Starfish – By Akemi Dawn Bowman

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman Rating:

Synopsis2Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

My review THIS.BOOK. Where do I even begin.
Though not immediately obvious, and maybe not exactly the “central theme”, Starfish celebrates beauty – of self-acceptance, art and expression. And it does all of this by shredding the notion of “ideal standards” of beauty itself.
This book is about Kiko’s journey of realizing this. Which is kind of hard when she isnt just reminded of her “undesirability” as a high-school girlfriend due to being biracial (“I am not into Asian girls”), but is also subjected to emotional abuse on a daily basis at home – by her mom. Ohhhh, her mom… Gosh … She must be the most repulsive fictional mom I have read in recent times. Like seriously, I don’t think I have ever read a book where the MC faces racism in their home by their mom. EVERY SINGLE DAY.
For Kiko, art represents a chance at another life, a new beginning. At a new, prestigious art school in a city where nobody knows her or cares that she is Asian. Where, she can maybe be more at ease in making conversations with other artists – and where her anxiety doesn’t limit her as much as it does in her current situation.. With her mom serving as a constant trigger.
Now, there isn’t always an “origin” or “trigger” for SAD/GAD, but in this book, her mom does contribute a lot to it. Speaking of the rep, I loved how, FINALLY, a book tackles the very real pitfall of living with anxiety – fighting the feeling that the only “reason” you are with someone (be it a friend or a partner), is because that person is your crutch to get through some very “basic” tasks in your day-to-day living – like – you know – talking to people, or making choices between option A, B, C or D.
There is no miracle love cure for Kiko’s anxiety, but she does take some time off from Jamie – just to be sure that if she is going to be with him, it is because she chooses to, and so does he. And it has nothing to do with co-dependency.
Kiko embracing her Japanese heritage is pretty much what this book is built on. In contrast, we are also shown her relationship (or lack of) with her brothers. The three of them have their own way of dealing with their mom and dealing with being “half-Japanese”. They are pretty much inter-linked, as their mom’s abuse stems from the fact that she resents the way they look – their eyes, hair, skin – everything. As they look nothing like her – a Caucasian.
I loved the little moments where it looked like, maybe, just maybe, they would still keep in touch and make an effort to meet up even after they are busy “adulting”. But, Kiko is resolute about building a future where she would easily belong, much more than the present. And that is why, she is firm about not rooting her future among her dad or brothers – though she does love them.
The review wouldn’t be complete if I don’t mention the wonderful way in which this book showed the impact of good career mentors. Hiroshi Matsumoto, a celebrated Japanese-American artist shows Kiko that it is sometimes okay to get to the same goals with a Plan B. He also helps her re-evaluate her art, and recognize what is her best work, and pushes her to be fearless in infusing her history, culture and “her story” into her work.
When Kiko finally begins to accept her “imperfections”, it isn’t because she ever saw them as “ugly” but because she understands that it is sometimes important to live with them and persevere through them, so that she doesn’t miss out on all the nourishing experiences that make up what we call LIFE.
And that is why I loved this book. Because there is no attempt in making the readers feel that the only lives worth something meaningful is the ones inhabited with eternally happy, cheerful minds and confident selves.
My only issue with the book was probably with the vague insinuation thrown in that Kiko’s mom was trying to push off the reason for her behavior on some MI and well.. that was brushed off as another attempt at seeking attention and her being .. well.. her usual repugnant self. This ticked me off the wrong way, because it kind of just made it feel like she could be suffering from NPD. I mean, it was something just thrown in.. and honestly, I would have just preferred it if it wasn’t, because I was kind of left wondering, what if? Doesn’t somebody suffering from NPD deserve the same kind of empathy? As such, people with NPD get accusations like, “petty”, “attention-seeking”, “pessimistic”, and “killjoy” thrown at their faces all the time. So yes, I admit that, an invalidation of NPD in a book, especially since it tackles another MI so well, feels like a bit of a let-down in the end.
But, I loved the book as a whole. And I fell in love with the title after the beautiful way in which it featured in the book.
Definitely my favorite book this year.

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[ARC Review] A Distant Heart – By Sonali Dev

A Distant Heart by Sonali Dev Rating: 

Synopsis2 Born to her parents in Mumbai as a result of prayer, pilgrimage, and every fertility treatment known to modern medicine, Kimaya is the first of her mother’s babies to survive after seven miscarriages. Needless to say, her parents treat her like the miracle she is, and short of putting her in a bubble they protect her from anything outside their mansion at the top of Pali Hill in Mumbai overlooking the ocean. But she develops a rare form or aplastic anemia at the age of ten that severely compromises her immune system and requires her to be isolated in a Laminar airflow room.

Trapped in her ivory tower with nothing more than the Arabian Sea churning outside her window for company, she befriends the boy who shows up to wash her windows when he makes the math homework that befuddles her magically easy to understand with his brilliant mind.

Rahul Savant was thirteen when his father died in his arms after taking a bullet for Kimi’s politician father. Rahul was left to take care of two younger siblings and his mother. He accepts Kimi’s father’s mentorship on the condition that he works off the charity by being a servant in his home. As he struggles to take care of his family in his poverty-ridden, crime-ridden neighborhood he loses his beloved younger sister to illness and learns that blocking out his emotions is the only way to survive loss. He believes staying detached is staying strong and it’s the only way he can be focused enough to keep his loved ones safe. But his friendship with Kimi is something he can restrict to the few hours he spends with her across the plastic curtain of her isolation room.

As the years go by Rahul and Kimi develop a unique and deep friendship. He becomes her eyes to the outside world and she becomes his refuge in a cruel world. With Kimi’s encouragement, Rahul makes his way into the extremely selective Indian Civil Services Police Cadre. When Kimi is given a new lease on life via a life-saving procedure, she and Rahul must navigate their undeniable attraction, their lost friendship, complicated family dynamics, and a web of lies that cut too close to home to learn the real meaning of courage, loss and love.

My reviewI hate it when books with an Indian backdrop promise an “authentic Indian rep” and it ends up being a bad imitation of cheesy bollywood song-and-dance romance.

But I loved A Distant Heart for being so unabashedly Bollywoodsy in terms of setting up the world of its two main characters.

Rich Girl meets Poor Boy – CHECK
Poor Boy follows his father’s footsteps by joining the city police force – CHECK
Rich Girl’s father is a politician – CHECK
The infamous Mumbai mafia are the menacing villians in the story – CHECK
The Poor Boy is the sole bread-winner of his family who live in the Mumbai chawls – CHECK

and so on.

Yet, what makes this book rise above the cliches and the simple two-line plot are the two main characters. When Rahul stays away from Kimi, you understand. You understand Kimi’s stubbornness. Her sporadic desperation to cling onto Rahul not because she started considering him as her lover, but because he was just about the only friend she could make during her forced exile from the outside world. And if you know something about how the classic Indian stories have characters reacting to and believing in luck and superstition, you sort of get where Rahul is coming from too.

I quite liked some of the secondary characters too, especially Kimi’s parents. If there is a spin-off to this book that is a love story of Kimi’s parents (who are former bollywood stars), I would definitely read it.

The book has some really good quotable passages, my favorite ones being about making peace with circumstances and losing control of circumstances and your body when you have an illness. If there is something that could have been better, it is probably some of the dialogues. It felt clunky at times.. and well.. read too much like.. quotes? I mean, there were times it didn’t feel casual or authentic in a way you would expect people to actually converse. I also would have liked if the author had gone the whole hog with the mystery plot (instead of making it really predictable)

This plot is something that was introduced in the previous book. But, there is enough background information given, so the book worked perfectly fine as a standalone for me (since I havent read the previous book). However, I feel that I would have related to a couple of characters more if I had read the previous book (when they were first introduced)

I would recommend this book for its bittersweet romance lilting in from the mansions and chawls dotting the Mumbai landscape. Do check it out when it hits the stores this December!

(I was lucky to get an ARC of this book from Shenwei@readingasiam/wordpress. Thank you!)

[ARC Review] – I Have Never (First Comes Love #2) – By Camilla Isley

I Have Never (First Comes Love, #2) Rating:

*Note : I received an e-arc of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review*

Synopsis2Twenty-nine-year-old Blair Walker is a girl with a plan, or more a girl with a list. A list of dos and don’ts to live the perfect life, land a dream career, and marry Mr. Right.

When Blair loses her job and gets dumped by her boyfriend all in one day, she starts to wonder if she’s had it all wrong. And what better way to find out than experience everything the list forbade?

Never Lie
Never Pick a Fight
Never Make a Scene
Never Make the First Move
Never Make Impulse Decisions
Never Mix Business and Pleasure…

With hilarious consequences, Blair will discover some items are trickier to tick off than she’d thought…

A laugh out loud romantic comedy perfect for fans of Lindsey Kelk, Sophie Kinsella, and Mhairi McFarlane.

My reviewHow would you react after going through the worst day of your life? Well, the most sorted thing to do is probably make a “sensible” To-Do list and re-evaluate. But, for Blair, who has always carried and meticulously lived by an actual list of Do’s and Don’ts on paper, this is an opportunity to put the list through a figurative shredder.

I loved the premise as soon as I read the synopsis because I thought it was a pretty cool idea to use the oft-employed idea of “bucket-list” but with a twist. It works pretty well, each chapter is named after something from the list, so it sets the stage nicely for events to come. It is fun trying to guess how exactly would Blair end up doing(or not!) everything  she never planned on before her life upended.

After getting fired and nursing a broken heart, she lands a job at an online-editorial portal. Here, she makes new friends, gets a chance to build an entire fashion/beauty magazine from scratch and finds it more fulfilling than her previous high-profile job. There is another major factor contributing to her happiness too – her boss whom she has been majorly crushing on right from their first accidental encounter. The boss here is Richard, who featured in the first book of this series. Richard, who got ditched at the altar in the previous book, is understandably commitment-phobic and well , just a bit averse to having any girlfriend lasting more than a month. The book centers largely on Blair figuring out whether Richard is interested in taking their relationship beyond the professional realm and Richard getting over his fears after the incidents in the previous book.

This book can be read as a standalone so, if you are wondering about whether to pick this up before the first one,  I would say that it wouldn’t be a problem. But, I personally enjoyed the references to the previous book. My favorite (and the most direct one) was Blair confiding her feelings for Richard to an airport bartender who featured in the previous book. Most of the other references were lingering ones related to Richard’s ex.  Considering that most chicklits are from the girl’s PoV, I feel that the male MC’s character arc is usually rushed or underdeveloped. But Richard’s was actually done pretty well. I liked how the author showed him being “ready” to take the relationship forward but probably at a different pace than what he thought Blair expected of him. It actually made all the “conflicts” between them at the end of the book feel realistic rather than something that was hurriedly thrust into the last pages just to amp up the drama.

With LA celebrities, snarky interviews at fashion houses, takedowns featuring spaghetti-dunking and fake lawsuits, and an adorable puppy, this was very entertaining and a great addition to the series! And just to add to the list of things I loved – Blair’s love for heels, the whole start-up team working for Richard (and yay, it actually mentions the techies too! No seriously, the techies are never mentioned in any of the “magazine/fashion” business set-ups in books. As if the online portals magically run by themselves….), and the clever way in which Blair ends up negating the “eating meat” caveat of her list (as she is a vegetarian).  Respect!

 

The Unforgettables – By G.L. Tomas

The Unforgettables Rating:

Synopsis2Back home in Chicago, Paul Hiroshima had it all.

Popularity, charming looks and a talent for the arts that made him admired by his peers. Moving to Portland, Maine the summer before his senior year was going to change all that. With his city life behind him, there was definitely no reason to make the best out of a bad situation—that is, until he meets the amazing Felicia Abelard.

Over a love of comic books and secret identities, Felicia becomes the sidekick to his hero; there’s just one problem: they weren’t supposed to fall in love.

As the season comes to an end, Paul and Felicia face in-depth challenges to preserve their summer formed bond. With the brink of the new school year at hand, this tale of best friends and first loves will make their year unforgettable.

My reviewI had a feeling I would end up loving the book right from the moment Felicia’s Haitian-American Christian meat-loving family would invite their new neighbors – Paul’s vegan Buddhist family. This set the tone for a wonderfully inclusive story, where differences are not just accepted and celebrated, but respected. It isn’t just blind, ignorant acceptance. The characters try to understand those differences, sometimes by directly asking, more out of blunt curiosity than courtesy. So when Felicia’s mom directly asks Paul’s Welsh mom (and not his Japanese dad) about “how” she ended up following Buddhism, it makes for a really good scene.

This is pretty much the spirit with which the entire book is written, where people with different faiths and “atypical” families and people with “niche hobbies” go about with their heads held high. Of course, it isn’t always easy, as we see with Felicia who dreads school because of all the passive-aggressive bullying. Or Paul, who is nervous about his final school year in a new town, worried about being coerced into taking more “traditional” and practical courses by his mom for his college, instead of allowing him to go into art school. I honestly loved the tug-of-war between Paul and his mom, both of whom are dyslexic and have different ideas about what “limiting yourself” means. By the end of the book, you are left with no doubt that Paul wants to go into art school because that is one of his primary passions and not because his dyslexia limits him from doing something else.

Can’t “understand” why someone is “different” from you? Well, honestly, sometimes kindness and basic decency goes a long way in making someone feel better. Felicia, being a social “nobody” in school, makes an impact in a little girl’s mind just by being patient, friendly and soft-spoken.
What if differences are something you can’t immediately “accept” though you understand it on some subconscious level? Well, you consciously challenge those phobias. It is a slow process, as Felicia knows, seeing her mother struggling with and facing her bi-phobia.

One of the main strengths of this book is the well fleshed-out family dynamics of both Paul and Felicia. We have involved parents and annoying siblings. We have parenting conflicts and sibling conflicts. Absent parents in YA has become such a cliche that coming across families like this always feels good to witness. So does watching responsible teens with a good head on their shoulders. Despite everything going on, both with each other and dealing with their own issues in school or at home with their parents, Paul and Felicia are never making vindictive, self-destructive decisions. Felicia never lets all the drama in school get in the way of her focus on what really matters – studies. Paul, despite not always understanding what is happening with his on-off friendship/romance with Felicia, doesn’t treat sex with someone else as a frivolous rebound decision.

The story of Paul and Felicia works because both of them grow in the relationship. Because Felicia comes to terms with her own insecurities – of being awkward and “hard to like” in comparison to Paul’s easy-going and people-pleasing nature. And Paul comes to terms with the fact that, with some people, it is harder to get them to open up – to talk about their fears and apprehensiveness. I found Paul’s frustrations with Felicia very real and to be honest, I felt that in the last 1/3rd of the book, Paul’s PoV was written better than Felicia’s. I think the problem was that the story focused more on Felicia’s fears of how her parents would react to her dating. But instead of all the “telling” through Felicia, I just wish there was more of “showing” wrt. her parents being that rigid. There was a bit, but just not that effective to convince me. Instead, I would have personally liked it if Felicia’s inner conflict centered more on the fact that she and Paul were such different people.
Because, I personally felt that after a certain point in the book, that was the main conflict. The authors actually did a really good job showing this – as long as Paul and Felicia were just the two of them together during the summer vacations, they were doing just fine with their comic-book geek-ing and the cosplay. But once they were thrust into the “societal environment” of the school, they had a harder time realigning their “social selves” with their deeply personal relationship.

Read this book if you are looking for a well-written YA love story (but this book is a lot more than just that)

Into the Water – By Paula Hawkins

Into the WaterRating:

Synopsis2 A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.

With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.

Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.

My reviewPaula Hawkins’ second book, relies a lot on the history of the small town forming the story’s setting for the haunting feeling that permeates throughout the book. This, along with almost a dozen narrators, is what provides the book with much of the smokescreen for what ultimately is a fairly simplistic resolution to the murder mystery.

Getting into the story does take some time, especially with so many narrators. It did throw me off a bit because I am not used to reading multi-PoVs that are more than 3 or 4. But with each narrator came a small but significant chunk of jigsaw pieces to the main puzzle at the heart of the plot and I am just glad that I actually caught onto and remembered all the minute details. Into the Water had what, in my opinion, makes the best kind of whodunits – where you guess the answers to some of the “smaller” questions based on what the author feeds you but are still stumped by the final revelation.

I loved the The Girl on the Train and I guess it is natural to have high expectations from the authors’ second books after their fab debuts. Into the Water is no TGotT – I felt the latter was definitely more character-driven with an alcoholic as the primary unreliable narrator. However, with Into the Water, I just felt that the large number of narrators somehow ended up inhibiting the author from actually devoting time to SHOWING how the people in the community felt about or got along with each other before and after the two successive deaths in their town. One of the main characters, Jules, who is actually the first narrator and who being one of the dead women’s sister, is at the heart of plot, didn’t make any impression on me at all. This was despite all the flashbacks we get about Jules and her sister in their teens. I actually found the backstory through the flashbacks more powerful and somehow connected with the younger Jules more than the present-day one – despite her transformation from someone who was ambivalent about her sister’s story or her niece’s emotional well-being to someone who finally starts making an effort. I connected more with her niece Lena’s frustration at her aunt and everyone around her who were trying to “meddle” into her mom’s and best friend’s deaths instead of believing her convictions that they were suicides.

The book has a dark, unhappy cloud shrouding it the whole time, but you don’t have any time to dwell on any particular mood because of all the frequent narrator changes. Though that is a good thing in terms of keeping the pace of the novel from dropping, the flipside of it was that some of the emotional moments didn’t make much of an impact on me. There were deaths, families grieving, a funeral, estranged families and a doomed love story but none of them moved me all that much. However, if you loved Hawkins’ writing in her first book, and if you are up for a good murder mystery; I wouldn’t hesitate recommending this. If I have to compare between the two, this one was definitely cleverer.

 

Afterworlds – By Scott Westerfeld – On YA authors, publishing and cultural appropriation

Afterworlds (Afterworlds #1) Rating:

Synopsis2BELIEVING IS DANGEROUS…

Darcy Patel is afraid to believe all the hype. But it’s really happening – her teen novel is getting published. Instead of heading to college, she’s living in New York City, where she’s welcomed into the dazzling world of YA publishing. That means book tours, parties with her favorite authors, and finding a place to live that won’t leave her penniless. It means sleepless nights rewriting her first draft and struggling to find the perfect ending… all while dealing with the intoxicating, terrifying experience of falling in love – with another writer.

Told in alternating chapters is Darcy’s novel, the thrilling story of Lizzie, who wills her way into the afterworld to survive a deadly terrorist attack. With survival comes the responsibility to guide the restless spirits that walk our world, including one ghost with whom she shares a surprising personal connection. But Lizzie’s not alone in her new calling – she has counsel from a fellow spirit guide, a very desirable one, who is torn between wanting Lizzie and warning her that…

BELIEVING IS DANGEROUS.

In a brilliant high-wire act of weaving two epic narratives – and two unforgettable heroines – into one novel, Scott Westerfeld’s latest work is a triumph of storytelling.

My reviewTold in dual-narrative, Afterworlds, the title of this book is actually the title of the book that Darcy Patel, the protagonist is working on. Darcy, eighteen years old, has landed a two-book contract for almost a quarter million, and her life, as she knew it, changes overnight. From someone who has never lived alone, she moves from Philly to NY, and is thrown into the rigmarole of what goes into the few months leading to the big debut. It was absolutely delightful to read about everything you have always suspected being a blogger, about how the life of such a debut author would be. So I guess a part of it was wish fulfillment, to see it all on page, even if it felt slightly exaggerated and surreal – all the YA author parties, gatherings, pre-pub tours, the discussions about what makes a good book, “originality” versus writing what sells, the brainstorming during editing and rewrites and so on. Then you also have Darcy’s friends, through whom you see yourself on page too, as they are yapping on about how they have read or heard about most of the not-yet-published books because of their well-connected school librarian who always got hold of the latest ARCs.

The entire book, i.e Darcy’s book “Afterworlds” is within this book. It is interspersed with Darcy’s story every alternate chapter and right off the bat you know that everything works out okay and atleast the publishing goes without a hitch, because you are practically reading the finished book within this book. But Westerfeld manages to make it interesting, especially by showing Darcy’s inexperience at pretty much everything – as an author, a lover and well, as someone terrible with her finances. Darcy can’t stick to her own schedule, is caught up with the bling of a new city and you just get a feeling that she has a “I will just wing it in the end” attitude sub-consciously. All the self-doubt about whether she was even a real author was done pretty well. At one point she wonders whether she is a fluke as she finished first draft in 30 days but she is taking months to rewrite the final chapters.

I personally felt that some of the Indian rep was done well. There were so many little things – about Darcy’s parents being believers but not that religious, her sister Nisha being great at math and hence looking over the family’s tax filings, her engineer dad, her mom’s story about how they didn’t spent any money on clothes when they first came to US and got everything from India, Darcy being naïve and clueless about a lot of things in NY because she has never lived alone, screwing up the budget allocation Nisha planned for her .. and so on.. It was a good balance between atypical and stereotypical .. because hey, there is no one “true rep” and the truth is always somewhere in between. And gosh, I loved all the moments when Darcy was searching for an apartment and ended up going atleast 500$ over-budget with the final monthly rent. She pretty much tears Nisha’s financial planning to shreds, it was a bit of a trainwreck tbh  – Darcy paying 3500k per month in NY without taking in any roommates and then casually blowing up money on food every eating outside frequently instead of, well, spending on setting up her kitchen so that she can cook at home. I think she finally does that (?) through her aunt gifting her some stuff and her dad driving over with some items(? I am not sure) but she continues to blow up money anyways. Nothing extravagant, but frugal or budgeted living is definitely not her cup of tea. She did give the impression of someone who knew she has a safety net of a stable loving home and a reasonably well-off family to return too if her writing career doesn’t take off as early as she expected.

Darcy ends up falling in love and living with another writer with Imogen and I thought the author contrasted the difference in their personalities pretty well; some of it due to their age difference. Imogen has been in atleast one relationship more than Darcy, and also has a markedly different work style when it comes to her writing. All this sort of manifests into challenges they have get through while living together, especially with Darcy struggling to give Imogen her space and privacy. Imogen, in turn worries about how Darcy will handle Afterworlds’ success (or failure). In some ways, Imogen takes charge of their present by making some difficult decisions so that they have the promise of a better future to look forward to.

I think what I struggled with the most as a reader is getting through the entire book (within the book) Afterworlds. I loved the idea TBH; Yamaraj is someone I am familiar with since I am Indian. But gosh, Yamaraj was made to be such a watered down and bland representation. Westerfeld might have as well written Twilight 2.0. Lizzie and Yamaraj’s love story was THAT kind of Hot YA commonplace. Look, I get it, the author’s intention was to show how so many stories publicized as “epic” YA romances are finally clones of one another and that so many authors have those breakthrough debuts with such stories (?). After reading Darcy’s novel, you do wonder – How on earth did THIS book get her a hundred grand in advance? The most interesting function of this book is however the conversation it generates regarding cultural appropriation. It raises questions with no definitive answers; but just further questionable topics for debate. Under what terms is “cultural appropriation” acceptable? Is there even such a thing as acceptability? Does Darcy being Indian exclude her from the criticism of getting the “essence” of her cultural history wrong when translated to paper? Considering she isn’t even that religious, can she be considered an “authentic” source of authority over the “correct” representation of Hinduism? So much of this brought up in the book, and in between Darcy is shown doubting herself. But, Darcy’s internal conflict doesn’t manifest into any real, tangible consequences.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the world-building in Darcy’s book. It was a pile of confusing mess, like Inception on steroids, except that you have ghosts and your ghostly selves on different astral projections. It was hard to keep track of the different worlds (Overworld, Afterworld, Underworld) along with the permutations and combinations of time, space, visibility and travel constraints in different worlds. So yea, definitely not my kind of fantasy novel. But if is something you enjoy reading, and can get past the slightly simplistic (deliberate?)plot stretched across half the book, then I think you would definitely enjoy Westerfeld’s Afterworlds in totality.

I quite enjoyed it for its unique idea. I might have liked it more if we didn’t end up getting Darcy’s entire novel and instead got snippet like say, Simon Snow’s fanfic in Fangirl, just enough to get an idea (and enough to drive discussions about appropriation). But I really liked all the “real” characters – be it Imogen, Nisha, Darcy or her friends. And I definitely enjoyed reading about Darcy more than Lizzie.

This is my genre, tell me yours! (Book Tag)

I have been on a hiatus for the past few weeks and though I have been reading, it wasn’t enough to shrug off the blogging slump.

I thought, what better way to get back to it than doing a book tag. Thank you Liz@CoverToCover for tagging me and Drew for creating the tag. Both of their blogs are amazing so do check them out, especially for great horror and fantasy recommendations!

thisismtgenrenrwlogo

The Rules:

  • Credit Drew @ The Tattooed Book Geek as the creator of the tag, either use the created tag name graphic or create your own and link back to my blog.
  • Answer the questions
  • Tag as many people as you want

What is your favorite genre?

Well, I don’t stick much to any genre in particular these days – I mostly read books that are YA/New Adult fic (which are mis-genred so much that I don’t even know anymore, hehe) , but if I have to choose, I think it is going to be those historical fics or messy family dramas (icing on the cake – business rivalries) spanning decades..

Who’s your favorite author from the genre?

So, borrowing from Liz, I am going to say, I have had three different “reading timelines”. The first was during my primary school where I used to love Enid Blytons, Sweet Valley series, Nancy Drews, Hardy Boys and Perry Masons. So I guess I really liked mysteries. The second was my middle school phase, when I read a lot of books from what is still my favorite genre – the Jeffrey Archers and Sidney Sheldons.. I used to think Jeffrey Archer was like the best author ever :p .. and well, his books are really popular in India.. I still loved mysteries and “graduated” to reading and picking them based on genre – like medical and legal mysteries.. So lots of Michael Palmers, Robin Cooks and John Grishams.. After that, my love for historicals and family dramas  continued.. and I just read a whole lot of them.. Tbh, I don’t even remember some of the books and authors…. It was just that phase when I picked a lot of books from the library shelves and read them one after the other without thinking or analyzing much.. So some of my favorites that I actually remember are classics like East of Eden and Pillars of the  Earth.

What’s the book that started your love for your favorite genre?

Must be one of those Jeffrey Archers, maybe Kane and Abel..

If you had to recommend at least one book from your favourite genre to a non-reader/someone looking to start reading that genre, what book would you choose and why?

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Why do you read?

It is my favorite way to spend those quiet, lazy afternoons.. My attention-span is just very less when it comes to TV shows, so I am actually terrible at binge-watching unless I have company… so yea, reading anytime!! Moreover, I just feel that reading when you are older is completely different than when you had just started out in school… Your perspective about a lot of things are different than it used to be, and your takeaways from certain books are also different.. I mean, there is a reason why some books that you thought were the best books ever written a few years ago later turn into “guilty pleasures”. So I guess I just find all that self-awareness and the evolving nature of book preferences quite fascinating.. hehe. So thats another reason I read and will continue to do so.

I tag:

Tiana@TheBookRaven

Sylvia@SerialBibliophile

Cleo@CleopatraLovesBooks

Tizzymatic

and anyone else who wants to do the tag! Feel free to skip this if you have already done it or don’t feel like doing it!

 

 

In the month of Feb (a quick monthly wrap-up)…

I BOUGHT… Wayfarer (Passenger, #2)   I finally used my B&N birthday gift card for this one .. I really liked Passenger, so I thought this would be a good book to acquire.. And I absolutely love the cover ..All the purple hues ❤ ..

I REVIEWEDThe House that Spoke  Lovely writing!! Would recommend it despite some pacing and plot issues.

I READ… A List of Cages  I liked the neurodiversity rep, both dyslexia and ADHD; I never felt like it was forcefully plugged into the story. So props for that. However, I wish I could have raved about this book. If I had to review this one, I would have probably given it 3.5/5. I think I was slightly put off by how much the book relied on the depiction of physical abuse for its plotting, and sort of just neglected everything else. I think a better way to put it is – there really isn’t much happening, really. It is too… cyclic and predictable. But Julian and Adam were so likeable and easy to connect with as MCs, and that’s what saved the book for me. It was enough to bump my ratings to a 4 on GR.

The Sun Is Also a Star  Gaaahh …. ❤ .. This one made an insta-love convert out of me.  Swoonworthylicious ( #ifthatisaword) . An easy 5/5.

Tell Me Something Real (Sort-of-spoilery mention… so skip the next paragraph if you plan on reading the book)

TMSR depicts an MI which is usually used as a dramatic twist in the final pages of a book. This book sort of does it too (and well, I guessed it.. again…), except that it is not at the end of the book. This is probably the first story I have read which deals with the aftermath and ramifications of the revelation on the entire family. So I really appreciated that the author wasn’t tempted to push the *big revelation* to the end and stuck to what she wanted the book to actually be about.

I RECEIVED… Under a Painted Sky  via Shenwei’s giveaway.. (thank you!!) .. Heard so much about this one, so can’t wait to read it!!

I DNF’ed… Into the Darkest Corner   .. I went through more than 1/3rd of the book, but it just didn’t seem to be getting anywhere..

 Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle, #1)   I gave up after the first few chapters, but I might try it again sometime in the future.. I think I picked this up at a time when I wanted an “easy read”, but this had a lot of confusing info-dump to keep up with.

 

 

The House that Spoke – by Zuni Chopra

The House that Spoke Rating:

Synopsis2Fourteen-year-old Zoon Razdan is witty, intelligent and deeply perceptive. She also has a deep connection with magic. She was born into it.

The house that she lives in is fantastical—life thrums through its wooden walls—and she can talk to everything in it, from the armchair and the fireplace to the books, pipes and portraits!

But Zoon doesn’t know that her beloved house once contained a terrible force of darkness that was accidentally let out by one of its previous owners. And when the darkness returns, more powerful and malevolent than ever, it is up to her to take her rightful place as the Guardian of the house and subsequently, Kashmir.

My reviewIn her debut novel, the author, Zuni Chopra, doesn’t just make a house speak, she makes the Kashmir valley sing with ferocity – of yearning for its glorious past and longing for a present that stills its beauty as an untarnished snapshot. The prose in this book is absolutely gorgeous. The author infuses magic and personality into everything around Zoon, be it the house she has grown up in (which, quite literally, holds magic) or the valley that makes up her entire world. So whether it is a fireplace being possessive about his fresh stock of logs, or a wise-sounding armchair maintaining order among bickering bookshelves, you just buy into her imagination of the house and what it stands for.

I loved the fact that the author didn’t write this book from any political standpoint. She also steers clear of demonizing any country, religion or military institution. The book is deeply allegorical, and through the idea of Zoon being a “Guardian” of her house, the author explores what it means to call a geographical area your home, and to what extent is it your duty to guard it. The “villain” of this story is basically the manifestation of all things vile and sinister plaguing the valley, and I loved how the book conveys the idea of securing your home, purging or keeping “evil” at bay, before expanding the same to your town or city.

This was magical realism at its whimsical best, the kind where even “non-magical” mundane moments are elevated to something else. There is humor in everyday observations; my favorite was probably the one where walking across a floor of people in sleeping bags was likened to navigating through fat bed bugs. The only criticism I can make is this – there were times when I felt the writing was too wordy. It got better as the book progressed but I did struggle with the initial chapters – especially with too many sentences like this:

“Instantly, every man on the doorstep felt suffused with a cosy, quiet calm – not a heated, eerie sort of silence, but the calm that wafts like pure cotton around one’s healing heart”

There are a few passages that are set in 16th/18th century to give some context about the history of the house and its magical origins. However, such parts are kept to a minimal in the book, thereby avoiding info-dump and slowing down the present-day plot. Moreover, the theme of this book is such that it doesn’t really need a fleshed out background to convey ideas effectively. However, I did feel that we didn’t get to know Zoon’s mom as much as we should have. I wasn’t sure about how much she was privy to regarding the house’s history. I didn’t connect to her and to her and Zoon’s relationship as much as I should have through most of the book. The last few pages did make up a bit for it though..

In contrast, Zoon’s grandma had a much more compelling presence and relevance to the story, and with Zoon’s new-found friend Altaf, and some neighboring families completing the secondary cast of characters, there are enough human stories to keep us invested in their lives.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough; especially since this is a recently released book with not much buzz in the blogging community… Do check it out, it is a precious little gem of a novel!

 

[Mini] (Reviews, book haul and update)

The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan Rating:

Synopsis2Winnie and Helen have kept each others worst secrets for more than fifty years. Now, because she believes she is dying, Helen wants to expose everything. And Winnie angrily determines that she must be the one to tell her daughter, Pearl, about the past—including the terrible truth even Helen does not know. And so begins Winnie’s story of her life on a small island outside Shanghai in the 1920s, and other places in China during World War II, and traces the happy and desperate events that led to Winnie’s coming to America in 1949.

My reviewMost of the immigrant stories I have read are about second-generation American desis, so I loved reading all the intrinsic cultural details of first/second gen Chinese Americans in the Kitchen God’s Wife – both similarities and differences.

A lot of immigrant stories feature and emphasize on the disconnect of the second-gen with their cultural heritage and the consequent tussle with their parents. This book pretty much ticks all the cliche boxes with Pearl not identifying much with her mom’s or extended family’s Chinese roots. I think my problem with this book is the disproportionately large number of pages (more than three-fourths) devoted to Winnie’s life in China. She starts narrating it to Pearl and apart from it coming off as unreal (that she could, as a seventy-five year old woman, remember every little detail so vividly), I also realized I am not a huge fan of such a large chunk of history being told all at once instead of being revealed in phases across the book I wish there were more pages with Pearl’s POV so that we could get a glimpse of how she felt hearing everything her mom has to say. I honestly felt slightly shortchanged because we didn’t get to see enough of how the present-day Pearl-Winnie relationship was affected by the revelations.

The best part of the story were all the women in Winnie’s past life. Each one of them was so remarkable – though conditioned to think and behave in a certain way because of the times they lived in and maybe unjust to one another to favor their own – stood up for each other when times became desperate in the post-war scenario. Wish I could say something for the men too, but most of them were portrayed as weak or evil. Those who weren’t either of them didn’t have much to do in the book.

Another issue I had with the book is that the “suspense” (or whatever little there was of it) was revealed quite early in the book… so the rest of the book was more of a case of “working backwards”. This was the same issue I had with Book Thief too.. and well I have realized, I don’t like this way of structuring the narration.

Despite some issues, I loved the book for not just its cultural insights but also all the historical ones (the book talks about the times in China during the Japanese invasion and it was definitely a learning curve for me .. )

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Furthermore Rating:

Synopsis2A captivating and colorful adventure that reads like a modern day fairy tale, from the bestselling author of the Shatter Me series.

Inspired by her childhood love of books like The Secret Garden and The Chronicles of Narnia, bestselling author Tahereh Mafi crafts a spellbinding new world where color is currency, adventure is inevitable, and friendship is found in the most unexpected places.

There are only three things that matter to twelve-year-old Alice Alexis Queensmeadow: Mother, who wouldn’t miss her; magic and color, which seem to elude her; and Father, who always loved her. The day Father disappears from Ferenwood he takes nothing but a ruler with him. But it’s been almost three years since then, and Alice is determined to find him. She loves her father even more than she loves adventure, and she’s about to embark on one to find the other.

But bringing Father home is no small matter. In order to find him she’ll have to travel through the mythical, dangerous land of Furthermore, where down can be up, paper is alive, and left can be both right and very, very wrong. It will take all of Alice’s wits (and every limb she’s got) to find Father and return home to Ferenwood in one piece. On her quest to find Father, Alice must first find herself—and hold fast to the magic of love in the face of loss.

My reviewWith charming randomness and gorgeous evocative descriptions of magical lands, all  of which masks the slight creepiness and gruesome reality behind the colors, this reads like a children’s fairytale. But the thing with fairytales  is that they are short and end before you start getting tired of make-the-rules-up-as-you-write world-building. But at 450+ pages, Furthermore really tested my patience. I loved the writing but by the 100th pages, I got tired of reading about how the sun was raining, the rainlight was glowing and the landscape was lush with colors. Furthermore could have been a sharper novel with a bit of editing, instead of becoming a fairytale that overstayed its welcome.

The biggest strength of this novel is what Mafi conveyed through her characters – about finding within yourself the courage to accept the way you are instead of expecting the world around you to see you through different lens. I also loved how artistry, creativity and unconventional decisions by the characters are richly rewarded (albeit after a lot of hiccups). It was such a cool nod to real life!

Both Alice and Oliver were believable because they acted their age – they were impulsive, distrustful and lied to each other initially to protect their self-interests; and were generally clueless although their ego prevented them from admitting it.

I was wondering whether this was meant to be a wonderland retelling. But, I saw that Mafi recently clarified that it isn’t. Well, retelling or not, this would make for a lovely movie because it has such a picturesque quality to it.

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Finding Audrey Rating:

Synopsis2An anxiety disorder disrupts fourteen-year-old Audrey’s daily life. She has been making slow but steady progress with Dr. Sarah, but when Audrey meets Linus, her brother’s gaming teammate, she is energized. She connects with him. Audrey can talk through her fears with Linus in a way she’s never been able to do with anyone before. As their friendship deepens and her recovery gains momentum, a sweet romantic connection develops, one that helps not just Audrey but also her entire family.

My reviewI would have probably rated this as 3/5 a year ago but I feel like I have read so many books since then with a much better anxiety rep. So this was kind of cringe-worthy to read.

I love Kinsella’s Shopaholic series which is genuinely full of LOL moments. But I found the author so out of depth here. Most of the attempts at humor fell flat and anxiety issues were handled in a way that felt farcical. The romance didn’t work for me either because I have already read similar budding teen love stories in the past year that had more spark. This was just plain dull.

The only person I could probably relate to was Frank (Audrey’s brother) whose incredulous reaction to what was happening mirrored my feeling too. I feel like this book needed more attention and authenticity devoted to mental health than the video game track, because Frank’s gaming obsession just didn’t go well or add anything to Audrey’s story. The details of what caused Audrey’s health issues to get worse is fuzzy and never cleared up. Heck, I am not saying that I always need details about the triggering condition but if you are partially bringing it up then either do it properly or don’t bring it up at all.

And if you are insisting it is a severe anxiety condition, don’t show the “recovery process” going so smoothly by the end of the book. It just doesn’t work that way.

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As I am travelling to India this month, I will be on a bit of a blogging hiatus till March.. I am too excited (and distracted) about my upcoming trip these days to really sit down and review anything.. but I did manage to read a couple of books recently:

This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity, #1) This was my introduction to Schwab and I loved it!! It was entertaining, but I felt that some parts (when Kate and August were on the run) were kind of tedious to read. I would liked it if that was cut short and more time was spent on making the dystopian part of the world-building more fleshed out and understandable.

Dark Places With this, I have finally finished reading all of Flynn’s books and : Gone Girl > Sharp Objects > Dark Places > The Grownup .. (or I might feel The Grownup>Dark Places later :p )

I also bought a couple of books which were on the library sale:

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown      All the Light We Cannot See

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Since the entire travel time is 24+ hours, I downloaded these books into my overdrive (because I couldn’t decide on one)

13047567      The Impostor Queen (The Impostor Queen, #1)      Into the Darkest Corner

Have y’all read any of these books? Which one of these make for a good flight read? (Psst… had to download the Chaos Walking trilogy because The Knife of Never Letting Go was on hold..)