the professional team of judges in the competition. She is currently writing her third thriller, Crossroads which will be available in 2017 and the final book of the current series, Hush Little Baby will be available in 2018.

Connect with the author: Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook

Check out all the tour stops!:
Sept 5 –   Mystery Suspense Reviews – book spotlight / guest post
Sept 6 –   Ali – The Dragon Slayer – review / guest post / giveaway
Sept 7 –   Cheryl’s Book Nook – review / author interview / giveaway
Sept 7 –   Fantastic Feathers – review
Sept 8 –   Book Crazy Scrapbook Mama – book spotlight / author interview / giveaway
Sept 8 –   Keenly Kristin – review
Sept 9 –   The Autistic Gamer – review
Sept 12 – Cover2Cover – book spotlight / giveaway
Sept 12 – The World As I See It – review / giveaway
Sept 13 – Books, Movies, Reviews. Oh my! – book spotlight / giveaway
Sept 13 – Celticlady’s Reviews – book spotlight / giveaway
Sept 14 – Musings Over Nothing – review / author interview
Sept 15 – T’s Stuff – book spotlight / author interview / giveaway
Sept 19 – Readers Muse – review
Sept 19 – A Mama’s Corner of the World – book spotlight / guest post / giveaway
Sept 20 – The Silver Dagger Scriptorium – review / guest post / giveaway
Sept 20 – The Travelogue of a Book Addict – The Book Drealms – review / giveaway
Sept 21 – Lisa Loves Literature – book spotlight / author interview / giveaway
Sept 21 – Life as Leels – review
Sept 22 – fuonlyknew – review / giveaway
Sept 23 – Bound 4 Escape – review / giveaway
Sept 26 – Sylv all about books and films – review / guest post
Sept 28 – Book and Ink – review
Sept 29 – The Cubicle Escapee – book spotlight
Sept 30 – Bookmyopia – review
Sept 30 – Room With Books – review / guest post / giveaway
iRead Book Tour Logo Medium

The Boy Who Killed Grant Parker – By Kat Spears


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*Note: I won this book through Goodreads giveaway program*


Luke Grayson’s life might as well be over when he’s forced to go live in rural Tennessee with his Baptist pastor father. His reputation as a troublemaker has followed him there, and as an outsider, Luke is automatically under suspicion by everyone from the principal at his new school to the local police chief. His social life is no better. The new kid in town is an easy target for Grant Parker, the local golden boy with a violent streak who has the entire community of Ashland under his thumb.

But things go topsy-turvy when a freak accident removes Grant from the top of the social pyramid, replacing him with Luke. This fish out of water has suddenly gone from social outcast to hero in a matter of twenty-four hours. For the students who have lived in fear of Grant all their lives, this is a welcome change. But Luke’s new found fame comes with a price. Nobody knows the truth about what really happened to Grant Parker except for Luke, and the longer he keeps living the lie, the more like Grant Parker he becomes.

My Review: (contains mild spoilers)

Being bullied is hard. Standing up to bullies is harder. But what about suddenly being in the same position of power as the bully? How does one wield that? As Luke finds out, that’s probably the hardest for him.

I am so conflicted about my ratings (kept toggling between 3 and 3.5). I loved the whole idea behind this book – being on both sides of bullying and how one can get weak when it comes to making the hard choices when everything is suddenly going hunky-dory for you. I rarely read books from the POV of a male teenager. So, this was something different and a change from reading about all the high school pressures faced by teenage girls.

Kat Spears does a very good job of showing it from a guy’s perspective. I really empathized with Luke’s situation – a city kid used to the anonymity provided by Washington – as he ends up in a small town where he sticks out and is soon known to everyone. Right from his flashy T-Shirts and lack of interest in hunting; to his agnostic beliefs, he just feels at odds with everything and everyone in Ashland. The only people who sort of seem to get him are Delilah, one of his classmates and the local police chief’s daughter and Roger – a garage owner who offers Luke a part-time job.  The isolation, embarrassment and dreading over facing school every morning, and then avoiding people and situations amidst all of this – all those feelings were just so spot-on.

The first half of the book is really good and I totally got and understood everything Luke was going through. But, it was after the “freak accident” that I just began to feel disconnected with him.  Luke’s account went from feeling personal to ..well.. me feeling like an outside spectator to the entire in-his-head ordeal. Sure, he is still saying things like him feeling bad about his former friends being bullied and him not doing anything about it or, him feeling uneasy about alienating Delilah and Roger – but it just didn’t feel forceful or honest enough. While I loved that Spears made him a sort of anti-hero and not-so-perfect or likeable teenage protagonist, I just couldn’t understand what I should make of his “introspection” later on. It felt more like a matter of convenience for him – as if he changed only because he wanted people like Delilah and others not to be angry with him anymore; and because the other “cool kids” just bored the hell out of him. Oh, there was also this slight issue of Grant Parker’s former girlfriend (and his current girlfriend) nagging him daily to change him and turn him into some kind of suave social butterfly. So, it basically felt like Luke changed back to his previous self only because he realized it is too hard to don the mantle of Grant Parker’s social self – and not because Luke felt like repenting.

I also felt there were too many secondary characters and none of them made any kind of lasting impression. Those who could have – such as Delilah and Roger – were given sort-of background facts about their earlier life; so I just felt they were given a raw deal when they were ignored in later part of the book. People closer to home – such as Luke’s dad and step-mom were written as weird caricatures of religious people.

This book was a pretty fast and easy read. I liked the theme of the book and Spears’ approach of keeping a lot of the storytelling simple. But, I just felt this “simplicity” ended up being more of a weakness in the later part of the book.

Phantom Limbs – By Paula Garner


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

Buy links:

Kindle       Hardcover   Audio CD


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


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

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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


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

Buy Links:

Paperback         Kindle


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.