More than Maybe – of music, dance, writing and love!

more than maybe Rating: 

Luke and Vada are two eighteen – year olds, with modest internet fame and unrequited crushes on each other. Vada is a popular music blogger, works at a dive bar and lot of her short-term and long-term goals revolve around writing about and organizing music concerts. Her dream? To study music journalism at Berkeley. Unlike Vada, who has been raised by a single mom and must contend with a deadbeat dad, Luke is more privileged, with a loving family and a famous ex-punk rocker dad. He runs a podcast with his twin brother, at the same bar that Vada works in, where he later ends up taking up a part-time job. Luke and Vada also go to the same school and are teamed up by their teacher for a showcase performance as part of their senior composition course.

More than Maybe has a dreamy, joyous vibe to it. I think the best way to describe it would be – celebratory. It celebrates artistry and freedom of losing yourself in something you love, before the cynicism of life takes over – one that revolves around paying your EMIs and other loans. For Luke, this means giving a language to music – creating lyrics and humming tunes without the pressure of having to monetize it, sharing it with the world and carry on his father’s legacy. For Vada, it is to dance to the tunes that make her heart sing. To tour around the country and write about musical talent.

There is music, dance, writing, performing, love and three adorable love stories in this book. There are friends who can probably have their own spinoff novels in the future (I think there is one in the pipeline next year). There are so many things Erin Hahn does really well. This isn’t the first YA contemporary about talented teens pursuing their passion and getting angsty about everyone and everything being against them. In the end, things fall in place and they are en route to success. But Hahn carefully lays the groundwork for us to see why Luke and Vada make the choices that they do (and can afford to). When Luke is all brooding and honestly, comes across as annoyingly whiny about how he doesn’t want to sing onstage because he finds the business aspect of it exploitative, one can’t help contrast it to Vada’s world – where she doesn’t have the luxury to shut doors at such lucrative options. Their inner monologues, however, never overpowers the narrative. Their love story is sweet, sensual and keeping in line with vibe of the book – (imagine) a musical cinematic journey! I think the only aspect (which I guess is a significant one) that I didn’t connect with is all the music references and debates, because I wasn’t too familiar with a lot of them. Those who do get it though, will enjoy it. Music drives the story – the characters, plot, conflicts and a rousing finale (oh, and a playlist too).

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More than Maybe releases on July 21st 2020. What are you most-awaited books this year? 

Where have I been (and all the books I’ve DNFed!)

Hey everyone! Hope 2020 has been okay so far (as “okay” as possible under the current circumstances) . 2019 was an incredible year for me, as I became a mom to my beautiful baby girl. Since then:

  • I finally traded my makeshift bookshelf for an actual one. Now, I fully appreciate the difficulty of sorting and shelving books (By theme? Genre? Alphabetically?)
  • I have had to designate a separate shelf for picture books and that space is filling in rapidly.
  • The winter has gone by, but for the first time in the past few years, no one is enthused by the prospect of greeting the new season by going outdoors. It has been a chaotic few weeks around the world and all we can do is stay indoors, stay safe, and act responsibly.

It took some time for me to get back to reading (after a really long slump) and honestly, on most days I feel like the slump is the new “normal” and any reading I get done is an anomaly. I am not sure if it was the book or me just not being able to “concentrate”, but I DNFed lot of books in the past six months. Here are some of my most “high-profile” DNFs:

  1. Thanks for the memories by Cecelia Ahern:Cecelia AhernDNFed at page 160. The story follows Joyce and Justin – The former suffers a miscarriage and is heading towards a divorce. The latter is recently divorced and switches jobs and countries to be closer to his teenage daughter. He also participates in a blood donation drive. Joyce and Justin bump into each other at a salon and both feel some sort of “connection” . They almost run into each other a couple of times after that. I guess if I had read further, I would come to know that the reason Joyce literally feels connected to him is because he is her blood donor. The connection extends to her suddenly getting flashbacks of his life and also spouting nuggets of architectural factoids (Justin is an art ‘n architecture aficionado and professor) . So, there is this weird attempt at magical realism by the author. 🎆🎆🎆🎆🎆🎆🎆🎆🎆🎆🎇I wonder if this book would have been more palatable if it was a novella. The whole premise and execution of the idea was cheesy and fantastical…. and something that Bollywood and other desi 🎥 industries would have done a much better job at . Heck, they probably have decades ago. ❓❓❓Which is your favorite Cecelia Ahern read? Should I have started with PS. I Love You as my introduction to her work instead of this one?
  2. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt:GoldfinchI picked this up during a phase when I was very restless and impatient with slow-paced books. This is the sort of book that demands a bit of uninterrupted time –  A little “dry” , with a classic Dickensian vibe to its plot – A Bildungsroman , an orphaned teen, the mysterious world of antiques, smuggling and crime, a redemptive arc, so on.. Definitely plan on going back to it sometime in the future.
  3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood I tried hard to get through this but gave up after more than one-third of the book. I am not sure whether it is a case of a narrative and plot not having aged well or the fact that there have so many other books that have done the whole “dystopian-feminist-lit” storytelling much better – but I just found this so boring and sort of … pretentious? Everything was so vague – the world-building, the characterizations, the interactions.
  4. Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle, #1)  It was probably my second or third attempt to read it. Couldn’t get into all the footnotes and metaphors. It was hard to read, and not in a good way.

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What have you been reading lately? Do you think I should give any of the listed books another try? Are any of them your favorites?

Young Jane Young – by Gabrielle Zevin

Young Jane Young Rating:

Synopsis2This is the story of five women . . .

Meet Rachel Grossman.
She’ll stop at nothing to protect her daughter, Aviva, even if it ends up costing her everything.

Meet Jane Young.
She’s disrupting a quiet life with her daughter, Ruby, to seek political office for the first time.

Meet Ruby Young.
She thinks her mom has a secret. She’s right.
This is the story of five women . . .

Meet Rachel Grossman.
She’ll stop at nothing to protect her daughter, Aviva, even if it ends up costing her everything.

Meet Jane Young.
She’s disrupting a quiet life with her daughter, Ruby, to seek political office for the first time.

Meet Ruby Young.
She thinks her mom has a secret. She’s right.

Meet Embeth Levin.
She’s made a career of cleaning up her congressman husband’s messes.

Meet Aviva Grossman.
The Internet won’t let her or anyone else forget her past transgressions.

This is the story of five women . . .
. . . and the sex sexist scandal that binds them together.

From Gabrielle Zevin, the bestselling author of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, comes another story with unforgettable characters that is particularly suited to the times we live in now . .

My review If you were a 90s kid, then there was no escaping the intense paparazzi reportage of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. It was a “testament” to how widely and scandalously this was splashed across the news ecosystem around the world that, I, as someone growing up in India during the pre-Internet era, knew something about it.  Zevin sets her story a few years later during the year 2000 when the net was at a nascent stage and blog was the new “in” thing. Replace Monica with Aviva and a national politician with a Florida congressman. 

Told from the perspectives of four different women, Young Jane Young is a pervasive and thoughtful look on feminism in all its different hues and changing definitions across generations. Zevin tells it simply and without judgement – and that doesn’t happen very often. I find it so annoying when the authors are heavy-handed about imposing their outlook on their characters. Here, we see the women make their choices, reflect on their questionable decisions, learn from it and live with it – all without succumbing to the pressure of being model feminists  (as defined by the different movements and social narratives). 

So we have Aviva, who overtly shuns the whole idea of a “feminist tribe” because she feels no particular affinity towards a group that didn’t speak up for her when she was shunned. Then, there is Rachel, who tries her best to nip things in the bud – to protect her daughter, by making decisions without her consent. There is Em, the Congressman’s wife, who sticks by her husband – publicly and privately – all through his infidelities. Finally, there is Ruby, Aviva’s daughter – who has known her mother as Jane and both of them as the “Youngs” all her life – grappling with the truth as a young teen. 

Through engaging narrative style – using multiple PoVs, different timelines, “e-pal” exchanges through emails for school assignment, and also a “Choose your own adventure” section where Aviva is sharing her perspective of everything in a second-person PoV– Zevin keeps you invested. You sigh when Aviva makes a wrong “choice” every time during her Choose your Adventure recap (“If you choose X, go to page Y), despite know how things pan out. You keep waiting for some sort of balance to be restored, but know that the negative consequences faced by Aviva will always be disproportionately skewed in comparison to the Congressman who will go on with his career after a public apology. You wish Ruby stops acting out, but also pause to think about her questions– Just who decides how much should a public figure reveal about his personal failings if it doesn’t have any bearings on his professional abilities?

 This is just that kind of book – the one that leaves a lot of food for thought: Is it hypocritical if you identify yourself as a feminist – but decide to go easy on the male adulterer, and not speak up about the double-standards in the way both the genders are treated for the same moral failing –  because the man in this scenario is professionally competent to change the lives of women and good for the feminist movement? How much of the blame should Aviva have taken upon herself, who, though, being decades younger in the affair with a man in a position of power, was a 20 year old educated adult? Does it make Em less of a feminist because she chose to continue with her marriage and support her husband’s political aspirations? 

I found it refreshing how self-aware the women are – they aren’t under any illusions about how and why their lives panned out the way it did. Em isn’t blind to her husband’s failings and knows her own weakness- that she loves her man despite it. Aviva doesn’t give herself a free pass or the indiscretions of youth as an excuse for her decisions and actions.

This is a story of women – mothers, wives and daughters – making their choices and expecting the society (and other women!) to give them the freedom to do so. 

A treat for Zevin fans, the audiobook narrated by Karen White is an absolute delight!!

Do give this one a read, or a listen to!!

 

Free Pizza by G.C. McRae

Free Pizza Rating:

Synopsis2Brian McSpadden is always hungry. Does he have a disease? Worms? Does it have something to do with his being adopted? He spends his days at his crazy friend Danny’s house, hoping for snacks, but nothing seems to fill the void.

Then Brian receives a mysterious birthday card that says, Free Pizza. He soon discovers the card has nothing to do with food and everything to do with the big questions in his life: where did I come from, why did my mother give me up and is there anyone out there who will like me the way I am?

My review Centered on the life of a ten year old, Brian, Free Pizza takes you through the complex and often confusing emotions of growing up with your adoptive parents and step siblings. This was the story of an “atypical” family and with interesting dynamics among the characters. The adoptive parents aren’t “evil” or apathetic. Brian isn’t acting out or rebelling – his step-siblings are as normal towards him as you can expect out of five year old kids.

Yet, there is a sense of discontentment and a feeling of constant unmet expectations from Brian’s side. It is partly owing to the fact that his parents are much older in age. So he craves for a more “youthful” family setup and home life. It also doesn’t help that he knows he was adopted when the parents thought they couldn’t have biological kids.

A phone call one day leads him to slowly trying to connect with the family he never got a chance with. I liked how the book shows it isn’t all smooth sailing – the awkwardness, Brian’s initial disappointments that the moments he had been waiting for didn’t go as expected and his adoptive family’s attempt to adjust with the new circumstances.

Brian’s best friend, his family and their neighbor provide for the lighter moments in the story. Danny’s family life is chaotic, accident-prone, and the bustling household is a contrast to Brian’s staid one. I did enjoy all the subplots but felt it took away the focus from what the book was supposed to be about. I felt some characters, their families and backgrounds were meant for Brian to learn and introspect about how he was placed in his own life, but we never really got to hear anything from him or understand what he took away from those insights. There was one incident towards the end where a character’s actions made an impact on him and I wish we got more moments like that – where we could see the whole point of filling in so much of the book’s space with his friend’s and neighbors’ lives. I wanted to understand more about how Brian felt about his adoptive family – if it was always a sense of detachment or was there a lot more – some fondness, affection?

I thought the book needed more focus on Brian, his family, thoughts and attempts at connecting with his lost-and-found-again family. The ending was abrupt and we are left at a juncture where he is foisted with more people and information on him. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. He was barely able to connect with some recent events and new entrants into his life in the past weeks, so he being joyous and hopeful after being confronted with more of such unfamiliarity didn’t ring true to me.

The book was an easy, fun read though. While my primary issues were about how it didn’t feel very cohesive, the different subplots – in isolation – were quite entertaining.  It was also a well-written account of happenings and perspective through the eyes of an eleven-year old protagonist.

BUY THE BOOK:

Amazon | B&N

Meet the Author:

G.C. McRae is the bestselling author of two young adult novels, three illustrated children’s books and a collection of original fairy tales. His writing is fall-down funny, even when the theme is darker than a coal-miner’s cough. McRae reads to anybody at any time, in person or online, for free, which probably explains why he meets so many people and sells so many books.

In his latest work, Free Pizza, McRae spins the highly emotional themes from his decidedly unfunny childhood into a brilliantly comic yarn. After being given up for adoption by his teenage mom back when single girls were forced to hide unplanned pregnancies, his adoptive parents didn’t exactly keep him under the stairs but, well, let’s just say, there were spiders.

A lot has changed since then. McRae’s own children have now grown and he runs a small farm with his wife, who is herself an award-winning writer.

CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR:   

Website ~  Facebook  ~ Twitter  ~  LibraryThing

Tour Schedule:

May 1 – Working Mommy Journal – review
May 1 – Rockin’ Book Reviews – review / guest post / giveaway
May 2 – 100 Pages A Day – review / giveaway
May 2 – #redhead.with.book – book spotlight / giveaway
May 2 – Corinne Rodrigues – book spotlight / giveaway
May 3 – Paulette’s Papers – book spotlight / giveaway
May 3 – Life as Leels – review
May 6 – Ginger Mom & Company – review
May 6 – Literary Flits – book spotlight / guest post / giveaway
May 7 – Locks, Hooks and Books – review / giveaway
May 7 – T’s Stuff – book spotlight / author interview / giveaway
May 8 – Words And Peace – book spotlight / interview / giveaway
May 9 – Character Madness and Musings – book spotlight / interview / giveaway
May 9 – StoreyBook Reviews – review
May 10 – A Mama’s Corner of the World – review / giveaway
May 10  – Found in Words – review / author interview
May 13 – Truly Trendy – review
May 14 – Books for Books – review
May 14 – Readers’ Muse – review / guest post / giveaway
May 14 – Library of Clean Reads – review / giveaway
May 15 – FUONLYKNEW – review / giveaway
May 15  – A Fountain of Books – review / interview / giveaway
May 16 – Sahar’s Blog – review
May 16 – bookmyopia – review
May 17 – Books Direct – review / guest post / giveaway
May 17 – KC Beanie Boos Collection – review / giveaway
TBD      – Svetlana’s Reads and Views – review

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

 

The Port Elspeth Jewelry Making Club by Holly Tierney-Bedord

The Port Elspeth Jewelry Making ClubRating: 

Synopsis2From the author of Sweet Hollow Women comes a new novel about friendship, surprises, and the secrets that hide in the shadows of even the most ordinary-seeming lives. 

It’s been five years since the idyllic oceanside town of Port Elspeth was rocked by tragedy. Shortly after their high school graduation, Evangeline Maddingly, daughter of one of the town’s wealthiest old-money families, and Oliver Prescott, son of one of the town’s wealthiest new-money families, were found dead in an isolated cabin in the woods outside of town. The circumstances surrounding their untimely deaths are murky at best, thanks in large part to a coroner with connections to the town’s founding families and a sweeping effort from those in power to shut down any negative publicity that could harm the reputation of their pristine community.

Five years later, a small group of strangers gather to create jewelry for one of Port Elspeth’s many fundraisers. Before long, friendships are forming and old secrets are being revealed. Along with solving the mystery of how to make a perfect pair of chandelier earrings or cabochon necklace, these unlikely friends find themselves at the heart of solving the murders that took place half a decade earlier.

My review Dont’ get fooled by the warm palette going on in the book cover. Or the cozy-sounding title. Sure, the book has its share of fun conversations over tea, dessert and jewelry-making sessions. But so much of it skates over an undercurrent of tensions and awkwardness due to the women’s family dynamics.

This story focuses on six women – Margo, Pearl, Cadence, Olivia, Audra, Vivienne – Through them, themes of non-conformance, personal validation in a relationship and the desire for acceptance is explored. It also gets discomfiting to see the near-comical lengths people try to change and adapt to get accepted. But, in the end, most of them help see the other how they are shortchanging themselves and can script a different tale.

This is a book which does the multiple-PoV well. It employs some elements of unreliable narration which not only goes well in building up the mystery but also works well in showing all the dysfunctional dynamics – of parenting, dating, marriage and friendships. It flowed with the storytelling and so it never felt like all the different voices were unnecessary. This also has Tierney-Bedord’s trademark commentary on social appearances and an almost satirical view of the hoity-toity politics of a society comprising the rich, privileged families in a small town – and we are also talking about its founding fathers here.

The murder-mystery stems from and builds on all these factors and pushes the plot to a darker space. It isn’t the most unpredictable whodunit but it is compulsively readable – even at 400 pages.

I am not sure if any spinoffs are in the works, but I can totally see it happening. There is a lot that can be explored further.

This is my second Tierney-Bedord book and once again, I am taken aback by what the book turned out to be. She always manages to write stories that, going by their covers, seem to be in the “chicklits-known-for-their-sunshine-and-rainbows” space, but ends up taking up a wholly unexpected direction. Yet, you never feel bogged down as a reader because it never gets heavy or preachy. There is always this extra zing to her stories that I wish more “chicklit/women’s fiction” had. Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy the fun ones too – which is all about wedding crashers, bridal parties and old exes. But, well, you get the drift – it would be nice to have more books that don’t need to be a RomCom+ChickLit .

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*I received an e-copy of this book from the author, Holly Tierney-Bedord in exchange for an honest review*

How often do you judge a book by its cover? How often have you been wrong in guessing the vibe of the book based on its cover?

Beartown (Björnstad #1) by Fredrik Backman (Goodreads Author), Neil Smith (Translator)

Beartown (Beartown, #1) Rating:

Synopsis2The #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Overeturns with a dazzling, profound novel about a small town with a big dream—and the price required to make it come true.

People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world

My reviewIt takes a village to raise a child. The community in Beartown is fierce in its love for ice hockey – and in turn fostering an environment where their kids grow up playing the game, cheering for the game, targeting the major leagues, the NHL and just being involved in it in some way or the other. A good part of the book is about this – fostering a culture where everyone are involved in pooling their resources to push their sons to be the  best in the game. The book builds towards a game that, if the team wins, would revive the dying town by attracting sponsors. Then, an act of violence against a girl brings out the worst in everyone, and the best in some. Sides are taken, a culture of stoicism turns into a shameful culture of silence. The victim is re-victimized – questioned and bullied. The family is boycotted. The “village” that is supposed to have raised their children fosters a community that turns their back on one of their own. It favors hockey over a person: A girl who is dehumanized – who would always be known as “that girl” for the rest of her life.

This is an “ensemble” small-town story at its finest. A story that is more than just a losing team in a dying town. More than just scores and hockey games. It is about a town where everyone knows everyone else. Where a lot of people have moved on to bigger towns but so many have stayed back. I don’t think we are ever told which country this is set in. But it doesn’t really matter. It could be set anywhere – because you would always find that one small-town in some remote part of a country that is fighting to be heard by the bigger cities. Fighting to stay relevant. To get funds. To save their stores and schools from shutting down.

This is a story with a diverse cast of characters who leap off the pages because they are given distinct voices. The deeply ingrained biases are questioned and addressed on-page with characters introspecting their own “It is all in good fun” behavior over the years. 

This is a story about parenting and the right kind – about raising your sons to be decent men and not just testosterone-filled noisy boys in locker rooms who think machismo is about dirty jokes and winning games on the ice rink. 

It is a story about mentors and coaches. The clash between old ideologies  and new thought processes. The blurred lines between nurturing talent with care and pushing for immediate results. The fine lines between loyalty towards your team, your town and your coach. 

It is the story of finding courage in the unlikeliest of places – where the have-nots with everything to lose show more gumption than people with weight and cash to throw around. 

It only takes one spark to start a fire.

 

Under a Painted Sky – By Stacey Lee

22501055  Rating:

Set in the mid-1800s , this road-trip towards a gold-rush (well, not much of that happening..) and through the Oregon trail, follows a motley bunch of five – two girls and three boys. The two girls are disguised as boys – one running from the law to escape a murder conviction and the other is a runaway slave.

I am not fond of road-trip books – I think it is partly because I have a difficulty time getting invested in all the descriptions of the changing landscapes and trails. It is often said the best way to know someone is to travel with them – but somehow this hasn’t translated well with a lot of the books I have picked based on road-trips – where there is a whole lot of traveling and you feel like nothing much has changed in the character-arcs.

Was reading this book any different? Well, for starters this trip served as a clever backdrop to throw light on a period that saw the first wave of Chinese immigration alongside when slavery was still rampant. Clever and breezy, because Stacey Lee doesn’t get too verbose and keeps the slightly thread-bare plot moving forward.
It was interesting to have Samantha and Annamae team up and strangely, even when both are “marked” and “different” and both have faced racism – Samantha’s mother dies during childbirth because the doctors didn’t want to treat a woman who “looked like her” – her privilege of being “free” (at least by birth , if not by law) , ends up protecting Annamae during some circumstances.

Samantha and Annamae disguise themselves as boys – Sammy and Andy – and persuade three boys they meet on their journey to give them a ride.
The remainder of the book is about what each party offer – free Chinese lessons, singing, cooking, cowboy and rifle lessons, having each other’s back when faced with illness, dwindling food supplies and other dangerous outlaws.

Through all this, they form an easy-going, almost familial bond. Sammy is conflicted about their deception because she is falling for one of the boys. She feels guilty when she realizes this farce is somehow triggering his deep-seated wounds of a horrid childhood (which includes him being abused by his dad for having “effeminate hobbies”). From being able to rationalize it by saying he is probably racist and she doesn’t owe him the truth, she is not sure about her decisions anymore.

The conflict in the girls’ minds over reaching for their goals – such as Annamae reuniting with her brother or Samantha seeking out a family friend who could provide the support she needs to get through the remaining years – intensifies as their friendship grows – with each other and also with the three boys.

This is a fun historical fiction, with genuine laugh-out-loud moments amidst what is essentially a terrible string of events and a tenuous journey. My only grouse is that we don’t know enough about the boys’ lives. There is an attempt to fill in as much of their backstories as possible, but it doesn’t feel enough. Also, as I mentioned earlier, there isn’t really much of a plot and whatever little that exists is pretty predictable. So getting through the last few chapters is a bit of a drag.

If you love the good ol’ Westerns, I suspect you would enjoy their journey a bit more than I did.

*I won a signed copy of this book in a giveaway hosted by Shenwei@readingasiam/wordpress . Thank you!*

 

The Girl He Used To Know [ARC Review] – By Tracey Garvis Graves

36117813  Rating: 

Synopsis2New York Times bestselling author of On the Island, Tracey Garvis Graves, presents the compelling, hopelessly romantic novel of unconditional love.

Annika (rhymes with Monica) Rose, is an English major at the University of Illinois. Anxious in social situations where she finds most people’s behavior confusing, she’d rather be surrounded by the order and discipline of books or the quiet solitude of playing chess.

Jonathan Hoffman joined the chess club and lost his first game–and his heart–to the shy and awkward, yet brilliant and beautiful Annika. He admires her ability to be true to herself, quirks and all, and accepts the challenges involved in pursuing a relationship with her. Jonathan and Annika bring out the best in each other, finding the confidence and courage within themselves to plan a future together. What follows is a tumultuous yet tender love affair that withstands everything except the unforeseen tragedy that forces them apart, shattering their connection and leaving them to navigate their lives alone.

Now, a decade later, fate reunites Annika and Jonathan in Chicago. She’s living the life she wanted as a librarian. He’s a Wall Street whiz, recovering from a divorce and seeking a fresh start. The attraction and strong feelings they once shared are instantly rekindled, but until they confront the fears and anxieties that drove them apart, their second chance will end before it truly begins.

My reviewIt took some time for me to appreciate how tricky this book must have been to write.  It is hard enough to represent a neurodiverse individual in a love story without ever letting it slide into the space of unequal power dynamics. Now, add mental health too, and it gets trickier. But this book works because of how wonderfully fleshed out Annika’s journey is.

The last time I connected empathetically to the representation of anxiety was Cath’s college life in Fangirl. This book is a more satisfying portrayal because not only do we see Annika’s challenges as a student on the campus, but also as an adult ten years later. We see both – her growth and her stagnancy. We also can’t shake off the niggling feeling that her struggles aren’t just because of anxiety but something else too. As it turns out, she is on the autism spectrum. The author does a wonderful job of not conflating the challenges posed by two very different conditions. She also never makes Annika come across as someone who needs saving in spite of Jonathan being the more successful and “able” individual.

There were so many moments which stayed with me long after I finished the book – her distaste for noisy bars and lack of space in crowded places, struggle to initiate small talk and make a friend, “surviving” corporate parties and events by mimicking what others do, going through a mental checklist of actions you have prepared in advance, and feeling sapped of energy once you are done with your share of talking to people for the day.

A lot of books usually avoid showing the toll (for the lack of a better word) it takes on the partner in relationships where one of them usually finds it hard to keep up and other might have to pull most of the weight at times. I guess it is out of the fear of making that person come across as insensitive. But I found Jon so relatable because of this very reason – that he doesn’t hold back when he feels that Annika is capable of trying harder. When he feels she can do more to stand up for and own their love – both to herself and the world. But he is never disrespectful or belittling towards her.

Some of the secondary characters make an impression too. Annika’s mom and her roommate are her biggest cheerleaders throughout, with a little shared secret of their own. Her dad and brother also make their presence felt, especially in the last 50 pages or so. Then, there is Annika’s sessions with her therapist – that’s another aspect of the book I loved. It addresses and shows the need for seeking out help – through counselling or medication (or both) in a positive light. It also addresses the option of getting tested.

I wasn’t a fan of a couple of devices used for the story’s climactic moments – especially since they were pretty predictable. But the way some portions were written and Annika’s helplessness brought a lump to my throat. I guess the only drawback of having such a well-etched character is that Jonathan sort of paled in comparison occasionally. His backstory felt too “basic” and an amalgamation of characters I have already seen in a lot of shows and books. I would have actually liked it if there was more done with the “corporate guy who hates the corporate world” trope. Also, it was hard for me to take his word for Annika being his only true love all those years that seriously – especially when he doesn’t come out looking too good from the way things ended between them and they moved on. I couldn’t reconcile that the Jonathan in college and ten years later is the same one we hear about briefly in those in-between years.

This is one of my favorite contemporary romances in recent times and brought me out of a really long reading slump. I am quite chuffed about winning this ARC (and the fact that the author is from my town piqued my interest because that rarely happens 😛 )

 

 

The Lost for Words Bookshop [ARC Review] by Stephanie Butland

The Lost for Words Bookshop: A NovelRating: 

Synopsis2Loveday Cardew prefers books to people. If you look carefully, you might glimpse the first lines of the novels she loves most tattooed on her skin. But there are some things Loveday will never, ever show you.

Into her hiding place – the bookstore where she works – come a poet, a lover, and three suspicious deliveries.

Someone has found out about her mysterious past. Will Loveday survive her own heartbreaking secrets?

My review Loveday Cardew isn’t exactly great at small talk, and prefers to keep people at a distance. The only person who she probably considers something close to a friend and makes an effort to show that she cares about is her employer – Archie – who gives her a job at a time when she was still in the foster care system and was hoping to get out of as soon as possible.

The story is told in three timelines – most of it is in present but there are two smaller past timelines which gives us an insight about two significant phases of her life that has shaped much of her current cynicism and anxieties – her childhood and an abusive relationship. When she meets Nathan – a magician by day and poet/poetry slam organizer by night – she is happier and starts believing the prospects of a new relationship and an easier time at connecting with people again. But a series of suspicious deliveries – books belonging to her parents – at the bookshop – makes her wonder whether a person’s past can truly ever be put behind.

This book is delightful if you are a bibliophile!!! It is strewn with references to all kinds of books from different genres – especially classics. The book timelines are divided into different sections and named after genres – for example: poetry, crime, travel, history and so on. Poetry ends up playing a very important part in the story as Nathan and Loveday end up meeting and performing at poetry slam often. In fact, there are quite a few free-verse poems in the book.

Another aspect of this book that I thoroughly enjoyed was reading about the “inner-working” of a second-hand bookshop. There is a lot of “sorting and shelving the books” paragraphs and I never got tired of reading them. I found it sooo interesting because I guess it is something I have always wondered about .. how are all the books collected and sifted through and put on sale at a second-hand bookshop? It is always a hotchpotch collection of books from different genres – varying from coffee table books to first-edition collectibles and they have to price them, decide what can be cataloged for sale on their website, and what can be sold at throwaway prices.

One running theme with books featuring local bookstores is how it is almost always never really a profitable business and lucrative career option and the people in it do it just for the love for books. It is the same with Archie and Loveday too. Archie is independently wealthy so he doesn’t really depend on this for a livelihood. For Loveday, this was her first chance at being independent and leaving the foster care system behind. But, she never really envisions doing anything else. She could have tried to explore some other career options and study further after completing her A-Levels but she doesn’t. As we know more about her, we see how books went from being something that she associated with happy memories at her childhood home to something that became some sort of a coping mechanism after she lost much of that childhood.

There is a lot to love about this book even if you don’t care much about the whole “bookish” aspect of it. It handles grieving for everything lost and forgiveness to move past that loss sooo well. Forgiveness is messy and grey. Burdening kids with the onus to forgive quickly and make sense of something that even adults struggle with is not fair. I loved how that lesson was underscored so vehemently.

The themes addressed in this book reminded me of Little Big Love by Katy Regan except that I felt more satisfied with the way this book concluded.

 

 

Five features I would love to see on Goodreads!!!

I have been quite active on Goodreads for a while now. There is so much to love about this site – all the options for shelving, the giveaways, integrations with online stores, and just being able to share your opinions as quick reviews without the pressure of putting together a “well-constructed” review.

But, hey, I have been using it for over three years, and there have been times when I have thought “Hmm, it would be nice if …. was available”

So, here are some features I would love to see being implemented on GR in the near future:

  1. The Half-Star ratings: I think this comes up as a common gripe among the users because it is just so frustrating when you have to round off a 3 and a half stars to a 4 or a 3. Or pretty much, any half-star rating. Especially, when you have those “The book was sooo good… but that ending tho..” kind of books when you really don’t want to take off an entire rating star icon .
  2. Amazon integration for reviews: It would be great if reviews from GR are posted directly on Amazon! While I don’t mind posting it twice (it takes only a second or two to copy-paste!!), I feel this would be a pretty, uh, logical feature to implement. Goodreads is used as much as a publicity medium, as it is for sharing bookish convo and recs. Unlike Amazon, Goodreads allows you to post reviews as soon as the book is listed on the site. This allows all the readers who have got hold of ARC copies to post reviews and recommend the book. But, the downside is that there is a huge difference in the number of reviews posted on Amazon on Goodreads. It isn’t that people don’t have accounts on both sites. But the ARCs are sent out in advance – sometimes almost a year before its release. People read and post reviews on their blogs and GR but aren’t able to do the same on Amazon till the book releases. So, quite a few end up forgetting to copy-paste the review on Amazon a few months later. I am assuming this is, on some level, frustrating for the authors too because, finally, it is the number of Amazon reviews that tangibly reflects on the book’s prospects (?)
  3. Shelving: Yes, I know we can create shelves but it would be nice if GR considers adding two more shelves to the existing (three) default shelves:  a) DNF shelf- because there are so many books that we readers give up on halfway through and would want to just take a note of it and review it anyways or maybe go through the list of DNFed books later. It is not a genre-specific “shelf-type” so I think that itself makes it a good case to consider for a default shelf . b) Giveaways shelf: because, well, it is something GR recommends when you win a giveaway so I have wondered why doesn’t GR create it automatically on winning your first GR giveaway? Or, present the user with a prompt window asking them whether they want a shelf to be created? (so that they have a choice to decline). goodreadsmail
  4. WYSIWYG Editor: Well, I am not talking about hundreds of font colors and styles; but, how about one with the options that are currently available? – the five main ones would do : Bold, Italics, Underline, Blockquote and (since we are talking about reviews and GR-enabled options) Spoilers.
  5. Review order: This is always a bit of a mess!! When I want to see reviews in the order of the date when they are posted, I mean REVIEWS and not RATINGS!!!! I wish there was a way to filter and sort them separately!

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Well, these are some features I would love to see on GR! I am sure a lot more have crept into my mind in the past year that I am not able recall right now… Is it just me or have you guys wished to see any of these features on the site? I know the half-star rating is a pretty popular request and has been discussed about plenty of times so far!!!